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Opinion: West Ham Park the legacy of an 18th century botanist

PUBLISHED: 08:30 05 May 2019

Graeme Smith, chairman, City of London Corporation's West Ham Park Committee is proud of the Park's heritage.

Graeme Smith, chairman, City of London Corporation's West Ham Park Committee is proud of the Park's heritage.

City of London

West Ham Park, the largest park in Newham, has been owned and maintained by the City of London Corporation since 1874 when it was opened to the public.

The park has a rich cultural history spanning back over 400 years. English Heritage awarded the site Grade II status on their Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.

Today, new planting schemes are still influenced by Dr John Fothergill, the keen plant collector and physician who, in the 1760s, owned Ham House and gardens, now known as West Ham Park.

Fothergill was an outstanding botanist who developed an interest in the medicinal properties of plants. He created an extraordinary botanical garden which was second only to Kew.

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Dr Fothergill received specimens and seeds from all over the world and commissioned plant hunters to build up his collection which he housed in glasshouses that contained over 3,400 distinct species of exotics.

Inspired by his collection, we are looking to establish a North American themed design for the gardens. The planting scheme will comprise Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), first grown here 250 years ago.

During his lifetime, Fothergill commissioned some of the most eminent botanical artists of the day to provide an illustrated record of his collection.

After Fothergill's death in 1780, these illustrations were sold and became part of the collection belonging to Catherine the Great. It is estimated there were almost 1,200 drawings, some of which were discovered in 1987 at The Komarov Institute in Russia.

In 2018, The Friends of West Ham Park exhibited copies of some of these drawings and they are now campaigning for sponsorship to commission a researcher to explore and catalogue how much of the collection is still in existence. They will hold their exhibition again on Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9 in the Ornamental Gardens.

With their enthusiasm and interest from a publisher, it is hoped that a more permanent exhibition, an illustrated book and a comprehensive catalogue will at last become a reality.

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