Gunnersbury Park is a place of contrasts. How many parks have two mansion houses side by side and how many have parts that are smart and newly-restored, and others that are fenced off, boarded up, derelict or recently-destroyed?
While there have been previous houses in Gunnersbury Park, located to the north of the M4 motorway, the two that exist today – the Large Mansion and the Small Mansion date from when the estate was split up in the early 19th century. Purchase of the two parts of the estate by the Rothschild family in 1835 and 1889 pieced the Park back together again, which was then sold to the local authority in the 1920’s for use as public open space, with a small area developed for housing, thus the two houses stand today alongside each other.
In addition to the two mansions, one used as a museum, other buildings include the Orangery designed in 1836 by Sydney Smirke, the Temple folly, Princess Amelia’s Bath-house, the Gothic tower which was a boat house and other garden structures, plus lakes, a pond and formal gardens. An ambitious regeneration project was in progress, which means there is a strange contrast between, for example, the refurbished Large Mansion and the adjacent decaying and closed Small Mansion, and will include new sporting facilities. It seems however to be stalled for the moment due to the current health situation and its financial impact on the park.
Tragically, the new café which only opened in 2018 was completely destroyed by fire a month ago, on 29th May 2020.
What has been done so far is exemplary and I look forward to returning to visit the museum in the Large Mansion when it reopens. I hope that the remainder of the project can soon restart so that the full ambition can be realised for the benefit of the local community.
Nearby are two cemeteries. The older one, the South Ealing Cemetery was opened in 1861 by the Ealing and Old Brentford Burial Board, which had been formed in 1858 when there was little more burial space in the parish churchyard to meet future demand. The Gothic cemetery buildings were designed by Charles Jones (1830 – 1913) who was Ealing’s first architect, engineer and surveyor, positions he held for 50 years, an amazing achievement!
A space for local residents to enjoy walking in with its mature trees, the cemetery is today itself full in terms of creating new graves but there are some recent burials in family plots. While there are no architectural fireworks, there is a good collection of Victorian memorials to explore. There are a surprising number of Polish graves, reflecting the local community, many of whom came to London during, and fought in, the Second World War and a number of war graves particularly a group from the Second World War.
There are a few celebrities buried here, charmingly called ‘occupants’, including Sir Spencer Walpole, the great nephew of Sir Robert Walpole, and Agatha Christie’s parents, Frederick and Margaret Miller.