At the 129th AGM of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association at the Garden Museum on 19 September 2012, the MPGA Chairman Bill Fraser presented Joyce Bellamy MBE with the London Spade to celebrate Joyce's role in the MPGA and to thank her for 25 years as Secretary to the Association, the post from which she resigned last year. The London Spade has been awarded annually by the MPGA since 1967 to individuals and institutions that have made a significant contribution to London's green open spaces, and I hope that Joyce won't take it amiss if I say that she is both an individual AND an institution. Joyce's motto is, "It's a great life if you don't weaken", and few have been as tireless as she in criss- crossing London to chivvy and encourage and offer words of wisdom based on a lifetime's knowledge of parks and open spaces and experience of the public and charitable sectors.
I first knew Joyce in the glory days of the former Greater London Council, when she was Senior Recreation and Open Space Planner in the GLC Parks Department, which at that time ran many of the major parks that post-abolition in 1986 were transferred to various London Boroughs or, in the case of Hampstead Heath, to the City of London. Crystal Palace Park, Victoria Park, Battersea Park, Burgess Park and many others (in all 38, from Abbey Wood Park to Wormwood Scrubs) were transferred to local authorities that did not in all cases have the skills or the financial means to manage them. The transfer, together with the dispersal of expertise and experience and the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering, was a factor that led to a decline in maintenance that only the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund has been able to reverse.Joyce and I were members, under the chairmanship of Lord Birkett, of the GLC's Historic Parks Panel (I was then an employee of the Council's Historic Buildings Division, which was later transferred to become the London Region of English Heritage), which in the run-up to abolition made the case for recognising the historic significance of the great London Parks and published a series of leaflets on their historical development. Joyce was also involved in the publication in 1986 of the GLC Habitat Handbooks on Hampstead Heath Flora and Open Space in London. The latter contains a photo of a rather apprehensive-looking Joyce, an apprehensiveness understandable in the circumstances of imminent abolition, and the frontispiece bears the significant C17 quatrain, in the selection of which I somehow see Joyce's hand:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from the common,
But lets the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
Joyce's knowledge of the history of London's local authority land ownership is unequalled, and post-GLC she stayed on for a while with the depressingly-named London Residuary Body while the GLC's property assets - which in addition to the large public parks included several historic buildings like Kenwood House, Ranger's House, Marble Hill and the Geffrye Museum as well as housing stock, schools and Green Belt land - were found new owners. Lord Birkett went on to become for many years President of the MPGA, and Joyce was approached - "seduced" was the word she used in het acceptance speech at the Garden Museum - to take on the role "just for a couple of years" of Secretary to the Association. Joyce recalled visits to Brixton Prison and to community farms in Jack the Ripper territory and a particularly stressful day when she attended three Christmas parties, all in the service of the MPGA, and two years turned into twenty-five during which she helped revive the Association and as their representative and always accessible ambassador gave advice and planted grant aid. where it would be most effective in nurturing urban parks, churchyards, school gardens and community open spaces.
Joyce is a planner and geographer, and, when the Architectural Association School started its wonderful and much-missed and lamented diploma course in the conservation of historic parks and gardens in 1987, led by Ted Fawcett and Gordon Ballard, she was one of the first intake of students and brought to the course a respect for and appreciation of the efforts of the late-C19 and early-C20 philanthropists, groups and local authorities - Octavia Hill, the Kyrle Society, the Commons Preservation Society, Middlesex County Council, the Corporation of London - that did so much to secure London's open spaces, commons and Green Belt land and protect them from built development. She embodies a public service ethos that is now depressingly rare and, in a hire-and-fire world exemplifies the virtues and value of knowledge and experience willingly shared with others. Her study of parks, gardens and commons and the evolution of open space systems in London led to the well-deserved award of an MBE in 2004, the main outward manifestation of which was a new hat to wear to the Palace, which sometimes put in an appearance at less grand events too.
