‘A garden for the gardenless’: 125th anniversary fete marks day Waterlow Park became public

A baronet has marked a milestone in the history of a beloved Highgate park by reliving the moment his ancestor handed over the deeds to the people of London 125 years ago.

In 1889, philanthropist and former Lord Mayor of London Sir Sydney Waterlow gave Waterlow Park to the public as a “garden for the gardenless”.

And 125 years later, his great-great-great-grandson Sir Christopher Waterlow returned to join hundreds at an anniversary fete on Saturday (September 20) to commemorate the historic decision.

The 5th baronet stood in the place of Sir Sydney as he recreated the ceremony by handing a fascimile of the real deeds to Camden Council’s deputy mayor Cllr Larraine Revah.

Sir Christopher, of Gatwick, who detailed the Waterlow family history in his book The House of Waterlow - A Printer’s Tale, said: “It felt very humbling to recreate it and reinforced everything I already thought about him and what an amazing guy he really was.”

The 55-year-old camera supervisor added: “You can still feel his presence there. The one thing he wanted for the park was for it to be used by people so to hear people enjoying themselves in the park is a wonderful thing, and something I’m sure he would be extremely happy with.”

Waterlow Park started out as land belonging to several properties in the area, including the 16th-century Lauderdale House.

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The park was not united until 1856 when Sir Sydney moved into what is now Channing Junior School in Highgate Hill and bought all the neighbouring properties to create a small estate.

However, he moved away from the area soon afterwards and the gardens deteriorated for several years.

It was not until 1889 that he took the decision to give the deeds to the now-dissolved London County Council so the gardens could become a “park for the poor”.

A statue of Sir Sydney was unveiled 11 years later by Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria, and the occasion marked the last time he visited the park before his death in 1906.

Linguist Pam Cooper, who authored A Brief History of Waterlow Park, ‘A Garden for the Gardenless’, said: “The giving of the park in 1889 was an amazing thing for everybody, and was a very generous gesture.

“The statue showed the affection that people held for him by the public itself.”

During the Second World War, the grounds turned into a large “dig for victory” vegetable patch and hidden underground bunkers still lie beneath the park’s surface today.

It faced its most significant challenge in the 1980s and 1990s when the grounds fell into disrepair following a wave of council cuts.

The Friends of Waterlow Park was born out of the crisis and the group, together with Camden Council, successfully secured a lottery grant funding eight years of restoration works, which culminated in a grand re-opening in June 2005.

Ms Cooper, of Swain’s Lane, said: “The park is still looking wonderful and is much-loved by everybody, and of course the present Friends of Waterlow Park are doing a fantastic job to make sure the park will be there for future generations.”