Saturday, October 17th 2015
The first stage of our journey today brought us to this railway station, Slade Green. There are stations nearer our destination but this one is easy to reach and a little walk took us the rest of the way.
The view from a railway bridge always fascinates me. Why is that? Perhaps it is the mesmerising effect of the rails converging to a point on the horizon or the way they seem to beckon me to distant, as yet unrevealed places.
I left it to Tigger’s inner Pigeon to lead us to our destination which, after a bit of a walk, it did. We found ourselves in front of a fine set of gates forming the entrance to Danson Park. Not all parks have such gates and so I took note of the plaque on one of the gateposts. This tells us that the gates were presented to the Bexley Urban District Council by A. Morris Wheeler Esq, JP, Chairman of the Council 1928-9, and were officially opened by the Lord Mayor of London1 on March 22nd 1929.
Danson Park is what is left of the grounds of Danson House, also known as Danson Park Mansion. This imposing house was designed by Sir Robert Taylor and built about 1765. The house was commissioned by Sir John Boyd, a sugar merchant and vice-chairman of the East India Company. The grounds were laid out by Nathaniel Richmond, assistant to Capability Brown. There has been a number of private owners since then, the last being railway engineer Alfred Bean. Alfred died in 1890 and his widow in 1924, whereupon Bexley Urban Council bought the property and opened the grounds as a public park.
Until recently, the house, now graced with a Grade I listing, has been administered by the Bexley Heritage Trust and has been open to the public. Unfortunately, in the face of financial constraints, Bexley Borough Council has withdrawn funding from the Trust which thus feels unable to continue its commitment to the house which will therefore revert to the care of the council. It is hoped that it can still be kept open to the public and used as a venue for weddings.
For us, there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that the house was not open to visitors on Saturdays. We couldn’t grumble about this because we should have checked more carefully before coming today. It is common for historic houses and other such interesting venues to be closed to the public of Saturdays so that they can be used for weddings.
The good news? Oh yes, the good news: the house’s cafe was open, so we consoled ourselves with tea and toasted teacakes!
After tea, we explored the grounds, now Danson Park. They are extensive and pleasant, all the more so because at this time of year there were relatively few people about, mostly dog walkers or joggers.
Some of the trees were changing into their autumn colours, enhancing the beauty of the scenery.
In the centre of the park there is a sizeable lake. I think this was originally ornamental but it is known today as the Boating Lake for the very good reason that people sail boats on it! It is home to the Danson Park Water Sports Centre. As well as the lake, there are two small ponds. We stopped by the bigger of the two, attracted by the large number of ducks swimming and dabbling there.
We spent some time beside the lake, watching the ducks and geese and trying to photograph them. Though cautious, they kept an eye on us, no doubt hoping we might feed them.
I wondered what it would be like to be the sole owner of such a property; to stroll across the lawns and under the trees; to tarry, as we were doing, beside the lake; all the while knowing that this land belonged exclusively to me and that none may share it without my invitation and permission. I cannot imagine it. I am glad that it is in public ownership and that Bexley citizens and visitors alike may enjoy it.
I hope Bexley Borough Council can indeed maintain Danson House and keep it open for the public to visit it. If so, we will come another day to see it and admire what I am told is a magnificent interior.
1In London there are many mayors but only one Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor of London is the Mayor of the City of London and leader of the City of London Corporation. The Lord Mayor is elected annually and since the 16th century the new Mayor’s inauguration has been celebrated by the Lord Mayor’s Show which people come from all over the world to see.