You might remember hearing about this in the news: Outrageous’ and ‘disgusting’: segregated playground sparks fury. Developers Henley Homes had two playgrounds on one new build site in Lambeth. The large, central playground was allegedly intended for the children of those who privately own property on the complex; it was claimed that a much smaller area was designated for the children from the social housing block (Wren Mews). I’m choosing my words carefully as after all hell broke loose they strenuously denied these accusations but, given the experience of the residents it’s fair to say, few people buy their version of events.
The story caught my attention because the development in question is a stone’s throw from where I grew up and is on the site of a former school I am very much aware of, Lilian Baylis. Lilian Baylis was the local comprehensive, but I didn’t go there as my parents sent me to Roman Catholic schools instead. I remember being glad because it had a reputation, and I was a bit of scaredy-cat as a child.
My only interaction with the school was briefly going to Taekwondo lessons there on weekends. I was about seven or eight years old and hopeless. I wanted to be there because one of my school friends was into it. I couldn’t cope and never felt very welcome – the school gates were rarely opened for us, and we had to shimmy through the gap underneath the gate. Anyway, that’s another shit story – my point is that this news grabbed me because of the location and it made me angry. I know these things do happen, but it felt perverse to think of it happening there. If anyone belonged in the playground on that particular space, it was the kids of those who couldn’t afford to buy a property in central London.
This isn’t just a rant, though. The reason for this post is that I was researching the area for a project I am working on, and I saw some photos from the Lambeth Archives showing how the community came together to build the nearby Adventure Playground Park in the 1950s. Lambeth had suffered a lot of bomb damage during the War. You can see some of this in footage of Passport to Pimlico (sorry Pimlico, Lambeth claims this film, thank you very much) and The Guardian ran a great feature capturing behind-the-scenes.
I know the adventure playground well. I never went in. I walked past it all the time but wasn’t brave enough to go in. I was rubbish at any activity involving coordination, and if I’m honest, I was intimidated by the kids who could climb and swing. The park is across the street from the school, or so I thought. It transpired that the original adventure park was on the same site of the school, and therefore the same place (roughly) as the segregated playground.
I wish I could reproduce this photograph (https://boroughphotos.org/lambeth/lollard-adventure-playground-wake-street-lambeth/) but I am not sure how to get permission, and so a link will suffice. In it, you see a boy pushing a wheelbarrow as part of the community effort to build the Lollard Street Adventure Playground. The boy brought up on a rationed diet is very thin but clearly energetic. According to Lambeth Archives, the project was a joint initiative from the LCC, Lambeth Borough, the National Playing Fields Association and the local community converting a derelict bombsite into an adventure playground for children of all ages. I wish I could reproduce this photograph (https://boroughphotos.org/lambeth/lollard-adventure-playground-wake-street-lambeth/)
” This community-led initiative begun in 1955 was run by a voluntary association supported by grants and fund raising. It was a departure from traditional playgrounds with features that included; a grass area for camping, gossip, sunbathing and growing vegetables; a hard surface for ball games; rough ground for building bonfires, underground tunnels and cooking. Inside areas included a workshop and hut for painting, modelling plus lessons, also a caravan for girls ‘to keep house’. From modest beginnings 250 children were recorded during one day in 1958. The playground site was replaced in the 1960s by the Lilian Baylis School.”https://boroughphotos.org/lambeth/lollard-adventure-playground-wake-street-lambeth/
That’s right , 250 children came together to build this amazing adventure playground some THIRTEEN YEARS after the War ended. You can see a map of the playground on the Lambeth Archives website. Although Wake Street and Ethelred Street no longer exist by that name, Fitzalan Street does and did at the time. Therefore, its clear what side of Lollard Street the playground occupied and its where the new development sits today – the north side of what was Lilian Baylis School.
Lollard Street was hit with an incendiary bomb on the first night of the Blitz, 7th September 1940 at 22.21 (SOURCE: LONDON METROPOLITAN ARCHIVES via The Guardian Website). According to bombsite.org a further three high explosive bombs hit Lollard Street during the War, two hit Fitzalan Street, one hit Gibson Road (which is as close to Ethelred Street as currently exists today) and there were several others close by. According to the Lilian Baylis website, a primary school was demolished by a bomb during 1941.
Imagine post-war Lambeth? Children playing in bombsites long after the war and when Elvis is on the radio as this drawing demonstrates. Those kids had years of derelict buildings, of dust, and of not being able to have more than barely enough. Imagine what an adventure playground meant to them? It was one of the first in the country and a place designed for imaginative play. The children who used it would mature during the Swinging Sixties, and they would mostly leave Lambeth and not come back. The patch of London they grew up on became derelict again, not because a bomb hit it but because it resided in a desirable part of London and that’s how it works. What goes up was at one point, forced down.Imagine post-war Lambeth?
I now understand why I was surrounded by identical, flat brown buildings growing up although I hadn’t bargained on them becoming iconic examples of modernist architecture. In fact, when I found the 2012 planning proposal for converting Lilian Baylis School online, I saw that the school was on the English Heritage Buildings Risk register. From scrap metal to national treasure.
Lilian Baylis Secondary School replaced the Adventure Playground on Lollard Street in 1964. It was initially named after Henry Beaufoy who had established a Ragged School in Doughty Street. That street is now known as Newport Street (absurdly you can find Damien Hirst’s ar gallery on Newport Street). In 1910 the Ragged School moved to the Beaufoy Institute which is a beautifully decorative building on the corner of Black Prince Road and Vauxhall Road. After the War, evacuation of students, and then several post-war amalgamations, Beaufoy School moved to the site of the Adventure Playground, which in turn, relocated to a smaller space across the road.
Beaufoy merged with Vauxhall Manor School (alumni include Charlie Chaplin albeit briefly) and was renamed after Lilian Baylis in the same year as I was born (1983). As part of a regeneration programme for Vauxhall a move was planned and completed in 2005.
The wheels of ‘progress’ move slowly and in between Lilian Baylis moving out in 2005 and developers moving in, a modern community project sprung up, using the derelict space for sports and recreation. There, in the south of the site, access to sports fields and facilities remain after the new residential properties completion in 2016.
I am not sure where I am going with this post. I just know that I grew up scared of playing outside. I was timid and intimidated by a community on its knees. I hadn’t joined the dots. I thought the Blitz was something that happened in the East End and Coventry. It was only watching Passport to Pimlico and recognising the railway arches that the penny dropped – the area I grew up in had been disappearing since the onslaught the Blitz.
When I was searching the photography archive, I didn’t expect to see children building new communities I didn’t expect that boy with the wheelbarrow and a slight look of mischief. And I didn’t think that in 2019 the playground that became a school would become flats that ALLEGEDLY segregates its poor children from enjoying the same freedoms those baby-boomers enjoyed all those years ago.