History of Betts Park
Betts Park has a long and interesting history dating back more than 1000 years. It's a history not of kings and battles, but of ordinary people and the community around them.
King Eadwig of Wessex granted part of the Great North Wood, known as Penge, to the Manor of Battersea as a reward for services rendered. Penge included a large common, a copse, a few houses and lots of valuable timber.
Having ousted the Saxon kings, the new Norman King William I reassigned the Manor of Battersea together with all the land at Penge to Westminster Abbey as part payment in exchange for the crown and an official coronation. The timber became a "nice little earner" for the abbey. The good folk of Penge continued to farm the copse and the common as they always had.
The St John Family
King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Battersea with Penge was sold to the St John family. The handful of residents in Penge continued life pretty much as they always had done. Occasionally they would help cut timber for the manor, but mostly they were left alone.
The Spencer Family
The Earls Spencer bought Battersea and Penge from the St Johns (Grandison) and, as was traditional by now, left it to be administered by the Vicar of Battersea. The people of Penge continued to eek a living largely undisturbed by the world. Penge Common provided pasture for livestock and Clay Copse produced enough firewood.
The rural life began to erode when a canal was cut through the heart of Penge Common and a wharf built. Access to the northern half of the common was now restricted to one bridge and the Earl had begun to question how much of the land was really held in common and what was his to dispose of as he wished.
Old Betty Saville
Born and raised in Penge, Betty was called before the justices to walk the boundaries of Penge with Earl Spencer and point out where the borders lay. She lived in an old wagon by Clay Copse and, unknowingly, would become the last resident of Penge Common.
Act of Inclosure
With English timber no longer competitive against imports and Penge Common being unsuited to agriculture, Earl Spencer successfully petitioned parliament for permission to sell the land in plots at auction. William Sanderson, a Scottish silk merchant, bought plots around the canal and built himself the first house which he called "Anerley", meaning only/lonely in a Scots dialect.
The Croydon Canal had already closed and been replaced by railways. When the Crystal Palace was moved from Hyde Park to the top of the hill on Penge Common, the area boomed. Roads, houses and shops sprung up everywhere. Betty Saville's refusal to budge from her wagon meant that despite being sold, only the land around Clay Copse would remain undeveloped.
A local lad made good, Frederick Betts was a notorious landlord and aggressive businessman. Yet he had a strong belief in philanthropy. As a councillor in neighbouring Purley he challenged other councillors to stop complaining about lack of public facilities and give up some of their own land to improve the lives of the poor. The councillors joked that they would if he did, resulting in an immediate donation of Frederick's land as Betts Mead.
Penge Urban District Council
When the council in Penge heard of his donation they asked if he would show his generosity in Anerley. He donated Oak Lawn villa alongside Croydon Canal as a public library and its gardens as a public park: dedicated to the memory of his late mother Sarah Betts. Over the next few years Penge Council purchased adjacent of land to increase the size.
King George V
When the King Emperor died in 1936 a memorial fund was set up the buy land for public recreation. The lower half of Betts Park was added using this funding. The combined upper and lower halves of the park completed the return of Clay Copse - albeit as a public park, rather than a coppice. The 13 acres of Betts Park with its canal was finally complete and preserved in perpetuity by Deeds of Dedication which mean it can never be developed.
London Borough of Bromley
Penge Urban District Council was abolished in local government reorganisation and Anerley and Penge became part of the London Borough of Bromley who owns Betts Park to this day.