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