To the west of Grove Park cemetery is an extensive area of open space, including allotments and sports fields, known as Chinbrook Meadows. Chinbrook (or Chin Brook) is an alternative name for the River Quaggy.
At the turn of the 20th century, Chinbrook Farm, a dairy farm, had occupied this land. Chinbrook Meadows was first formally opened to the public in 1929 as an eight-acre children’s playground on the edge of the Grove Park Estate. A further 23 acres were purchased by the London County Council and opened to the public in June 1937.
The southern part of Chinbrook Meadows later became allotment gardens, a use which persists today over much of the area. However, over half of the allotments had fallen into disuse by the beginning of the 1990s. The southern half of the allotments was therefore taken over by Lewisham Council’s nature conservation section, working closely with the remaining allotment holders and the South East London Permaculture Group, to create a community orchard and nature reserve. A grant from the Government’s Urban Programme paid for the trees, which were planted in 1991-92 with assistance from local schools.
It has recently been agreed to extend the existing designation of the community orchard (as a grade II Site of Borough Importance for nature conservation) to include the whole allotment site.
This is a recognition of the contribution that the allotment holders have made in managing the site to benefit biodiversity. The site was also awarded the first prize as the best allotment in the Lewisham in Bloom competition 2005.
Chinbrook Community Orchard is intended for local schools for environmental education, and is well supported by the local community, who help to manage the site. Access is restricted to keyholders.
Most of the trees are traditional (mostly Kentish) varieties of fruit trees, including filberts (or cobnuts), plums, greengages, pears, cherries, walnuts and no fewer than 30 varieties of apples. A few more exotic species were also planted, many of them reflecting the cultural background of different ethnic groups in the local community. Thus lychees, loquats and Japanese wineberries from Asia grow beside Mediterranean olives, pine nuts, grape vines and cork oaks, with Chilean wine-palms from South America completing the picture.
The grass between the fruit trees is cut rotationally every year, providing habitat for woodmice, common lizards, slow-worms and a good variety of invertebrates. The lovely grass vetchling, a very rare plant in Lewisham, grows in profusion here. Its grass-like leaves are easily overlooked except in late spring, when the beautiful, carmine pea-like flowers appear like jewels among the grass.
Two small ponds on the edges of the orchard have been planted with a good mix of native marginal and aquatic plants. Both have suffered problems of water retention, and one of them regularly dries out in midsummer. Nevertheless, frogs, toads and smooth newts all breed in the ponds, feeding in the surrounding tall grassland.
The adjacent wooded railway cutting, emerging from a pair of tunnels under Elmstead Woods, acts as a corridor, enabling animals and plants to move further into Lewisham, towards Grove Park and Hither Green.