Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park is the green space that surrounds the Imperial War Museum on the corner of St George’s Road and Lambeth Road. Previously the grounds of Bethlem Hospital, there was concern that when the hospital moved to a new location in Beckenham in 1930, the grounds would be built upon. The hospital needed to sell the lease to the St George’s Fields site to finance the building of the new hospital, but while freeholders the Bridge House Estate were amenable to the transfer of the lease, there was opposition from the Ministry of Health, the LCC and Southwark Council.
The grounds of the hospital had become a popular open space within a densely populated area at a time when there was an awareness of the need for green spaces for the health and well-being of town dwellers and as a place for children to play. The Charity Commission insisted that the matter should be put before Parliament.
The situation was saved when Lord Rothermere, brother to Lord Northcliffe who had founded the Daily Mail and now since his death its owner, purchased the site for £150,000. Some of the hospital buildings including the two wings that flanked the central core were demolished and the open areas formed into a park. This was dedicated to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere’s mother, for the benefit of the "the splendid struggling mothers of Southwark in the training and upbringing of their children”. Lord Rothermere gifted the site to the LCC and the Imperial War Museum moved into the remaining part of the hospital in 1936.
Sadly, the Lido suffered the same fate as many others and was filled in due to lack of funding during the 1970s and 1980s. A family orchard has now been planted on the former site and within the park there are also a small copse, a world garden and an ice age tree trail. A Green Flag was awarded in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The park was opened in 1934. Four years later a lido was opened that measured 93ft x 90ft and a depth that graduated from 8 inches to 3 feet. Use was restricted to children aged 12 years or under. The Lido was opened on the first day of the school holidays in 1938 and the lido was packed. The LCC also provided fortnightly entertainments for children during the summer holidays in their parks such as a Punch and Judy show. On the day the Lido opened, the children were entertained by a conjuror.
There were three new permanent additions in the park in 1999, the Tibetan Peace Garden, a section of the Berlin Wall, and the Soviet War Memorial. The latter commemorates the sacrifice of 27 million lives by the citizens and armed forces of the former Soviet Union to defeat fascism in World War II. Made of granite, it was unveiled on 9 May 1999 which in Russia is known as Victory Day when the defeat of Nazism in Germany is celebrated. The memorial provides the focal point for remembrance ceremonies on Holocaust Memorial Day, Victory Day and Remembrance Sunday.
At the end of the second world war, Berlin was divided, the East came under the control of the Soviet Union and West Berlin under control of Britain, France and the United States. In August 1961 the Soviet authorities built a physical wall between east and west to prevent those living in the eastern sector fleeing to the more affluent and liberal west. The wall was heavily fortified and over 100 people died attempting to escape to the West.
From the 1980s on, the wall attracted graffiti artists from around the world. The western side of the wall was completely covered in graffiti, by contrast the eastern side was blank as no one was allowed to get close enough to the wall to paint it. In November 1989 the East Berlin authorities began dismantling the wall and free movement was allowed between east and west. The Imperial War Museum acquired this section of the wall in 1991 which was painted by Indiano.
In October 2004 two Chilean Araucarias (monkey puzzle trees) were planted in the park. They were planted to mark the 30 year period since the 1974 'disappearance' of Jacqueline Drouilly Yurich and her husband Marcelo Salinas Eytel who lived in Chile at the time of the coup and the subsequent military dictatorship of General Pinochet. It's estimated that 3,000 were murdered under the regime and 1,119 were "disappeared". The planting of these trees and accompanying plaque are part of a human rights project to plant a tree for each victim to create a "virtual" worldwide forest of remembrance.
The Friends of Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park website
The latest addition to the park was unveiled on 9 December 2015 and carved from a diseased plane tree by mORGANICo at the suggestion of the Friends of Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park. The theme of the sculpture is Peace.