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):
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.
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.
The area was seriously damaged during World War II (but Kingfield Street was remarkably unscathed).
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).
In Stebondale Street, local residents celebrated the end of the war.
And a few years later, in Kingfield Street and other streets, Islanders celebrated the coronation.
In addition the ‘temporary’ Orlit homes built on the Kingfield Street, prefabs were built in the surrounding streets.
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.
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.
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.