Inventory Site Record

West Square Gardens (Southwark)

Brief Description

The land that became West Square was first leased out in 1791 by the owners, the Temple West family, from whom the square gets its name, the terraces were built by 1794 with a garden laid out by 1799. When the Bethlehem Royal Hospital moved to St George's Fields, its senior hospital staff needed accommodation nearby and West Square was laid out with terraces surrounding the garden. By 1813 it appears to have had a formal layout but it was much simplified by 1870. Threatened with development in the late C19th, the garden was saved for public open space by the MPGA in 1909, and laid out by their landscape gardener Madeline Agar. The cruciform layout was restored and the garden opened to the public in 1910. In the centre is a rose garden with sundial; a tree was planted here on 14 September 1991 to celebrate the bicentenary of West Square. The garden at one point had 4 black mulberries.

Practical Information
Site location:
West Square
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Garden Square, Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
7.30am - sunset
Special conditions:
Summer Fair
Public transport:
Rail/Tube: Elephant & Castle (Northern, Bakerloo). Bus: 1, 12, 45, 53, 63, 68, 100, 168, 171, 172, 176, 188, 344, C10.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.southwark.gov.uk

Full Site Description

In 1791 land here was leased for building to a Mr Hedger by the Temple West family, and the terraces of West Square were built between 1794 and 1810, the garden laid out by 1799. Nos.6-19 on the west side and Nos.29-45 on the east side date from 1794, with Nos.20-24 on the south side built by 1800 and Nos.25-28 on the north by 1810. When the Bethlehem Royal Hospital moved from Moorfields to St George's Fields in the early C19th to what is now the Imperial War Museum and Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (q.v.), West Square provided suitable accommodation for the senior staff of the hospital. An earlier ambitious design for West Square and the surrounding areas drawn up by George Dance was not carried out. Horwood's map of 1813 shows the central garden surrounded by terraces laid out formally but by 1870 it was much simplified with four paths meeting at a rond point.

In the late C19th the garden was at risk from building development. The MPGA mounted a 10-year campaign to preserve it as open space and in 1909 obtained custody of it after the London County Council purchased the freehold for £3,500, to which the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark contributed a third of the cost.  The MPGA's landscape gardener Madeline Agar planned and laid out the garden, which was enlarged by setting the railings back by 20 feet all round taking in surplus land from the surrounding roads, and restored the cruciform layout, these works costing £300. Responsibility for maintenance was placed in the care of Southwark Borough Council and the gardens were opened to the public in 1910. Madeline Agar had taken over from Fanny Wilkinson as the MPGA's landscape gardener in 1905, a position she held for almost 25 years. Over that time she became a successful garden designer, writer and teacher, and a fellow of the Institute of Landscape Architects. 

Although scheduled under the London Squares Preservation Act of 1931, after WWII the London Development Plan proposed demolition of the surrounding buildings and the addition of the area to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park. However, the Civic Amenities Act put a stop to this and West Square was designated a conservation area.

After WWII, prefabs were built in the square and the terraces in the north west-corner were demolished, although Charlotte Sharman School built in 1884/5 remains on the north-west side. Railings to the square have now been restored. In the centre of the garden is a rose garden with sundial. A tree was planted here on 14 September 1991 to celebrate the bicentenary of West Square's origins.

Sources consulted:

Candidate for Register: Bellamy, J.K. IOAAS Submission; Notes 1995; LB Southwark Local History Archives; Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, the London Encyclopaedia, London, 1983; 'The London County Council and what it does for London: London Parks and Open Spaces' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1924); Southwark Listed Buildings data. Additional research on Madeline Agar by LPGT Research Volunteer Margaret King, 2020.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ315790 (531610,179060)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Southwark
Site management:
Parks; West Square Residents Association
1791-99 and c.1900-10
MPGA - Madeline Agar (1909/10)
Listed structures:
LBII: Nos. 6 - 19 (west); Nos. 20 - 24 and 25 - 28 (south); Nos. 29 - 45 (east) and attached railings; Charlotte Sharman School.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

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:
West Square
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Square, Tier Two; London Squares Preservation Act. Green Chain Walk

West Square Gardens

West Square - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 20/10/20 14:45

Click a photo to enlarge.

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