Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and Ackroyd Drive Green Link Local Nature Reserve (to give the site its full formal name) is based on an overgrown cemetery -- one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian garden cemeteries -- with the addition of some grassland on its southern border. The total site covers just over 13 hectares (more than 30 acres) and provides the only sizeable area of woodland in a very large area of London’s East End.
The site is owned by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH) and is managed by the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemtery Park (established in 2001) via a service level agreement with LBTH.
Address: Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Southern Grove, London E3 4PX (map; OS grid reference TQ369822).
Tower Hamlets Cemetery was the last of “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries to open, in 1841. By 1889 the cemetery had seen the interment of 247,000 bodies.
The cemetery became run-down in the first half of the 20th century and was bombed five times during the Second World War. It closed to burials in 1966 and the Greater London Council took it over as a public park. With the abolition of the GLC in 1987, it passed into the ownership of LBTH.
In the mid-1990s, the site was expanded to include an area of grassland known as Scrapyard Meadow (from its former use) and Ackroyd Drive Greenlink, which acts as a green corridor through the Leopold Estate, linking the cemetery site with the southern end of Mile End Park.
The site was designated as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation in 1995 and became the borough’s first Local Nature Reserve in 2001. The Soanes Centre, built in 2004, provides an educational resource for more than 8,000 local schoolchildren, who use the park as an outdoor classroom.
The cemetery is mostly deciduous woodland, which includes many ivy-clad Sycamore, plus Oak, Horse Chestnut and Ash. Work has been carried out with the aim of creating a open canopy of mature trees with younger trees (Hazel, Oak) growing towards the canopy, and an understory of shrubs (Buckthorn, Wild Privet, Spindle, Yew, Hawthorn) and climbers (Wild Rose, Honeysuckle). Bulbs and seeds of native woodland flowers have been planted to supplement the park’s existing Bluebells, which are a hybrid between English and Spanish species and have been left because they thrive well. Flower-rich open grassland is provided by Scrapyard Meadow and Ackroyd Drive Greenlink. The site is mostly surrounded by residential streets. The site includes a small pond. A larger one, with a reed bed, opened in 2008.
More than 50 species of birds have been recorded at the site since 2005. Regular species include breeding Stock Dove, Sparrowhawk, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest, as well as commoner woodland species. Firecrest have been recorded in winter and a Common Crane flew over in 2006.
2008 list: Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mallard, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Starling.
Mammals, reptiles and amphibians
Mammals present in the park include Hedgehog, Bank Vole, Wood Mouse and Fox. One aim of the woodland improvement work has been to encourage woodland specialists bats, such as Noctule and Brown Long-eared Bat.
Scrapyard Meadow is notable for its butterflies, which include Small Heath, Small Copper and Common Blue. Other records in recent years have included at least two Silver-washed Fritillaries, White Admiral and Grayling. Nearly 30 species of butterfly and more than 100 species of moth have been recorded on site. The introduction of purging blackthorn has assisted in establishing a healthy Brimstone population and Purple Hairstreak are present in small numbers.
The park’s main gate is in Southern Grove, London E3, just south of the A11 trunk road. The nearest Underground station is Mile End (Central, District and Hammersmith & City lines), from which the main gate is a short walk (go east on Mile End Road and right into Southern Grove). You can also travel by Underground to Bow Road (District and Hammersmith & City lines) or by Docklands Light Railway to Bow Church (from either station walk west on Bow Road and turn left on Wellington Way to reach the park). Local bus routes are: D6, D7,D8, 25, 205, 277, 323, 339 and 425.
The main gate is unlocked at 8am and locked again at dusk or 9pm (whichever is the earlier). The kissing gates at all other entry points remain open at all times.
The Soanes Centre is just inside the main gate, on the right.
The original information on this page has been expanded by someone who has never visited the site but thinks that it deserves a more detailed page on the London Bird Club Wiki. If you are familiar with the site, please correct, expand and/or update this information.