London Has A Central Park... In Fact, It Has Four

By M@
London Has A Central Park... In Fact, It Has Four

Hear the words "Central Park" and you probably think of New York. Well, perhaps not if you live in certain parts of east London, where no fewer than four Central Parks serve the local recreational needs. None of them are particularly 'central' from a London-wide point of view, but could be considered central to their local areas.

We followed the almost-straight-line of Central Parks out north-east from Greenwich...

1. Central Park, North Greenwich

A view of Central Park Greenwich with some very tall apartment blocks and the cable car in the background

Where is it: A thin strip of a park along the spine of the North Greenwich peninsula.
Is it as good as Central Park NYC? No.
Tell me more: Of the four parks we'll encounter, this one has most in common with its New York namesake. I mean, look at the satellite view. If you stick your fingers in your eyes and use your imagination, we could almost be in Manhattan.

A side-by-side comparison of North Greenwich and Manhattan
My god, it's uncanny

Greenwich's Central Park is not surrounded by a wall of skyscrapers... though as the photo up top shows, it's working on it. Otherwise, there's not much to say about this Central Park. It's little more than a long, thin strip of grass with a perimeter of cherry trees (which support a noisy passerine population). The only point of note is a war memorial at the southern end, commemorating the fallen of the South Metropolitan Gas Company. That and the row of ancient cottages which includes The Pilot pub. Prophetically, Blur filmed the video to Parklife on this row — a decade or so before Central Park was willed into existence from a semi-industrial wasteland.

2. Central Park, East Ham

A view of two paths leading off into a park in winter, with an ornamental fountain in foreground
The fountain doesn't work, alas

Where is it: Equidistant, yet inconveniently far, from Upton Park and East Ham stations.
Is it as good as Central Park NYC? No.
Tell me more: Where the Greenwich Central Park lacks features of interest, the East Ham version floweth over with oddities to explore. This park has it all: a well-marked and diverse tree trail, painted rocks, Olympic sculptures, sports facilities, playgrounds, historic urns, a cute little bookswap and a really, really nice cafe that serves proper coffee.

A pair of red columns in Central Park East Ham
Another oddity of the park is this pair of red columns, which are strangely ignored by the otherwise thorough information boards. A local resident informs me that they're remnants from an open-air stage that once stood here. It's not clear why they remain when the rest of the stage has long-gone.

This is the kind of local park we all deserve but rarely get. Even in winter it was a joy to explore.Bravo!

3. Central Park, Dagenham

A park bereft of features in the mist
Remarkable for its lack of paths

Where is it: A moderate trek north from Dagenham East tube station.
Is it as good as Central Park NYC? No.
Tell me more: “Watch where you’re walking cos loads of people don’t clear their shit up,” a local advises me as I stride gamely across the grass. I can only presume she was talking about dogs. The warning added a frisson of excitement in what is otherwise a largely unremarkable park. Even the council admits it's a bit dull. Work is underway to make Central Park "a more interesting green space" for local residents, with a new play area and better paths (they are few and far between, hence my not wholly successful off-road turd dodging). About the only feature of interest is one of those Olympic outdoor gyms in the shape of the maligned 2012 logo. That and about a dozen rugby pitches.

An outdoor gym, in London 2012 branding
An Olympic gym from 2012. From above, it forms the shape of the notorious logo

One good thing about Dagenham's Central Park is that it serves as a gateway unto a green chain of parks and nature reserves that stretch all the way out to Hornchurch a couple of miles away. The rest of that walk is more interesting.

4. Central Park, Harold Hill

Three statues, including Henry VIII on the left in a park

Where is it: A moderate trek north from Harold Wood Elizabeth line station.
Is it as good as Central Park NYC? No.
Tell me more: We're only a few houses and a golf course away from Essex here, on the Havering fringes. This least central of all the Central Parks is well geared up for the local youth, with an excellent playground, BMX track, skate park and even a parkour "facility". Where this park really stands out, though, is in its statuary. It has a trio of those Sustrans sculptures, depicting Henry VIII (who had a royal palace in Havering), music teacher Dick Bouchard, and Harry Eccleston, who designed banknotes for the Bank of England. The statue of the king is particularly noteworthy. Any number of trivia books will tell you that Henry's only London statue stands above the entrance to Bart's Hospital. Not so, as long as you count Havering as part of London (which many people don't, despite it being a London borough).

All images by the author, except for the Google satellite views.

Last Updated 23 September 2023

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