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Foundations of the park: East Street Recreation Grounds – 1885

It is difficult to know exactly when the park opened. The commemorative fountain that was in the park until the 1980s says that the park was planned in 1885, using a grant paid by the MP for the Walworth division of the Borough of Newington at that time, Major Isaacs.

Fountain commemorating founding of Nursery Row Park East Street Market in 1908
Fountain commemorating the founding of the park, part of which is now by St Peter’s Church, Liverpool Road
The park and East Street market in 1908

However a note in Southwark Local History Library (see here) says that the site was acquired in 1897 at a cost of £5,375, with James Bailey, then MP for Walworth, providing £375 of this cost, the rest coming from the council and the Vestry of St Mary Newington. The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (which is still going strong – see here) then spent £1,000 on planting and laying out the park.

The park seen from Heygate Estate in 1970s Eltham Street before demolition
The park in the distance, as seen from the Heygate Estate in the 1970s
Eltham Street before demolition – the building on the right is now surrounded by the park

Then called East St Recreation Ground, part of this planting included the London Plane trees around the edge of the park, which still thrive. At this time the area was the most densely populated part of Britain – with no open space at all, and an incredible 249 people per acre in 1920 in St Johns ward (Bethnal Green then had 154). The park was extended in 1980 following demolition of Blendon Row, Eltham St and Nursery Row itself, after which the park is now named.

oldmap

This is a 1960 aerial view of east Walworth, showing Nursery Row Park plane trees on the left. The aerial picture is courtesy of Now and Then Walworth.

The picture shows how there was very little open space in east Walworth until the Browning Estate was built with some green space between blocks. Almost all public parks and green spaces have been achieved at the cost of demolishing housing, particularly the case for Burgess Park and Faraday Gardens.

 

Nursery Row – 1940s

Nursery Row, the street which gave its name to the park, ran between Brandon Street and Orb Street. Former residents Maggie Webb and Dave Hacker kindly allowed us to show some of their photos from the 1960s to the 1970s. Three generations of Maggie’s family lived at Nursery Row.

Nursery Row 1960s 3 Nursery Row 1940s Maggie Web's Mum and Nan
1950s. The barrow in the street belonged to Yates Estate (owners of northside/odd numbers of Nursery Row)
1945
Nursery Row 1960s 4 Nursery Row 9 1960  3
1960s
1960s
Pictures courtesy of Maggie Webb

Nursery Row residents celebrated the end of the war and several coronations in style.

Nursery Row coronation 1930s Nursery Row street party ve day 1945
Coronation 1930s (Edward VIII or George VI)
VE Day 1945
Nursery Row Street Party 1953

Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation 1953.

The Old Swing Park – 1970s

The residents of Nursery Row lived next to the East Street Recreation Ground, then usually know as “the Old Swing Park”, and was depicted in the award-winning 1973 documentary We Was All One.

old swing park old swing park 1973
The Old Swing Park
The “Old Swing Park” Adventure Playground – as seen in “We Was All One” (1973), a documentary by Ken Ashton. More information here: http://www.paulbrown.info/?p=458

maypole 2011

The “New Swing Park” was the playground behind Dawes House, also still thriving today (Maypole, 2011).

Blendon Row, a large tenement building on the site of what is now the girder walk in Nursery Row Park was infamous for it’s cramped conditions and there was just one toilet for all the flats of each floor. The following picture shows the tenement and the park there now.

1 Nursery Row now and then Blendon Row web

Blendon Row also had a row of terraced houses along the north side of the Old Swing Park.

Blendon Row 1975 park july 2013
Brendon Row 1960s
Same view in July 2013

A great picture taken by Jim Storrie and kindly provided to us by Maurice Haben, shows two local characters, Frankie Fingers and Sonny, standing in East Street outside the Old Swing Park in the 1960s.

frankie fingers and sonny

Frankie Fingers and Sonny (picture  taken from East Street looking north towards Dawes House. Photo taken by Jim Storrie, reproduced with the kind permission of Maurice Haben.

Nursery Row demolished – 1970s

The 1970s saw Nursery Row demolished as part of a policy of “slum clearance” applied eagerly in the borough of Southwark to traditional terraced housing. The end came in 1978 when the community that had lived there was dispersed.

1978 end of nursery row

View from Orb Street towards Brandon Street.

1 Nursery Row the end views web

Pictures courtesy of Dave Hacker.

 

Nursery Row Park – 1990s

We haven’t been able to find any photos of the park during the 1980s, but in the early 1990s Ro Shannon, then a local councillor in East Walworth, started a gardening club and an annual festival in the park. This picture shows the hedge alongside Stead Street being planted. This hedge is now mature but is to be destroyed during the construction of flats on Stead Street. The developers of the flats, the Guinness Trust, have committed to protecting the roots of the oldest section and replanting and watering the entire hedge following completion of the construction works, expected in 2014.

1 Nursery Row 1990s web

Nursery Row Park landscaping and renovation – 2000s

The park was unsuccessfully landscaped in the late 1990s, followed by a renovation in 2006/7 when the meadow and central hill were introduced. The hill hides contaminated rubble under half a metre of new topsoil. More details of the renovation are found here.

The park was remodelled in 2006/7 Re-grassing and new paths in 2006/7
The park was remodelled in 2006/7
Re-grassing and new paths in 2006/7

 

 

A lone survivor until recently, the Crown pub (the “little Crown”) was demolished in October 2013 to be replaced by a much larger block of flats.

1 Nursery Row now and then Crown web