Bedfords Park is a rural oasis within the urban development of Havering in Essex. Its 87 hectares (210 acres) include mature woodland, wildflower meadows, ponds, streams and marshy areas on a south-facing slope overlooking the Thames basin. It is owned by the London Borough of Havering Council, which manages it jointly with the Essex Wildlife Trust.
Address: Broxhill Road, Havering-atte-Bower, Romford, Essex RM4 1QH
Bedfords Park has a long history. The area was first mentioned in 1212, when King John took the land from John Derewin as forfeiture for homicide and gave it to William D’Aubigny for the annual rent of one Sparrowhawk. In 1245 the estate passed to the Abbey of Stratford Langthorne.
Early in the 15th century the land became part of the Gidea Hall estate under Sir John Cooke, Lord Mayor of London, who enclosed it. It remained in his family for almost 200 years until 1771, when it was purchased by John Heaton, who built the manor house of Bedfords on the crest of the hill. The park and manor then passed through various owners until late in the 19th century when it owned by Charles Barber, who enlarged the house and laid out extensive gardens around it. In 1870 the estate was bought by Mr H. R. Stone and stayed with the Stone family until 1932, although the house was let to tenants, including James Theobald, MP, who was an MP from 1886 until his death in 1894 (described on one website as “his untimely death at Romford Station”.
In 1932 the Park was sold to Romford Council (now the London Borough of Havering), and it was opened as a public park in 1934. A captive herd of Red Deer was introduced to symbolise the estate’s early use as a royal hunting ground. The manor house was opened as a natural history museum, but after occupation by the National Fire Service during the 1939–45 war it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1959. In 1964 a café was built on the mansion site and the park remained popular until the 1980s, when vandalism forced the cafe to close.
The park then suffered a decline until Essex Wildlife Trust entered into a management partnership with Havering Council in 1996. The trust began to raise funds for the construction of a visitor centre, which was eventually opened on the site of the mansion opened in 2003.
The name “Bedfords” is believed to be a corruption of “Bellfonts”, meaning “good springs” and an allusion to the site’s ample supplies of water.
The park’s upper section is mainly landscaped parkland, with a deer enclosure and close-mown slopes. The area includes many exotic trees originally planted in the mansion gardens. Among them are cedar of Lebanon, holm oak, Chile pine (monkey-puzzle), giant redwood and yew. Spring Woods and the Round Pond are in the upper section with tall marsh plants like meadowsweet, great willowherb and wild angelica intermingled with trees such as oak, hornbeam, ash and hawthorn. Around the pond edge are tall plants such as yellow flag and reedmace.
The park’s lower section is managed for wildlife, with hay meadows and some mature woodland and scrub. To the east of the north-south bridleway is an area of marsh, fed by springs at the top of the slope, in which lady's smock (cuckoo flower), pignut and ragged robin flower in spring, followed by sneezewort and pepper saxifrage. Beyond it is a large meadow with a reputation as one of the finest flower-rich grasslands in Essex. Also in the lower section are a deer park, Bedfords Lake, damselfly ponds, wildflower meadows, Larch Wood and Foxes Hill.
The park’s range of habitats make it possible to see a wide variety of bird species. The woodland hosts tawny owl, all three species of woodpecker, four species of tit, nuthatch and treecreeper. In spring, many warbler species arrive to breed, particularly in the scrub and woodland in the lower section of the park. Sparrowhawk and kestrel are resident and hobby can be seen in summer. Other raptors include regular buzzards and occasional sightings of marsh harriers and red kite. Winter sees a large corvid roost, with hundreds of Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws gathering near the deer pen. Firecrest are not unusual in winter.
Mammals, reptiles and amphibians
The park has a captive herd of Red Deer, and wild Fallow Deer, Roe Deer and Muntjac are often attracted to the site. Foxes and Weasels are also regularly spotted. Most of the ponds are inhabited by Great Crested Newts and Smooth Newts, and Grass Snakes are often seen nearby or swimming across the ponds.
The meadows provide a habitat for an abundance of butterflies and other invertebrates in the summer. The long grasses of the wildflower meadow harbour grasshoppers and crickets, which have in turn attracted the stunning yellow and black wasp spider, whose webs can be seen in profusion among the grass.
The ponds and lake attract many dragonflies and damselflies, with 16 species breeding here and a further six species seen since the visitor centre opened. Small Red-eyed Damselflies, in Britain only since 1999, now breed in their thousands on the lake, and Hairy Dragonflies visit each year (unusual for an inland site).
By road: Bedfords Park is 3 miles north of Romford, between Havering-atte-Bower and Harold Hill. Brown tourist signs point the way from various junctions in the area but for most visitors the easiest approach is from the A12 at the Gallows Corner roundabout (A127 junction): go north on Straight Road (signposted to Havering-atte-Bower), turning right at the end and then immediately left into Broxhill Road and look out for the park entrance on the left opposite a white water tower. The entrance road leads south along the edge of the site to a woodland car park near the visitor centre. The park’s main footpath access is in the south-west corner on Lower Bedfords Road. There are other footpaths, bridleway and cycleway entrances off Lower Bedfords Road.
By public transport: For those approaching by public transport, the nearest rail station is Romford, from which you can take buses 103, 375 or 499. At Chase Cross the 499 turns east along Bedfords Park Road, passing the pedestrian entrances to the park; on either of the other routes, alight at Chase Cross (terminus for bus 103), from where it is a short walk along Bedfords Park Road to the park.
The park is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm. It is closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and Mondays other than bank holiday Mondays. There is no admission charge.
Dogs can be taken anywhere in the park but (except guide dogs) are not allowed in the visitor centre. Horse riding is allowed only on the bridleway that runs from north to south through the centre of the park.
Disabled parking is available in the trust’s car park, from where a sloping path leads down to the visitor centre, which has access for wheelchairs and male and female disabled toilets. Disabled access to the park is limited because the site is on a slope and some woodland paths are not suitable for wheelchairs.
The Essex Wildlife Trust visitor centre (tel 01708 748646) is an eco-friendly interpretive centre where visitors can buy refreshments and enjoy panoramic views of East London and Kent and spend their money in a gift shop that sells toys, gifts, bird foods and feeders, binoculars and telescopes. A sightings board records recently seen birds and other creatures. Just outside the visitor centre is a prize-winning garden from the 2003 Chelsea Flower Show (it won a silver medal in the courtyard garden category), which has a gazebo to sit under while watching birds visit nearby feeders.
This information has been cobbled together from various online sources by Andrew Haynes, who has never visited the site but thinks that it deserves a page on this website. If you are familiar with the site, please correct, expand and/or update this information. Please!