Within sight and a few seconds’ walk of our Hamlet Gardens properties, Ravenscourt Park is the most frequently visited park in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham – known for its beautiful scenery, tennis and basketball courts, football pitches, and bowling green, all of which contributed to it winning a 2016/2017 Green Flag Award.
What’s less well-known is that the park’s origins are rooted in the Middle Ages, its history dating back to the 14th century medieval estate of Pallenswick (or Palingswick) – after which the nearby Paddenswick Road remains named to this day.
Pallenswick Estate and its manor house formed part of what was then known as the Manor of Fulham, owned by the Bishop of London who would have been headquartered over at Fulham Palace – still standing, by contrast, roughly a 45 minute walk away.
King Edward III made a gift of Pallenswick Estate to his mistress Alice Perrers in 1373, and a survey carried out in 1377 describes the estate as being made up of “forty acres of land, sixty of pasture and one and a half of meadow” – a far cry from the 33 acres it takes up today. Meanwhile, the manor house itself was said to be “well-built, as in halls, chapels, kitchens, bakehouses, stables, granges, gates.” It also had a moat surrounding it, fed by the Stamford Brook.
Over the course of seven hundred years, its occupants were a motley crew of the high and mighty, including members of parliament, Lord Mayors of London, a Lord Chancellor and a House of Commons Speaker.
The name changed from Pallenswick to Ravenscourt in 1746, as then-owner and Secretary to the Admiralty Thomas Corbett’s idea of an amusing joke. Given that his family coat of arms depicted a raven (or, in French, corbeau – hence the surname Corbett) and the family motto Deus pascit corvos (God feeds the ravens), it pleased him to rename the park in oblique honour of his family. He also added the park’s bowling green and pavilion, which remain today in much the same place as when he first built them.
The manor underwent a number of refurbishments and renovations, reaching its final form in the latter part of the 18th century – by which point three sides of the moat had been filled in, leaving only the western aspect which today makes up the lake in the centre of Ravenscourt Park.
After the manor’s final owner – builder and brickfield magnate George Scott – passed away, the park was in threat of falling victim to urban development. The site narrowly avoided this fate through sale to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1887, with the ultimate aim of turning the land into a public park. By that point it was a veritable wilderness, overgrown and untamed through years of neglect. The London County Council brought it back under control and Ravenscourt was reopened as a public park a year later.
In 1890, Chairman of the London County Council John Lubbock reopened the manor house, making history by setting it up as Hammersmith’s very first public library. Sadly, history took a turn for the worse in the midst of the Second World War when a bomb dropped in 1941 laid waste to the manor house, and the remaining rubble was swept into the building’s cellar.
What remains of Ravenscourt Park today is remarkably unchanged from its 18th Century layout, as evidenced by maps of the time. So not only is Hammersmith and Fulham’s most popular park a hub of contemporary recreation; it is also a living window into London’s past.