In a special edition of Research Focus marking the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September, LPG Research Group volunteer Fran Martin reminisces about the Queen’s connection with London’s South Bank.
The queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state at Westminster Hall snaked along the aptly named Queen’s Walk, the promenade along the southern bank of the Thames which runs from Lambeth Bridge to Tower Bridge. The walk forms part of the Jubilee Walkway, created to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, and runs past monuments marking her numerous jubilee celebrations: the Jubilee Gardens, created to mark the Silver Jubilee and transformed in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee; and the Golden Jubilee Bridges either side of the Hungerford Railway Bridge. Just a few months before, I had eagerly photographed a passing Platinum Jubilee bus! The Golden Jubilee Bridges – opened by the Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, in 2003 – provide a lovely walk between the south and north banks, offering some of the most stunning views of the Thames in London.
Images of Queen Elizabeth II became a familiar sight on the streets of London after her passing, as we paid our respects with signs in shop windows, floral tributes, and displays at venues across the capital. On the South Bank, memories of the Queen were everywhere.
The Southbank Centre itself – the largest arts centre in the UK and one of the nation’s top visitor attractions – is inextricably connected with the Queen. The Royal Festival Hall was opened in 1951 by her father, King George VI, as part of the Festival of Britain, which was intended as a tonic after the war years and a symbol of hope for the future. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh attended the first concert in the Hall on 3 May 1951 and were frequent visitors in the years that followed. The Queen was a fan of jazz and her first solo engagement at the Royal Festival Hall was a jazz concert on 14 July 1973. The Queen Elizabeth Hall was built with the smaller Purcell Room and opened by the Queen in 1967, with a concert conducted by Benjamin Britten. She also opened the Hayward Gallery – a landmark of Brutalist architecture – in 1968.
Parks at the Heart of The Queen’s Lying-In-State
Green spaces such as Green Park and St James’s Park were a focal point for floral tributes following the death of the Queen, but some of London’s most famous parks became logistical hubs too for those queuing to pay their respects at Westminster Hall.
Southwark Park – the queue had its ‘entrance’ here, with wristbands distributed to those joining
Archbishop’s Park – home to staff wellbeing tents and first aid stations
Victoria Tower Gardens – the end of the queue, with zigzag lines snaking through to the Hall entrance
All along the Queen’s Walk, the inescapable sight of the London Eye looms overhead, beautifully lit up at night since its opening as part of the Millennium celebrations in 2000. The twinkling lights complement the gentle buzz of passers-by, both locals and tourists, soaking up the autumn glow. Who doesn’t feel a hint of dismay as the clocks go back and the darker evenings beckon? Yet the splendour of the South Bank at night reminds us of the beauty of the changing seasons. This area of London, which has witnessed scenes of such profound sadness just weeks ago, also shows us the comfort of history and legacy. Just as the tenacity of those waiting in the Queen’s Queue inspired us, the rich history and culture of this area of London can offer us a glimmer of comfort in the wintry nights ahead.
Margaret King, Maria Precedo and Jo Roll, from the LGT’s Research Group, select snapshots from five centuries of London landscapes created by women gardeners, illustrators and landscape architects
1654 Lady Brooke’s garden in Hackney is deemed to be ‘one of the neatest and most celebrated in England’ by John Evelyn, and Samuel Pepys later praises its orange trees, exotic plants and labyrinths. 1699 Towards the end of the century, Mary Somerset, Duchess of Beaufort, starts to create one of the finest stocked gardens in London at Beaufort House in Chelsea. She receives seeds from all over the world, cultivates, identifies and catalogues more than a thousand rare and exotic plants, and compiles an important herbarium now housed at the Natural History Museum. The estate is portrayed in a 1699 engraving by Kip. 1739 Taking rooms in Swan Walk next to the Apothecaries’ Garden (now known as Chelsea Physic Garden), Elizabeth Blackwell draws, engraves and hand-colours five hundred medicinal plants. The illustrations are published in A Curious Herbal, raising enough money to pay for her husband’s release from a debtors’ prison.
1840 Whilst living in Bayswater, Jane Loudon argues that women can dig, prune and design flower gardens just as well as men, in a series of illustrated books with titles such as Gardening for Ladies. A Blue Plaque in Porchester Terrace commemorates Jane and her husband John Claudius Loudon for their horticultural work, which ‘gave new beauty to London Squares’. The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden is dedicated to Jane’s friend Louisa Lawrence, whose garden in Drayton Green, Ealing, is declared by John to be ‘unquestionably the most remarkable of its size in the neighbourhood of London on account of the great variety and beauty which has been created’. Lawrence wins numerous medals for her garden and is one of the first women members of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). 1878 Having won admission to the men-only Crystal Palace School of Landscape Gardening and Practical Horticulture, Fanny Rollo Wilkinson becomes the first female landscape gardener and lays out over seventy-five public gardens in London, including Meath Gardens in Bethnal Green and Myatt’s Fields in Camberwell for the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (MPGA). 1896 Kew Gardens becomes Britain’s first national garden to appoint women gardeners – Annie Gulvin and Alice Hutchins. Both are graduates from Swanley Horticultural College, the first college to offer science-based horticultural studies to women, heralding ‘a triumph of brains over brute’ by opening up a male-dominated trade to women.
