Inventory Site Record

The Roof Gardens * (formerly Derry and Toms Roof Garden) (Kensington & Chelsea)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

The Roof Gardens, among the earliest in England, were built for the new Derry and Toms Department Store, which opened in 1933. The Gardens were conceived by Vice-President of Barkers Trevor Bowen, who employed landscape architect Ralph Handcock to realise his vision and comprised 3 gardens from the outset: Spanish Garden, English Woodland Garden and Tudor Courtyard. Opened in May 1938 by the Earl of Athlone, the gardens became a popular attraction. Owned by Biba in the 1970s, and by Richard Branson since 1981, the Gardens becoming part of Virgin Limited Edition and hosted a members' club, a private function venue and, since 2001, the Babylon Restaurant on the 7th floor, which overlooks the gardens. They were extensively replanted in 2008/9 and remained home to exotic wildfowl including pink flamingos. The Spanish Garden was planted in the style of the 1950s, while the Tudor Courtyard was based on the Biba ethos and planting from the 1970s. The English Woodland was managed as a C21st environmental and wildlife garden. In 2018 the Roof Gardens closed when Virgin gave up their lease.

Practical Information
Site location:
99-121 Kensington High Street (entrance in Derry Street)
W8 5SA
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Private Garden
Kensington & Chelsea
Open to public?
Opening times:
Now closed
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 12 times, most recently in 2017.
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Tube: High Street Kensington (District, Circle). Bus: 9, 10, 27, 28, 49, 52, 70, 328, 452
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.roofgardens.virgin.com

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.

Derry and Toms was one of Kensington's early department stores, along with Barkers. In c.1869 Charles Derry and Charles Toms went into partnership and took a number of plots of land in the Kensington Improvement Scheme west of King Street and, like that of John Barker, which started out as a small draper's in 1870, their business expanded rapidly, acquiring more and more premises along the High Street. In 1920 following the post WWI slump when the business suffered, Derry and Toms merged with Barkers Department Store. After much negotiation with the authorities and also with residents of nearby Kensington Square (q.v.), a new Derry and Toms store was built in 1929-31 designed by Bernard George, with floor layouts by American architect C A Wheeler.

Six years after the store was completed, the roof gardens were created, the building having already allowed for this with a thick bitumastic base, layer of brick and rubble, fan-shaped drainage system and a layer of top soil watered from artesian wells beneath the store. It was apparently created at the behest of Trevor Bowen, Vice-President of Barkers. Although Barkers had had some form of terrace gardens in 1921, Derry and Toms Roof Garden was one of the earliest roof gardens in England and it was planned to surpass all previous examples. The gardens were divided from the beginning into three types of garden: an English Woodland Garden, a Tudor Courtyard and a Spanish Garden. Various follies were erected, including a sun pavilion designed by Bernard George who supervised the gardens, with Ralph Handcock creating the landscaping and planting. The Spanish Garden had a Moorish pergola, the well of St Theresa and the Court of Fountains with raised beds along the wall. The Spanish convent bell tower was destroyed during the war. The Tudor Courtyard has a series of arches piercing a brick wall, covered with climbing plants. The English Woodland Garden had a series of pools with goldfish in them and trees planted around them. The gardens were opened in May 1938 by the Earl of Athlone and were a popular attraction.

In the 1970s the store became home to the iconic Biba, and in 1982 it was purchased by Richard Branson of Virgin and the Gardens are now part of Virgin Limited Edition and host a members' club, a private function venue and, since 2001, the Babylon Restaurant on the 7th floor, which overlooks the gardens. The gardens have been extensively replanted in 2008/9. The Spanish garden is now planted in the style of the 1950s, The Tudor Courtyard Garden's scheme recalls the Biba style of the 1970s and the English Woodland Garden is now managed as a C21st environmental and wildlife garden. The gardens have been home to a selection of exotic wildfowl and in 2009 the resident pink flamingos, Bill and Ben, were joined by two new flamingos. In 2018 the Roof Gardens closed due to Virgin giving up the tenancy it has held since 1981 as a result of ‘unpredictable market conditions and a challenge to remain profitable’.

Sources consulted:

See EH Register. Kensington Square Conservation Area Proposals Statement; Arabella Lennox-Boyd, 'Private Gardens of London', London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990; Fridy Duterloo-Morgan, 'Kensington's Babylon: Derry and Toms Roof Garden', The London Gardener, volume 4, 1998-99, pp39-45; RBKC Kensington Square Conservation Area Proposals Statement (nd)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ256795 (525601,179576)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Leased to Virgin Limited Edition 1981-2018, new tenant unknown
Site management:
Bernard George / Ralph Handcock (landscaping and planting)
Listed structures:
LBII*: Derry and Toms Store
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II
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:
Kensington Square
Tree Preservation Order:
Yes - on some of the older trees
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

The Roof Gardens * (formerly Derry and Toms Roof Garden)

The Roof Gardens - Photo: The Roof Gardens
Date taken: 08/08/13 12:52

Click a photo to enlarge.

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