Clockhouse Gardens occupy the site of the former gardens of New Place, a property which for much of its early history was an appendage of the Gaynes Estate. In 1775 it was inherited by Sir James Esdaile, Lord Mayor of London in 1777-78, who renovated the house and laid out gardens. After the death of the last private resident in 1924, the house was demolished but its C18th stable block, The Clockhouse, remained, initially used by the local Council. Vegetables were grown in the grounds during WWII, after which they were opened as Clockhouse Gardens, with part of the moat remaining from the earlier landscape. A bowling green was constructed in 1952/3. A recent addition is a sculptural feature of wooden figures, animals and seats providing a setting for children's play.
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Clockhouse Gardens is a small public park occupying the site of the former gardens and stables of New Place, which was built by Sir James Esdaile in 1775 on the site of an earlier C18th house. New Place itself was first mentioned in c.1475 and the name still survives in New Place Gardens, a road that runs adjacent to the remains of the former estate. For much of its history New Place was an appendage of the Gaynes Estate with the lords of that manor often living here. By the mid C17th successful Londoners were buying country retreats in Upminster and in 1700 New Place had been acquired by a draper. Some 70 years later Sir James Esdaile, Lord Mayor of London in 1777-1778, inherited the estate through his second wife. He amalgamated New Place and Gaynes and ‘undertook a programme of building, renovation and landscaping which transformed Upminster'. (VCH Essex vii, p.146). In 1856 New Place was described by T L Wilson as follows: ‘on the south of the house is a spacious garden, somewhat in olden style, but not deficient in taste. Some portion of a moat, shaded by trees and stocked with fish, partly surrounds a mound. Here are cedars again, and a fine conservatory, and forcing houses.’
In 1909 New Place comprised 70 acres and was bought by Sir Peter Griggs, who had played a large part in the development of Ilford and now turned his attention to Upminster. In 1924, upon the death of the last resident of the manor, New Place house was demolished. The stable block within the grounds, The Clockhouse, remained giving rise to the new name for New Place. A red brick building of c.1775, The Clockhouse has a small rectangular turret with a circular black clockface with gilt figures. The clock is signed ‘Edward Tutet, London 1774’ and is said to have come from the Woolwich Arsenal. The Clockhouse was used as Council offices from 1924-1934 and then as a branch of Hornchurch Library from 1936-63.
During the war vegetable crops were cultivated on part of the site, mainly to provide for civic restaurants. During the two decades following the war Clockhouse Gardens was created as a delightful public park, and was a popular centre for recreation, in its heyday having three full-time members of staff: two gardeners and a park attendant. A bowling green was constructed in 1952/53, funded by compensation received from commandeered park railings during the war years.
The moat with its now thickly overgrown central island survives, fenced by low railings as the central feature of the eastern half of the park. With its various wildfowl it is an ever-present attraction throughout the year. In the 1960s the waters of the moat were well stocked with fish, most of which were transferred from Langtons Gardens (q.v.) when its lake was cleaned out in 1953/54; the old moat has an island covered in sycamore woodland, plants growing around the margins include water figwort, gypsywort and purple loosestrife. The park is surrounded by large trees including two notable poplars, horse chestnuts, and encircled on three sides by an asphalted perimeter walk and some municipal-style beds close to the entrance. At the south-west corner, the perimeter walk terminates in an alcove seat or Arbour, situated as a vista between herbaceous borders. The bowling green in the western section of the gardens has a wooden clubhouse and is used by the Clockhouse Bowling Club. The Clockhouse itself now survives as the tranquil setting of a sheltered accommodation complex. A recent addition in the gardens in a woodland setting by the lake is a sculptural feature of wooden figures, animals and seats providing a setting for children's play.
Victoria County History of Essex vii pp143, 145-147, 151; Hornchurch UDC: Report on Parks and Recreation Grounds, Sydney Porter, September 1961