The Kingfield Estate

I bet there are not too many people who have heard of the Kingfield Estate. Not surprising, seeing as it never appeared on a map or street sign. This satellite photo shows its extent:

A weird shape for an estate, but of course there was a reason for it. In the mid-1800s, during the development of Cubitt Town, it was the intention to fill the area – including much of what is now Millwall Park – with new streets and houses. However, the financial collapse in the late 1860s put a temporary end to all building on the Island and the housing development did not get beyond this (an 1890s map):

Undeveloped land in 1890s

In the early 1920s. Poplar Borough Council purchased the land from the Charteris Estate, original owners of much Island land, and built houses of a similar design to those of the Chapel House Estate and Manchester Grove, the first of which opened in 1924.

Survey of London:

The original proposal was for 17 houses with two bedrooms, 38 houses with three bedrooms, and a block of six three-bedroom flats, all with living-room, bathroom, w.c. and scullery. During the building of the estate it was found that the six flats would cost more to construct than a similar number of houses with the same accommodation, and by rearranging the plan six houses were provided in the same space.

Kingfield Estate in the 1920s

The existing street pattern meant that only the merest nod in the direction of the Garden City spirit was possible. The houses are grouped in terraces of four or six dwellings and are slightly set forward or back to ease the otherwise straight lines. Because Kingfield Street had not previously been built up it was possible to lay it out with grass verges on either side, a feature all too rare in the area and not even to be found on the Borough’s other cottage estates.

Parsonage Street from Stebondale Street

Thomas Fitzgerald of 28 Billson St

Kingfield Street 1935 (Photo: Ada Price)

The area was seriously damaged during World War II (but Kingfield Street was remarkably unscathed).

Billson Street 1942 (Photo: Bill Regan)

Billson Street 1942 (Photo: Bill Regan)

1945 (Photo: RAF)

Destroyed houses in Parsonage Street and Billson Street were replaced with Orlit Homes (pits for their foundations can be seen in the previous photo), meant to be temporary but which are mostly still in use today (see the blog article Home Sweet, Defective Home).

Orlit house construction in Parsonage Street and Billson Street. At the rear left, the Builders Arms in Stebondale Street.

Ceremonial opening of the first Orlit home in Billson Street in 1946

The first Orlit residents, the Atheis family of 16 Billson St.

In Stebondale Street, local residents celebrated the end of the war.

Stebondale Street. Photo: George Warren

Stebondale Street. Photo: George Warren

And a few years later, in Kingfield Street and other streets, Islanders celebrated the coronation.

Kingfield Street (Photo: Ada Price)

Kingfield Street (Photo: Ada Price)

In addition the ‘temporary’ Orlit homes built on the Kingfield Street, prefabs were built in the surrounding streets.

Stebondale Street (Photo: Island History Trust)

Glengarnock Ave (foreground), Manchester Road (right)

Manchester Road (foreground), Kingfield Street (left), Seyssel Street (right). (Photo: Island History Trust)

In the late 1960s, the prefabs in Glengarnock Avenue and Manchester Road, as well as houses in Seyssel Street and Stebondale Street, were cleared to make room for new flats (the flats that our family moved into after leaving a Victorian tenement in Stepney). It must have been a bit of a shock for the original residents to find their once-quiet streets enclosed in this way.

Photo: Christopher Dunchow

Billson Street, 1977 (Photo: Mick Lemmerman)

Kingfield Street (Photo: Jan Hill)

Kingfield Street

Seyssel Street, 1971 (Photo: Christine Egglesfield)

Manchester Road, 1976. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives (City of London)

And in 1976, the peace was dramatically disturbed when a gas explosion destroyed No. 13 Parsonage Street and badly damaged No. 15. I was at home with my family just a few yards away at the time, and remember rushing out on to the landing before even the dust had settled, looking at where the house had been. Remarkably, nobody was hurt.

Photo scan courtesy of Marie Swarray

Today, if I visit my old estate, it doesn’t look very different. Greener, and harder to park the car, but – at least – there are still some familiar and friendly faces.

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1 Response to The Kingfield Estate

  1. Jan Hill says:

    Thanks for posting this interesting article. My parents (I was born in Kingfield Street) very much appreciated the trees (plane trees?) in Kingfield Street and the bushes which gave the Street a bit of a rural feel. As a kid in the 1950s, us kids spent a lot of time playing hide and seek or building dens in the bushes

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