New Cross Calling

When skateboarding had taken off during the 1970s it had also sparked off a period of purpose-built skateparks, particularly in London. Locations such as Skate City became legendary as the early pioneers of dedicated spots for skating.

1978 saw the arrival of a skate park based in south east London’s New Cross. Fordham Park had been designed by Patrick Brown, who was part of the National Skateboarding Association at the time.

Vape Out! Shane O’Brien tackles the moguls in 1983.
Vape Out! Shane O’Brien tackles the moguls in 1983.

It was a council project, which meant that it was cheap to ride, but at the same time it had all the problems associated with first generation skateparks. The surface was the roughest that you can imagine. If you came off and hit the ground the experience was not unlike sliding naked on a large cheese grater. It also had some of the weirdest bowls, which were both deep and had tight transitions (sometimes several of them). Mastering lines in and out of the bowls took time and effort.

The park consisted of a flat freestyle area which was also banked. Two vaguely mogul-shaped bowls with deep transitions, a slalom run, a weird downhill banked area adjacent to the slalom run and finally a snake run which fed into a 11 metre wide bowl.

The snake run, which was known as the “A” Run was ridiculous. It was built on an incline, which meant you picked up speed as you went into it. Getting the right lines against the transitions was tough to do, plus you had to handle the bowl at the end, which was less of a bowl, and more like a design based on an inverted Toblerone.

Tackling the infamous "A" Run in 1981. Note the filler job on the transition.
Tackling the infamous “A” Run in 1981. Note the filler job on the transition.

I’d skated the park on an irregular basis during the boom period of the 70s. But the appeal of Mad Dog Bowl in the Old Kent Road was far stronger. So Fordham became something of a curio during that late 1970s period. But as the first generation parks were first closed and then demolished, New Cross became a living fossil – a bizarre throwback to an earlier time, but also still usable.

In that post-boom period, I’d kept skating with a group of local friends in the Woolwich area, although it had taken on a more casual aspect at that point. As the 1980s dawned, I’d become friends with Shane O’Brien whose family had recently moved into the same street where I lived. Although we were initially unaware that skating had continued following the boom years, we continued skating in our own isolated bubble scene for a while. This included trips to New Cross.

At this point, the park was looked after by council workers stationed in a portabin next to the park. The park itself was fenced in and locked and we had to ask the guys in the hut to open it for us. There were a few benefits to this because New Cross could be a bit of a rough area, but any opportunist thugs who happened to pass by usually wouldn’t bother climbing the fence to get in.

Like most skate locations, Fordham also had its own legends. There were two locked container boxes in the park that were alleged to have contained 9 skateboards for a local team. Where this story came from is a little unclear, but we never actually solved this particular mystery.

Grabbing an air out of the bowl in 1983.
Grabbing an air out of the bowl in 1983.

New Cross was certainly a semi-regular port of call during the early 1980s, but it had also started to become popular again when BMXing took off. The problem with mixing BMX and concrete though is the constant trail of mud all over the runs. In 1983, about a month after they allowed access to bikes, this became the case. This led to a few confrontations in which the BMXers wanted detailed plans on where we were going to skate in the park, often 3 weeks in advance with permission forms signed in triplicate. To counter this, we would ask them detailed questions about where they bought their Grifters from. A tactic which would result in them getting particularly brutal by threatening to tell their mum on us.

But when BMXing lapsed in the same fashion as skateboarding had before, Fordham once again fell into disuse. We were still using it on a semi-regular basis, but by this point we had linked up with the rest of the skate community by the discovery of Crystal Palace. Why bother with a relic when you can skate a modern flat-bottomed halfpipe?

In later years I would spot Fordham many times from the train on the way to and from central London. There was something comforting about seeing it, even if I wasn’t actually skating it. Then one day I looked and the park had gone, redeveloped into a sports ground.

The high profile campaign to save the South Bank has received broad coverage, but for me personally Fordham was an actual link to skating’s classic period as a purpose-built park. Skate City, Rolling Thunder and Mad Dog Bowl had long gone and yet Fordham clung on. When it was demolished, that last link to the past was severed.