Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
In 2010 the park came under threat when Thames Water announced it proposed making the park a location for a worksite for the construction of the Super Sewer which would mean the destruction of much of the park and its closure until at least 2020. A vigorous Save King’s Stairs Gardens protest group was formed and in support Southwark Council awarded the park official Village Green Status in 2012. In the same year the park became a Queen Elizabeth II Field, a scheme to celebrate and protect open spaces to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The campaign was successful and, though still on Thames Water’s shortlist for a worksite, the preferred location is now Chambers Wharf a little way down river.
The paved walk along the park’s river boundary forms part of the Thames Path that offers marvellous views along the river and over to Wapping on the north bank. The Path features a Jubilee Stone installed to commemorate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee which coincided with restoration in the park, and a new inscription was added to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee. The Queen herself unveiled the original stone erected to celebrate her Silver Jubilee in 1977.
King’s Stairs Gardens is an undulating park that leads from opposite the entrance to Southwark Park, across Jamaica Road and down to the river. The park is designated a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation and provides a friendly habitat for a variety of birds and insects. Several bat species have made the park their home, encouraged by the installation of bat boxes, and boasts hundreds of mature trees.
Recently wildflower and butterfly borders have been created. The park is named after the stairs leading up from the river that King Edward III used to access his manor house nearby, and together with the remains of the 14th century manor house, it forms the Edward III Conservation Area.
The park opened in 1982 but was a long time in the making. It was first proposed in 1947 by the London County Council as part of the post-war reconstruction of the area but there were objections from Bermondsey Council and local businesses which delayed the process. A look at a map of the area at that time shows there were four blocks of flats called Park Buildings on the site, built in the early 20th century. At the river’s edge, there were a row of tall houses, also demolished, save one that remains enigmatically in isolation and is where Jessica Mitford once lived.