In 1851, John Tallis produced a map of London and its environs for the Great Exhibition. Like all his maps, it was of high quality and accuracy. It has a border of small illustrations of important buildings on it; open spaces - some public and some private - are coloured in green. Over the years, I have explored the gardens shown on this map to see what has become of them. They have provided an opportunity to think about what 'open space' is about and the history of urban landscape. It has also been an excuse to do what I enjoy, which is visiting parts of london I have not been to before. So, this article is not so much a walk as a bundle of suggestions for excursions.
The first impression that one gets from the Tallis map is how much of the landscape is familiar. The Royal Parks are there, but with Buckingham Palace Gardens shown in green; it is now open to the public to some extent. Those of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries that are in the area covered by the map are open, and may have been more visited at the time the map was made – certainly they were better kept.
Victoria Park, the first of the people's parks is there; as is the not-yet-opened Battersea Park. Many, but not all, of the London squares are shown but they are not all coloured green. Were they too small to include or had they not yet been planted up? I do not have answers to all the questions.
My exploration started with one of the grandest, as I went to look for the Surrey Zoological Gardens. Originally the grounds of Walworth Manor, it was acquired by Edward Cross in 1831, who set up a zoo to rival London Zoo. There was also a botanic garden with large conservatory and a lot of exotic planting to the west of the zoo. After Cross's death the zoo closed and a music hall was built on the site in 1856. It burnt down in 1861 and the gardens closed in 1862. By 1877 it had been sold for housing. With post war rebuilding, Pasley Park was created on part of the site in the 1980s. It has a splendid gate on Surgery Road and two boulder seats with ostrich neck and head sculptures. Nearby is Walworth Garden Farm which is worth a visit for its high-quality planting. The local pub which was the Giraffe in memory of the zoo is now part of the Bison gastro pub chain. The Surrey Gardens Memorial Hall is also on part of the original site and it commemorates Spurgeon's preaching in the music hall. Nearby is Grosvenor Park. This is shown on the map as open space but fairly soon after 1851 houses were built round it; and later, smaller and less grand houses were built on the garden. Bombing destroyed a small part of the development and this has been turned into a small garden. It is mainly hard surface but has some planting and a variety of play equipment. If you get this far, you should visit Burgess Park which is 'park from bomb site' on the grand scale.
The Oval is open space because in 1845 it was leased to be turned into the Surrey Cricket Ground. Over the years stadia and other buildings have hidden the open space from the streets. Near to the Oval is Kennington Common. This was converted into a public park after the 1848 Chartist demonstration. The story is presented on the side St Mark's Church. Kennington Park has been enlarged since then to gain important sports facilities, most noticeably, but not surprisingly, for cricket. In North West London is Lords Cricket Ground. And near to that is the Graveyard of St John's Church, the only large churchyard shown green on the map. It is currently managed as a nature conservation area, but in the woody park mode rather than the wild landscape of some other nature gardens.
In the West End there are a couple of stories about railways and squares. Euston Square lies both sides of the New Road. The north part became engulfed in Euston Station but new green space was provided in the controversial rebuild in the sixties. Further development is proposed so this is a space to watch; maybe we will get the Arch back. The southern part became Friends House. There is a small formal garden on part of the site. The development of Marylebone Station in 1899 led to the complete loss of Harewood Square and the reduction of Blandford Square to a short terrace of houses. When I first visited, the street the layout of the kerbstones hinted at more, but this is no longer obvious. Dorset Square, on the site of the original Lord's Cricket Ground, survives to the east of the station.
South East London has hardly been built up. Greenwich Park is there but the Naval College is firmly not open space. Southwark Park has yet to be even proposed but the Seven Islands, a flooded area, is shown. It is now commemorated in the name of the leisure centre on the edge of Southwark Park.
