Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
King George’s Fields on the corner of Lower Road and Surrey Quays Road was one of 471 open spaces that were opened throughout the country as a memorial to King George V. When the King died in 1936, a committee was set up by the Lord Mayor of London to agree the best way to commemorate the late King and it was decided the memorial would be two-fold: there would be a statue in Central London (this was unveiled in 1947 opposite the houses of Parliament) and a scheme of some sort that would benefit the whole country. In meeting these criteria, it was decided to establish throughout the country playing fields for the use and enjoyment of the people, for the playing of outdoor games and sports. In particular, in a time of increasing urbanisation, there was an emphasis on providing space where young people could exercise in the open air.
The playing field in Rotherhithe was laid out on the site of All Saints Church which had been destroyed in World War II. All Saints was one of three new churches built around 1840 in the parish of St Mary the Virgin to accommodate the expanding population. Edward Walford described the church that cost more than £3000 as a Gothic edifice with a tower, surmounted by a lofty spire. Facing onto Deptford Lower Road (now Lower Road) a map of 1895 shows there was a vicarage to the left and behind the church a disused burial ground. Across the road to the right was the Rotherhithe Union workhouse and just behind the graveyard, roughly where Canada Water Station is today, loomed Brandrams' Whitelead, Sulphur and Saltpetre works (closed in 1950).
King George’s Field in Rotherhithe was one of the later playing fields and opened in 1957 with a grant of £500 received from the King George’s Fields Foundation. Within today’s Borough of Southwark, another King George’s Field was opened to the north of Addington Square, Camberwell in 1937 which has now been incorporated into Burgess Park. The park in Rotherhithe has recently staged the annual Rotherhithe Festival, a community organised event that provides a day of entertainment and a mixture of stalls supporting a different charity each year.