One of the great joys of the AA course were the study tours, both in England and on the Continent, but they were something that Joyce had to miss; not only does she have her husband Richard to feed and water, but she then had to also feed and water her (much less self-sufficient) horses as well. A web search brings up a rather unexpected photo of Joyce receiving a bouquet from Noel Edmonds and an article from the September/October 2006 edition of British Horse, commemorating Joyce's volunteer role with the British Horse Society as Regional Access and Bridleways Officer Greater London and describing her as the defender of urban riding. As Joyce K. Taylor, she wrote Horses in Suburbia, and in 1975 under her married name published Hyde Park for Horsemanship, which covers the history of the Park and its association with riding from Tudor hunting preserve to 20th-century tourist attraction and public amenity. A photo facing p. 129 is of the author dressed in jodhpurs, tweed jacket and bowler hat astride her Dales Pony mare at the 1974 London Riding Horse Parade in Rotten Row, but she also rode sidesaddle and the book contains fascinating technical, sartorial and social details of ladies' and gentlemen's riding in the Park: "Although some small girls were taught to ride astride comparatively early in the nineteenth century, as a preliminary before being transferred to the sidesaddle, the first adult ladies to pioneer astride riding in the Park (in the 1890s) did so in modest outfits consisting of divided skirts or breeches and boots, partially concealed beneath long-skirted frock coats... even so, it was an unwritten rule that ladies should revert to sidesaddle when hacking in the Park in the presence of royalty" (p. 63). Recently, as those who saw the television programme will know, Joyce instructed the architectural historian Dan Cruickshank in the art of equestrianism in Hyde Park ("Sit up straight"), and in her book makes the point that riding in the Park is not necessarily a pursuit just for a privileged elite; to lift Joyce's quote from the British Horse article by Vanessa Depre mentioned above, "I wasn't born into a horsy family; however, thanks to the many carriage drivers in London I learnt a lot about horses and horse care... After the war there were few riding schools left in London, but at my Grammar School I set up a Riding Club during my early teens. We explored London on horseback and used the facilities available."
One of the few disagreements I can recall having had with Joyce relates to the choice of Greenwich Park for the Olympic equestrian events. I felt strongly, and hope yet to be proved wrong, that intensive use of such a small and sensitive historic park threatened to be damaging to the ecology and underlying archaeology in addition to excluding the local people from their recreation ground for a significant period; but Joyce was confident that the mitigation measures for protection and repair would ensure that no lasting harm was done, and I understand that the cross-country course has already been successfully reinstated.
Joyce is the great defender of the overlooked but nevertheless important scraps of land below the radar of grander garden historians; the carriage sweeps picked up in the London Squares Preservation Act 1931, the slips of common or village green isolated by road-widening schemes that are occasionally and unwisely seen by borough surveyors as having development potential, the cinder running track in a field in Mitcham, the Repton lake surviving in an estate of social housing in Dulwich. Joyce's south London hikes call for sturdy legs, stout shoes and a hip flask, but in the course of one of them you will learn about Burial Acts, C19 vestries, the sources of the River Wandle, Lt-Colonel Sexby, the Commons Registration Act 1965, Green Belt covenanted land and much more (to borrow one of our heroine's favourite phrases, the mind boggles!) and may well end up several hours later at an historic former coaching inn.
In the curious lacuna between the abolition of the GLC and the establishment of the Greater London Authority and the Mayor's Office, when London was left without a co-ordinating planning authority, English Heritage helped found the London Historic Parks & Gardens Trust as the county gardens trust for the capital, launched at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1994 and with founding members drawn largely from the AA diploma course. Joyce has remained a Trustee since the outset and is a treasured member of the Planning & Conservation Working Group, where she is our historical touchstone and social conscience. I see her as embodying all the virtues of the Victorian reformers with none of their vices - energetic, informed, generous with information and support, funny, friendly and approachable. I have learned a lot from her, and I and the Trust owe her a great debt of gratitude. So, thank you Joyce. If the Trust were to institute an award to Joyce for outstanding services to London's green open spaces along the lines of the London Spade or the MBE, I can think of nothing more appropriate than the Order of the Green Belt.