The first written records for Kennington Common date from 1600 when the common extended from the Roman road- Stane Street, (in part now Kennington Park Road), to Vauxhall Creek in the South West. The common was a place of public executions -south London’s equivalent of Tyburn in the north. The earliest recorded execution was in 1678 (Sarah Elston -burnt for murdering her husband) and the last in 1799 (‘Badger’ from Camberwell -hanged for fraud. Kennington Park) The actual place of execution [tbc] is now marked by a fountain on the traffic island between Saint Marks Church and Kennington Park.
The local interest in cricket reputedly arose as an alternative to the spectacle of public executions. The first mention of cricket on the common was in 1725 but it is likely that cricket was played in the area since the late 17th century. The common was also South London’s place of public speaking attracting illustrious speakers such as John Wesley who reputedly spoke to a crowd of 30,000.
In 1848 the Chartists gathered for their biggest ‘monster rally’.
In Thomas Miller’s "Picturesque Sketches in London (1852) he said of Kennington Common that it "is but a name for a small grassless square, surrounded with houses, and poisoned bythe stench of vitriol works, and by black, open,sluggish ditches; what it will be when the promisedalterations are completed, we have yet to see." [Source 'Stockwell and Kennington', Old and New London: Volume 6 (1878)]
In 1852, following a petition organised by the vicar of Saint Mark’s church, the common was enclosed and Kennington Park opened in 1854.
Befoe it opened, in 1853, the Prince Consort Model Lodge (‘Albert Cottages’) were moved from the Great Exhibition to the park.
In 1931 a lido opened in the park but this eventually closed in 1987.
[Comment: Although the lido may not have been economic, one only has to look at Tooting Bec Lido to show the continuing demand for such facilities. The increasing popularity of triathlons and the availability of wet suits now mean that open air swimming is, perhaps, more popular than ever.]
One of the saddest parts of the park’s history occurred on 15 October 1940 when an air raid shelter received a direct hit from a bomb There was no official death toll and press coverage was limited presumably to avoid giving information to the enemy. There may have been more than 100 fatalities but the actual numbers of bodies recovered were fewer. Concerns had been expressed at the design of the trench shelters which were based on a grid/ladder design as a direct hit would cause the whole shelter to collapse.
Kennington Park is divided by St Agnes Place (home to St Agnes Church) with the enclosed part to the west and open green space to the east. As with other green spaces around the borough, the nearby grounds of St Marks Church are also managed by Lambeth Parks but do not form part of the park.
Kennington Park used to be home to a lido