In the 1800s, the land bordered by the Mudchute, the rear of Stebondale Street houses and East Ferry Road was intended for housing development. Original plans included extending Billson Street across Stebondale Street, and extending Douglas Place (then named Douglas Street) to meet an extended Glengarnock Avenue (then named Church Street). Is that clear? A map would be in order here, especially for younger readers 🙂
These plans came to nothing, thanks to the 1866 financial crisis which led the cessation of virtually all house building.
Well, not entirely nothing; a very short section of Douglas Street was built, and later renamed Douglas Place, better reflecting its shortness. It survived until the 1970s; at its park end was an entrance to Millwall Park, and it even had a little cafe. Island Gardens DLR station is on the site today, but its name is remembered in Douglas Path (which, confusingly, is on the other side of Manchester Rd).
Also, Billson Street was extended across Stebondale Street by just a few yards. The Builder’s Arms public house (built by builder Jonathan Billson) was on the corner of this short section of street. This photo shows a street party is taking place; Builder’s Arms is on the left, and shops on the east side of Stebondale Street are in the background.
Meanwhile, back in the 19th century:
The park was originally part of the Thames floodplain and a layer of peat underlies the
alluvial soils. These soft soils create construction problems and are intrinsically unsuitable
for sport pitches as they are not naturally free draining. Until quite late in the 19th century
the site was still mostly used as pasture, with a stream running roughly north west to south
east across the site.
– London Borough of Tower Hamlets
The undeveloped land was sketched by William Heath-Robinson (the creator of humorous drawings of overcomplicated machines).
The later park is also shown in this very old photo of a steam train crossing the arches.
Millwall Athletic FC, being forced to move from their stadium in the Mudchute near the George, created a new home ground close to the Globe Rope Works in 1885. This map was created after they had moved to a new stadium in South London.
In 1919, the London County Council bought the land and created a playground and public open space. They named it Millwall Recreation Ground, but many Islanders called it the new park (a name which stuck, and which is still used by some older Islanders).
This is probably the oldest photo of the park (although the year is unknown). It is looking past the paddling pool towards East Ferry Road.
An open air swimming pools was built in 1925, behind the Stebondale Street houses at the end of Parsonage Street.
Photos courtesy of Frank Herbert Sale (who is standing on the board in the second photo):
Initially, admission was free, but when a filtration plant was installed in 1930, admission charges were introduced. During the night of 7th September 1940, the first night of the Blitz, very much of Stebondale Street was flattened by bombs. The open air pool was also so badly damaged that it could no longer be used. After the war, the site was cleared and incorporated into the adjacent playground.
The following aerial photo was taken in 1950. By this time, the (mostly destroyed) houses on Stebondale Street had been replaced by prefabs. There is also evidence of the allotments that were created in the park during the war.
The Builder’s Arms was also severely damaged by bombing and in 1965 its site was also incorporated into the park.
By the mid 1930s, the area of land which was the former Millwall Athletic ground was fenced off and owned by George Green’s School.
The park was (and remains) a popular place for relaxation, sport and other activities.
The prefabs were cleared and the land laid out as parkland during the 1970s. It was around this time that the first One O’Clock Club was started, next to a short-lived adventure playground.
The following three photos were taken in 1980, by which time the Globe Rope Works were closed and the rope walk building was missing its roof.
Today, the rope walk has also been incorporated into the park; a path named the Globe Rope Walk .
In the 1980s, the Docklands Light Railway was created, which ran across the old railway arches, over Manchester Rd, terminating at Island Gardens DLR station next to Saunder’s Ness Rd.
The construction process led to the loss of the use of the arches by the Council and George Green’s School. The former park café and the changing rooms were relocated into temporary buildings, which in the end lasted some 15 years. The fencing that enclosed the school’s land was removed and their land managed as one open space by Tower Hamlets. George Green’s Secondary School still owns part of the land but the whole site is managed as one open space and the school is given preferential pitch bookings in exchange for public use of their land.
– London Borough of Tower Hamlets
The Millwall Park Centre and new One O’clock Club building was erected in 1992. It was officially opened by Trevor Brooking:
When it was decided to extend the DLR to Lewisham in a tunnel under the Thames, it was proposed to construct the tunnel through park land (to the west of the arches) with a new
Island Gardens station in an unsupervised cutting within the park. Islanders petitioned the Houses of Parliament about this and were eventually successful – a staffed station was
built below ground, with escape routes, ventilation shafts and operational buildings.
The Council eventually agreed to accept the tunnel spoil as a means of raising the ground levels of the park and to reduce lorry movements and waste disposal. The Council wanted to raise the levels of park, as the low-lying land was prone to flooding in winter; the water table is subject to the tidal influence of the nearby Thames. In exchange the Council was granted funds to landscape the park once the tunnel works were complete. The tunnel contractors constructed and laid out the grass sports areas, reusing the existing topsoil over the tunnel spoil. They also created a compensation fund for community uses.
The DLR extension to Lewisham opened in November 1999 and the contractors spent the next couple of years establishing the sports pitches. Their condition continued to be
unsatisfactory for some years, with games regularly cancelled in the winter, with problems such as stone content and drainage. However, through careful management and with the
support of key stakeholders, pitch quality has improved to the extent that they amongst the best quality pitches in the Borough’s portfolio.
Following the council’s park landscape works, there has also been tree planting by the charity, Trees for London, construction of an extension to the changing rooms, a multi-use games area (above the tunnel between the ventilation shaft and the station) and a further play area. We have also planted bulbs and carried out wildflower seeding, as well as
additional planting to make the site more attractive. In addition we carried out further drainage works to two of the three main pitches in the Autumn 2004, followed by a series of intensive renovations. We continued to renovate and subject the pitches to independent testing to ensure that the pitches are suitable for play.
Tower Hamlets has a 200-year lease for the land above the Docklands Light Railway tunnel, which runs through the park to Mudchute Station. The DLR and its operating company
restrict weights / loading, types of planting and access over its tunnel. Getting permission to take loads across the tunnel is time consuming.
– London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Today, Millwall Park is larger (now 21.36 acres) and more popular than ever. In the context of the crowded Canary Wharf developments, the combination of Millwall and Mudchute Parks form a unique and valuable open space for Islanders and visitors alike. Estate agents like it too, naming the new flats along Stebondale St, Parkside Quarter. Do you think they know the name is not original? That is was first used by a greasy spoon in Douglas Place?