The Borough of Epsom & Ewell covers approximately 8500 acres of which 2000 is open space. In this article, we cover the history of Nonsuch Park - the busiest and most open of all our green spaces.
The Park is on the English Heritage register of historic country parks, contains Ancient Woodland and has been selected as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) for its habitats and wildlife.
In 2008, Surrey County Council, who own the freehold of much of the park, granted a lease of ownership jointly to Sutton and Epsom & Ewell Councils and a 5 year management plan
A childhood haunt of Botanist David Bellamy
, the park is open from 7.30 a.m. until dusk, 365 days a year.
Laying Out The Park
The original Nonsuch Park, covering a much larger area than the present open space, was created in 1538 by Henry VIII to celebrate the 30th year of his accession and the birth of his son, the future Edward VI. The core of the park was formed out of the manor of Cuddington, which the King had bought from Richard Codington, the last of a long line of landowners based there. The Codingtons had owned some land in Malden to the north, and this was purchased by Henry along with the manor. He also bought a line of fields that lay in Ewell, west of the Cuddington boundary and east of Ewell Common.
The park was later enlarged by James I, who in 1606 took in some lands north of the Hogsmill in the manor of Long Ditton. By this time its boundaries were at their most extensive. They began, in modern terms, east of Ewell at the point where London Road meets the Bypass; then along the Bypass line, leaving it at Stoneleigh and continuing up Walsingham Gardens, west of Auriol Park and along Cromwell Road; crossing the Hogsmill and looping round the Maori Sports Ground, to return over the river by Barrow Hill along Highdown to Worcester Park Station; then behind Cheam Common Road and so down to London Road; along the eastern edge of the present park, and then following Ewell Road into Cheam Road down to its junction with the Bypass; and then through the grounds of Ewell Castle to meet up with London Road again.
London Road (the ancient Stane Street
, now the A24) continued in use as a main road; it divided the park into two sections, the northern half, of about 1000 acres, was known as the Great Park, and the southern, of 670 acres, as the Little Park. Originally the road from Ewell to Cheam had run across the Little Park, but this was diverted around its southern boundary, which is why the present Cheam Road (the A232) describes a long curve. This was the only part of the park pale that was laid out from fresh, instead of following an existing property boundary. The rest of the manor of Cuddington, extending up to Banstead Downs, was left out of the park and remained farmland.
Each of the two parks had its own Keeper - a largely honorary post, since the actual management of the landscape was handled by subordinates. Under James I, the Earl of Worcester was made Keeper of the Great Park, and he rebuilt his lodge as a mansion known as Worcester House. By 1627 the Great Park had become known as Worcester Park, and in 1731 was sold off for agricultural land. It was the Little Park that became the Nonsuch Park we know today.
Nonsuch Palace by Hendrick Danckerts
The King's Park
It was traditional for royal estates to be divided into an outer park managed only for hunting, and a little or home park containing buildings, gardens, and a smaller hunting area. Nonsuch was laid out on this plan. The Palace
which Henry built on the ruins of Cuddington church and manor house was an architectural display of Henry's wealth and magnificence, hence the name derived from 'None Such'; but it wasn't very large, being intended only for short stays by the court. Immediately south of the Palace lay the small Privy Garden, screened by high walls, and to the west there were Grounds
laid out in groves and orchards, extending to the Grove of Diana at the slope of the rising ground. Further on, about a quarter of a mile from the Palace, a Banqueting House
was built on the highest ground within the park; its balconies provided magnificent views westwards over Ewell.
The rest of the park occupied land which had originally surrounded the village of Cuddington. By 1538 this had shrunk since the days when it was equal to Ewell or Cheam. Most of its fields were small pastures, enclosed by hedges; the arable land, stretching up to the Downs, had been excluded when the park boundary was drawn. So there were many trees (more than 5,000, according to a survey of 1650) and the finest lay close to the Palace site, where the old manor house had been.
Henry VIII died in 1547, before the Palace was completed, having visited on maybe only three occasions. Nonsuch remained a royal possession until 1556, when Mary sold it to Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel. He was a Catholic, and so suffered from disadvantages under the new reign of Elizabeth I; in 1569 he was caught plotting against Elizabeth, and banished to Nonsuch. The property passed to Arundel's son-in-law John, Lord Lumley, in 1580, and twelve years later Lumley found himself so encumbered by debts that he sold it to Elizabeth, bringing the property back into royal hands.
