Sticks in the Smoke 17: Westfield Park

westfield-park(Thursday 26 May 2016)

Just a quarter mile walk from Cremorne gardens,  past the huge brick and glass monolith of the old Lots Road power station (now being converted into luxury apartments as part of the Chelsea Waterfront development) and up the fashionable Victorian terraces of Upcerne Road, and I enter the gates of Westfield Park.
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017cA green 2½ acres of lawns, rounded rose beds and gentle grassy hummocks. An undefined shape that seems to have been hacked out of the surrounding streets. Groups of trees form spinneys and snippets of shady woodland. A bright and very busy playground with colourful equipment skitters across one side of the park. I walk the perimeter paths straight and curving, overtaken by young children running and scootering. I’m looking for a spot to draw. There are picnic tables and benches but most are occupied on this warm afternoon by groups of mums chatting and bouncing buggies. Then I see a young family packing up their picnic and I weave between the tree trunks to claim the empty table, thankfully in the shade of a spreading oak.
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My view is south, with the chimneys of Lots Road power station towering above. And 017bthere’s the same yellow crane that was in my drawing view from Cremorne Gardens. The sun shines on the yellow- bricked frontages of the Upcerne Road terraces. It’s hard to imagine that during much of the last century these streets were grimy and shadowed from power station smoke and from the other heavy industry which straggled along this part of the Thames and around Chelsea Creek (Lots Road power station was built in 1905 to generate electricity for the London Underground, which it did for nearly 100 years). Much of the workforce were housed in this area.
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This patch of industry was a target for the Luftwaffe during World War 2 but most bombs lots-road-power-stationlanded in the nearby residential streets instead. In September and October 1940, many explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped which caused extensive damage. There were also more bombs in 1941 and 1944. Parts of these streets were razed to the ground, and many people lost their lives. Meek Street was all but obliterated. Its foundations and the lost sections of adjoining streets now lie here, under Westfield Park. This poster (from the archives of the London Transport Museum) was published in 1944, showing the view from the devastated Meek Street- almost exactly the same view that I’m drawing.

This is an account from a survivor of the bombing, from the bbc history website:

“One evening in September 1940 in Chelsea, my sister Ada, her fiance Harry and I were at home with the family in Tetcott Road when the sirens went. Harry and I wrapped up warmly and rushed to offer what help we could. Our first encounter was at my Aunt’s house in Meek street. Something had dropped in the attic rooms. Harrry and I dashed up to find the attic burning. Luckily no explosive incendiary bombs had landed up there. We grabbed the sand buckets and doused the fires. Next we crossed into Lots Road and heard noises from the horses in a stable. They were banging their hooves and whining as their stables were alight. We smashed open the side door of the stables, managed to get inside and opened the large stable doors. The horses dashed out and fled. Further along Lots Road was a storage depot called The Overland. The caretaker shouted for help as some of the items were on fire. We went inside and tried to work the stirrup pump to douse the burning boxes. Poor Harry was pumping hard whilst I held the jet but the pressure was low and only a trickle came out. It was like a drop in the ocean. I remember shouting to him “Pump harder Harry, I want more water”

After the war, the bomb- damage was cleared. Prefab buildings were quickly put up as a temporary measure to provide shelter for those who had been made homeless. The streets were closed to traffic and this piece of waste ground became a makeshift playground for local children. When motorists tried to use it as a short cut, the children protested by laying down in the street. In 1951 a park was proposed, but it took until 1981 for it to finally receive planning permission.

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A gardener hauls an unruly yellow hose across the path to water the rose bushes, the arcing spray making little rainbow patches in the air. A headscarved nanny wheels a baby to a bench, where she sits and rocks the buggy and starts softly singing a lullaby in an eastern European language (I think!). She is interrupted as the warm afternoon air detonates with the excited commotion of school students from nearby Chelsea Academy, bursting into the park at the end of the school day.

(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew is  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London each week of 2016, leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in an exhibition in London in 2017. www.nickandrew.co.uk )

Westfield Park, Uverdale Road, Chesea, London. SW10 9BY
Google earth view here

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4 thoughts on “Sticks in the Smoke 17: Westfield Park

  1. What a contrast between the dour LT poster and your lovely bright sketch. Hard to imagine the filth and grime that was once here. We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s taken its time. Thank you for the little history cameo, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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