Parties at Morden Hall Park
Morden Hall Park has for a long time been a place for the local community to celebrate. Mr Hatfeild was the last private owner of the estate. In his time, local children were invited to summer parties, a unique opportunity for them to experience an afternoon of nature, fun and fresh food. After the war, the park hosted big charity events where locals could meet film stars and celebrities for a good cause. This sense of fun continues today.
The Children’s parties
Mr Hatfeild was a philanthropic man; you can read about his contributions to the local community in another history note linked to below. He was passionate about making the park available to local children who had little opportunity to enjoy the benefits of nature. So began the tradition of the parties which were held annually in the grounds for all the local school children.
Every school in the area was treated to an afternoon summer outing. Estate workers manned attractions and punted the children through the wilderness to Mr Hatfeild’s Mill Cottage where the waterwheel turned and he would greet each punt. This would be followed by a tea in a marquee staffed by the wives of the estate employees. Each child would then be presented with a gift before they went home, fruit grown in the orchard or a rose from the estate.
He also opened the grounds once a year to hold a garden fete for the villagers. The fete boasted swing boats, roundabouts, coconut shys, slides and prizes for best blooms, cakes and jams, inside a fenced off area to keep the cows out.
Olive and Tom remember growing up in the area: “both of us were from working class families and we didn’t have a lot. We first went to the parties about 70 years ago it was a magical day! There were marquees full of trestle tables with party food like sandwiches and cakes. Inside the park was a fair ground attraction with helter-skelters and swing boats and punts going up and down the river taking people for rides round the islands. When we left we were given a goody bag of an apple.”.
Parties for Film Stars and the community
Sadly, these community parties finished in 1941, upon Mr Hatfeild’s death. It wasn’t until 1947 that new life was breathed into the estate. Every year, from 1947 to 1951, Morden Hall Park hosted possibly the most glamorous event in London: the Film Stars’ Garden Party. The Sunday Pictorial (which became the Sunday Mirror) collaborated with the British film industry to organise the parties in aid of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Church of England Children’s Society.
Nearly 150 stars, both British and American, were present at these fabulous garden parties to meet 25,000 of their adoring fans. It was a chance of a lifetime for many a Londoner to meet their screen idol and take home a lasting memory.
Fred, a local resident, recalls: “The Film star parties were the highlight of the year, I couldn’t get tickets but one year I sneaked in over the gate. I bumped into Margaret Lockwood who just shook my hand and let me carry on. I had heard of her, but didn’t realise how famous she was! I can’t remember what she was wearing except that she was very glamorous with a large hat.”
The glamour of the film stars’ party is a thing of the past but visitors today can still get that sense of celebration in this haven of peace in the middle of the big city that Mr Hatfeild has enabled us to preserve.
Children today can celebrate their own milestones and create some new memories in the natural play areas. Families can gather for picnics in the meadows or why not join in with some of the events organised by the National Trust throughout the year? You can enjoy theatre in the park, jazzy June evenings or celebrate Mr Hatfeild’s garden at the rose weekend and leave with your own bloom from the garden centre.