1905 Dr Lilian Clarke becomes one of the first women Fellows of the Linnean Society. Clarke created the Botany Gardens at James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich, which continue to be used by the school today for garden-based learning. 1914 The Voysey Garden in North Kensington opens, with an explosion of colour and form from more than a hundred flowering plants and shrubs in a central bed designed by Madeline Agar. Agar spends almost 25 years greening London’s streets, churchyards and garden squares for the MPGA. She also creates and teaches a Landscape Architecture course, where one of her pupils is Brenda Colvin; Colvin later works as Agar’s site assistant on the World War I memorial garden on Wimbledon Common, planting a grove of fifty oak trees in concentric rings around an austere stone cross. 1929 Colvin co-founds the Institute of Landscape Architects and later becomes its first woman President, closely followed by Sylvia Crowe. Agar, Colvin and Crowe are all celebrated as much for their writings on garden design as for their work. 1930 Selfridges’ roof garden opens in Oxford Street with a pergola, pools, lawn and sculptures designed by Marjorie Allen. 1962 Sylvia Crowe develops a landscaped entrance to the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington featuring a ‘modernist’ use of concrete, a water feature with a channel, fountains and jets crossed by a bridge, and a secluded shaded garden of lawns and shrubs with an avenue of limes. Along with the Selfridges roof garden, this was a ‘must-see’ sight in London; both are now lost. 1985 Arabella Lennox-Boyd designs a roof garden at No 1 Poultry with far-reaching City views. She reinstates a Gertrude Jekyll flower border in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, described in her book Private Gardens of London, and later landscapes the space around the Serpentine North Gallery in Kensington Gardens with grasses threaded through a wave of tiered buxus and tumbling herbaceous plants at the rear. 2012 The gardens at the Olympic Park in Stratford open with planting co-designed by Sarah Price, celebrating different habitats from across the world that have been a major source of plants for gardeners in Britain.
With thanks to the LGT research volunteers for their hard work and original research.
Collens and Powell eds., Sylvia Crowe, Landscape Design Trust Monographs No 2 (1999)
E Crawford, Fanny Wilkinson: London’s Landscape Gardener The London Gardener Volume 23 (2019)
S Dumpelmann and J Beardsley eds., Women, Modernity and Landscape Architecture (Routledge 2015)
S Edwards, Interview with Dame Sylvia Crowe, Landscape Architecture Magazine vol 76 No2 (1986)
K Fitzsimon, Nine decades, nine inspiring women in landscape architecture, Landscape Journal Issue 3 (2019)
C Norwood, Gardening Women: their stories from 1600 to the present (Virago 2010)
A Meredith, Horticultural Education in England, 1900-1940: Middle-Class Women and Private Gardening Schools, Garden History Journal 31, 1 (2003)
L Newman, Madeline Agar (18741967): from lady gardener to landscape architect, Garden History Journal 48, 2 (2020)
M Precedo, Helen Colt, London Landscapes (Summer 2021)
J Roll, Searching for Sylvia in London: Sylvia Crowe DBE (1907-1997), garden designer and landscape architect, The London Gardener 25 (2021)
T Way, Virgins, Weeders and Queens (Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2006)
Chief Executive of Parks for London Tony Leach explains the impact of the Good Parks for London report on improving green space provision across the capital.
Parks for London published the first Good Parks for London (GPfL) report in 2017 to improve the quality of parks and green spaces throughout London and to promote the positive work and best practices being carried out by local authorities and land managers across the capital. Since then, GPfL has become Parks for London’s flagship publication. In its six years, the report has grown more robust in its collection and presentation of data and has become increasingly recognised by policymakers and practitioners across London.
Although numerous organisations with an interest in London’s parks and green spaces exist, they often are location or issue specific, with few taking a holistic or London-wide perspective. Furthermore, no standards for comparing Council parks services across London exist. While Keep Britain Tidy’s Green Flag Awards – a scheme in which many London boroughs participate – provides some benchmarking for green space quality, Green Flag applies to individual spaces and does not look strategically across a borough or organisation. GPfL helps fill this gap.
What is a park? For the purposes of GPfL benchmarking we use the following definition of parks: parks include all publicly accessible green spaces that are owned (or leased) and managed by a Local Authority (LA), whether in-house or out-sourced. This includes churchyards and cemeteries within Greater London but excludes: housing land; allotments; green spaces owned and managed by The Royal Parks, City of London, Lee Valley Regional Park or other landowners; and green spaces owned by the LA but managed entirely by third parties such as independent park trusts, the London Wildlife Trust, the Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and others.
How does Good Parks for London work? GPfL assesses participating London boroughs’ parks services each year, from April to March, against the ten criteria summarised in the table on this page. This enables comparison between boroughs and gives recognition to the work and progress happening across London’s parks, helping improve performance and standards, and making practices more visible and open to scrutiny.
The limited definition described above means that only 32 boroughs are included in the data, because benchmarking with other landowners would be like comparing apples with pears. To compensate for this, the report includes case studies from other landowners and managers to give them an opportunity to share good practice and raise their profile.
Part one of the report evaluates participating boroughs against the ten criteria. The results are presented through maps and a summary benchmarking table, which indicates how boroughs are performing, along with short articles under each criterion from boroughs that are performing well or showing innovative work in that area.
Part two of the report focuses on the exemplary work done in London’s parks, focusing on a different theme each year: 2018 – Improving London’s parks for all 2019 – Parks and health 2020 – Parks and the pandemic 2021 – Parks and climate change 2022 – Keeping park clean
Part three of the report was added in 2022 to include a broader range of case studies from land managers and organisations with an interest in managing London’s parks.
Since GPfL’s inception, we have refined the information needed to evidence the ten criteria. Council Officers have become more familiar with the data they need to submit and are increasingly adept at collecting and reporting this information. As such, the robustness of GPfL’s evidence base continues to improve. Since 2021 we have provided borough feedback reports, which highlight key strengths and recommendations for improvement. Changes in legislation, such as the Government’s Environmental Improvement Plan, mean that criteria will continue to be modified from time to time.
What is the impact of the report? Parks for London wanted to assess whether GPfL is meeting its objectives, namely: improving the overall quality of green spaces across London; strengthening Council parks services; protecting and increasing green space budgets; and raising awareness among policymakers and decision makers of the importance of well-managed and well-resourced parks. Parks for London also wanted to identify opportunities to improve the report’s usefulness for Heads of Service and other Council staff, as well as policymakers and Portfolio Holders, as this can lead to GPfL having greater impact.
