Argyle Square Gardens (Camden)
Argyle Square garden appears on an estate plan of 1832, although the garden itself was probably laid out in the 1840s when the first buildings were built around the square. The original layout had 4 entrances, perimeter trees / shrubs and a perimeter path, a line of 3 trees at either end of the garden and a central tree. By 1877 an east-west and a north-south path were added, dividing the garden into 4 plots, and 2 semi-circular beds around the central tree. The current layout dates from 1995, albeit with some later changes. Access was originally restricted to the residents of Argyle Square and a few adjoining houses, but it is now a public garden. Six mature London plane trees from the earlier layout survive and it is overlooked by surviving C19th terraces along most of three sides. Enclosed by reproduction cast iron railings, it has been redesigned to incorporate a tarmac sports pitch, children's playground and landscaping with shrubs and planting.
- Site location:
- Argyle Square
- WC1H 8AS
- Type of site:
- Garden Square; Public Gardens
- Listed structures:
- LBII: Houses and attached railings of Nos.7-25 (east); 26-35 (south); 36-47 (west) Argyle Square; Nos.60-66 Argyle Street
- Site ownership:
- LB Camden
- Site management:
- Parks & Open Spaces; Friends of Argyle Square
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- 7.30am - dusk
- Special conditions:
- Playground, sports pitch
- For news and events see Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens website: www.bloomsburysquares.org.uk
- Public transport:
- Rail: King's Cross. Tube: King's Cross (Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Piccadilly, Circle, Victoria, Northern). Bus: 10, 30, 46, 73, 91, 214
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/08/2013
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk
- Grid ref:
- TQ303827 (530350,182795)
- Size in hectares:
- On EH National Register :
- EH grade:
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Conservation Area name:
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Not known
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Yes - Area of Special Character: Central London Area
- Other LA designation:
- Public Open Space (Small Local). London Squares Preservation Act of 1931
The site that was to become Argyle Square lay in the estate of Battle Bridge Field, to the west of Gray's Inn Road, and described in 1650 as ‘five closes now divided - containing 18 acres, and three houses at the nether end of Gray's Inn Lane’. In 1710, the estate belonged to the De Beauvoir family of Hackney and by 1800 it was owned by William Brock. The estate was reduced in size when the northern part was cut off for the formation of the New (Euston) Road. The future site of Argyle Square is shown as open fields on Horwood’s map of 1792-9. On John Tompson's map of c.1803 the area is subdivided into fields bounded by the New (Euston) Road to the north: New Garden, Holles's Field and Cow Lier. The area that was to become Argyle Square lay in Holles’s Field. On Horwood's map of 1813 the estate is shown divided into two parts, the New Road Nursery occupying the upper portion and Holles’s Field still open ground. Cow Lier had been built over by this time.
The estate remained in the possession of William Brock until shortly before 1823, when it was purchased by Thomas Dunston of Old Street, William Robinson of Charterhouse Square, and William Flanders of Islington. Having decided to develop it, they applied under an Act of Parliament in 1824. The Act recites that the estate consisted of 15¼ acres on the south side of the New (Euston) Road. Argyle Square is not yet shown or labelled on Greenwood’s map of 1830.
In the mid to late 1820s, an Italian music teacher, Gesualdo (Gemaldo) Lanza (1779-1859), set out to provide a centre for music and drama on the site that was to become Argyle Square. With the help of architect Stephen Geary, a plan was produced, a copy of which is in the Crace Collection at the British Museum. A prospectus was also produced dated 1829. In the centre of the site there was to be a large building styled the Grand Panarmonium Theatre, facing north, with a courtyard with approaches from Euston Road. The land south of the theatre was to be occupied by pleasure gardens. Houses, a ballroom and a dramatic school were also to be built along with galleries, reading rooms and numerous other features. Two watercolour designs by T H Shephard show the Grand Panarmonium Hotel, garden front. The grounds were to be furnished with an overhead railway or monorail from which cars were suspended, the cost of a ride round the gardens to be one shilling. But although there seems to have been some preparation of the grounds, it is not clear if much was actually built. An auction room in Liverpool Street (now Birkenhead Street) was converted into a theatre and the address of the Panarmonium office was described as 11 Liverpool Street (this theatre is marked on the 1874 Town Plan OS map and the building still survives today).
