Passmore Edwards’ first contribution to the work of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association was to fund the transformation of the overgrown grave yard at St Mary’s Church, Woolwich.
In 1892, the Chairman, of the Metropolitan Public Garden Association, Lord Meath wrote to Passmore Edwards asking for assistance in the work of the association. His reply was:-
” My Lord
In answer to your letter asking me to subscribe towards expenses in utilising for public purposes the large parish churchyard of Woolwich, I cheerfully comply with your request. The very last thing I would sanction would be the desecration of “God’s Acre”. A graveyard, to my mind, is holy ground, and I never knowingly pass one without raising my hat. But for the sake of the living, and particularly in this overcrowded metropolis, where millions of our fellow citizens pass mostly, comfortless lives, I would make churchyards sweet resting places for the weary, and picturesque recreation grounds for the young.
You say that Woolwich churchyard is about four acres in extent and that it is near the centre of the town and situated on high ground, that it overlooks a fine view of the river Thames, that it would make a delightful garden, and that it the estimated cost of preparing it for public use would be about £1200. The object aimed at is so good, and the derivable benefit so certain, that I most willingly respond to your appeal and undertake to meet the whole of the estimated charge. Please accept this as my New Year’s gift to Woolwich, and believe me, –
J Passmore Edwards.”
By the opening in May 1895 St Mary’s graveyard, which had long been a wilderness, put on a new garb and bloomed with Flowers. The garden was opened by the Duchess of Fife, accompanied by the Duke. Lord Meath said that previous attempts to put the graveyard in good order had been made for over 10 years. It was only, with the generous aid of Passmore Edwards that is had been possible. 5 years later Passmore Edwards added a drinking fountain and provided funds to keep the garden in good order.
Although laid out by the MPGA the garden remained under the control of and maintained by the local authority.
The gardens have been extended and maintained by the local authority since 1895. On 1 April 1965 Woolwich became part of the London Borough of Greenwich and the maintenance of the gardens continues under their management to this day. In 1968 the remaining memorials were removed leaving only the Tom Cribb Memorial. It was probably at this time that the fountain, erected at the expense of Passmore Edwards, was also removed but I have been unable to determine its fate.
The present retaining walls and slopes between the gardens and Woolwich High Street were built in 1966 as a part of the construction of the new terminal for the Woolwich Ferry. At this time a plague pit was found and gardeners found several lead coffins whilst landscaping the banks.
Until the 1980s there was a glasshouse in the staff yard for growing the bedding plants. There was also a plot of land, now a lawn, where shrubs and other plants were grown.