Ladywell Fields is the largest formal public park running beside the River Ravensbourne and recognised as a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation. The river itself is identified as one of the most important features.
The name Ladywell refers to both a holy well that had purported healing qualities dedicated to the Virgin Mary and an old legend dating back to 55BC that has the river named by Julius Caesar when his invading Roman army camped at Keston and were assisted in finding a water source by an often sighted raven.
By the late 1990’s, the Ravensbourne at Ladywell Fields ran only along the edge of the park, had been artificially widened, its banks toe-boarded and a large part of it hidden behind railings and dense vegetation. It had become unnoticed by park users and was considered to have little ecological value.
Visually well-documented in Paul Talling’s ‘London’s Lost Rivers’ book (2011) and website, this part of the Ravensbourne benefitted from a strategic project (EA Plan 2010-2015) including re-meandering the river through the centre of the park to increase its profile, the creation of a backwater and pond for flood alleviation purposes, landscaping to improve the quality of habitats for wildlife and the installation of a new footbridge and footpaths to improve public accessibility. The railings and dense vegetation were removed.
Much of this was done with the help and co-operation of members of the Lewisham wider publics – embracing citizen science water testing, river clean ups, wade walking, mind mapping and storytelling from the London Bubble Theatre, performing on the banks.
To do this, NGOs such as Thames21 worked with the Environment Agency, Lewisham Council, local trusts (River and Wetlands Community days) and networked ‘friends of’ groups via Facebook to be mobilised as stewards of the river in the face of local authority funding cuts.
Memories and stories from older residents played a central role in sustaining an urban riparian sense of place through archive material illustrating ‘nurtured’ and ‘neglected’ river and drawing together conversations, oral history interviews, archival research, video and digital storytelling.
As with life, only when one looks back to how the area once was is it possible to envision its potential for how it could be in the future. This was the learning of the Ladywell Fields project.
As a result, Ladywell Fields has been transformed from its previously characterless and formless landscape into a diverse, popular and accessible public space. Use of the park has increased over two and a half times whilst the new gravel-bedded river channel has seen significant improvements in biodiversity with 100% increase in the number of species present in the park.
See case history link here.