North West London has four private parks. Brondesbury House survived into the thirties by becoming a school, but soon after that became built over with large houses. Some of the trees amongst the houses may well date from the old garden. Mapes House opposite on the north side of Willesden Lane vanished earlier. The obliteration of Belsize and Tufnell Parks were more gradual. Belsize was filled in from the edges until the synagogue was built around 1939 for the refugee community on the last part of the park. Tufnell Park still has a tiny triangular play area in the centre of the site.
The Surrey Docks are still in a rather rudimentary state, with the Surrey Canal shown. Part of the canal was preserved in Burgess Park but has since been filled in. Surrey Docks have since closed. It was one of the first dock sites to be redeveloped. The early rebuild houses are small-scale and grouped in the garden suburb style. Quite a considerable area is given over to natural open space. Surrey Docks Farm is one of the earliest city farms, having opened in 1975. In all, Surrey Docks are now fairly green. A similar story would apply to the Isle of Dogs, which has expanded greatly since the time of the map and now closed. In these docks the landscaping is generally more formal and the building more imposing. It is unlikely that in 1851 anyone would have expected the changes to the docks.
Shepherds Bush Green and Parsons Green are both coloured in green, but Brook Green is not. The map shows Parr's Ditch, which is the traditional border between Hammersmith and Fulham as well as the brook at Brook Green.
The site of Cremorne Gardens is shown, but there is no detail of the planting as there is on most sites. A small park occupies part of the site, but one of the original gates has been returned to the park. Elm Park, on Kensington Road is also shown; this is now a development of good-quality houses. It was one of the sites where the production of silkworms was tried out. Also in the area is the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Burton Court is marked in green. In an area with little open space this still is an important facility. It is said to have half the public football pitches in Kensington and Chelsea. Also in the area is Vincent Square, which was taken as the playing fields of Westminster School in 1810 because the open fields near the school were being built on.
Elm Lodge bordering the Regent's Canal vanished soon after the map was published, becoming St Pancras Goods Depot in 1862. After the depot was closed in 1968, it was developed as housing around Barker Drive. So there is now some grass (with ignored "no ball games" signs) and, more recently, some modern play equipment. As Elm Park was the home of the Cubitts, who made their money from social housing, there is a historic reflection.In East London Victoria Park is the most obvious area of green. It was opened in 1845. The nearby Victoria Park Cemetery is now Meath Gardens. The entrance arch still stands. It was laid out by the MPGA in 1894. Bethnal Green is shown, it now extends south of the Roman Road and is home to the local library and a vent from the Central Line disguised as a shelter. To the north of Bethnal Green, Tallis shows East London Cemetery, but this has vanished without trace. Or has it? I went for another look and there is a splendid brick and iron railing wall along Cambridge Heath Road and some good solid brick walls running back from the road. Are these the walls of the cemetery?
Finsbury Circus is the only green space the map shows in the City of London and it did not become a public park until 1925. It is still theoretically the largest open space in the City, but is now a CrossRail site. Elsewhere in the city there are now numerous small open spaces, and an increasing number of private ones on the roofs of office blocks. One remarkable survival on the edge of the City is Charterhouse, which has several garden spaces some of which are associated with the old buildings and some very good modern gardens near recent additions to the accommodation.
The map also has hints of what is to come. In Ladbroke Grove, only Lansdowne Crescent and Ladbroke Square are shown as green. The other roads in the area are yet to be built up. In the north Kenwood (spelt Caenwood) is green, as is an area of woodland to the west of Mill Lane, but Hampstead Heath is not. Now Hampstead Heath is green and the woodland has been built over.
Tallis gives a snapshot of London and its open spaces. Like all maps, it reflects the views of the cartographer; for us this is in the choice of what to show in green as open space. Since the map was drawn, some features have remained, others have vanished and in some places areas have become open space again. I have not answered all the questions that the Tallis map poses, in terms of either cartography or the subsequent history of what is shown. But the Tallis map has given me another view of some of London's open spaces, and an excuse to go exploring.