As a result, in 2020 Parks for London commissioned Dr Meredith Whitten to evaluate the impact of the GPfL report on policy and practice, and boroughs’ approach to green space delivery and management. Data was collected via a survey across all boroughs, followed by in-depth interviews in selected boroughs. Respondents included Heads of Service, Portfolio Holders and other Council officers with a responsibility related to green space.
The research found that 80% of respondents have a positive impression of GPfL, and that GPfL has had an impact on improving green space quality and developing stronger parks services within local authorities. This impact tends to be subtle, with the report incentivising good practice rather than overtly necessitating change. By laying out broad criteria for high-quality parks and identifying the factors that constitute a well-run parks service, GPfL nudges boroughs to make changes and reinforces good practices. The report also focuses attention on activities beyond the frontline, but which are fundamental to providing quality green space and strong, stable Council parks services.
Dr Whitten’s research identified sever areas where changes to GPfL could potentially lead to greater impact, such as how the annual report’s results are communicated to various audiences, including policymakers and budget-setters. Benchmarking across London’s boroughs has limitations, regardless of the issue being benchmarked, as the city’s 33 local governments have distinctive cultures, priorities and politics. Green space across the boroughs differs as well, including in area, average size and use. Local authorities also have different organisational structures, which affect where a parks service sits.
Collectively, however, green spaces across the boroughs contribute to the city’s overall greenness, the health and wellbeing of Londoners, the capital’s ability to respond to and adapt to climate change, and London’s role as a global leader in urban green space issues, such as becoming the world’s first National Park City. The GPfL report provides a well-received means for continuing to improve green space standards across the capital.
PARKS EVALUATION CRITERIA
PUBLIC SATISFACTION Evaluates borough-wide surveys, taking into account follow-up action plans based on residents’ feedback.
AWARDS FOR QUALITY Recognises attainment of Green Flag Awards, participation in other award schemes like London in Bloom, and use of the Parks for London Green Space Quality Manual.
COLLABORATION Assesses support for organisations such as Parks for London and partnerships with voluntary sector organisations and local environmental groups. Rewards collaborative land management and service provision arrangements.
EVENTS Appraises events (particularly community events) held in green spaces, income returned to the park service, and quality of event management, sustainability and accessibility.
HEALTH, FITNESS & WELLBEING Assesses use of parks for social prescription referrals, provision of outdoor gyms and exercise programmes, and availability of community food growing areas, noting initiatives to encourage participation, access and inclusion.
SUPPORTING NATURE Evaluates biodiversity action plans, biodiversity strategies or local nature recovery plans, as well as biodiversity outreach schemes.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT Notes incidence of Community Green Flag Awards, involvement with and support for Friends and Residents groups, and volunteer engagement.
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT Evaluates provision of training, development and learning opportunities, equality, diversity and inclusion policies, and overall number of apprentices and trainees.
SUSTAINABILITY Assesses fleet and equipment sustainability and efficiency, recycling of parks litter and green waste, weed management and climate resilience plans.
STRATEGIC PLANNING Notes recent completion of a parks service scrutiny review, adoption of a green infratruture space strategy with associated investment plan, and use of a costed asset management plan.
FIND OUT MORE More about Parks for London: parksforlondon.org.uk/about/parks-for-Iondon Good Parks for London reports: parksforlondon.org.uk/resource/good-parks-for-Iondon
Pat Gross, Chair of the Friends of Wandsworth Park, recalls the creation of Fiona’s Scented Garden, a much-loved community green space
About eight years ago, the Friends of Wandsworth Park started querying a locked-off but coveted area of riverside park land. Why could no one have access? Why did it sit there empty, day after day?
When the new development that abutted the space was built in the 1980s, this pocket of land was retained by the Council with a hope to extend the riverside walk. It was land designated as part of the park.
Our queries about the terrace continued to fall on deaf ears. As we later discovered, it had allegedly been closed following claims of anti-social behaviour on the site by the neighbours, but no one from the Council was prepared to state that outright What didn’t make sense was the fact that the anti-social behaviour continued in the unlocked side of the park, as well.
Then, after more than three years of being locked, a planning application was submitted by the neighbours for “change of use”. The neighbours wanted to obtain a very long lease of the land and extend their gardens to the river.
Luckily a very vocal and angry community took up the fight, alongside the Friends of Wandsworth Park. The Friends investigated the available options, and we immediately applied for Asset of Community Value (ACV) status and the right to manage the space, as we had been requesting for years. We were now well-aware that the Council had long been in communication with the neighbours, almost agreeing to grant the long lease without seeking the proper permissions; this evidence only strengthened our case.
We needed 25 signatures from the community to back our application. The request was sent to our members and the community, and within minutes we received over 50 signatures. As a result, we were granted the ACV status; this was significant in the planning application process as it prevented the Council from simply granting the “change of use” status, as it was now restricted. The Friends were also given a greater say in the site’s future.
The planning application was denied – a huge moment of relief for the Friends – and we commenced negotiations with the Council for how we would manage the site. However, on the day before their deadline, the neighbours challenged the decision and chose to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. The Friends and the community were furious; we now approached Wandsworth Planning and insisted they join forces with us to fight the plan together. Our entire objection process had to be repeated, but this time the ACV status put us in a strong position. With the stellar support of the community, and in collaboration with the Council, we submitted our respective objections.
The few months’ wait for the decision was a nail-biting time. We knew that if we lost this appeal, there would be no other place to go; the government’s decision was final. At last the decision came, and their application was again denied.