The last years of Elizabeth's reign were the most popular period of the Palace's life, when it was used regularly to entertain ambassadors and for meetings of state. James I made improvements to the hunting, and allowed his son Henry to hold court here. Following the untimely death of Prince Henry, it was little used until his brother Charles I succeeded to the throne in 1625, when he gave it to his queen Henrietta Maria as a private retreat. The outbreak of the First Civil War in 1642 saw Royalist troops gathering in the lodges of the Great and Little Park and there was fighting in the area during the Second Civil War of 1648. After Charles had been executed, Nonsuch was among the royal estates sold off by Parliament. There had been unauthorised felling and sales of timber, but under the Parliamentary general Thomas Pride, the park was restored to its position as a gentleman's residence.
Charles II, who had acquired all the old royal estates at the restoration, had little use for Nonsuch. In 1670 he gave it to his former mistress Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine. In 1682 she had the Palace pulled down and sold off the demolished building materials to offset her gambling debts. The park was eventually divided up and sold as farmland in 1731; Cherry Orchard Farm was established between the sites of the Banqueting Hall and Palace.
The soil to the west of the park is mainly clay and there is evidence of quarrying and pottery from 1708 until 1790 after which Nonsuch Pottery
was established nearby.
The Mansion House across the park in autumn
Between 1802 - 06 a Mansion House
, with formal gardens and outhouses, was built at the Cheam end by the then current owner Samuel Farmer, MP for Huntingdon, which replaced an earlier structure. Several generations of his family subsequently lived there. This is now a Grade II* Listed Building and is probably on the site of the former keeper's lodge.
The Mansion House in winter
Near this was a nursery providing fruit and vegetables, a farm and ice-well. By this time the remains of the Palace had been levelled and 'The Avenue' built. A Stone Cross and Drinking Fountain
was built outside the Cheam entrance, sometimes referred to as 'The Bellgate Entrance'.
During the 1840s the Sutton to Epsom railway line was built through the south of the park. A retaining wall on the remains of the Banqueting Hall approximately 1m high was rebuilt using some original Tudor bricks as part of a conversion to an arboretum.
Between the wars, housing developed between the railway line and the southern boundary, and work had started on a new arterial road through the park. By this time, the Ewell Bypass had been completed to the west, which involved the destruction of the attractive Hatch Furlong area and utilised a portion of the field in which the Banqueting Hall stood.
Concerned about this encroaching development, 263 acres of the Little Park and the Mansion were purchased in 1937 from the then owner Alice Colborne (daughter of William Farmer)* by a consortium of the local authorities involved. These were London County Council, Surrey County Council, Sutton & Cheam Borough Council and Epsom & Ewell Urban District Council*. This was purchased for public open space as part of the Green Belt around London and the park has been managed by a Joint Management Committee ever since. The Official Opening took place on Wednesday 29 September, 1937. The area involved did not include the site of the Banqueting Hall - this remains with Epsom & Ewell, who made it available to the public in compensation for the destruction of Hatch Furlong. Construction of the new arterial road was abandoned, although much of it can still be traced.
Official Opening Programme
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
Cheam Gate Lodge was demolished in 1938.
During World War 2, public brick surface shelters were built along the north side near Sparrow Farm Road, and in common with other open spaces, obstacles were made from a mixture of trenches and scrap metal to deter potential troop-carrying gliders. Mobile gun batteries were put in place. It was a base for the Home Guard, whilst Canadian soldiers camped in the grounds just before D-Day. Wounded Servicemen were billeted in the Mansion House.
Haystacks in Nonsuch Park c.1940
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.
100 acres of the park were used for growing corn and potatoes and farmed by land girls; sheep and cattle, neither of which are present today, used to graze. Allotments were located along the northern and western edges. The Mansion House's kitchen gardens produced vegetables for sale, both to individuals and local green grocers, and this continued until the early 1970s.
London Road Lodge was demolished in 1955.
In 1959 excavation work finally determined the location of the Palace. The work, lasting 12 weeks, involved 500 people and attracted 60,000 visitors and television coverage. Further excavations took place a year later. The finds were given to the Museum of London and the Palace's position is now indicated by three stone obelisks on The Avenue.
One of the three obelisks indicating the Palace's position
Cereal cultivation ceased in the 1960s and the land grassed over. New trees were planted alongside The Avenue and to the north of the Mansion.
During the 1970s Cherry Orchard Farm was demolished. New lodges were built at the two northern entrances and at the Castle Avenue entrance. Many 300 year-old trees were lost to Dutch elm disease in this era, with further losses following the 1987 storm. Some further tree planting took place to replace those lost.
