Inventory Site Record

Meath Gardens (Tower Hamlets)

Brief Description

Meath Gardens was formerly the privately-owned Victoria Park Cemetery established in 1842. It closed to burials in 1876 having fallen into disuse, but its Gothic entrance arch remains. By 1885 it was in a very poor state and the MPGA approached the owner for permission to lay it out as a public garden. After much protracted negotiation and fund-raising this was finally achieved and the new gardens were opened in 1894 by the Duke of York, renamed Meath Gardens after the MPGA's Chairman, the Earl of Meath. Children's play equipment was provided and a few gravestones remained. In June 1988, a tree was planted and a plaque set into the ground by the Aboriginal Cricket Association inscribed 'In memory of King Cole, Aboriginal cricketer, who died on the 24th June 1868. Your Aboriginal dreamtime home. Wish you peace' .

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Victoria Park Cemetery
Site location:
Walter Street/Smart Street/Usk Street, off Roman Road
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Tower Hamlets
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Play equipment, football pitches
Public transport:
Tube: Bethnal Green (Central) then bus; Mile End (Central, District) then bus. Bus: 8
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

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

Full Site Description

This was formerly Victoria Park Cemetery established in 1842, with its principal entry at the west via a C19th Gothic portal that remains as the main entrance to the park, still inscribed 'VPC 1842'; it was restored c.1990. The cemetery was closed to burials in 1876, and estimated to contain some 300,000 bodies. The ground fell into disuse and its 'gruesome state' was later described by Lt. Col J J Sexby of the LCC Parks Department: '...with its yawning chasms, rank grass, and mutilated monuments'; ‘a disgrace and a scandal’. The disused cemetery, being privately owned was exempt from legislation; entrances were ‘burrowed from neighbouring back yards...resort of the loafers and roughs of the East End...came here to gamble and amuse themselves by the wanton destruction of the decaying property’. In April 1885 the MPGA approached the son of its former proprietor for permission to lay it out as a public garden. Although he agreed to this in February 1886 he required that an arrangement be made to relieve him of maintenance and of payment of rent charges. Bethnal Green Vestry was unable to do this so the scheme was put in abeyance until the new LCC was formed and was sympathetic to the project. The MPGA then raised funds for laying out the grounds, including £500 from the former Duke of Bedford, and an anonymous gift of £1,000. All the necessary monies were raised by 1 January 1891 and work commenced in March 1893, costing £3,000 excluding the repair costs of the boundary railings. It was one of the largest burial grounds that the MPGA landscape gardener, Fanny Wilkinson, converted into a public garden. She was assisted by 30 unemployed men and the ground proved hard to dig, the work taking a year to complete. The ground was grassed, trees were planted including Tree of Heaven, lime and London plane, and flower beds laid out as well as playgrounds and a sand-pit.

The garden was re-named Meath Gardens after the Earl of Meath, who was the Chairman of MPGA and opened on 20 July 1894 by Duke of York, the ‘greater proportion laid out as garden, remainder devoted to large children’s playgrounds’. The ground was extremely uneven through subsidence; there was only one tomb remaining, commemorating Constance and Lucy How, and Marian Gruner (erected in the 1860s), which was shaded by a large holly. A large playground and adjacent building were erected to the north in c.1990, and beyond the boundary are the Prospect Allotments. A tree donated by Hillier Nurseries Ltd to the Aboriginal Cricket Association was planted on 26 June 1988, with a plaque set into the ground with the following inscription: 'In memory of King Cole, Aboriginal cricketer, who died on the 24th June 1868. Your Aboriginal dreamtime home. Wish you peace'. This is also referred to in Iain Sinclair's ‘Liquid City’.

Sources consulted:

Bacon, Ordnance Atlas; M. Rose, The East End of London; Lieut. Col J J Sexby, The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Space of London (their History and Associations, Elliott Stock (London) 1895 (1905 edition); Elizabeth Crawford, 'Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle' (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2nd ed. 2009); Bancroft Library, Clippings.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ357827 (535750,182750)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Tower Hamlets
Site management:
Leisure Services, Parks and Open Spaces
1842; 1893/94
1893/4: MPGA (Fanny Wilkinson)
Listed structures:
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:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

Meath Gardens

Meath Gardens, August 2010. Photo: S Williams

Entrance gateway to former Victoria Park Cemetery, August 2020. Photograph Sally Williams
Meath Gardens, August 2010. Photo: S Williams
Meath Gardens, August 2010. Photo: S Williams
Plaque commemorating King Cole, Meath Gardens. Photo: S Williams
'Victoria Park Cemetery before being laid out', reproduced from Mrs Basil Holmes, 'The London Burial Grounds', London, 1896
Victoria Park Cemetery when first laid out, photograph reproduced from Mrs Basil Holmes, 'The London Burial Grounds', London, 1896

Click a photo to enlarge.

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