Obituary: Alan Cornish MSc

Alan Cornish, for several decades a leading campaigner for Wanstead Park, died on 14 February 2018, aged 78.

In recent years Alan’s declining health meant he had not been actively involved in the campaign for the park’s regeneration. However, the importance of his earlier work is difficult to overstate.

A particular concern for Alan was Wanstead Park’s iconic cascade of five lakes, dating from the eighteenth century. Their condition has long been deteriorating due to leakage, a failing water supply, silting and encroaching vegetation. In 1978 Alan’s response was to co-author, with James Berry, The Lake System of Wanstead Park & the Mystery of the Heronry Pond. This paper summarised the history of the lake system, attempted to diagnose the origins of its problems and suggested possible solutions. It long remained a key reference source on one of the park’s most complex and intractable conundrums. More recently, within the last decade, Alan prompted Thames Water to investigate the drainage system in Northumberland Avenue to see if this was exacerbating leakage from the Heronry Pond, and successfully lobbied for the drains bringing water from the Lake House estate to be cleared. He also arranged for the overspill channel from The Basin to be repaired.

In the 1980s Alan Cornish had been a leading figure in the first incarnation of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands (and, indeed, was the present group’s last link with its predecessor). The olds Friends group ceased to be active around 1990, and it was not until 2005 that a new body was formed to lobby for the park – the Wanstead Parklands Community Project.

Alan was one of the founding members of the Community Project, a group of concerned local people from a variety of backgrounds who, between them, possessed a remarkable range of knowledge, interests and skills. The Community Project proceeded to make a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, focusing on interpretation, which did much to raise the profile of Wanstead Park. In June 2009 the park was included in English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk Register, largely due to the group’s lobbying. Though this initiative was inevitably regarded with mixed feelings by the park’s custodians, it was generally recognised as indispensable to securing the grant aid without which a regeneration of this nationally important historic landscape was unlikely to be feasible.

In some ways, the fact that the Wanstead Parklands Community Project was a small, self-selected, committee had helped to make it cohesive and effective. However, Alan was convinced that a membership-based organisation would be taken more seriously by the park’s custodians and that the Friends group should, therefore, be revived at the earliest opportunity. After some debate about timing, the Community Project agreed to sponsor a revived Friends group in 2009, and Alan Cornish served as the first chairman. For a while, the two bodies continued in parallel, but in 2012 the Community Project suspended its separate operations, becoming an informal research group affiliated to the Friends. Since that point, the Friends of Wanstead Parklands have acted as the lead group in the campaign for Wanstead Park, and have been recognised as such by the park’s custodians and other stakeholders. Alan Cornish retired as chairman later in 2012, though he remained on the committee until his increasing infirmity led him to step down. He was replaced as chairman by Dwight Wood.

As well as his interest in the lake system, Alan was keen to share his fascination with Wanstead Park’s rich history, both ancient and modern. Examples of his articles on the Friends’ website include Tudors – Twenty-Eight Days to Wanstead and The Second World War in the Park. In 1982 Alan produced the first edition of Wanstead Park: A Chronicle, a detailed timeline of people and events connected with the park which has been updated and reprinted at intervals ever since. In the same year, Alan and his wife Janet discovered Roman artefacts in Wanstead Park which had been churned up by building work. This helped stimulate the important investigation carried out over several seasons by Frank Clark and the West Essex Archaeological Group.

Alan and Janet Cornish in 1982, with Roman finds from Wanstead Park

After regular army service attached to NATO, Alan Cornish worked with major travel companies and as a transport consultant. In 1980, he set up the tour operator Corona Holidays, which originally specialised in the Canary Islands and was based in High Road South Woodford. The company was sold some years ago and has remained successful under its new ownership.

Alan Cornish was involved in politics, having joined the local Liberal Party in 1974. He campaigned actively in Wanstead and stood for election to Redbridge Council as a Liberal (and later, Liberal Democrat) on several occasions. He was also a candidate for the Greater London Council and, in 1979, contested the former Wanstead and Woodford parliamentary constituency.

Liberal candidate Alan Cornish visits Nightingale Senior High School during the 1979 general election campaign

Alan was involved in a number of single-issue campaigns both locally and nationally. For example, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was active in the fight against the M11 Link Road cutting through Epping Forest and supported the Lister-Goldsmith tunnel under George Green in Wanstead. In the 1990s, he campaigned against the use of misleading party labels in elections, a provision later included in the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.

Alan Cornish is survived by his widow, Janet, and his sons Adrian and Neale.


The funeral arrangements are given below. Anyone who would like to attend the service and/or reception would be welcome.

Thursday 8th March 2018 at The City of London Cemetery, North Chapel  Service commences 1.00pm (please arrive 10 minutes before)  No flowers please, any donations to Parkinson's UK, 215 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SWIV IEJ Tel: 0800 138 6593  Please join us for refreshments at Wanstead Cricket Club I Overton Drive El I 2LW from 2.00pm-4.00pm  Entrance is to the right of St Marys Church Parking available at the club
Funeral arrangements