Looking north over the snow covered park
What we now know as Nonsuch Park covers an area of 250 acres featuring a large open space with The Avenue and connecting paths running within the perimeter near the western, southern and eastern edges between the car parks and Mansion. Grass paths criss-cross this. Other than vehicles accessing the Mansion from Cheam Gate, the Park is also car-free. As the name implies, The Avenue is tree lined, featuring horse-chestnut, beech and turkey oak. There are three dog-free areas.
On the Nonsuch Trail in winter
To the west of The Avenue is the more 'natural' area, which can get very muddy in winter. (You may wish to refer to the Nonsuch Trail
which covers this section).
Remains of the Banqueting Hall
The remains of the Banqueting House is now listed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and cedars and conifers can be found nearby. The woods in this area are rich in bryophytes and molluscs.
Up to 1990 the nursery land attached to Cherry Orchard Farm had been used as part of Epsom and Ewell Borough's Ground Maintenance operation. Flowers grown were used as street decorations within the borough. When this ceased, wild flowers mixed with the few remaining plants from the nursery and the area inadvertently became a pocket of natural beauty. Attempts to sell off or build on this land were successfully resisted. A new footpath
was constructed through here in 2010. The former chalk pit, often referred to as 'Devil's Dyke', is now home to the BMX bike community.
Running parallel to the south of The Avenue is the embankment of the abandoned arterial road, later known as 'Bee Passage'. Beyond this is 53 acres of land known as 'Warren Farm' after the farm that was originally located in the area; this is separately managed by the Woodland Trust. Here the aim has been to create a new area of woodland and managing the former arable fields for wild flowers including orchids; the eastern hill contains species of wild flowers that are uncommon in this area such as hawkweed oxtongue, common broomrape, blue fleabane and great lettuce. Part of this site has been developed in recent years, with new housing at the Ewell end and a leisure centre at the Cheam end. Unfortunately, the Grade II listed Stone Cross and Drinking Fountain in Cheam was completely demolished in a car crash in August 2013; this was reported locally
, readers may wish to spot the mistake.
To the north can be found woodland and scrub containing a mixture of grassland, copses and a balancing pond (an artificial pond designed to store surface water run-off during peak flows and release it as required). This was built during the 1980s close to the site of the former Great Pond. Trees found here include lime, oak, yew and sycamore.
Oak tree in the Park
Photo by Gill Sanders
The Friends of Nonsuch
open the service wing of the Mansion to the public, including the kitchen, larders, sculleries and laundries; this is open between 2pm - 5pm, on the 2nd & 4th Sunday each month between April and September, plus Bank Holidays in May and August. The Nonsuch Palace Gallery is open between 11am - 2pm every Sunday, and since November 2011 has included a model of Nonsuch Palace - pictures of which can be found here
The Mansion has been extensively refurbished and can be hired for weddings and parties, whilst next door is a recently opened café known as 'The Nonsuch Pantry' and toilets.
Community and Cultural Events regularly take place; recent examples have been the South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre sponsored walk and the National Childbirth Trust Teddy Bear's Picnic. World Tai Chi Day has taken place annually. Within the Mansion's formal gardens, the Friends of Nonsuch/Nonsuch Rotary Club regularly have a Big Band Night.
Opposite the Mansion House is the former Nursery Lodge, which in 2013 was adapted to become The Little Oaks Forest Nursery School.
Popular with joggers and cyclists, every Saturday at 09:00 sees the 5 km Nonsuch Parkrun
'Rocky Robin' Taken in the Gardens of the Mansion House in Nonsuch Park on 21 January 2013
Photo by Andrew Tijou © via Flickr and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
There are many opportunities to observe local wildlife in Nonsuch Park, although over the last few years the number of people using the park has increased and has put pressure on the wildlife. So we are lucky that the park is managed in a balanced way which allows the public to have peaceful enjoyment of this beautiful open space while ensuring that the wildlife and its habitats are not put at risk. No matter how well-managed a park may be, it is up to every park user to act in a responsible and considerate manor.
We therefore ask that while enjoying the park's amenities you take into account the needs of the wildlife. This is best done by avoiding any action that will disturb the wildlife or endangers its habitat. In other words, please put the interests of the wildlife first. In this way we hope that the wildlife can thrive and that future generations will enjoy the park and continue observing nature as much as we do today.
Dog owners are asked to keep their dogs under control at all times; your dog should respond to a command to come to heel. This is particularly important in the woods and areas of undergrowth where many animals live, especially during the Spring breeding season.
