This article is about the public park. For the London Underground station of this name see Ravenscourt Park Station.
Ravenscourt Park is a 32 acre public park and garden located in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.
The origins of Ravenscourt Park lie in the medieval manor and estate of Palingswick (or Paddenswick) Manor, located on the site and first recorded in the 12th century. The historic name still exists today in the name of Paddenswick Road, which runs along the northeast boundary of the park.
By the 13th century the manor house was a mansion surrounded by a moat fed by the Stamford Brook, and the lake in the centre of the park today is a remnant of the original moat.
King Edward III’s mistress Alice Perrers lived in the manor during the 14th century.
The manor house was rebuilt in 1650 and in 1747 it was sold to Thomas Corbett who named it Ravenscourt, probably derived from the raven in his coat of arms, which was itself a pun on his name as corbeau is French for raven.
In 1812 the Ravenscourt House and estate were bought by its final private owner, George Scott, a builder and philanthropist who developed nearby St Peter’s Square. Scott employed leading landscaper Humphry Repton to lay out the gardens of the estate, and encouraged the building of houses along its edges. According to a park plan from 1830, there were 78 houses within the park, and by 1845 this number had risen to 330.
Ravenscourt House was severely damaged by incendiary bombs in 1941 during the Second World War, and only the stable block remains today, now housing the park’s café.
The public park
In 1887, representatives of the Scott family sold the estate to a developer for building purposes, to be covered, as rumour had it, with working class dwellings. Efforts were at once made to prevent the disaster, on the one hand by an attempt to repurchase the property by public subscription and on the other by an appeal for the necessary funds to the Metropolitan Board of Works. Both these efforts failed and largely owing to the price demanded by the new freeholder, said to be well over £70,000, for his acquisition.
Fortunately, however, it happened that each of the ground-leases of the row of detached and semi-detached residences called Ravenscourt Park, extending southwards from No. 23 (then occupied by Mr Ebenezer Stanley Burchett, as owner of the unexpired term of the ground-lease) and including the late Mr. Frank Dethbridge's picturesque house called "The Hermitage", (also held on a ground-lease), contained a proviso giving the ground-tenants the right to forbid any building on the width of the park, opposite their frontages, extending almost halfway to the fine avenue of elms running north and south on the eastern side of the estate. The new freeholder immediately took discreet steps to remove this obstacle to the complete building over of the property, by buying out, for small sums of cash down, the rights of prohibition attaching to the several ground-leases and in two or three cases ground-tenants were tempted into waiving their rights to block any building opposite their respective frontages, in return for a certain money payment.
When the news of this procedure, which was obviously fatal to all chances of securing the park as an open space, came to the ears of Mr Burchett, he at once went to Mr Dethbridge of "The Hermitage", to consult with him as to how the imminent sacrifice of the frontages (and with them the whole park) could be delayed, or prevented. It soon appeared that it was useless to appeal either to the generosity of the public or the public spirit of the majority of the ground-tenants, while for merely two of the lessees to refuse to sell their rights would avail nothing to prevent building opposite the frontages of the remainder. Mr Burchett therefore arranged with Mr Dethbridge that they should make known their readiness to sell their rights of prohibition, but at not less than £1000 each.
As the offers already accepted by lessees and others under consideration, probably did not average a tenth of this sum, the stand taken by Messrs Burchett and Dethbridge had the exact effect intended. Those of the other lessees who had not already committed themselves promptly and unanimously decided they were just as much entitled to £1000 as either of their two neighbours and refused to part with their rights for a penny less.
This determination, which Messrs Burchett and Dethbridge took care to encourage, despite all the efforts of the new freeholder, had the effect of practically knocking the bottom out of the Ravenscourt speculation, as a sum of £10,000 to £12,000 at least had now quite expectedly to be added to the cost of the property before it could be turned to account. As a result the freeholder became amenable to fresh negotiations and eventually agreed to accept the considerably reduced sum of £58,00 for his bargain. On these terms the property was acquired by the Metropolitan Board of Works, the Vestry of Hammersmith contributing one half of the purchase-money and the park was definitely rescued from destruction on November 20th. 1887.
All's well that ends well and the future historian of Ravenscourt Park may afford an indulgent smile when he records that some years after the rescue of the property, when the episode of the ground-lessees had had time to be forgotten by the man in the street, an agent of the vendor gravely claimed for his principal, in the local press, that the large abatement in the price asked for the park, which made its purchase practicable, was owing entirely to the said principal's munificence and public spirit. Thus is history written!
Obituary of Mr E. S. Burchett by F.E. Hayes, A.R.C.A., F.R.G.S. West London Observer 24th March 1916
The Metropolitan Board of Works (later the London County Council or LCC) established a public park (laid out by J.J. Sexby) in the 32 acres of land surrounding the House. The park was opened on 19 May 1888.
The park is part of the Conservation Area of Ravenscourt and Starch Green, and its north-eastern corner has been designated an Archaeological Priority Area. Today there is still much evidence of historic planting throughout the park, including plane trees and cedars.