Bedfords Park comprises land formerly belonging to the manors of Bedfords and Earls (or Nerles); the name may derive from a C14th landowner. In 1452 one-time Lord Mayor of London Sir Thomas Cooke bought and amalgamated both manors for farming, the land remaining in his family for c200 years. Subsequent owners expanded the estate and in 1865-7 the C18th manor house was enlarged and surrounding hilltop planted as gardens with exotic trees, some of which remain, as does a horse chestnut avenue and part of the walled garden. The last owner sold part of the estate in 1920 and in 1933 his widow sold Bedfords to Romford UDC, who initially opened the house as a museum and café. Used during WWII by the National Fire Service and as a base for home defence, the 1950s saw rapid decay and vandalism and it was demolished in 1959, now the site of the visitors centre. Remnants of the original steps from the house can still be seen. To the south the deer park remains; a red deer herd was first established here in 1934.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/09/2009
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.havering.gov.uk; www.essexwt.org.uk
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Bedfords, lying west of Harold Hill, comprises the land formerly belonging to the manors of Bedfords and Earls (or Nerles); the name probably derived from a John Bedford who held land in the area in 1362. In 1452 Sir Thomas Cooke, one-time Lord Mayor of London who lived at Gidea Hall, bought the two manors and amalgamated them for farming. Writing in the C18th, Philip Morant tells us that ‘he (Cooke) held it by the service of giving one red rose to the Queen’. The manor remained in the Cooke family for around 200 years but thereafter it frequently changed hands. In 1678 when Robert Wolley was owner, the estate comprised 110 acres and Earls 120 acres. In the late C18th none of the lords of the manor resided in Havering until 1771, when John Heaton bought the manor from Nathaniel Houlton. On the site of an earlier house Heaton rebuilt the manor house, which looked out towards Kent and East London onto some of the best views of the estate. A progressive landowner who promoted enclosure, Heaton endowed the living and rebuilt the vicarage. By 1846, when his grandson was in possession, the manor had grown to 537 acres. In 1854 the estate was sold to Charles Barber who enlarged the house in 1865-67 and laid out the surrounding hilltop in gardens with exotic trees, including Monkey-Puzzle, Cedar of Lebanon and Giant Sequoia. He sold the estate in 1870 to Henry Stone, who was to be the last lord of the manor. James Theobald (d. 1894), MP for Romford, lived in the house for some years. Henry Stone sold of part of the estate in 1920 and in 1933 his widow Emily remarried and sold Bedfords to Romford Urban District Council. Initially Romford Council opened the house to the public as a museum with a café, also using it for storage of Council records. During WWII the house was occupied by the National Fire Service and was a base for home defence. However, the 1950s saw rapid decay of the structure of the house and damage by vandals led to the Council’s decision to demolish it in 1959, restoration being considered uneconomical. In 1964 a modern café was built on the site of the old house but this later itself became dilapidated. It is now the site of Essex Wildlife Trust Visitors Centre, which opened in June 2003.
The house was depicted in Neale’s Seats of 1818 and described as having a ‘well-stocked garden with green houses, hot houses and a pinery of considerable extent’. Chapman and Andre’s map shows the northern tree-lined approach avenue and park boundaries unchanged from those today. The OS map of 1867 shows the avenue and the wall to the east of the house, within a belt of trees. The red brick walls of the walled garden survive, now containing C19th and C20th glasshouses, the premises of Bedfords Nursery which supplies the borough and sells to the public. The horse chestnut avenue also survives, and there are several specimen evergreens among deciduous trees around the site of the former house, including a Giant Sequoia. Remnants of the original steps from the old house can also still be seen. To the south the deer park remains; a red deer herd was first established here in 1934. The southern tip of the former estate is now Risebridge public golf course.
The avoidance of any large-scale development of ornamental gardens has left Bedfords Park in a natural state and it is now designated a Country Park. Managed by London Borough of Havering since 1993 as semi-natural parkland, it is a superb site for nature conservation throughout the seasons. A small patch of chalky boulder clay left behind by the last ice age caps the ridge of the park. The park has won a Green Flag Award in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Victoria County History of Essex vii pp9, 14, 15; 'The History and Antiquities of Essex', Philip Morant, 1768; Havering Countryside Services leaflets; LB Havering Brochure on Parks & Recreation Grounds, March 1966; John Drury, 'Treasures of Havering', Ian Henry Publications, 1998; LB Havering: 'Bedfords Park 2010' Green Flag Award leaflet and 'Management Plan for Bedfords Park from 2006 to 2011'