Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Marlborough Sports Park in Union Street may not be the prettiest of open spaces within Southwark but provides much needed space for sports in North Southwark, the only such facility in the area. It has table tennis tables, a sand volley-ball court, a 5-a-side football court and a large tarmacked area for other ball games. It is managed by the Bankside Open Spaces Trust and owes its existence to probably one of the most unlikely members of London County Council, the Duchess of Marlborough.
Born in New York City in 1877, Consuelo Vanderbilt was the daughter of railroad millionaire William Vanderbilt. In 1895 she married the Duke of Marlborough, one of those marriages made at that time between rich American heiresses and the impoverished British aristocracy where the groom received money and the bride received immense social standing. Consuelo made the match reluctantly, bullied and manipulated by her mother, who in later years admitted and regretted her actions. With these beginnings, though not inevitable it was no surprise that the marriage faltered. The couple separated in 1906 and divorced in 1921.
Beautiful and glamourous, Consuelo was popular with tenants on the Marlborough estate where she visited and did what she was able to do to help the poorer and less fortunate. Concerned with the plight of the poor everywhere, she stood for election as London County Councillor as a Progressive (Liberal) candidate in Southwark North. She had formed the Women’s Municipal Party to press for more women representatives in local councils and it seems she stood for election reluctantly. She won the seat and can be seen campaigning in Southwark in this remarkable film.
But she resigned her seat a little over a year later, pleading ill health and went to live in the South of France. Oh well. She was however responsible for the open space in Union Street, named in her honour, by ensuring that surplus land from the redevelopment of an insanitary area should become an open space for recreation. She contributed £1,000 towards the purchase of the land and a further £500 towards the laying out. The park was opened in 1921.
An upgrade to the park will begin in the autumn of 2016 that includes a new netball court, improved seating areas and planting and upgrades to the boundaries of the sand court. The park is free to use for residents of Southwark.
The mural shown here was created by local school children in 2013 and inspired by the Roy Lichenstein exhibition held at the Tate Modern.