For centuries the area known as the South Bank, south of the Thames near Waterloo station, was left untouched by London's expansion. Low-lying marshland prone to flooding, the land was used for agriculture and pleasure grounds for Londoners. Even as late as the Georgian period, ploughed fields were still recorded in Lambeth, while the area was renowned for its vineyards, pear trees, and public gardens.
In the eighteenth century the recognition of local fresh water and improved access by river led to rapid industrialisation and the area became built up and polluted. As expansion increased in the nineteenth century, the population swelled to around 100,000 at its peak, packed into notorious slums, which were hotbeds of disease. By 1900 there were still over 50,000 people living in the area in very over-crowded conditions.
During the Second World War the area suffered bomb damage, and afterwards a significant amount of housing was demolished when South Bank was chosen as the main site for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The old industries moved away and by 1970 there were less than 4,000 people living in the area.
The Coin Street area was targeted by developers the Heron Corporation and Commercial Properties Ltd for the site of a large hotel and leisure complex and a seven-year planning battle followed with the developers opposed by the Coin Street Action Group who wanted to see the area regenerated with more parks, family housing and social facilities.
In 1984 the developers sold their land to the GLC, which, in turn, sold the whole site to newly created Coin Street Community Builders. Between 1984 and 1988, CSCB demolished derelict buildings, completed the South Bank riverside walkway and laid out a new riverside park. This opened up spectacular views of the Thames, St. Paul's Cathedral and the City.
There are now a number of regeneration and restoration projects being managed by community and business groups in the area including several garden projects:
The Jubilee Gardens off Belvedere Road were laid out as a riverside park to commemorate the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. In the last decade they have deteriorated as a result of the disruption caused by the construction of the Jubilee Line and Hungerford Bridge. In January 2003 the Jubilee Gardens Steering Group was set up to oversee the creation of new public gardens in the area.
Work on the gardens is expected to cost around £5m with The London Eye agreeing to a capital contribution of £1.5m and a regular contribution to maintenance. The Waterloo Project Board has made an in-principle commitment to a long-term investment in the park as part of its programme for renovating South Bank and Waterloo.
In October 2003 the Jubilee Gardens Steering Group appointed a project manager to manage the development of a design brief for the gardens, which will include the development of a programme of artistic events and a cultural policy. Local residents will be surveyed for their views. More information is available from Paul Lincoln, South Bank Employers Group 020-7202 6912.
The 10-acre Archbishop's Park in Lambeth Palace Road was once part of Lambeth Palace's private gardens. Archbishop Benson formally opened it as a public park in 1901 although Archbishop Tait had earlier opened the grounds so that "scores of pale children" who lived nearby could play there and enjoy the open air.
The Waterloo Project has funded the project for a management plan which addresses the needs of the key groups who use the park, (which is the largest open space in the area), identifies current and future sources of funding, explores the long term sustainability of the Park as a free-to-access public open space and respects its Victorian heritage.
Recently the Waterloo Community Regeneration Trust funded a garden at St John's Churchyard, Exton Street, designed, planted and maintained by local homeless people.
More information available on line at http://www.opensouthbank.org