Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Nursery Row Park, to the north of East Street, has its origins in a late Victorian recreation ground which was extended during post-war redevelopment. The enlarged park was once again transformed by some 21st century landscaping that combines large, long-established plane trees with wildflower areas, a man-made hill and colourful eye-catching sculptures.
By the middle of the 19th century, the area, once covered in market gardens, had been heavily built upon and was one of the most densely populated areas of London. J J Sexby, the first Superintendent of the London County Council Parks Department, relates that the plot of ground that was to become the Walworth Recreation Ground had already been sold for building purposes. In 1897, the London County Council made a higher offer so the site could become a much needed permanent open space. The cost of the site was £5,375 of which the LCC and the Vestry of St Mary Newington each paid £2,500 and the remainder was paid by Mr James Bailey, the MP for Walworth.
Planted over 100 years ago, plane trees on the original Walworth Recreation Ground
The girder walkway looking towards East Street
Also known as East Street Recreation Ground, the space was laid out and planted by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association who donated £1000 to the project. Soon after the park opened, the LCC spent £1000 pounds on tarmacing the space and installing gymnasium equipment. There was a female gymnasium attendant and a gardener, and bands played on a Friday night during the summer.
Before LCC involvement, there had been a recreation ground planned and paid for by Lewis Henry Isaacs, the MP for Walworth between 1885 and 1892** but it is not clear whether Isaacs' recreation ground was the same piece of land that became Walworth Recreation Ground. JJ Sexby writes that the recreation ground was created on cleared ground so it is likely and a map of 1886 (well before the LCC became involved) shows the plot as a small pocket of open space in the middle of small, narrow streets.
The streets north of the recreation ground suffered bomb damage during World War II and houses in Blendon Row, Eltham Street, Orb Street, Brandon Street and Nursery Row, after which the park is named, were demolished as part of the area’s redevelopment and slum clearance programme, and the park extended over the cleared areas.
A community orchard was created in 1995 and the park was renovated in 2006 when the artificial hill was constructed and the wildflower areas created. More information about the various features and projects in the park are on the The Friends of Nursery Row Park website
**Lewis Henry Isaacs was the subject of scandal in 1890 when he was shot by Elizabeth Vincent who he had previously employed as a nursery governess. It emerged during the trial that Miss Vincent had given birth to his child in 1887. She was acquitted at her trial for feloniously shooting with intent to murder. More information on the Old Bailey website.