In 1830 the theatre was sold as Lanza went bankrupt and the little that had been completed was demolished. It appears that only the ‘partly completed garden enclosure’ had been built. On 28 February 1832, particulars of sale were published concerning bricks, balustrades, gates, plaster figures and unfinished buildings, ‘late the Panarmonium Gardens’. A newspaper cutting of 20 March 1832, refers to an accident when an arch was being pulled down at the Piano Gardens near Battle Bridge’.
The owners of the land, Messrs. Dunston, Robinson and Flanders, decided to develop the estate in 1832. The ground was to be carved into plots and laid into a new square called Argyle Square after the Duke of Argyle who owned property nearby. The square's garden is shown on a plan drawn by Ebenezer Perry of 1832 with four entrances, each midway on each side, perimeter trees and shrubs and a perimeter path. Inside the path was a line of three trees at either end and one central tree; this layout probably represents the original design. This new plot described only as ‘square’ is marked on John Britton’s map of St Pancras parish 1834. In 1840 the first two houses in Argyle Square appeared in the rate books. Nos.1-13 and 33-40 were completed by 1844, and a further three houses appeared in 1849 when the square was fully built. It is not known who designed the garden. The original houses that remain are Nos.7-25 on the east side, Nos.26-35 on the south side and Nos.36-47 on the west side. On the south-east side stood the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church. It was designed by J D Hopkins in the Anglo-Norman style, and was opened on 11 August 1844, a year after the foundation stone was laid.
Stanford’s map of 1862 shows a green space with closely spaced perimeter trees and two central trees but no other details. Weller’s map of 1868 shows Argyle Square divided into compartments but it is not clear if these are paths or beds. The 1874 Town Plan OS map of London shows Argyle Square as a near rectangle with rounded corners and a NW-SE south side so as to align with the adjacent south street. There are four entrances, one midway on each side. The perimeter is screened by closely spaced trees and shrubs. Inside is a perimeter path that connects to the entrances, and which is joined to an east-west path and a north-south path; these divide the garden into four rectangular plots. The east-west path is straight but the north-south path is serpentine and runs the length of the garden. In the centre of the four plots where the paths intersect is a central tree with two semi-circular beds around it, surrounded by a circular path. Some scattered trees are shown in the plots. The OS map of 1877 shows the same layout with closely spaced perimeter trees/shrubs, which may represent a hedge. An illegible word in the south-east corner may be ‘pump’. The 1896 map shows a similar layout although the serpentine path to the south of the central tree has gone and there is a vicarage on the north-west corner of the square. The 1916 map shows little change.
Beresford Chancellor described the garden in 1907 as ‘planted with trees and laid out in grass lawns and forms a pleasant oasis’. In 1928 it was reported that access was restricted to the residents of Argyle Square and a few adjoining houses, maintained by a committee of three residents funded through voluntary subscriptions, £3 per annum per house. This was found to be an unsatisfactory arrangement, which was reported as meaning that the committee themselves had to work to save the gardens from dereliction and would have preferred a levy to be set by St Pancras Borough Council on the houses of the Square to provide the funds for the upkeep of the garden.
The 1954 map shows a new design in the garden consisting of four diagonal paths leading to new gates at the corners: the old entrances now gone. No central trees are shown, and only a few on the perimeter. The central area is now shown as oval rather than circular. The south-eastern area of Argyle Street was bombed in WWII and by 1954 the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church had been demolished and its site incorporated into an area of flats. Holy Cross Vicarage is still shown. The 1954 map also shows that the north side of Argyle Square, Nos.1-6, had been redeveloped, shown as Belgrove House. In 1959 a photograph of the east side shows a c.2m high perimeter wire fence, a sign saying that dogs are not admitted unless on a lead. Two mature trees are shown but no perimeter bed, and also a path, possibly tarmac, and mown grass area.