The few months’ wait for the decision was a nail-biting time. We knew that if we lost this appeal, there would be no other place to go; the government’s decision was final. At last the decision came, and their application was again denied.
“This was a very exciting and celebratory time, and our official opening was an extraordinary opportunity to share it with the community.”
After nearly a year of seriously hard work, the Friends were granted the right to manage the space. Fiona Garnett Crumley, a member of our committee and a very well-known and respected horticulturist, suggested it be turned into a scented garden. With the relevant approval and support she commences the implementation of her plans, and with the help of many volunteers we had the space cleared, improved and replanted.
This was a very exciting and celebratory time, and our official opening was an extraordinary opportunity to share it with the community. The space has proved to be the most popular area of the park.
Unfortunately, a few years later, Fiona lost her battle with cancer, and the Friends were devastated. We wanted to show our extraordinary gratitude for her expertise and commitment to Wandsworth Park, so – with full Council backing – we have renamed the space Fiona’s Scented Garden. It’s a magical area, far from noise, sports and dogs, and is used every day by a huge mix of people, old and young alike. We continue to garden and care for the space. It is opened and closed daily by volunteers, and we have even installed a telescope!
If you’re ever in the area, please do make the time to stop by. You will be transported to an area where you can truly relax, appreciate the planting, engage in some mindfulness as you watch the Thames tides flow past before your eyes, and enjoy the local wildlife entertaining you.
Research volunteer Barbara Deason unveils one of LPG’s major research themes for 2023-24
We tend to talk about migration primarily in terms of the past 100 years or so, but migrants have of course been coming to this country for many hundreds of years. Like those who were born in the UK, they have contributed to our knowledge of horticulture, gardening practices and design since the earliest times.
However, we know little about who these migrants were or what influence they have had over the ways in which London’s many parks and gardens have developed.
LPG volunteers are hoping to add to knowledge in this area by researching the lives of gardeners, landscape designers, horticulturalists, and their gardens, working within a number of key themes. These may include:
• specific migrant groups such as Huguenots, those associated with the Windrush, or more recent migrations from Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere; • those who have influenced the development of specific spaces, such as Jewish cemeteries, mosque gardens, or community gardens; • migrants or migrant communities who are celebrated in the names participating in of green spaces, or by statues or memorials; • the plants and gardening practices migrants have introduced to the UK.
If you are interested in this research theme, or would like to know more, email LPG Research Co-ordinator Richard Capewell at firstname.lastname@example.org
As the Garden Museum launches a campaign to increase the right to sunlight in public gardens and open spaces, LPG Director Helen Monger explains the importance of natural light, and efforts being made to defend it.
In June 2021, a development application for 8 Albert Embankment, adjacent to the Garden Museum, was turned down at the planning inquiry. The proposed 26-storey luxury flats would have overshadowed Old Paradise Gardens, one of many parks listed on the London Parks & Gardens Inventory. This historic little public park once formed part of the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, in which the Garden Museum is housed today, and was one of the first parish spaces to be converted into a park under the Metropolitan Open Spaces Act of 1881.
The Garden Museum had objected to the application on the basis that the high-rise flats would have plunged the park into 22 hours of shadow, for half the year; but although the application itself was rejected, the Museum’s reasons for objecting were ignored, along with many others. The inquiry found that the proposals were ‘compliant with current guidelines which require two hours of sunshine per day as measured on 21March’. Staff and researchers at the Garden Museum were shocked by the revelation that standards for amenity space were so poor. On 21 March 2022, they launched a campaign to address this issue in planning policy, supported by the LPG.
Why does natural light matter?
Guidance set by the British Research Establishment Trust (BRE) states that, on the Spring Equinox, sunlight must fall on a public garden for a minimum of two hours on at least half of the amenity area. The original intention of this guidance may have been well-meant, but the ‘two-hour rule’ has become a guide for planners across the UK who seek to deliver no more than this basic minimum.
The Garden Museum’s publication, The City that Sold the Sun, articulates the importance of access to quality green spaces with natural light. Professor Sir Sam Everington, a GP in Tower Hamlets, states that half of his patients are deficient in vitamin D, which is produced by the human body as a response to sun exposure. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, and at the extreme end of the scale this can lead to rickets and cause bone deformities in children. Tower Hamlets is an area of high deprivation, and is one of the most densely populated areas of the UK; the health impacts of lack of sunlight fall more harshly on already deprived communities.
As well as human concerns, there are real issues with lack of daylight for horticulture and nature more widely. Growers need more than six hours of sunlight per day to grow vegetables, and shaded gardens can support a less diverse range of plants. Lack of sunlight also influences temperature, and therefore insect activity; many major pollinators require a certain temperature before they can become active.
Tall buildings not only shade parks from daylight, but create issues of light pollution at night too. Government guidance on light pollution states that “artificial light provides valuable benefits to society, including through extending opportunities for sport and recreation”, but that it can also “be a source of annoyance to people, harmful to wildlife and undermine enjoyment of the countryside or the night sky” (1).
One rule for us and another for them?
High-rise development brings both lack of sunlight during daytime hours and light pollution at night, yet the current thrust of UK development policy is to deliver a denser urban environment. This naturally leads to proposals aiming to build upwards, but the placement of multi-storey buildings is restricted by efforts to conserve landmark views across the capital. Since 1937, the City of London Corporation has operated a policy known as the ‘St Paul’s Heights’ to protect a number of famous views of the Cathedral. More recently, the London View Management Framework has defined protected views across London’s cityscape; indeed it was because of the view from Primrose Hill that the planning inquiry turned down proposals for 8 Albert Embankment.
