It was in the early 1860s that there was much concern about the prospect of the Common becoming privately owned and misused. After 32 vans of Wombells Wild Beast show arrived in 1864 local people took the matter to Parliament. As a result, in 1868 the rights of the Lord of the Manor - which included the Common, Goose Green, and Nunhead Green - were purchased by the Camberwell Vestry for £1,000 and later transferred in 1882 to the Metropolitan Board of Works, thus securing the land for ever.
With the increased development of the area, the Common became increasingly crowded at weekends and bank holidays. Homestall Farm, adjacent to the Rye was one of the last farms in the area, and a Dr William Greene put forward a proposal to the Camberwell Vestry that the farm be purchased to create a park. In 1868 the 51acres of land surrounding Homestall farm south of the Common was purchased by the Vestry and London County Council for £51,000 and added to the 64 acres comprising of the Common. Nearly forty years later, In 1907, after Mr Stevens the leaseholder of Homestall farm died, the 13 acres that comprised Homestall Farm, Sunnyside, Charlton House, Modena House and Prospect Villa were also incorporated into the Park.
Evidently 100,000 people marched from Vestry Hall (where the former Southwark Town Hall now stands) to the Park to attend the opening in 1894. On its opening the park comprised the oval bed, the woodland walk, the ornamental lake, arboretum and small water courses and rock gardens along with tennis, cricket and children’s play areas. It was after 1907 that the Sexby Garden, the Bowling Green and the Japanese garden were created and the formal entrance to the Park was built where Sunnyside and Charlton House, Modena House and Prospect Villa had stood.
The impact of the 'World’s Fair' held at that time lead to the creation of an Old English garden (later named the Sexby Garden after Lt-Col JJ Sexby, London County Council’s Chief Officer of Parks), an American garden, and a Japanese garden which was based around an existing pond which features on an old 1870 OS map. In the south-west of the Park, Sandford Cottage located immediately south of The Elms was demolished to provide an additional entrance to the Park.
Between 1915 and 1940 after the clearance of buildings in the north-west of the Park (including Charlton House), several more renovations were made. A new main entrance was created and an oval bedding area. Rich carpet bedding once featured in the Oval and the circular areas flanking the oval shape were referred to as the Coronation beds and used to commemorate the coronation of Elizabeth 11 and the death of George VI.
In 1923 a Lido was opened at the northern end of the Common. The pool became increasingly difficult to maintain. The site became dangerous and the buildings unsafe resulting in its closure in 1987. The area has now been returned to the Common.
Around this time were also established a rockery and a water garden leading to a stream and pond garden. The paving and pergola structures in the Sexby Garden were upgraded and the original bowling pavilion was replaced with a new building. This was transferred from its position on the corner of the Green to a more central location. It was a lovely wooden structure with a sloping roof and a verandah. Sadly it was burnt down in 1994.
There is a lovely account of the open stream and lake written by JJ Sexby in his book on 'Municipal Parks and Gardens of London' in 1905. He writes 'In a secluded hollow delightfully shaded with trees a lake has been made. It has an island in the centre and is fed by a small watercourse running though the grounds, which has been formed into a number of pools by artificial dams. This rivulet has its source in a fountain springing out of the rockwork, and thence meanders through the park, receiving some life when babbling over some miniature waterfalls before its entrance to the lake'.
The area suffered greatly during the Second World War much of the Common was used for allotments and a number of huts were erected just to the north of the Park for the detention of Italian prisoners of war; one remains – for the moment. Below the north-west corner of the Common was one of London’s largest air-raid shelters. The bandstand which stood at the southern edge of the Common was badly bomb damaged resulting in its demolition. It was one of the two bandstands moved from the Royal Horticultural Society garden in South Kensington.
Nestling in the centre of the Park is the Bowling Green. Peckham Rye Park Bowling Club was opened in 1910 and over the years became very successful drawing many excellent players until it was disbanded at the end of 2008, though bowls are still played on the green occasionally in summer. John Collier, one of the founder members, started a league which ran for many years. The 'John Collier Shield' was an important fixture for most of the South London club members. The green once had a beautiful wooden club house which was destroyed by an arsonist in the early 1990s. In 2009 a brand new fire-proof pavilion was built.