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BEDFORDS PARK

Offering skyline views of London and Kent, Bedfords Park is a great day out for the entire family. The origins of the land dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries classified Bedfords Park as a medieval royal hunting forest, during those eras at least a third of southern England was designated as a royal forest! Thanks to its remarkable history, the park contains many valuable habitats including a variety of woodland, a lake and several ponds, as well as a captive herd of Red Deer.


Unlike my previous posts where I have invited you to walk through a particular journey with me, I will instead be highlighting how the history of the estate and its previous owners played their role in helping the grounds evolve into the area of discovery we can enjoy today.


The nature discovery centre is built on the site of a former mansion owned by Thomas Cooke who became Lord Mayor of London in 1462, however after he fled to France, the mansion saw a handful of new owners over the years.


It was John Heaton who bought Bedfords in 1771 and built the former 2-storey brick mansion with a 2-acre enclosed garden, leaving the rest of the ground covered by trees and the gravel walks we now know to be walking trails. The only remaining structure of Heaton’s development is the walled garden, which would have been used to provide the manor’s kitchen with fresh food. It was described as a ‘well stocked garden with green houses, hot houses and a pineapple house.’ It had its own water supply reservoir and an engine which supplied water and electricity to the house. Near the garden, by the well, you are still able to see the ponds, which were used as fisheries.


In 1865, Charles Barber became the keeper of the mansion and during his time there, planted many exotic trees that still stand today, including the Monkey Puzzle, Wellingtonia and Cedar of Lebanon. The origins of these tree specimen are explained on knowledge boards around the park, so don’t worry if you think you’ll have a hard time spotting them! I wouldn’t have known either if I hadn’t taken the time to stop, look and read! I did find the Monkey Puzzle intriguing though.


The final Lord of the manor was Henry stone who purchased the site in 1870. Fun fact: He was also the owner of a department store in Romford where Debenhams stands today. During his reign over the mansion, the interior consisted of a lounge, 4 reception rooms, billiard room, 17 bedrooms and drawing rooms, 2 baths an office and servant’s hall. It was also equipped with radiators and fireplaces. 65 years later, in 1935 Bedfords Manor became a natural history museum and a local records office – Romford’s first museum. The exhibits on show included prints, stuffed birds and butterflies, deer antlers and model toys.


During the Second World War, the park was used as a base for the military and national auxiliary fire service, after which the damages to the building were far too costly to maintain, forcing the museum to closed and the mansion to be demolished in 1952.


It wasn’t until 2003 that The Essex Wildlife Trust acquired the lease to the old café site and built what is now the current visitor centre. As I mentioned, the remains of walled garden are still in existence, the maintenance of which is funded by the National Lottery and managed by a number of volunteer groups who open it every Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as a gardening club which runs on a Wednesday, which is also when workshops take place. So for anyone reading this with green fingers and living in or around the area, be sure to check out their full range of activities!


My most favourite part about visiting Bedfords Park is seeing the Deer, there’s not many places that you can see these wild yet timid creatures for free after all! Whilst the staff do feed and look after them, be sure to bring along a bag of halved carrots if you or the little ones want to feed them yourselves! I think it’s the perfect activity to do around Christmas time, but the grounds can end up being slippery and muddy, so be sure to wear wellies or hiking boots!


GOOD TO KNOW

Location: Bedfords Park Nature Discovery Centre, RM4 1QH

Parking: Free

Facilities: Toilets with disabled access, Picnic areas, Café, Shop, Visitor Centre, Play area

Approximate trail time: 1-2 hours

Best time of year to visit: All year round

Accessibility: Various walking trails, some access friendly



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