Take a stroll in the park and uncover a hidden gem

Hidden away in 125 acres of parkland, with the River Wandle meandering through it, a short walk from Morden Underground and tram ride from Croydon, lies the National Trust Morden Hall Park in all its splendour writes Davina Hyde.

Morden Hall originally consisted of marshland owned by the monks of Westminster Abbey.

Henry VIII took over the estates at the Dissolution of the Monasteries and sold the land to Edward Whitchurch, a publisher of the Bible in English.

Later on the Garth family bought the estate, which they occupied for generations, and when Sir Richard Garth died, his children rented out the estate and the house became a school for young gentleman.

The eastern and western snuff mills along the River Wandle were built in 1750 and 1830 respectively, while owned by the Garth family.

Visitor stood on the white bridge over the River Wandle at Morden Hall Park, London

In 1834, a tobacco firm, which was part-owned by Alexander Hatfeild, was granted the lease of the mills, and in 1867 the Hatfeild family bought the whole estate, the addition of the Morden snuff mills helping Alexander Hatfeild to expand his business.

The River Wandle has been one of the most industrialised rivers in the country because of the mills.

The mills ground dried tobacco leaves into snuff between two stones which were then left natural or perfumed with flower essences or spices.

In 1922, when the workers in Hatfield’s tobacco company’s processing factory went on strike, Gilliat Hatfeild, Alexander’s grandson, shut down the factory and his mills.

When he wound up the snuff-milling business, all the workers in the Morden mills were given new jobs on the estate, retained the same wages, and stayed in their homes.

Morden Hall Park. Picture National Trust Images/Chris Jonas

The estate was deliberately managed in a way that was good for nature, with an area set aside as a wildlife sanctuary and bird boxes put up.

The Rose Garden he created around 1920 is a very unusual example of an inter-war period rose garden in its irregular design of angular and circular beds.

Most gardens of this time were symmetrical, often radiating out of a central feature such as a sun dial, and abstract designs only became more popular from the 1930s onwards.

Joan Crowe’s father Bert Moore was head gardener from 1929-41, and she remembers his particular affinity with the Rose Garden.

She said: “This rose garden was one of Mr Hatfeild’s special delights and he could often be seen spending a summer evening dead-heading.

His trug-basket, secateurs and gloves were secreted in a hollow tree on the lawn.”

Morden Hall Park. Picture National Trust Images/Chris Jonas

The waterwheel stayed in place in the 1930s to supply power to workshop tools, and the buildings were used to store things on the estate such as rowing boats used in garden parties organised by Gilliat Hatfeild for the local children.

He would provide tea in a marquee for the children and present them with a gift of fruit or a rose from his famous Rose Garden, which was thought to be the only major alteration he made to his father’s Deer Park.

The Rose Garden was in two halves, separated by a small stream and originally connected by rose-covered rustic bridges.

The Hall was used as an auxiliary military hospital and a convalescent home for soldiers during the First World War, and as a hospital for women and children after the war.

Gilliat Hatfeild donated Morden Hall Park to the National Trust upon his death in 1941 to “preserve it as a green space for the benefit of the local community.”

Many of the buildings on the estate were damaged by s during the Second World War but the Hall escaped damage.

A visitor walking with dogs along the new boardwalk giving access to wetlands area at Morden Hall Park, London

Between 1947 and 1951, the park hosted glamorous charity events in aid of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Church of England Children’s Society.

American and British film stars, such as Richard Attenborough, congregated together to meet thousands of their fans to raise money for the charities.

Since then Morden Hall Park has received a Heritage Lottery Fund to help pay for the overhaul of the 19th century water mill and surrounding areas and the National Trust has renovated the western mill.

Two beautiful statues of Venus, the Goddess of Love, and Cupid, were removed for restoration by the National Trust during the 1980s after their heads were removed and three out of four arms were stolen.

The heads and legs were never found and replaced with new ones, and the identity of the culprits remain a mystery to this day.


Main Picture: Snuff Mill and the River Wandle in Morden Hall Park, London. The Snuff Mill is an 18th-century watermill and is now an Environmental Centre Picture: National Trust Images/Andrew Butler




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