Above: The middle part of the gardens at The Rookery.
Tucked away on the edge of Streatham Common, right on the ‘edge’ of Inner London, is a very unusual public garden. Known as ‘The Rookery’ it is beside quite high land at the upper part of the common. However, the side of the common plunges steeply down on land that finishes in a valley. The result is a beautifully landscaped little park on the side of a very steep slope. Access involves descending many flights of stone steps and, when you want to return to the place where you entered, it is quite a climb to ascend to the main gate.
Above: A modern well-head on the site of the ancient Streatham Spa.
The gardens have their origins in a spa that was created in 1659. A house and gardens were laid out on the site, originally called Well House. It was in these gardens that Streatham Spa was situated. In the 17th and 18th centuries there were many spas in what we would now call the Inner London area. People taking the waters could rent rooms at this particular spa while they were drinking the waters. They would sometimes stay for a week at a time, hoping that the water would have a curative effect on their ailment. Sadly, it has to be reported that the water had almost no medicinal effect. Most spring water had a large amount of iron dissolved in it because most of Inner London is standing on clay which is itself coloured yellowish-brown due to the iron in the ground. Spas in England have almost died out although it is possible to ‘take the waters’ in places like Bath and Buxton. On the continent they are still in use in Germany, particularly in the Black Forest and also at the spa town of Baden Baden.
The present gardens at Streatham were created by later owners of the property and were opened to the public on 23 July 1913. The layout has changed little in about one hundred years. At the foot of the steep descent is the ‘White Garden’, originally laid out with white flowers by a Victorian family for a wedding. The tradition of keeping all the blooms of the flowers white continues to this day. The garden was often visited by Queen Mary, the consort of George V.
If you would like to go in search of the gardens then aim for Streatham Common which is itself sloping, with the lower end beside the A23, known as Streatham High Road. The gardens are at the higher end of the common, situated beside a road called Streatham Common South.