Jays visit the Park
Photo by Gill Sanders
We are very fortunate in that around 80 species of bird have been seen in the park in the last few years, Kestrels and Sparrow Hawks among them.
You are likely to see some of the following birds in the park throughout the year:
The habitats mentioned in this table can clearly be seen
in the satellite view of the interactve map below.
Different birds will appear at different times of the year, depending on their migration patterns, and will be found in different habitats. The woods attract Nuthatches, Tree Creepers and Goldcrests. The ponds regularly attract Moorhens and Grey Herons and in winter Black-Headed Gulls have been seen. The Mansion Gardens are frequented by Bullfinches and the odd Pied Wagtail. But perhaps the best places to see birds are the areas around the site of the Palace and the Banqueting Hall early in the morning. Observers in small family-sized parties are much less likely to disturb the birds than groups of eight or more.
The dog-free areas offer many species of bird a sanctuary from the attentions of our four-legged friends. It is important to note that the ground-nesting Skylarks, which were once regular visitors to Warren Farm, have been scared away, mainly by dogs chasing after them but also, to a lesser extent, by the various paths crisscrossing the area.
Other Wildlife, Flora and Fauna
Mammals present in the park today include Grey Squirrels, Foxes, Weasels and Wood Mice. The park can also boast species of reptile and amphibian, a diversity of snails and slugs, and butterflies, moths, dragonflies, crickets, grasshoppers, earwigs, bees, wasps and ants. In fact the park is host to well over 1000 different sorts of living thing. This level of biodiversity in an urban setting has to be a sign of a healthy park. Let's keep it that way!
Maintaining The Site
Although managed by the Nonsuch Park Joint Management Committee, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council has responsibility for the operational management of the park and staff. This is made up as follows:
- 1 On-site Senior Gardener;
- 1 On-site Park Patroller;
- 1 On-site Park Patroller/Gardener;
- 1 On-site Tractor Driver/Forester;
- 1 Off-site Gardener.
This compares to 12 members plus seasonal labour during the 1940s. One of the four on-site members has a flat in Nonsuch Mansion whilst the other three live in the lodges dotted around the park. This provides round-the-clock security.
Walking Routes and Access Points
Click on this thumbnail to open the interactive map:
The Main Route is shown by a thick red line basically on the course of The Avenue and running between the two London Road gates. This is suitable for all weathers and wheelchair users may find Nonsuch the most navigable of all our open spaces, having the greatest number of level stretches of solid path. The thin red lines showing connecting/alternative routes and for when it is less muddy. On the left is a list of all routes; click on one of these and the relevant route will be pointed out accompanied by a description box.
To manoeuvre around the map, hold down the left mouse button, drag the screen into position and let go. To zoom in and out, either use the + and - buttons or click & drag the vertical slide bar top left; better still, if your mouse has a scroll wheel, use that. You can toggle between 'map' and 'satellite' versions by clicking on the appropriate box in the top right corner.
Clicking and dragging the little orange man onto roads (which will subsequently be highlighted in blue where the function is available) will give you the opportunity to use 'Streetview'; you may need to use the rotating navigational ring in the top left corner to point yourself in the right direction. Unfortunately this doesn't cover the Park.
Nonsuch has good solid paths suitable for all
There are three car parks, two by the London Road entrances in the north and one off the Ewell Road (Cheam) entrance in the south. Parking for the disabled is available by the Mansion House via the Cheam entrance.
Pedestrians can use these, as well as footpaths from Blue Gates, Beaufort Way, Ewell By-Pass and the corner of Castle and Castlemaine Avenues. Access can also be gained through Warren Farm via Bramley Road and Seymour Avenue.
Bus 293 (Epsom - Ewell - North Cheam - Morden) runs along the north side of the park and stops near both gates ('Ewell Park Way' in the west, 'Sparrow Farm Road' in the east).
Bus 470 (Epsom - Ewell - Cheam - Colliers Wood) passes the Cheam entrance at the south.
Timetables for both of these buses can be found on Transport for London's Bus Timetable
The nearest rail stations are Ewell East and Cheam, both of which are indicated on the interactive map. Train times can be found on National Rail's Journey Planner
Oyster and Travelcards are valid on these bus and train services.
Thanks to: Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell and Stewart Cocker, Countryside Manager, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council
* Thanks also to Frances Wright for pointing out some minor errors.
Text and Photos (unless credited otherwise) by Nick Winfield, March 2014
The text of the Wildlife section was rewritten by Peter Reed, November 2014