Tall buildings not only shade parks from daylight, but create issues of light pollution at night too
Local Authorities, however, must reach stringent targets set by central government and provide necessary housing, and this often leads to the identification of specific areas for tall building development clusters – with a resulting tacit acceptance of loss of access to daylight in these areas. Mathew Frith, Director of Policy and Research at the London Wildlife Trust, points out that clusters of tall buildings also cause additional cooling and disruptive wind-tunnelling effects, which provide a more hostile growing environment and can kill plants through desiccation and windburn.
The introduction to the Government’s Rights to Light (2) research published by the Law Commission in 2015 begins by defending the human need for natural light: Natural light inside buildings is immensely important for comfortable living and working. We like and want natural light in our kitchens, and at our desks; people like to have a window seat and most people thoroughly dislike a windowless room. The amount of natural light that a window lets in depends upon what is outside that window, and particularly upon the proximity of other buildings.
However, the report goes on to prioritise development over this need: The legal system recognises the value of natural light inside buildings, but because available space is finite it has to strike a balance between the importance of light and the importance of the construction of homes and offices, and the provision of jobs, schools and other essentials.
Although these statements relate to natural light in buildings, it is clear that the deprioritisation of natural light is applied to green spaces as well as to dwellings.
Setting new standards
There is limited quantitative evidence to demonstrate the need for access to sunlight; this is the challenge thrown at those campaigning for better protection in the planning process. All the authors of the Garden Museum’s report accept that their evidence is in part anecdotal, but they suggest a precautionary approach on the basis of this evidence. Our environment is too fragile and too important to lose through lack of prior consideration.
On that basis, the campaign has called for the GLA to amend its guidance. The following statement has been suggested by the LPG as an amended policy.
All developments should seek to maximize access to natural daylight in public open spaces for the benefit of everyone. In general it is expected that public open spaces should receive a minimum of six hours on at least 50% of the area at the equinox. It is expected that all developments should demonstrate how they will protect:
• daylight for more than two hours on all parts of a children’s playgrounds and other outside sporting facilities such as fitness areas, football pitches etc, to maintain the amenity value; and • the future sustainability of existing horticultural planting schemes based on an ecological assessment of biodiversity and climate value, in accordance with the Natural Capital Accounting methodology agreed in the Mayor’s London Plan.
There will also be a presumption against supporting a proposal which: • reduces existing daylight access below the six-hour limit; or • further reduces access to daylight in a space which already fails this standard.
George Hudson, Green London Curator at the Garden Museum, said: “We are grateful to have the support of London Parks & Gardens in our campaign to protect London’s green spaces from being cast into shadow by new tall buildings. Recently, our campaign has attracted the attention of assembly members at City Hall, and we are in conversation with them. The importance of sunlight is often understated, if not forgotten about completely.”
The LPG will update members on the progress of the campaign, and will continue to support this policy initiative.
2 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment data/file/391683/44872 HC 796 Law Commission_356_WEB pdf
LPG volunteer Candy Blackham, whose book Green Lewisham was published in July 2022, gives a taste of the history and significance both personal and societal – of the green spaces on her doorstep.
When COVID-19 arrived in the spring of 2020, I felt imprisoned. The air was heavy with fear and my spirits sank ever lower, until the day I realised that my prison door had always stood open. Despite restrictions on socialising, I could still walk in the parks. I ventured out cautiously, my health improved, and my spirits rose.
I began to appreciate the complex relationships in my surroundings, and to wonder about lessons for urban living in Lewisham and elsewhere. I found ongoing patterns of concern for others, ongoing needs in our society, and a deep appreciation of nature and natural open spaces and the benefits they bring to people. I was surprised at how this understanding had been applied to urban developments in the past, and how little knowledge is new.
I also gained hours of enjoyment and peace at a very difficult time; pain from a lower back injury is alleviated by walking, and I am curious about new places and new ideas. I wanted to share that enjoyment – so, I decided to write a book. I consulted the London Parks & Gardens Inventory and started amassing a reference library. Where would we have been without obliging delivery people and postmen? Lewisham was in the Kent countryside less than two centuries ago. London’s expansion, particularly from the mid-19th century onwards, was driven by an increasing population and their housing needs, and a number of factors conspired against areas such as Lewisham: changes due to industrialisation, the creation of new roads and new railway networks, changing political concerns, changes in land ownership, and new social patterns and social needs, particularly after the First World War.
So why are there any green spaces left in Lewisham? Some philanthropic landowners sold land below market value or donated land. Others lobbied for green spaces to be preserved from housing developments. Today, individuals still make a difference: local Lewisham residents convert derelict land into community gardens; there are thirty-six allotments, all with long waiting lists; beekeepers abound. The Quaggy Waterways Action Group have changed the management of the River Quaggy through its urban environment, enhancing parks and benefiting wildlife. Caring for parks and nature reserves is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Lewisham Council and management company Glendale do a tremendous job, greatly helped by park Friends groups. Perhaps this relationship between professional and amateur gardeners has the potential for development, with increased opportunities for practical learning and training in horticulture? The restrictions imposed during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 reminded people of the importance of green spaces, particularly for those living in urban areas; volunteering for community gardens, parks and nature reserves increased and parks were well used. People felt a need to be closer to living plants, birds and the wildlife in the city, and wanted to eat food they had grown.
This trend takes us back 100 years, to an earlier time of positive connection between population growth and green space preservation. Development after the First World War often came in the form of new housing estates built on farmland. The Addison Act of 1919 had addressed the appalling living conditions in inner London, and London County Council, together with local councils, took inspiration for their new developments from Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept of 1898. This proposed tree-lined roads, recreation grounds, communal green spaces, and other community facilities in the new estates. Contemporary housing developers have been less generous than their predecessors, creating ‘pocket parks’ or green ‘architecture’ rather than offering the recreation grounds or public parks of the past. Is this good enough?
