Morshead residents are very fortunate to live opposite Paddington Recreation Ground. Not only does it provide a lovely vista to look out onto, but it also has a wealth of recreational facilities to take advantage of, from simply pausing for some coffee, taking a stroll through the wooded areas and numerous footpaths, going for a short run, right up to taking part in a wide range of competitive sports, including tennis, football, hockey and cricket.
This 27-acre site first opened in 1888 and was the first park and athletic ground of its kind in London. Prior to 1888 it was used by the local church, who laid out a cricket pitch for the parish community. During the 1880’s, Richard Beachcroft, who was the secretary of the Paddington Cricket Club, led an initiative to extend the cricket ground by forming a committee of local cricket clubs and negotiating arrangements with local landowners.
The pavilion, which still stands today, was formally opened at the same time as the park and was renamed ‘The Richard Beachcroft Pavilion’ in 2010 to recognise his work in creating the original space, with a commemorative plaque placed on the building.
The park was originally conceived as a work creation scheme, to alleviate the severe 1887-1888 economic slump that coincided with Queen Victoria’s jubilee.
500 unemployed Paddington men were utilised for 10 weeks to prepare the land prior to opening, partly funded by Beachcroft himself. When first opened, the area where the cricket green is now sited was a cinder cycle track, replaced in 1900 with a banked cycle track, with a running track placed inside. These were removed in 1987 and the grass bank on the Grantully Road side of the park is now the only remaining evidence of the banking.
In the beginning, the park was only held on a risky annual tenancy, however, on July 9th 1890 the then Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, came to visit the park and Lord Randolph Churchill, who was MP for Paddington South and had been instrumental in establishing the park, lobbied the Prince to save the area for public use. Over the following years and with the Prince’s patronage, £50,000 was raised to buy the freehold.
The Paddington Recreation Act was passed by parliament in 1893, which authorised the formal acquisition of the land to ‘provide the residents with a public recreational ground’. In 1896, a charitable trust was set up under the name of the Paddington Recreation Ground, owned by London County Council, and the future of the park as we know it today was secured.
Paddington Recreation Ground has been home to some significant history over the years. Catford Cycling Club first held track races in the grounds in 1889, soon after the park opened, which would regularly attract up to 7000 spectators. The original running track, which was turned into the new cricket pitch in 1987, was used by Roger Bannister in the early 1950’s, while he was a medical student at St Mary’s Hospital, to train for his four minute mile attempt. A blue plaque was unveiled at the pavilion in September 2000 to commemorate his achievement.
There is now also a second blue plaque at the pavilion to honour the successes of cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins, who started riding bikes at the park as a child while living nearby in Kilburn.
The hockey pitch is home to Hampstead and Westminster Hockey Club, who enter teams in both the Men’s and Women’s England Hockey Leagues. Established in 1894, this is one of the largest adult hockey clubs in the UK.
In 2006, Westminster City Council started a 3.5 million regeneration programme, which enabled extensive refurbishments to be carried out and today, Paddington Recreation Ground
receives financial support from sports organisations that include Sport England, the Football Foundation, the English Football Association and the Lawn Tennis Association.
In its modern day incarnation, Paddington Recreation Ground has a wealth of sporting facilities available, including 13 tennis courts, 10 synthetic and 3 hard courts, all of which have recently been resurfaced and are in excellent playing condition,
a 400m athletics track, which was refurbished in 2020, 2 artificial turf pitches, a ‘water-based’ hockey pitch, a bowling green, cricket nets, a cricket pitch, 5 a side pitches, an outdoor gym area and a fully equipped indoor gym, run by Everyone Active.
For less sporty people, there are secluded garden areas, including a rose garden. You will also find a bandstand, a nature trail, two enclosed dog walking areas, a large children’s play area and a café with outside seating.
We really are very fortunate to have such a large, beautiful and versatile recreation space right on our doorstep, if you haven’t explored it yet why not take a stroll and see for yourself what’s on offer!