If you’ve visited Victoria Park in recent years you’ll know that it’s a big space, good for walking or exercising the dogs. Give it another try today and you’ll discover that these days it has rather more to offer, thanks to the completion of a £12m refurbishment programme funded by Tower Hamlets Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund.
There are some notable additions to the features at Victoria Park, probably the most striking being the Pagoda. This building was part of the park from the 1950s until the 1970s when it demolished due to falling into disrepair, but now it’s back. Built to the original design by James Pennethorne it’s a strikingly colourful object, set on a island which again used to be a feature of the park in the past. It has also been joined by a matching bridge in bold blue, green, red and yellow which was also a part of Pennethorne’s plans but which was never built after the war due to a lack of funds. Speaking of islands, all of the waterways and lakes in the park have been returned to the form that they took when Victoria Park was originally opened in the 1840s – in a rather exciting development, this also signifies the return of a boating lake which now boasts traditional wooden rowing boats.
Victoria Park has also been the beneficiary of some new artworks – a new wooden totem-like sculpture greets visitors entering the park from Grove Road, and there are some striking new pieces set on the water in the West Lake. The ‘Dogs of Alciblades’, the fierce creatures donated by Lady Regnart in 1912 who guard one of the main gates into the park have also had a wash and brush-up (they were replaced by replicas when they were sent off for restoration). I’m personally not a fan – thank god none of the dogs I saw in the park today resembled these nightmarish animals…
For families visiting Victoria Park there are now three children’s play areas, one of which, the Pools Playground is full of kid-sized water features that small children seem to enjoy running through while getting thoroughly soaked in the process! There are also two pleasant cafes – the Lakeside Pavilion café which is of a striking art nouveau style and has a lovely wooden terrace overlooking one of the lakes, while the Hub features a new café and community centre right at the heart of the park.
Other areas that have benefited from refurbishment include the surroundings of the Burdett-Coutts water fountain (you’ll recollect that Victorian philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts was also responsible for the installation of the spectacular sundial in St Pancras Gardens). This monumental structure now looks stunning, its surfaces returned to their original lustre, and it is now set within a square of reflecting pools that has areas for people to sit and relax. Victoria Park’s original ‘Old English Garden’ has also reappeared – its in a very quiet and peaceful corner of the park and has long flagstone walks with simple plantings of english flowers, grasses and shrubs. Of course no English municipal park would be complete without its colourful flower beds – check the picture below and the photo album here and see if you agree with me that this is most spectacular display of perennials in any London park. I’d be very interested if you know of somewhere that goes to town more than the gardeners of Victoria Park do!