Green Spaces in Monks Orchard – Ashburton Playing Fields

By Rosemary Rabin
Former Trees and Open Space Officer
29 April, 2020

n the Borough of Croydon there are over 120 green spaces. The area covered by the Monks Orchard Residents’ Association is fortunate in containing some interesting green spaces. The largest open area is the Ashburton Playing Fields.

The playing fields run from Bywood Avenue in the north to Chaucer Green in the west and Woodmere Avenue in the east, the houses in Stroud Green Way are along the western boundary. The area is 45.50 acres, 20.03 hectares. This flat area of land has been associated with various sporting events over a long history. The Chaffinch brook runs north across the playing fields. In Victorian times a racecourse was here. Croydon has a long history of horse racing. The earliest record is from 1286 when Lord William de Warenne was killed in a tournament in Croydon. It took place on Duppas Hill, then known as Dubbers. In 1586 Queen Elizabeth I visited her Archbishop’s Palace in Croydon and there were race meetings. Racing was held at a number of sites and when the Park Hill Course was sold, the farm land at Stroud Green Woodside was secured on a 14 year lease.

Extract from the 1800s Ordnance Plan showing the route of the race course

The first meeting was on 27th and 28th November 1866. The race course was 1 mile 3 furlongs; it was egg shaped. The north west boundary was Long Lane with the Chaffinch brook to the south east. The fence enclosing the racetrack is where the Fire Station is today. The grandstand stood where there are now the playing fields to the south west of Chaucer Green. The ground was well drained though it was pointed out that the sub-soil was clay and so it could be prone to heavy going. Flat races and steeplechase events were held. An important feature of the new course was the ‘Great Water Jump’, which was opposite the stand. There were plenty of complaints about the lay out and in 1867 a case was reported in the Croydon Chronicle, concerning alleged cruelty to a horse called ‘Voightlander’ at the water jump.

From the 1860’s to the 1870’s the number of meetings increased. The most important race was the Grand Metropolitan Steeplechase. The Woodside railway station opened in 1871. A ramp was built to walk the horses out of the station as the station was lower than the road. Trains brought the race-goers from London. The railways had been encouraged to increase the number of visitors but this led to the eventual downfall of the racecourse. It was noted that the attendance of the general public was extremely numerous however the professional element was sparsely represented. The transport brought the ‘undesirables’. The course did not attract the more select race goers so that Croydon could be known as a ‘swell’ race meeting. The Croydon Chronicle reported cases of pick-pockets, gambling, and card-sharpers being brought before the magistrates. Riots happened as well. The loss of public order around the race course caused a lot of dissatisfaction to the residents. One resident said that ‘the races were a positive curse’. When the licence was submitted for renewal in the late 1880’s, the councillors deliberated in private, as huge rows occurred with Q.C.’s engaged.

In 1890 the last meeting was held. The local movement for the abolition of Croydon races was successful. In the sporting papers ‘In-Memoriam’ poems were composed, in 1890 the course died of County Council Disease said one. The last flat racing meeting was on 14th and 15th October 1890 and the last Steeplechase was on 25th and 26th November 1890. Gatwick was the next place where they raced from 1891 to 1940. In 1893 Beckenham Golf club took over the area and it was in regular use until the WW2. Then an ack-ack battery was stationed there.

The council acquired the area in 1942 for housing and playing fields. The golf club pavilion was used in 1950 for extra classrooms for Ashburton School while the new school was being built. The Chaffinch brook is now piped and a line of trees marks its position. It rose behind the pumping station east of Shirley road, then it flows towards Elmers End before becoming the Pool river and joining the Ravensbourne river and reaching the Thames at Deptford Creek.

There also used to be cricket pitches, and there is a children’s playground. The ground is open all the time and along the path running from Woodmere Avenue towards Stroud Green Way.

The playing fields have football pitches for senior and junior players. In June 2018, a scheme was proposed for the development of two artificial football pitches on the Woodmere Avenue end of Ashburton Playing Fields – part of a five-year commitment to build multi-pitch football ‘hubs’ across towns and cities in England to create sustainable community football facilities, titled ‘Parklife‘. It aims to raise playing standards and provide more opportunities for everyone to enjoy the game. The latest update on this development from the Croydon Council website states:

In February 2019, the Football Foundation asked all partner Local Authorities to temporarily pause development work on their projects while they reviewed both the national delivery model and individual projects to improve efficiencies in operating costs and identify design improvements. Over the course of 2019 Croydon Council has been working with the Football Foundation to ensure that the proposals for Croydon are sustainable. As such, there has been a delay in the delivery timetable.

A further progress update will be provided in early 2020.

In September 2020, it was announced by Croydon Council that the site of the ‘Parklife’ football hub project at Ashburton Playing Fields will be reconsidered once the operation of the Purley Way Playing fields scheme is underway, and this is likely to be at some point in 2023.

On the other side of Bywood Avenue is the Long Lane Wood which is the subject of the next green spaces story in our three-part series.

Information has come from the London Borough of Croydon, books Croydon Parks an illustrated history by Mrs. M.A.Winterman, The Croydon Races by Jim Beavis, Local History Publications, Croydon Central Library Local Studies Archives and local residents.

Story contribution taken from the Autumn 2010 Edition of the MORA Magazine
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