A map of 1977 indicates yet another new design in the garden. The two northernmost entrances have been relocated further south and a basketball court is now at the north end. The two southern entrances remained. The central oval area and paths have been replaced, possibly by a central path and a playground. Two plots, possibly paved, are shown at the south end. Some perimeter trees are shown. A 1978 photograph, possibly of the south side of the square, shows the garden in poor condition with graffiti on some timber benches and the central grass area worn and muddy. A perimeter wire fence with gates can be seen. On the south side of the garden are beds edged with four courses of brick and planted with shrubs. A paved area can also be seen on the south side. Three mature trees can also be seen and a new young tree has been planted. Another 1978 photograph shows the east side of the square with a broken fence and perimeter bed (no edging) planted, possibly with roses. A tree is marked with graffiti. In 1982 it was reported that the area was a haven for prostitution and organised crime, and a campaign began to reclaim the area. Celebrations by the local residents took place in 1984 as the first anniversary of the square’s return to community use after years as a ‘centre of vice’. In 1986 the square became a Women’s Peace Camp set up by the Kings Cross Women's Committee, and shown in a photograph of 18-19 October 1986 marked 'Welcome to Argyle Square Women's Peace Camp, London, England'.
In 1995 funding was provided for Argyle Square as part of the improvements to the King’s Cross area. The works included landscaping, resurfacing, new lighting, taller railings and vagrant-proof seats. As Argyle Square was reported as being formerly frequented by drug users, drinkers and prostitutes, it had now been opened up by removing earth mounding and high shrubs, allowing clear views in. An area of lawn separated a fenced kickabout area and play equipment. The garden was re-opened in 1996. In 1997 six homeless protestors locked themselves into the square demanding rights for the homeless.
Today the rectangular garden retains little of its original C19th layout. It is enclosed by reproduction iron railings with four double-gate entrances, one at each corner on the south side, and one on each long side near the basketball court. Perimeter beds are situated between each gate running the length and width of the garden including around the basketball court. The beds contain about eight mature London plane trees and a few younger ones. Some of these mature London plane trees are survivors from an earlier layout, possibly that of the 1840s. There are few shrubs; mostly the planting is of red and white roses and perennial plants including Geranium sp, Euphorbia sp, sweet cicely, bracken and Hypericum sp. Inside the garden's perimeter beds is a perimeter path that connects to the entrances. The paths are of tarmac with brick edging but at both the north and south ends there are large paved areas of concrete paving slabs. At the north end is the basketball court as on the 1977 map and at the south end a children's’ circular play area with blue hard-surfacing surrounded by a low timber fence, containing play equipment. Next to it is a small lodge or store building for parks staff only (according to the notice on the door) constructed of yellow stock brick and a timber roof. There is also a small outdoor fitness area with fitness machines, installed 2009, next to the lodge. The central path and playground as seen on the 1977 map have been removed and the central area is laid to grass with a square flower bed cut into it. A low hedge of white and red roses runs round it and inside it are a few perennials. The Friends of Argyle Square was formed c.2008.
The Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens was set up in 2012 as a forum for the local gardens, with a website www.bloomsburysquares.org.uk, which acts as a point of access for sharing activities, events and concerns. The gardens within the Association are: Argyle, Bedford, Bloomsbury, Brunswick, Fitzroy, Gordon, Mecklenburgh, Regent, Russell, Tavistock, Torrington and Woburn Squares (q.q.v.), and Marchmont Community Garden.
Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); E Beresford Chancellor 'The History of the Squares of London: Topographical and Historical', London 1907; W H Godfrey and W McB Marcham, (eds) ‘The parish of St Pancras’, Survey of London vol 24 (1952) pp 102-113n; M W Hammond, 'Camden's Parks and Gardens', LB Camden, 1973; D Hayes,‘Without parallel in the known world’, Camden History Review 25, 2001, pp5-9; E J N Jeffcote, ‘Amusements of Old St Pancras’, St Pancras Journal 1, No. 8, Dec 1947, p118; R Leon, ‘The Man who made King’s Cross’, Camden History Review 17, 1992, pp13-16; Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, 1928
LPGT Volunteer Research by Carrie Cowan, 2011