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West Ham Park
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West Ham Park  
Upton was a small village first mentioned in the 13th century. It was small until the 17th century when it became part of the parish of West Ham. In 1566 there was a house where West Ham Park is now, known as Rooke Hall, owned by William Rookes. In 1666 the house was sold to Sir Robert Smyth of Upton, who became a barrister and alderman of the City of London, was High Sheriff of Essex in 1642 and a Justice for the County. The West Ham Park estate appears to have been sold by the Smyth family in the mid 18th century, first to an Admiral Elliott, and then in 1762 to Dr John Fothergill, a famous Quaker physician, among whose patients was John Wesley.

Fothergill produced a number of papers on the treatment of diseases. He was also a famous botanist, his main interest being in plants with medicinal or food use. Although Fothergill may not have lived at West Ham Park, he enlarged the estate to slightly larger than its present size and developed a botanic garden which was known all over Europe, and 'second only to Kew'. In 1774 in one of his hothouses he produced the first tea tree to flower in England, and a number of plants are named after him. He employed collectors to bring him specimens from all over the world, and is said to have asked a sea captain to bring him '2 barrels of earth from Borneo taken from as many points as possible'. He also employed artists to draw new specimens and after his death some 2,000 of these artists' drawings were sold to the Empress of Russia. Too busy during the day, he is reputed to have visited his botanic garden in the evening and inspected his plants by lantern light. He died in 1780 and the contents of his garden was largely sold apart from some of the greenhouses and many of the trees; the sale took three days.

In 1787 the estate was sold to James Sheppard, and then to his son-in-law,Samuel Gurney, in 1812. The house was then known as Ham House, and from 1829-1844 was the home of Elizabeth Fry, Samuel Gurney's sister. Samuel Gurney died in 1856. By the end of the 1860s the Gurney family wished to dispose of the property and its 80 acres of land, and a campaign began to ensure that it was not built over and that it could be preserved for the public, supported by the Stratford Express.

John Gurney expressed his willingness to sell the estate for 25,000 if it were to be used as a public park, offering to donate 5,000-6,000 towards this. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to raise the money.This final campaign began in November 1872, supported by local clergy and VIPs, and John Gurney not only renewed his offer of 25,000 but increased the amount of the Gurney family donation to 10,000. The remaining 15,000 proved hard to find but was eventually raised. The park was eventually handed over to the Corporation of London in 1874. The opening ceremony took place on 20th July 1874, with a Lord Mayor's procession accompanied by bands of the Volunteers from Bow Bridge to the park, the route decorated and with triumphal arches erected at Bow Bridge, West Ham Lane and the park gates, where John Gurney handed the title deeds to the Lord Mayor. The park layout was completed by 1887. In 1872 Ham House was knocked down and a pile of stones marks its site in the park.

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