Surely the lesson of the past is that we live in a community, and it is for us individually and as a community to ensure our green spaces continue green and go on enhancing our living conditions. In the words of John Claudius Loudon in 1829: “It is much to be regretted, we think, that in the numerous enclosure acts which have been passed during the last fifty years, provision was not made for a public green, playground, or garden, for every village in the parishes in which such enclosures took place.”
Natural spaces are too easily set aside in favour of profit; if only planners would pay heed to those who watched with sadness as their countryside disappeared under London’s urban growth.
Jeremy Garnett reviews English Garden Eccentrics, by London Parks and Gardens President Todd Longstaffe-Gowan.
There is something in the spirit of man that both delights in, and is drawn to, the eccentric. This superbly researched collection studies explores the nature of eccentricity, expressed in garden creation from the eighteenth century onwards. It abounds with illustrations which tantalise our imagination since many of these eccentricities have disappeared over time.
The reader is taken on a dizzy voyage of rock-work mountain ranges, caves, grottoes and tunnels, automated hermits and collections of exotic birds and animals. We encounter gigantic churchyard topiary, a bizarrely decorated Byzantine folly, a statue garden described as a classical rubbish heap, a Druid’s walk and a vivarium in a London back garden. The examples selected would have been sources of considerable astonishment to the contemporary visitor, and an intriguing group of London gardens provides many examples.
We visit four extraordinary Middlesex churchyards famous for their ancient yew topiary, clipped into curious sculptural shapes on a gargantuan scale. The first recorded was the Harlington Yew in 1729 and the others probably date to around the same time, as though by fashion. Only the topiary at St Mary the Virgin, East Bedfont – in the form of two giant peacocks – survives today. They are said to represent two proud and haughty sisters who declined with disdain offers of marriage from a prominent local; in revenge, he had the yews cut into this pair of symbolic shapes.
Harcourt House in Cavendish Square was the London home of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, one of the wealthiest men of his day. He is described as wearing unusual dress: a tall hat, loose coat, and umbrella whatever the weather, and trousers tied up below the knee with a piece of common string. His obsession with privacy led him to erect a high-glazed screen round part of his property, and a massive stable block on another, to deter onlookers. Inside these high walls, his privacy was similarly protected by constructing a labyrinth of subterranean passages – some wide enough for a coach and horse – linking suites of underground apartments. The house – a sombre looking structure – was pulled down and redeveloped in 1907.
Another eccentric was Dr Samuel Phené, a man of considerable intellect and a widely travelled polymath who inherited an estate in Oakley Street in Chelsea in the 1850s. The house he built was whimsically Byzantine in style. Contemporaries described it as having the appearance of an Italian Renaissance château. The four-acre garden, originally intended as a statue garden, suffered an unfortunate fate at the hands of this obsessive collector; he accumulated classical statuary with no plan for its distribution within the garden, which eventually assumed the appearance of a ‘classical rubbish heap’. The house was sold after his death in 1912 and eventually redeveloped; only the Phené Arms public house serves as a reminder of this eccentric.
The Reverend Willam Stuckely was another eccentric and an eighteenth-century antiquarian collector. He was both a Doctor of Medicine and a clergyman, and, on his retirement from his parish in Lincolnshire, he retired to Kentish Town. There he indulged his Druidic interests, setting out his garden in concentric circles with features such as a Druid’s walk, a temple, a hermitage, a grotto, a mausoleum, and a tumulus.
Ramillies House, near Oxford Circus, was from 1784 the property of Dr Joshua Brookes, a leading anatomist and the son of a prominent bird trader. In his garden he amassed large blocks taken from, and intended to represent, the Rock of Gibraltar. Around this extraordinary feature, he created his vivarium; in a letter to Sir John Soane, he describes a spacious reservoir of fish, aquatic plants and oceanic birds. Within the caverns of the rock resided a vulture, a white-headed eagle and an auriculate owl.
We begin to detect a common theme which emerges from the author’s analysis of garden eccentrics – namely how so many were passionate collectors of items gathered during their travels, a theme from the early days of the Grand Tour.
A fascination for mountains also emerges throughout this collection of eccentric gardens and their creators. One of the most impressive, judging from contemporary sources, was the Swiss glacier garden created by Lady Elisa Broughton in the 1820s, when she inherited Hoole House in Chester. John Loudon visited it in 1831 and declared it ‘a most extraordinary rock garden’, but it was much more than that. A visitor in the early 1860s, some time after the death of Lady Broughton, declared it ‘a most extraordinary caprice’, thirty feet high and crammed with every sort of Alpine species. The highest pinnacles represented the Alps, with white spar used for glaciers and snow peaks, all set against a bright emerald green lawn with bedding as though to represent the valley floor. Sadly, the garden exists no longer, and the author’s collection of stunning illustrations is all that remains.
Another example of an Alpine garden created on a scale bordering on the eccentric was created by Sir Frank Crisp at Friar Park, Henley-on-Thames, in 1889. Crisp was a successful lawyer and legal adviser to the Liberal Party, for which he was knighted. Like Lady Brougham, Crisp had a predilection for Alpine gardening inspired by the fame of the Matterhorn, which was first conquered in 1865 when he was a young man of 22. The Henley Matterhorn, as it became known, was set in a four-acre area within a larger garden, the crowning point being an exact model of the Matterhorn. The mountain was formed of York gritstone, its slopes covered with pulverised Derbyshire spar to resemble snow, and the peak boasted of a slab of the real Matterhorn. A mountain torrent was created, winding and twisting its way down to a pool at the base of the mountain. The garden lives on, unlike so many in this collection, and is privately owned by the widow of the Beatle George Harrison.
If gardens can be perceived as perfect examples of a three-dimensional art form, they give unlimited scope for eccentricity. The important theme of this hugely enjoyable book is that the heart of eccentricity lies in a resistance to conformity. What others might regard as eccentric is simply an urge not to conform, or even a lack of awareness of what conformity should be.
