Until 1807, the whole of Tulse Hill and Brockwell Park formed a single estate. It originated as the three Manors of Bodley, Upgrove and Scarlettes which were first recorded in the 13th century. Between 1352 and 1537 the whole was owned by St Thomas' Hospital, in those days a monastic establishment in Southwark. After Henry VIII seized monastic estates, the land changed hands several times and by the 1650s was in the hands of the Tulse family. (Sir Henry Tulse was Lord Mayor of London in 1684).
The original Brockwell Hall stood near Norwood Road, roughly opposite Rosendale Road. A surviving account of a court hearing held there in 1563 describes it as "Brockalle" and other Tudor records refer to Brockholds or Brockholle Lane as the road past it.
In 1807 the estate was split in two and the western portion was developed as Tulse Hill. In the next few years most of the eastern portion was bought by John Blades, a wealthy Ludgate Hill glass merchant. In 1811-13 he demolished the old Hall and built a new house at the top of the hill.
His friend and landscape gardener, J.B. Papworth, laid out most of the original fields as the private park of the new Brockwell Hall. Some of the houses in Brixton Water Lane were built from 1815 for estate staff. In between, Clarence Lodge was built in 1825 where the BMX track is today. In 1828 work started on a street of houses, Brockwell Terrace on the site of the present Lido, but development came to a halt with Blades' death in 1829.
Blades' grandson, Joshua Blackburn jr., inherited the estate on his mother's death in 1860, and building in the area resumed to take advantage of the opening of Herne Hill Station in 1862. A new building, Brockwell House, was added near the site of the present changing rooms and a line of houses was built along the south side of Dulwich Road. Joshua Blackburn contributed to the cost of the new St Jude's Church in their midst, doubtless with one eye on further development, with the church at the centre of a new neighbourhood, but in his later years development was frustrated when he was confined to a lunatic asylum, and died in 1888.
In the same year, the Lambeth Vestry had obtained consent to make a new public park on the east side of Brixton Hill. But when it became apparent that the Brockwell estate would come on the market, Thomas Bristowe, Norwood's MP, led a campaign to divert the funds to securethe larger and more attractive site. Bristowe took a Bill through Parliament to create the Park, led the committee to negotiate the price and raised
the funds from contributions from local authorities and the community. Tragically, Bristowe, who had done most to establish the Park, collapsed and died on the steps of Brockwell Hall just after the formal opening ceremony on 6 June 1892.
Efforts continued over the next 10 years to add the remainder of the estate to the "new" park. Another 3.5 acres were bought in 1895 to provide access from the Brixton direction via Arlingford Road. J.J.B. Blackburn, Joshua's son, had died in 1898 and the remaining 43 acres were bought from his trustees by the LCC in 1901, and opened formally in 1903 but until the leases expired on the 4 remaining houses, only about half was actually available. The last house was demolished in 1923 and its site incorporated in the park.
J.J. Sexby, the Chief Officer of Parks of the LCC designed the conversion of the estate into a public park. When he came to the estate he described it as displaying "a wildness …… the beauties of Nature unadorned….. long stretches of undulating grassland dotted here and there with fine specimen trees…… When it was bought for the people of London, it was already a park - not a park site."
Sexby introduced recreational activities, a swimming pond, lakes and cascades, a rustic bandstand and floral carpet bedding near the Hall. Tea Rooms operated in the Hall from the beginning and a children's gymnasium was installed in the stable yard between the Hall and the stable block.
His real masterpiece and our jewel in the crown was the conversion of the estate's kitchen garden in to a stunning Old English Walled Garden.
The Lido open air swimming pool opened in 1937, leaving the old pond to model boats and later geese. A children's playground, all-weather football pitches and tennis courts were also added. While building the first phase of the Tulse Hill Estate in 1939, the LCC added an access onto Tulse Hill itself, with a way through the new estate to the Brixton Hill area beyond.
Today Brockwell Park is as important and valuable as ever. It is our green lung, our daily contact with the natural environment, a place of active recreation, a place of peace and tranquillity and a haven away from the urban environment.