Autumn in Walpole Park
When the architect Sir John Soane built his weekend retreat, Pitzhanger Manor, in what was then rural Ealing, his aim was to design a showcase for his own idiosyncratic architectural style with its stripped classical detail, radical colour schemes and inventive use of space and light. Here he would entertain some of the most influential people of the day, using the house to show potential clients what he could do for them.
To the rear he created an ornamental garden with a pretty pond surrounded by flowering shrubs, an old stone bridge and some beautiful cedars on the lawns next to the house. He designed the pond to look like a stream, and there he would fish with his friend William Turner, the artist.
Soane sold the house in 1810; it passed through a succession of owners until in 1843 it became home to the daughters of Spencer Perceval, Britain’s only assassinated Prime Minister. In 1899 it was sold by the then owner, Spencer Horatio Walpole (three times Home Secretary), to Ealing District Council for £40,000. Walpole stipulated that the last of the Perceval sisters, Frederika, should be allowed to remain there until her death. When she died in 1900 the house was extended to become a public library; at the same time Soane’s ornamental gardens and parkland became Walpole Park.
The park opened to the public in 1901 and is still a favourite green space for Ealing’s residents today. We’re lucky to live close to the park; it’s our preferred route when walking to the shops and the first place we think of when we fancy a local stroll. During 2020, when walks closer to home became the norm during lockdown, we have spent more time than ever in the park.
It’s an attractive spot at any time of year. Soane’s pond is home to a variety of waterfowl; the paths are edged with shady trees, many of them large and quite old, but others newer (replacing those lost in the Great Storm of October 1987); there’s a café and thoughtfully designed children’s play areas. But I think it’s at its best in the autumn. Then the leaves turn red and orange and the grey squirrels are busy gathering supplies to see them through the winter. So come with me for an autumn walk through my neighbourhood park.
This post is my response to Sandy’s Friendly Friday Challenge, to share a neighbourhood walk.