Stebondale Street

In the late 1960s, when our family moved onto the Island, Stebondale Street consisted of 1960s flats and early 20th century houses on one side, and prefabs on the other, separating the street from Millwall Park. That was it, no shops, nothing much of note, a dead straight street from Manchester Rd as far as the sharp right turn into Seyssel St.

A bit bare, concrete poles topped with sodium lights every 50 yards or so, and equally spaced plane trees. The prefab residents were moving out, and their homes would be demolished within a year or two, a demolition assisted by local kids who had never heard of asbestos, let alone its dangers.

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When the prefabs were gone, a fence was constructed along the street, protecting the works to absorb the prefab sites into Millwall Park.

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Trees were planted, a new fence was built, and Millwall Park became a little bit larger than it was.

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Me and my mates used to ‘hang around’ there a lot, outside the flats at the end of Kingfield St, before the time of George Green’s Youth Club. Nothing special to say about the location, no particular reason to have chosen it, a random place. A few decades later, I do feel for the poor sods who lived in the flats. What a racket we made. Or perhaps that was considered more normal and acceptable then?

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Fast-forward 40 years and imagine my surprise when I learned that Stebondale Street was once one of the grander streets on the Island, a street intended by William Cubitt to be the home of the middle classes, a street full of large houses and a variey of shops. It was even longer once, extending as far as Manchester Rd just north of the present-day Betty May Gray House.

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So, what was it like then? Thanks to the Island History Trust and other sources there are plenty of photos….

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The Builder’s Arms public house, 99 Stebondale Street, built in 1865 by Jonathan Billson, who was responsible for 26 houses in Stebondale Street

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And then came WWII, and the Blitz. Stebondale St suffered more than many other streets on the Island. It was not a deliberate bombing target; the Luftwaffe, at the start of the war at least, had instructions to bomb only military and industrial targets. However, dropping bombs from aircrafts was incredibly inaccurate in 1940 and it is likely that Stebondale Street paid for its proximity to the anti-aircraft battery in the Mudchute.

Robert Lowther recalled:

Uncle Ern was blown up by a bomb during the war, and found days later. A lot of the family had been evacuated to Swindon but my dad Bob Lowther stayed at home with Grandad, the older Ernie Lowther. During one of the raids when the Bricklayers pub and most of the Airy houses in Stebondale and some in Manchester Road were hit, the roof of 44 Stebondale Street was dislodged and the end house on the terrace was demolished. When this happened Bob and Ernie were over the Mudchute allotments and returned home to see the damage and found their house had been looted. Ernie realised who had taken their chairs and went and got them back!

Pat Ussher, Canadian Press Staff Writer:

One of the hardest-hit spots is the Isle of Dogs – a narrow neck of land in the middle of the Thames dock zone, surrounded on three sides by the river. Here wharves, docks, warehouses, factories and small houses are jumbled together. A bus ride around the Isle of Dogs shows plenty of bomb damage. Let’s take Stebondale Street as an illustration of what can be done with lavish use of high explosives. The street isn’t typical of all London but it shows that the bad spots are really bad. On one side of the street I counted 49 houses or stores and a church wrecked or damaged so badly they were unoccupied.

There was a big open space where a dozen or more houses once stood. Only a few bricks remain now. The debris has been removed. The other side wasn’t quite so bad. Only 34 houses and stores were empty due to enemy action. A mission hall with its roof punctured, its windows agape, also testified to the fury of the assault. Few of the remaining houses were intact. Some had top storeys gutted, others had windows out. But people were living in them. Children roller-skated by in the street, joked with the passersby. Cats and dogs roamed around. At the end of the street a pub was still open, undamaged except for a few boarded-up windows . Most forlorn spectacle was a row of damaged houses. Roofs had fallen in, upper floors sagged at crazy angles. A couple of bedsteads leaned perilously atop the debris. Wallpaper flapped in the breeze. An empty house near the church bore a reminder of the first Great War. Its scarred wall bore a plaque with the names of the soldiers lost in the 1914-18 struggle and the inscription ‘A sweet and glorious thing it is to die for one’s country.’

Lucy Reading:

It’s amazing when you saw all those empty houses and nothing was taken, pillaged or stolen, you know. We used to go and feed the cat and this particular day, my mum and I went down Stebondale Street, my mum went down the airy, out the back, where we usually found the cat. And I stood outside, and the whole length of Stebondale Street, there wasn’t a person in the whole street and everything smelt dusty and derelict and damp.

This says enough: the 1950 electoral register listed 160 registered voters on Stebondale Street, compared to 650 in 1939.

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After the prefabs were demolished…..

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And today…..a very green street, the plane trees are all grown up.

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8 Responses to Stebondale Street

  1. jan says:

    Interesting article Mick! Nice to see the pic of my grandfather’s (John Lawrence Price) shop on the corner of Stebondale St and Kingfield St. His store was a “Marine Store” which I think covered all sorts of secondhand stuff. When his eldest son, John Price, came back after WW1, having lost the sight in one eye, his mother encouraged him to take over the shop as a confectionery shop. She didn’t want him to go into a local factory as she was concerned he may damage his good eye. Uncle John ran the shop, I think, until it was damaged in WW2. My parents (Will Price and Ada Muldoon) married in 1936 and moved into the flat above the shop and my older sister and brother were born there. After the war, Will and Ada moved back to the Island and were offered a council house in Kingfield Street which, coincidentally, was the house my mum had moved into when she was 12 (number 8). She lived there until 2004 when she moved to Sussex.

  2. Don Liddell says:

    Another very interesting observation,well done Mick. I found the picture looking towards Jarvis’s shop brought back lots of memories ,particularly as we lived in Frigate house amongst great Island families. Also the little Lorry parked on the right was mine,( bought from “the Lead” via Cyclo Motors). In the background can be clearly seen a large crane called a Scotch Derrick,this was in the yard operated by my father Don Liddell which was known as “Burdell Engineering”
    My father’s partner was a Mr. Burgess , they combined their names to form the title and were engaged in repairing buildings that had suffered bomb-damage.This property forms the modern-day “Horseshoe Court” harking back to the days when they were actually made there.
    I also had a favourite Aunt, Vi Maynard who lived in those pre-fabs, her’s was next to the main entry where steps took you down into the park, we called it “hut 29”, a reference to “the army game
    Which was a t.v. prog of the day.
    Thanks again Mick,sorry about the ramble. Don.

  3. jan says:

    Just a question about the “early 20th century houses”. Do you mean the council houses on the side opposite the park? They’d be around 1928 wouldn’t they? Can’t remember any older ones but I may be wrong.

  4. Camille Sole says:

    Does anyone know the Coppin family who lived in Stebondale St. Eliza Coppin married Harry Clark and they 6 children 4 girls and 2 boys.

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