The author encourages his readers to catch a spirit of freedom and dare to be eccentric – an important message in this age of conformity.
Historian and former House of Commons Clerk Dr Dorian Gerhold describes how a deep-dive into the history of Victoria Tower Gardens may have preserved it for the future.
Readers will be aware of the recent High Court ruling quashing the planning permission for the proposed Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens (VTG). The ruling was based entirely on the fact that the permission breached the provisions of an Act of 1900. My own involvement in this came about in two ways; I was asked to research the history of the area which now forms the Gardens, and, separately, I had begun to investigate how a beautiful open space in central London could have been chosen for a large government building project.
First the history, which could be traced partly through maps and partly through deeds and lawsuits, almost entirely at the National Archives in Kew. The eastern part of the Gardens was embanked from the Thames just over a century ago, while the western part has a much longer history: in the north it belonged to the medieval Palace of Westminster, forming part of its gardens; in the south it belonged to Westminster Abbey. The Abbey had a water mill there by 1282, and later a slaughterhouse.
In the 16th century the Abbey was dissolved and the Palace ceased to be a royal residence. From about 1590 to 1620 the whole area was sold by the Crown and developed with houses and wharves. By the 1860s it was heavily industrial, with wharves, a flour mill, a cement works and an oil factory. The Lord Great Chamberlain regarded these as a fire threat to the new Palace of Westminster, and under an Act of 1867 those closest to the Palace were acquired by the Crown and cleared, though without much idea of what was to be done with the land – more of that later.
“I had always thought the Gardens a miraculous piece of urban planning, and was mystified that the Government had decided to build on it”
As for the Memorial decision, I had always thought the Gardens a miraculous piece of urban planning, and was mystified that the Government had decided to build on it without any coherent explanation of how and why the site had been chosen. As the campaigners have put it, ‘right idea, wrong place’. I submitted freedom of information requests to the relevant Department and Royal Parks, asking mainly for dates. That gave me my first lesson in FOI, as the Department took seven months to answer, and withheld most of the information. Unfortunately, the Information Commissioner’s Office fails to enforce the time limits for FOI responses. Royal Parks was somewhat more helpful. By the time I received these answers I was in contact with other VTG campaigners, including London Parks and Gardens.
A later FOI request for key passages in the minutes of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, which had recommended the site, was rejected by the Department, the Information Commissioner and the Lower and Upper Information Tribunals. This was mainly on the spurious ground that sites discussed in 2015-16, which in practice were no longer available or had been firmly rejected, might have to be considered again if planning permission was refused, and that disclosure would therefore prejudice decision-making. The Department rejected my most recent request about allowance for optimism bias in the costings by using the exemption that the information was already accessible, and referring me to a parliamentary answer that categorically refused to provide the same information! It is a fine example of the Government’s contempt for the public’s right to information. In general, the FOI Act has been of limited value in the campaign to save VTG.
Written parliamentary answers have proved more useful, mainly for eliciting basic factual information, They operate on a much faster timetable – days rather than months and years – and can be followed up. The snag is that, unlike FOI requests, you need to find a Member of Parliament willing to table them for you. It also helps to know the rules for questions, of which the most important is that you must be seeking information or pressing for action, not requesting opinions or making an argument. Here I had the advantage of having spent four years as a House of Commons Clerk in the Table Office, which ensures that the rules for questions are observed but also helps MPs to get around them. I had learnt that questioners needed to be persistent in following up inadequate answers, and this time I found that the formulation ‘for what reason the answer did not provide the information requested about X’ was unexpectedly productive. Note the neutral wording; even the word ‘why’ is frowned on!
One particularly useful answer included a copy of the letter sent by Lord Feldman in 2015 in which VTG was first suggested to a government minister as a possible location. Another provided the wording of the fateful recommendation of 2016, revealing that it was more tentative – ‘in principle’ than had been disclosed. But the most valuable result of the parliamentary answers was that it became possible to compile a chronology of the decision-making. This sounds dull, but it revealed a deeply flawed process. There had been a professional site search, but at the same time several members of the Foundation independently investigated the possibility of using VTG. The professional searchers reported on 11 January 2016, VTG was sprung on the Foundation’s members on 13 January and immediately agreed ‘in principle’, and the Prime Minister announced the intended location on 27 January. The timescale alone showed that there was no due diligence. A consequence of revealing this was that at the planning inquiry the Foundation’s co-chairs were forced to justify the way the decision had been taken, memorably describing it as a ‘moment of genius’, and to defend the fact that the chosen site did not meet the specification.
Among the most important information about any public open space is how it came into being and what conditions were imposed on its use at the time. The Government failed to investigate this, and so did I at first. There were no covenants in the land register, and the manner in which VTG had been created was obscure. Eventually I examined a file of papers at London Metropolitan Archives relating to the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 that provided the answers. The controversy over what to do with the land acquired under the 1867 Act had been resolved when the newspaper seller W.H. Smith offered £1000 for it to be converted into a public garden, now the northern part of VTG. Parliament had provided the remaining £2400 and the garden opened in 1881. Importantly, the Government had promised Smith that the land would be maintained as an open space.
In 1898 a private consortium sought an Act to acquire and develop a large area around Millbank and to rebuild the wharves on what is part of VTG. This was rejected by the House of Commons, partly because it did not turn the land by the river into an open space. London County Council stepped in with its own proposal, which would widen Millbank and also extend the existing open space, but it needed some financial help from the Government, together with a small corner of VTG for its chosen alignment of Millbank. The crucial document in the file was a letter from the First Commissioner of Works, the registered owner of VTG, stating that, because of the promise made to Smith, the condition for giving up part of the existing garden was that the land between the widened Millbank and the river become and remain an open space, and that this must be written into the Bill. He also insisted that the new land be transferred by the LCC to him, so that the enlarged Gardens could be managed as a whole.
