A short but lingering walk through the fragrant gardens of Morden Hall Park in suburban south London.
Distance 1.7 miles (2.8km)
Minimum time 1hr
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Mainly tarmac paths
Landscape Parkland, marshland and meadows
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 161 London South
Start/finish TQ 257686; Morden tube
Dog friendliness Remember to poop-scoop in Morden Hall Park
Parking At garden centre off Morden Hall Road (Morden tube 550yds/500m)
Public toilets Morden Hall Park
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1 Turn left at the exit to Morden tube. At the junction use the pedestrian crossing to cross Morden Road. Bear right along Morden Hall Road. Ignore the first entrance on the left leading to Morden Hall (now occupied by a chain pub/restaurant outlet), and take the second. Follow the path ahead, past the stable block on your right, leading to the tea room and garden centre.
2 Cross the bridge, passing the Snuff Mill Environmental Centre (primarily an educational facility for school groups), to enter the lower section of the rose garden. You can walk across the grass but you need to return across the bridge and turn right.
3 A few paces further, turn right over a white bridge with decorative iron railings and walk along an avenue of lime and chestnut trees to cross a bridge over a tributary of the River Wandle.
4 Turn right and go through a metal gate leading to the upper section of the rose garden. Follow the path ahead to reach another metal gate. Continue past the pond, with its wilderness islands, as it curves to the left to meet the avenue of lime and chestnut trees.
5 Follow the path as it swings to the left, becoming a narrow path beside some fencing. A few paces further on, when the path joins another, take the left-hand fork across the meadow.
6 Just before the road and tram stop, turn diagonally left across the meadow towards the avenue of trees. At the main path turn right and retrace your steps from Point 4 towards the white bridge, and then back to Morden tube.
Morden Hall Park is fittingly described in the National Trust Handbook as 'a green oasis in the heart of London suburbia'. If it's your first visit here then you cannot fail to be impressed by the array of old estate buildings and ancient hay meadows. If you are a budding gardener, you'll relish the sight and scent of the rose garden in summer but if history is your thing, you can discover more about Morden's snuff-milling industry.
The rose garden is worthy of a mention because recent restoration by the National Trust returned it to its former glory. With names like Golden Wedding, Harvest Fair, Iceberg and English Miss you can probably guess the colours. The 2 acre (0.8ha) rose garden was originally created in 1921. Unlike most gardens of this kind, the 48 rose beds are randomly laid out, rather than in a symmetrical pattern. The beds are shaped like horseshoes, crescents and half-moons and they are seen best from the eastern side of the garden. Because there were no records of the original plants used, modern floribunda roses were chosen to produce the vivid abundance of colour, which reaches its peak in June.
Morden Hall Park belonged to the Hatfeild family, which made its money from snuff milling. The family formed a firm of tobacconists, Taddy, Tomlin and Hatfeild of Fenchurch Street, in the City of London. You can see the remains of their snuff mill, powered by the River Wandle, in the park. Snuff was ground by hand until water-powered mills took over in the 18th century. These operated on a pestle and mortar principle, crushing the tobacco leaves to a fine powder. It was a dusty environment and workers used sponge respirators to help them breathe. Demand for snuff was high during the 1800s - and these mills were just two of hundreds throughout the country.
Morden Hall Park was once self-sufficient. It had a deer park (venison), grazing meadows (milk) and kitchen gardens (fresh fruit and vegetables). When the bachelor Gilliat Hatfeild died in 1941, he left the bulk of his 125 acre (51ha) estate to the National Trust, with a clause in his will stating that the park should be open to the public. Hatfeild was a conservative man, refusing gas or electricity, and had no interest in buying the latest form of transport, the motor car. He was also a kind employer, providing the staff with food at Christmas and inviting the local children to parties in the grounds. Today, Morden Hall Park is a remarkable reminder of this bygone era.
On either side of the rose garden's path you will see Robina pseud acacia (False Acacia). This tree is named after Jean Robin, a French botanist but it didn't become popular until William Cobbett sold over one million trees after returning from America in the early 1800s. False Acacia produces a pea-shaped, fragrant, white blossom similar to the laburnum, and its timber makes good gate- and fence-posts.
Pay a visit to the craft workshops and information room beside the tea room to discover more about the hall and its park. The older of the two mills ground snuff from the mid-1750s right up until 1922. While we may have Sir Walter Raleigh to thank for introducing pipe smoking from North America, Spanish conquistadors discovered the habit of inhaling snuff through the nose in South America. It wasn't without controversy, for a person caught taking snuff in the mid-1600s was under threat of having his nose amputated! During snuff's heyday - the Regency period - a man was judged by his ornate snuff box and quality of the blend it contained. Today, there are still more than 300 blends of snuff available.
The National Trust tea rooms by the shop are a good option, as is Morden Hall, part of Whitbreads' Out and Out chain, which has restaurants, bars and gardens, although not much remains of the original building. Overlooking the River Wandle you'll find the William Morris pub, which has a sun terrace; this free house serves a range of award-winning beers and real ales.