Blackfen homegrown strawberries! Does anyone else grow strawberries in their garden? Blackfen has a tradition of growing them. James Lee grew them at ‘Strawberry Gardens’ (where Gwillim Close is now) until he went bankrupt in 1906 after bad crops due to 3 years of wet weather. Blackfen Farm also had a strawberry field where RACS Stores (now Katie’s Playpen, a chemist and off-licence) was later built, and according to the farmer’s granddaughter, they were the juiciest she’d ever eaten.
Living on the western side of Blackfen, trips to Avery Hill Park were a regular thing as a child. Just a walk away and we were in a huge expanse of green. There were the swings in the playground, but the best bit was the steamy exotic greenhouse of the Winter Gardens. Even as an adult, I still enjoy the occasional walk through the park and around the tranquil greenhouse.
In fact Avery Hill has a link with Blackfen in its history. Avery Hill Mansion was created by Col John Thomas North ‘Nitrate King’ and the Winter Garden was completed in 1890. His brother, the mine engineer Gamble North, was married to Leila, daughter of the tenant of Westwood Farm in Blackfen, John Hunt. After Col North died and his widow sold Avery Hill, Gamble North resided at Queens Wood, Blackfen.
The question is, of course: was the fertiliser produced by Col North’s Chilean business used for the benefit of Westwood Farm?!
I was dismayed to hear recently that Greenwich University, the current owner, has announced its intention to sell the entire Mansion House campus in 2015.
A Facebook Page ‘Save Avery Hill Winter Gardens’ has been created by the Friends of Avery Hill Park www.averyhillpark.org.uk to monitor the process and ensure that the concerns of local residents and the wider community are represented. “While we understand that Greenwich University is primarily an educational institution and has determined the need to sell this property in order to fulfill its primary aim. However, we are determined to ensure that whoever buys the property takes on the responsibility of restoring the Winter Gardens and maintaining public access as Greenwich University had started to do.”
“In 2012 Greenwich University was awarded £192,000 Development Fund to help the university progress its plans to apply for a full grant at a later date. It is curious that the announcement to sell the property was made on the same day the final stage of the lottery grant application was to be submitted. The application was withdrawn. This means that at least any restoration will be delayed until the new owners apply for funding and if successful start preserving the decaying building. In the mean time the problems will only get worse.”