Alluded to in Shakespeare’s Henry V1 Part II, the much-needed makeover of central Bromley’s Glassmill Millpond on the River Ravensbourne brings gains for water quality, wildlife, and all things downstream.

Pamela Zollicoffer explores how the dramatic restoration eventually came about after years of concern and dedication by local people and community groups.

‘Dramatic state of disrepair’

‘Shakesperean Pond Suffers Dramatic State of Disrepair’ was the headline of a July 2010 article in the Kentish (Bromley) Times.

The story covering the decline of the Millpond featured local resident and river researcher George Dennington who referred to the pond’s Shakespearean links and a catalogue of problems that have been allowed to build up.

Picture: George Dennington calls for the pond to be restored, Bromley Times, 1 July 2010.


Slow to act

The welcome transformation in 2023 is the result of years of dedication by residents, community groups and river experts who aired concerns about the Millpond’s poor state, and offered ideas to improve things.

Proposals to improve conditions included ways to make the Millpond better for fish and other wildlife, to deal with the constant build-up of silt, and to make both the pond and the flow of the River Ravensbourne more natural.

It is great to see the restoration although it’s worth reflecting on how long it has taken to reach this position. Does that indicate a lack of understanding of and commitment to restoring our rivers and water bodies, along with a lack of a sense of urgency?

An historical pond

As well as Shakespearean links, the mill in the grounds of Mill Vale was first used to grind corn.

The Glassmill Pond passed through several owners including an eminent oculist and artist, Mr Ribright, of Poultry in the City of London from 1795-1800. By 1811 the pond belonged to Messrs Fentham of Strand, central London, who used it to grind and polish mirrors and lenses – both convex and concave and measuring five feet in diameter.

In 1955 the course of the River Ravensbourne was diverted to flow through the pond – and that is one of the main reasons for the build-up of sediment because the Millpond acts as a silt trap instead of the fine sediment being deposited by the river along its length as it flows downstream.

The ten and a quarter mile Ravensbourne rises from Caesar’s Well, the spring at Keston, and flows into central Bromley before leaving the borough and heading downstream through Bellingham, Catford, Ladywell and Lewisham, where it meets the River Quaggy and heads to reach the River Thames at Deptford Creek.

A fresh start

Some dredging helped remove the build-up of silt, but that was always a temporary measure. Pond vegetation also became overgrown.

Repeated pollution spills as well as the usual dumping of litter, bikes, shopping trollies and more also affected water quality and conditions for wildlife.

Concerned residents and groups such as Bromley Civic Society and The Friends of Bromley Town Parks & Gardens asked for a proper maintenance plan and said the Millpond should be restored.

Airing concerns and ideas

On 6 June 2013 local people discussed their concerns, ideas, and possible solutions at a meeting in Bromley Central Library.

Ideas raised included dredging the silt, although that would not be a lasting solution and the Millpond, with its entirely concrete walls and bed would silt up again.

Improving drainage, managing the area as a nature reserve, and returning the pond and river to a more natural state were also suggested.

Other ideas were to have a viewing platform for people to be able to look out over the Millpond, and making it easier for fish to migrate upstream including making the river suitable for species such as loach and stickleback.

Issues and options

In short, the Millpond suffered a host of problems. Repeated siltation linked to poor river flow because the river was not in a natural channel and because the pond is in a concrete basin that simply collects sediment.

Add to that the lack of proper routine management, prevention of pollution, a lack of safe access, and poor conditions for wildlife including fish and aquatic species, and the need for action was clear – and overdue.

Options included: Leave it as it is. Create a clear natural river channel. Create a Pond. Create a hybrid of the river and the pond.

In 2013 a preferred approach to restoration was designed by Vic Richardson of Thames 21. And in June 2014 a consultation with the residents and local community groups saw T21 propose a restoration plan which included:

  • Creating an entirely separate river channel to flow from the left bank, separated from the Glassmill Pond itself.

Separating the Ravensbourne from the pond would allow sediment coming downstream in the river to continue downstream instead of being deposited in the pond where it would pile up as it has done for decades. The proposal to separate the river would slow the rate of siltation and maintain the depth of the pond.

Picture: The River Ravensbourne now flows separately from the pond. Pamela Zollicoffer / QWAG

  • Removing the impoundment weirs to allow more natural river flow.

This option would also involve creating ways for fish to move upstream, using fish passages, and creating better conditions in the river to support more diverse wildlife – boosting aquatic biodiversity.

  • Creating a river system with new pools and riffles to provide a unique ecosystem that can support diverse wildlife.

The restored pond will also add to the area’s public amenity with community activities, wildlife watching, planting, and managing vegetation.

Picture: Public information by Thames21 on the works to restore the pond. Pamela Zollicoffer / QWAG

Reflections on a job well done

Today, a visit to the Glassmill Millpond will be rewarded with seeing how the ideas raised in years past have secured a dramatic transformation, benefiting residents in Bromley and many more downstream.

Jeff Royce, Chair of The Friends of Bromley Town Parks & Gardens said:

“We are delighted that the de-silting and restoration of our beautiful and historic pond has been completed… We hope that this can be duly recognised as an asset, and provide a wonderful source of pride for the wider community.

“It is an example of how our waterways can be a corridor for nature joining up green spaces through this part of London. It has taken working with Thames21, and other stakeholders, for more than 10 years achieve this wonderful outcome. It is to be hoped that this success might indeed be replicated just downstream, where the river is still constrained in its concrete channel.

“Various schemes to break out the river through Queens Mead Recreation Ground have been proposed unsuccessfully over the years. If completed this would again allow the Ravensbourne to flow naturally over the majority of its length.”

Vic Richardson of Thames21 said:

“It started as an idea from the local community to want something better for Glassmill, which was filling with silt and golf balls. Something had to be done.

“What I like most was that there was a lot of interest in the community, plenty of questions and some really good support from experts and local actors whose local knowledge was invaluable. 10 years later, funding secured, and it’s all built in 2 months or so.

“For me, seeing the project finally delivered is amazing. I can only imagine what it must feel like for the locals to see their vision come to life. Without the support of the locals… who kept the interest going, I don’t think the project would have made it this far.

“From a Thames21 point of view and mine, it was about providing that support and assistance in the early days to build a relationship that led to this project being delivered. It was worth all the effort.

“The plan was to create a river system and pond for the community and wildlife, which is what we have.

Looking ahead

It has certainly been a long wait. Far too long, to be honest.

We need to get better and faster at restoring our local rivers and habitats to make up for lost time and to get on track to restore depleted nature and to be more resilient to the changing weather conditions we are now seeing with shifts in our climate.

The kind of cooperation behind the restoration of the Glassmill Millpond – with quality input from local people, community groups, specialist advisers and local authorities – simply needs to happen more often and faster.

 

Make a splash without getting wet!