Kennington Park

W. E. Kilburn, 'The Great Chartist Meeting, 10 April 1848', daguerreotype, The Royal Collection (c) 2006 HM Queen Elizabeth II.
W. E. Kilburn, 'The Great Chartist Meeting, 10 April 1848', daguerreotype, The Royal Collection (c) 2006 HM Queen Elizabeth II. W. E. Kilburn, 'The Great Chartist Meeting, 10 April 1848', daguerreotype, The Royal Collection (c) 2006 HM Queen Elizabeth II.
W. E. Kilburn, 'The Great Chartist Meeting, 10 April 1848', daguerreotype, The Royal Collection (c) 2006 HM Queen Elizabeth II.

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Kennington Park was formerly Kennington Common and consists of approximately 20 acres which is still part of the Duchy of Cornwall but is managed by Lambeth Borough Council. From the earliest recorded times the Common was widely used for fairs and gatherings of allsorts. Preachers including both Wesley and Whitefield held services on the Common to very large audiences sometimes as many as 50,000 gathered to hear their sermons. In 1848 the Chartists held a meeting there and though the Duke of Wellington called in hundreds of police the meeting ended quietly. The park lodge, known as the Prince Consort's Model Lodge was designed by Henry Roberts.

Camberwell New Road was built in 1818 splitting the Common in two. The southern part, where the Surrey Gallows used to be erected became the site of St Mark's Church built in 1822. Interestingly Parliament only passed the Act to use the common land in this way was not passed until 1824, six days before consecration. The rest of the park was enclosed in 1825 but seems to have been badly managed as in 1852 Thomas Miller said 'Kennington Common is but a name for a small grassless square, surrounded with houses and poisoned by the stench of vitriol works and by black open sluggish ditches.'

Following the formation of the park locals could no longer play games of cricket and formed the Oval Cricket Club which was leased to the Surrey Cricket Club for a nominal fee. In 1869 Doulton and Co donated a statue by George Tintworth - Pilgrimage of Life to the park.

Kennington Common c1830

The following is an extract from the six volume, history of Old and New London by Walter Thornbury published between 1872-1878

Kennington Park, which stretches for some distance along the Kennington Road, and lies to the east of the Oval, was known as Kennington Common till only a few years ago, when it was a dreary piece of waste land, covered partly with short grass, and frequented only by boys flying their kites or playing at marbles. It was encircled with some tumble-down wooden rails, which were not sufficient to keep donkeys from straying there. Field preachers also made it one of the chief scenes of oratorical display. It consisted of about twenty acres. It was suddenly seized with a fit of respectability, and clothed itself around with elegant iron railings, its area being, at the same time, cut up by gravel walks, and flower-beds, and shrubberies. It also engaged a beadle to look after it. And so it became a park, and--it must be owned-an ornament to the neighbourhood.


During the holiday season, Kennington Common in the last century was an epitome of "Bartlemy Fair," with booths, tents, caravans, and scaffolds, surmounted by flags. It also had one peculiarity, for, as we learn from In Merrie England in the Olden Time, it was a favourite spot for merryandrews, and other buffooneries in open rivalry, and competition with field-preachers and ranters. It was here that Mr. Maw-worm encountered the brickbats of his congregation, and had his "pious tail" illuminated with the squibs and crackers of the unregenerate.

During the year 1739, when the south of London was a pleasant country suburb, George Whitefield preached frequently on this common, his audience being generally reckoned by tens of thousands. In his "Journal," under date May 6th in that year, he thus remarks: "Preached this morning in Moorfields to about 20,000 people, who were very quiet and attentive, and much affected. Went to public worship morning and evening, and at six preached at Kennington. But such a sight never were my eyes blessed with before. I believe there were no less than 50,000 people, near fourscore coaches, besides great numbers of horses; and what is most remarkable, there was such an awful silence amongst them, and the word of God came with such power, that all, I believe, were pleasingly surprised. God gave me great enlargement of heart. I continued my discourse for an hour and a half; and when I returned home, I was filled with such love, peace, and joy, that I cannot express it." On subsequent occasions Mr. Whitefield mentions having addressed audiences of 30,000, 20,000, and 10,000 on this same spot. The example thus set by Whitefield was soon afterwards followed by Charles Wesley, with an equal amount of fervour. In June, 1739, Charles Wesley being summoned before the Archbishop of Canterbury to give an account of his "irregularity," he was for a time greatly troubled; but Whitefield, whom he had consulted for advice in this emergency, told him, "Preach in the fields next Sunday; by this step you will break down the bridge, render your retreat difficult, or impossible, and be forced to fight your way forward." This counsel was followed, for in Charles Wesley's diary, June 24th, 1739, occurs this passage :-- "I walked to Kennington Common, and cried to multitudes upon multitudes, `Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.' The Lord was my strength, and my mouth, and my wisdom."

"Kennington Common," wrote Thomas Miller, in his "Picturesque Sketches in London," published in 1852, "is but a name for a small grassless square, surrounded with houses, and poisoned by the stench of vitriol works, and by black, open, sluggish ditches; what it will be when the promised alterations are completed, we have yet to see." That the place, however, has since become conpletely changed in appearance we need scarcely state, for it was converted into a public pleasureground, under the Act 15 and 16 Vict., in June of the above-mentioned year. It now affords a very pretty promenade. What was once but a dismal waste, some twenty acres in extent, is now laid out in grass-plats, intersected by broad and well-kept gravelled walks bordered with flower-beds. A pair of the model farm-cottages of the late Prince Consort were erected in the middle of the western side, near the entrance, about the year 1850. More recently, in addition to the improvements effected by the change of the Common to an ornamental promenade, a church, dedicated to St. Agnes, was built on the site of the vitriol works.

On the first formation of the "park," the sum of � 1,800 annually was voted by the Government; but this sum was subsequently reduced, until, in the year 1877, it was only � 1,370; and these reductions had been made although there had been an increase in the total sum devoted to public parks.

Text Source: Perseus Tufts University

Link to a Kennington Park website