Two excellent small exhibitions by local authorities on opposite sides of London demonstrate the rich diversity of the capital's open spaces and the interest and pride that the two boroughs' arts services take in their local parks and gardens.
Redbridge Museum in Ilford presented from 12 March to 22 June 2013 Great Gardens - 500 years of Redbridge gardens, parks and open spaces, while Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham, showed from 4th May to 21st July Arcadian Vistas - Richmond's landscape gardens. As the titles suggest, the exhibition in Ilford covered not only a longer timescale but also a wider range of sites than the Twickenham show, which was focused very much on the grand landscapes of the 18th century.
Redbridge, however, can lay claim to containing within its boundaries the remnants of one of the very grandest of all English gardens, Wanstead Park, and a three-hour film, Wanstead Park Revealed, made by the Friends, is available on DVD from the Museum. The Kip and Knyff views and the Rocque map and vignettes were displayed and are familiar to LPGT members who attended our study day in 1999. Other sites depicted include Valentines, recently restored with HLF funding and the subject of an LPGT visit, and Harts House, Woodford, the former home of Richard Warner, friend and correspondent of Linnaeus, Garrick, Sloane and Hogarth, who established a botanical garden with mock abbey ruins, an ice house and maze, and published in 1771 Plantae Woodfordienses. Harts House later became a TB hospital, and another hospital site featured is Claybury Asylum, a vast 19th-century mental hospital, now converted for housing and renamed Repton Park in honour of the creator of the Red Book for the adjoining Claybury Hall.
Ilford, before its rapid urbanisation following the arrival of the railway, helped feed London and was memorably described as ‘all sky and turnips’. A depressing tale recounted is that of Hainault Forest, once part of the formerly extensive Essex royal hunting forest, which was deforested with the sanction of Parliament in 1851, when 100,000 trees were uprooted using steam traction engines. The public outcry against the depredations nevertheless helped save Epping Forest from a similar fate, and the Corporation of London opened Epping to the public in 1878. Hainault had a chequered history: having been turned to farmland - one supposes not very productively - 804 acres were purchased and opened as public open space in 1906, largely as sports pitches, and in the two world wars served as an airfield and site of army camps and prisoner of war camps. Following the abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, ownership was split between LB Redbridge, LB Havering and Essex County Council, and the country park now attracts over 500,000 visitors annually.
The former Ilford BC created a number of public parks: Cranbrook (now part of Valentines, opened in 1899), Seven Kings, South Park, Barkingside (all opened in 1902), and Goodmayes (1905). Allotments and private gardens are celebrated too. A short clip of film Life in Dale End Gardens, made by Fred James in 1955, shows his wife Daisy with a friend taking tea in the garden with daffodils, deckchairs and espaliered pear tree, and walking down a suburban street remarkably free of traffic or parked cars. A rather grimmer scene is evoked by a WW2 Anderson Shelter and a 1942 photo of a defiantly cheerful garden tea party in Green Lane held against a background of houses devastated by bombing. An earlier (c. 1905) photo shows a more staid scene at 12 Seymour Gardens of two ladies taking tea and seated in canopied deckchairs with a maid standing in white cap and apron and a child in a sailor suit.
The Twickenham exhibition by contrast eschewed the everyday for the elevated and, making good use of the borough's extensive collection of paintings, drawings and engravings supplemented by the loan from the Royal Collection of the well-known A View of Hampton Court by Leonard Knyff, illustrated a number of sites known not just locally but nationally and internationally. The attractive catalogue accompanying the exhibition contains a series of essays, including Mavis Batey on Alexander Pope: the Poet and the Landscape; Timothy Mowl on Alexander Pope and the 'Genius of the Place'; Jason Debney on The Arcadian Thames; Sir Roy Strong on An Enigmatic Arcadia: Chiswick House; and Ricky Pound on Chiswick Gardens. The designer and organizer of the exhibition, Mark de Novellis, contributes chapters on The Formal Garden, The Riverside View, The Cradle of Landscape Gardening, Alexander Pope, William Kent and Lord Burlington, etc. In his Introduction he says, ‘This exhibition spans the period from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, with primary focus on the eighteenth century - the heyday of the English landscape garden... Throughout the eighteenth century the area between Chiswick and Hampton became the centre of a novel form of gardening - landscape gardening.’
The predominant architectural style of the period was Classical, and more specifically the revived Palladianism of Marble Hill, White Lodge in Richmond Park, and Lord Burlington's villa at Chiswick, all of which are depicted in contemporary engravings. But Gothick, Chinese and Rustic are given their due as well, with pictures of Strawberry Hill, the Pagoda and Queen Charlotte's Cottage at Kew (all of which happily survive) and of the extraordinary follies including the Hermitage and Merlin's Cave built by William Kent for Queen Caroline at Richmond Gardens in the 1730s, which were swept away along with the grand houses and gardens of West Sheen when Lancelot Brown landscaped Richmond Gardens and the Old Deer Park for King George Ill.
From May to October 2013, Richmond is running its first Gardens Festival in partnership with a large number of organisations including the Thames Landscape Strategy. The exhibition at Orleans House Gallery is supplemented by walks and talks, lectures, evening events and performances. Houses and gardens across the borough are open for the National Gardens Scheme and in September for Open House Weekend.