Moving in to Nelson Square Gardens from 1956

The first, and the biggest, block of the three 1950’s ones, Rowland Hill House was finished in ca. 1956. The other two, Vaughan House and Applegarth House were ready to move in the following year.

Rowland Hill House 1954. Copyright Peter Pitt. Southwark Local History library
Rowland Hill House 1954. Copyright Peter Pitt. Southwark Local History library
Vaughan House. Southwark Local History library
Vaughan House. Southwark Local History library

The southern edge of the square was still left until 1963-64, when Helen Gladstone House was built with its sister block Styles House nearby in The Cut.

The Lord Nelson pub moved into the new location, at the eastern end of Rowland Hill House in 1956.

The shop mentioned in the original plans never seemed to materialise, but a doctor’s surgery operated at the opposite end of Rowland Hill House until the 1990’s. It is now known as Blackfriars Medical Practice in Colombo Street nearby.

“Photo taken by Morgan-Wells, 2 St Andrews Hill, EC4, for Ideal Boilers & Radiators Ltd”. Southwark Local History library
1958 magazine advert. Southwark Local Studies library
1958 magazine advert. Southwark Local Studies library

The Square itself had been moved a few meters west to allow more space to build Applegarth House. It is also likely that the division into the quiet garden in the western end and the children’s playground happened at this time.

The play area had a mesh fence, which lasted until the refurbishment in 2000, whereas the garden part had a different cast iron fencing, which survives to this date. It’s not the original pre-war fencing, however.

One of the old plane trees also disappeared at some point after the war.

Below you can listen to an interview with one of the residents, who have lived here since the 1950’s, first in Vaughan House and then Rowland Hill House:

Transcript:

April 2016 Interview with Ann, resident Nelson Square for 59 years
When did you move into the Square?

In 1957

What block did you move into?

Vaughan House

What sort of accommodation did you move from?

We moved from a three-storey house where you had three families. We lived on the top floor, you had like a cooker on the hallway, and then you had like a lounge where you sat and ate and then you had a bedroom which my parents and I shared. You had an outside toilet on the roof and that was it. Your bath used to go into the kitchen, dining area every Friday night and the three of you used to use it one after the other.

That must have been tough

Well no, it was quite good fun – when you’re young, you don’t think of it when you’ve never known anything different.

What were your first impressions of the estate?

Oh god, that it was beautiful. It was just something else that I wasn’t used to.

You had for the first time your own toilet bathroom all inside

My own bedroom. Well I can remember saying when I came to see it, when I seen my bedroom and the little veranda out the back, I said to my mum and dad, “oh”. They said to me ‘Do you like it’ and I said “Oh it’s like Buckingham Palace”.

What did council housing mean for your parents? You were really excited to be moving here so how do you think your parents felt?

Oh they were really pleased. My mother was crippled up with rheumatoid arthritis so to be able to have room, to get a washing machine in, a proper kitchen, oh it was just marvellous

Do you think new generations need the same kind of housing and the same kind of opportunities?

Definitely, yes I do think… I feel sorry for the youngsters today, ’cause they’ve got no chance of getting social housing. They say they’re building more and more but it’s so called affordable housing but it’s not, it’s not affordable

Were you a child here?

I was a child growing up here and my two children grew up here

What was the community like here?

It was very close, we started the Tenants Association in the late 70’s, early 80′. We used to go on trips to the seaside – we had all sorts of things going on. It was just really really good, really close.

Why do you think that was?

Because we all moved in together from like similar properties that we’d lived in so everyone was in the same boat, so people just used to mix more whereas now people are coming and going

So they’re not building the relationships any more?

Yes, that’s right

Can you say why you like living here, now, present day?

It‘s very central to everything, you don’t get a lot of trouble round here at all, in fact we’re really lucky round here where we live. Generally I get on with everyone and I find everyone really nice, still talk to people though you don’t know them so much but always say good morning to each other, so it’s still a very nice place to live.

Have you got one outstanding memory of being part of this community?

I can remember when we had a summer fete in the square and my son dressed up in fancy dress and he actually won. And I’ll always remember that. I didn’t think he had a chance because there was mothers there that had gone to great trouble in making something and all I did was stuck boxes of matches on to his football kit. And he ended up winning so I’ll always remember that

And it was called?

Match of the day

Thank you so much for sharing your memories. It’s been really interesting talking to you.

Southwarl Local History library
Southwark Local History library

Rowland Hill House – 1955 was named after methodist preacher Rowland Hill, whose Surrey Chapel was opposite the site

Applegarth House – ca. 1956 was named after Augustus Applegarth (also Applegath), an erstwhile resident of Nelson Square and inventor of the vertical printing-press

Vaughan House – ca. 1957 was probably named after Henry Vaughan, the son of a Southwark hat maker and art collector and philanthropist.

Helen Gladstone House – 1964 was named after Helen Gladstone (1849-1925), Educationist, daughter of William Ewart Gladstone and founding member of Women’s University Settlement, based in 44, Nelson Square.

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