Next I had to find a copy of the 1900 Act, which did indeed say that the new land should be ‘laid out and maintained… for use as a garden open to the public and as an integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Garden’. This was a far more emphatic result than I had hoped for. When London government was reorganised in 1965 and most of the 1900 Act was repealed, the section relating to VTG was kept, indicating its continuing effect.
Bizarrely, when the 1900 Act was brought to the Government’s attention, it insisted that the Act did not affect its plan to build on a great part of the new land. It claimed that the provisions of the Act had been fully implemented, that the First Commissioner of Works had been trusted with the future of the land, and that his successor (a government department) could therefore do what it wished with it.
For the judicial review, I went back to the LCC’s proceedings of 1899-1900, which are in large printed volumes with indexes, copied all the relevant committee reports and presented them, together with relevant proceedings of Parliament and Westminster’s local government, as evidence. They made abundantly clear that creating a permanent open space that was not to be built on was central to the negotiations at the time.
The words of an Act usually have to be interpreted as they stand, without considering what its promoters intended. Nevertheless, having concluded that the words in the Act meant exactly what they said, and therefore that the proposed building was unlawful, the judge quoted extensively from the proceedings of 1899-1900 to provide confirmation of her conclusion.
The Government has been refused leave to appeal, but could seek to repeal what remains of the 1900 Act. The future of VTG remains uncertain. But the case shows the value of historical research in campaigning to prevent the destruction of a public open space.
Further information The history of the site, VTG itself and the decision on the Memorial is set out in Dorian’s book Victoria Tower Gardens, available from the Thorney Island Society – £15 including postage.
Rosanna Cavallo, now a London Parks and Gardens research volunteer after retiring from her gardening business, finds more than meets the eye in the green spaces of New Cross.
Lewisham had been anticipated as 2022’s London Borough of Culture for some time, so it has been several years since the members of the Research Group allotted sites between us to study. I knew the area less well than some of my colleagues, and so was left with three sites in New Cross with which I was not familiar.
On an August day with a blue sky and sparkling sunshine, I embarked on my first site visit to Hatcham Gardens. I was immediately hooked. Nothing – but nothing! – can draw me in quicker than an unusual plant; in this case the Albizia julibrissin f. rosea or pink silk tree, which was in full and glorious bloom. I had never seen it before and loved its rose-pink paintbrush flowers and mid-green leaflets.
The name Hatcham (now New Cross) is recorded as Hacheham in the Domesday Book (1086), and New Cross Gate is named after the New Cross tollgate (1718). Despite Hatcham’s historical credentials, the name has died out except in Hatcham Park Road and a few institutions; Hatcham Gardens, however, is a modern feature. Regrettably, in a heavily built-up area, the greater part of this rare open space is boarded up and scheduled for redevelopment.
Historically this site was influenced by George England, a robust character who arrived from Newcastle in 1839 and rented a factory – the Hatcham Iron Works – between Pomeroy and Kender streets. England built around 250 railway locomotives, took out two patents for machinery designs and made castings for the Crystal Palace. His success was such that he rapidly employed over 40 employees and built a substantial family home, Hatcham Lodge – now 56 Kender Street. He retired in 1869, to be succeeded by his son-in-law Robert Fairlie, who had eloped with England’s daughter when she was only 17; records show that England took Fairlie to court for falsely claiming parental consent, but clearly the family rift was mended by the time of England’s retirement!
My second site was Bridgehouse Meadows, which GoParks London describes as ‘a sizeable park contain(ing) extensive meadows, in an area of New Cross that is deficient in accessible wildlife sites’. On my visit, again on a sunny August day, I saw Bridgehouse Meadows at its best. It had clearly been sympathetically landscaped, with a good nod to its name showing in the abundance of wild flowers sown.
The main path is long and snaking, skirting a railway line, with open spaces leading off from it; the result is an oddly-shaped park. What is undeniably in its favour, however, are the hills adding extra interest – a legacy, I presume, of banking from its previous conception as a greyhound and speedway stadium. It pleased me enormously to see again how New Cross’s hilly green spaces at first mask and then suddenly reveal some quite imposing skylines of the city of London.
Unfortunately, on this day the separate Nature Reserve was locked and inaccessible, but I liked the park and found it to be well used. There really are so few green spaces in the New Cross area, and this ‘lung’ was a much-appreciated break from never-ending residential buildings.
My last site was Fordham Park, which, on the Sunday of my visit, made a great impact on me with its dominant feeling of spaciousness. Having now built up a stronger acquaintance with the area, I recognise that any feeling of wide-open space here is at a premium. Named after Charles Frank Fordham, a gardener and the last Mayor of Deptford, the park opened to the public in 1975 following clearance of tightly-packed urban streets in the 1970s. The eye-catching Moonshot Centre, with its triangular glass entrance picked out in bright blue, takes pride of place at one end of the park; it acts a base for various African and Caribbean communities in the area, and offers numerous activities.
Fordham Park is very green, filled with trees and extremely well used. People patronise parks to a greater degree if the space satisfies the needs of varied sections of the community, and this park seems to do this very successfully. I saw many joggers, dog walkers and families; the atmosphere was happy and pleasant, and I enjoyed my couple of hours there. I would be less than honest if I did not mention the problem of anti-social behaviour, but I saw nothing myself except for a friendly and delightful public space, with the visual treat in the background of a great panorama of the city of London.
In conclusion, I may have originally thought I had drawn the short straw with the location of my research sites. How wrong I was! Researching past the obvious unfolds the interest – all human life is there. It is surprising to think that as recently as 150 years ago New Cross was forest; I am very happy to think that research to update and add new green spaces to the London Parks and Gardens Inventory may help protect what remains of them for the future.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.