History

A BRIEF HISTORY

Ravenscourt Park was once part of a medieval estate and still retains the bones of the layout shown in 18th century maps


Ravenscourt Park

Today it’s the most visited park in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, but few are aware that the 33 acres of Ravenscourt Park are what remains of the once extensive medieval estate of Pallenswick or Palingswick – a name that survives in nearby Paddenswick Road. This estate was part of the then manor of Fulham, owned by the Bishop of London.

Palingswick was also the site of a moated manor house whose owners can be traced back to the 14th century, although clues in historic maps point to even earlier settlements here. Granted to royal favourite Alice Perrers in 1373 by the Plantagenet king Edward III, a survey in 1377 described the estate as containing “forty acres of land, sixty of pasture and one and a half of meadow” while the manor house itself was said to be “well-built, as in halls, chapels, kitchens, bakehouses, stables, granges, gates “ as well as having gardens and orchards.

Over seven centuries it passed through the hands of a series of well-documented owners, including Lord Mayors of London, members of parliament, a House of Commons Speaker, court officials and a Lord Chancellor.

It was Thomas Corbett, Secretary to the Admiralty, owner of the property in 1746, who changed its name to Ravenscourt as a pun on his coat-of-arms, which depicted a raven (corbeau). The Corbett family motto was Deus pascit corvos: God feeds the ravens. In the middle of the 18th century the house was said to be “in good repair, improved with every conveniency that can be desired … the gardens elegantly laid out.” The estate then comprised numerous buildings, barns, stables, outhouses, yards and orchards, with a bowling green and pavilion in more-or-less the same place as they are today.

Refurbished by successive owners over the years, the house was rebuilt in its final form at some time during the 18th century on the site of its predecessors. This Georgian building incorporated many earlier features that survived well into the 20th century. The Scotts were the last family to own the estate and occupy the house. George Scott, brickfield owner, builder and developer, took over the property in 1812. The previous owner had filled in three sides of the moat a few years before, leaving only the western arm.

After the death of Scott’s widow, the site was saved from development by the Metropolitan Board of Works, who purchased it in 1887 for use as a public park. By then the grounds had become a tangled wilderness that needed landscaping by the new London County Council before the public were officially allowed in around August 1888.

In March 1890, the manor house was opened as Hammersmith’s first public library by the distinguished LCC chairman Sir John Lubbock. It was hit by an incendiary bomb in January 1941 and subsequently demolished, the rubble dumped into the ancient cellars. The site remains as a gentle mound in the picnic area by the lake.

But the park today retains the bones of the landscape shown in 18th century maps. For example, the main avenue was then the carriage drive from the house to the Brentford Turnpike, now King Street. An avenue of great elms, planted before 1710, survived there until the 1920s. And when the park was opened to the public, the remaining western arm of
the moat had been fashioned into the
present lake.

Ravenscourt Park Hammersmiths public library
The house front with the porch added when it became a public library. The tree (L) is still there
Ravenscourt Park Hammersmith
The avenue with the 200-year old great elms, looking towards what became King Street
Ravenscourt Park Hammersmiths public library
Rear view of Georgian House from across the lake
Ravenscourt Park Hammersmith
Rear view of Georgian House from across the lake