The Intrepid Journey of Grove Adventure Playground

Grove Adventure Playground - Gordon Grove Site 2018

One of the most rewarding things about getting involved with the work at Grove Adventure Playground has been the connection I have been able to make with many members of the community in Loughborough Junction, including some of the “kids” that used to play on the adventure playground at Gordon Grove many years ago who have now grown up and have proper haircuts.

I was keen to do some more research on the place and despite getting a lot of information, some questions remained, including how the adventure playground ended up on its current site, squeezed between a scrap yard and the Marcus Lipton Youth Club.

During the re-commissioning works, we were supported by a number of local businesses, including the provision of free skips by Powerday, (Belinda Road depot), and on one occasion the driver who dropped off a skip declared that he used to play at the adventure playground, not only at it’s current site, but also previously within Elam Gardens Open Space on the other side of Gordon Grove.

In the meantime, I found some images taken of the Gordon Grove site on the website of APES, (Adventure Playground Engineers), that explained the works they had undertaken in 2006 to partially re-build the adventure playground and after it had already transferred to the Gordon Grove site, including the construction of tower structures, suspension bridge, swing and climbing wall, although this gave no further information about when this move had ocurred.

Another detail that emerged from the memories of some locals was that our adventure playground wasn’t always called Grove Adventure Playground, which was confirmed by a 1987 Lambeth Map of Amenities, where the name Angell Town Adventure Playground was clearly printed on the Gordon Grove site. Further checks seemed to confirm this as the original name of the adventure playground, but it didn’t make sense for the Angell Town Adventure Playground to be located in the heart of Loughborough Junction.

So whilst the picture was becoming a little clearer, there was still no hard evidence about Grove Adventure Playground starting life a short distance away in Angell Town or how it had moved from there. On-line searches along with some hours spent in the Lambeth Archives, Minet Library, revealed little at first, but eventually a few more details started to emerge which began to show something of the intrepid journey our adventure playground has been on.

The search moved to the origination of the Angell Town Adventure Playground, which was presumably somehwere in Angell Town at around the time in the late 1960’s and 70’s that Lambeth Council started to clear the whole area and build the new Angell Town estate. This clearance work probably created the perfect environment for an adventure playground similar to the earlier playgrounds created in London on bomb damaged sites from WW2.

The first major clues came from a series of undated slides kept at the Minet Library that were labelled Angell Town Adventure Playground, which showed some rudimentary suspension bridges fixed between some trees on what looked like a cleared building site. One of the images showed part of a church tower, which would seem to suggest that the original site was next to St. John the Evangelist Church on Wiltshire Road, however none of the large houses that were shown in the pictures still existed and it was difficult to assess from what direction the photographs were taken from existing layout plans and visits to the area.

The breakthrough occurred when I was eventually able to match up the 1950 OS map of Angell Town to the jumble of houses shown in the picture and more importantly the orientation of the church tower which then determined the exact location of the orignal Angell Town Adventure Playground, which was in a triangle patch of land, formally occupied by terraced Victorian or Edwardian houses, surrounded by Overton, Wiltshire and Angell Roads. The current site is now occupied by St. John’s C of E Primary School, which was built in 1972, but of course the whole area had been radically developed and the roads diverted to service the new estate housing layouts.

Angell Town Adventure Playground - Overton Road Site 1969 or 1970

Further visits to the Minet Library then unearthered two further images of the Angell Town Adventure Playground, but it was clear that these were taken later than the batch of slides of the original site in Angell Town. However, it was immediately obvious that these were taken from an Easterly direction towards the Loughborough Estate, showing children playing on a cleared site adjacent to the partially constructed Elam Estate on Gordon Grove. This was therefore the Elam Open Space site that was the home of the Angell Town Adventure Playground after it moved from Overton Road in Angell Town in the early 1970’s.

Angell Town Adventure Playground - Elam Open Space Site, around 1974

I then found reference to a report written by Francis McLennan in 1970 called, “Report on the Angell Town Adventure Playground, Brixton, London, SW9, April 1969 - September 1970”, but I was unable to open this document online or find it anywhere in Lambeth Archives. However, I did find some references to Francis McLennan and his wife, Janlet McLennan, when I found an old Guardian Obituary written by Francis for his wife Janlet, who unfortunately died in 2004.

It started to build the human story of our playground as the obituary confirmed that Francis and Janlet met in 1969 when they were establishing the Angell Town Adventure Playground as a community development project, however there was still no confirmation about the link between this original playground and ours on Gordon Grove

A more detailed obituary was found online in the local Watford press archives which noted that some people present in the over-crowded funeral congregation had travelled up from Brixton, (which seemed to prove that personal connection once more), and also provided more details on Francis and Janlet who had married in 1977, moved to Bushy and set up the Lincolnsfields Childrens Centre.

I looked into the details of the Lincolnsfield Centre, which is still open today and a little further digging threw up the name Francis McLennan once more and even more importantly a telephone number for him. There was no choice but to ring the number and to my surprise and delight Francis McLennan answered my call.

We had a brief conversation and Francis was very helpful and possibly a bit surprised to be quizzed over the adventure playground he had set up with his eventual wife 50 years previously. However I was able to establish a lot and with some satisfaction Francis referred to the original adventure playground as the Overton Road site, which seemed to confirm my earlier research. He also mentioned the subsequent move to Elam Open Space that finally made the link to Grove Adventure Playground as it currently stands.

Francis was also very keen to make a visit to the Grove Adventure Playground later this summer and promised to bring some further details about the beginnings and history of the place. This will be an important piece of knowledge and I am in no doubt that it will confirm the same kind of positive ethos, care and desire to help within a deprived local community that LJAG and the group of volunteers who have worked so hard on the adventure playground over the last couple of years to try and keep it open and serving the community.

Nick Lewis

August 2018


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