Inventory Site Record

The Water Gardens * (Westminster)

Brief Description

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

The Water Gardens Estate was built in 1961-66, designed by Trehearne, Norman, Preston & Partners for the Church Commissioners and includes three 17-storey towers, smaller blocks, and a terrace of houses with private gardens, backing onto the communal landscaped gardens. The gardens were designed by Philip Hicks in Modernist style with split levels, rectangular forms and strong horizontals to counteract the surrounding verticals, its rocks, willows and falling water providing an almost oriental atmosphere. The design brief for the gardens was to mask service roads and basement garages, and to provide interest for the residents from ground level and also from above.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
The Hyde Park Estate
Site location:
Edgware Road/Burwood Place/Norfolk Crescent/Sussex Gardens, Marylebone
W2 2DA
Type of site:
Housing/Estate Landscaping
Open to public?
Opening times:
Private gardens for communal use
Took part in Open Garden Squares Weekend in 2003.
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Tube: Edgware Road (Bakerloo, Circle, Hammersmith & Fulham)
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.hydeparkestate.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.

Land to the north of Hyde Park was for centuries farmland owned by the Church of England, the area known as Tyburnia after the river Tyburn that flows underground. It was at Tyburn Gallows at Marble Arch that public executions were held until 1783. Following the 1795 Building Act, the development of the Bishop of London's large Paddington Estate began with an early masterplan by Samuel Pepys Cockerell (1754-1827), the estate surveyor, possibly drawn up in 1805 although little was built until the 1820s. Cockerell was succeeded as estate surveyor by George Gutch (c.1790-1874), who modified and intensified the layout, and drew up his 'Final Plan of Tyburnia' in 1838. Many of the squares and terraces remain with their private communal gardens still in place, including Cambridge Square; Cleveland Square and Cleveland Gardens; Connaught Square; Gloucester Square; Hyde Park Square and Hyde Park Gardens; Oxford Square; Norfolk Crescent; Sussex Square and Sussex Gardens; Westbourne Terrace (q.q.v.).

From the 1920s piecemeal rebuilding began to take place as the original leases came to an end, continuing until WWII, and generally houses were replaced by flats and shops. After the war the Church Commissioners were keen to re-establish the prestige of the estate, at the same time that the market for prestigious properties in the West End was growing. In 1954 a 90-acre area of land containing C19th terraces south of Sussex Gardens was consolidated as the Hyde Park Estate, with Anthony Monoprio drawing up a masterplan in 1957 for a scheme of 930 flats.

A small portion of the estate between Sussex Gardens and Norfolk Crescent was reserved by the Church Commissioners for their own development of 12-storey blocks, later increased to 17 storeys, setting up the Burwood Place Development Company to undertake this. What became known as The Water Gardens was completed between 1961 and 1966, covering an area of 3 acres, providing 250 flats, 6 penthouses, 15 houses, as well as shops and offices and with underground garages. The scheme was designed by Trehearne & Norman, Preston and Partners, led by partner George Gneditch with Chris Whittaker as project architect. Whittaker invited landscape architect Philip Hicks (1921 - 2017), with whom he had trained at the Architectural Association, to design the gardens, devised as a means of screening the car park below.

In 1962 Hicks designed the landscaped grounds of the Birds Eye Headquarters at Walton-on-Thames, which had a moat feature and internal garden courtyards with pools and platforms: the Monolith Garden and the Japanese Garden, the latter with a large pool, raised platforms and an oriental feel to the planting, and the former becoming home to penguins that were part of the company's exotic menagerie.

The use of concrete was an obvious choice as it covered the site following basement excavation, and the concrete roof slab of the garage provided a good basis for being formed into pools. Hicks' water garden is suspended on a podium deck, with open areas providing ventilation for the garages below, and with walkways and stairs onto the garage roofs, service road and shops, also concealing service areas from the flats above. The series of pools, containing carp and goldfish, appear to be interconnected but this is not actually the case, and have bridges and a central paved area. Boulders and water jets animate the water, and concrete planters contain trees that include willow, birch, flowering cherry, Japanese bonsai as well as ferns and grasses. Planters on the paved decks contain yucca, olive trees and other low plants, and the use of rocks, bonsai trees, grasses, pebbles and gravel bring a Japanese feeling. There was public access into the gardens until 2012, when metal entrance gates were installed.

In 2018 the landscaping was refurbished by Refolo Landscape Architects, with re-waterproofing of the lower deck, new paving, water jets and lighting, replacement planting and new concrete benches. The refurbishment works won the 2019 National Liquid Roofing Award.

In 2018, as part of a ‘Compiling the Record’ campaign, HE in partnership with the Gardens Trust (TGT) invited nominations from members of TGT and the general public for post-war landscapes that might be added to the NHLE in order to widen the knowledge base and seek protection for a category of landscape hitherto deemed to be under-represented on the Register. A shortlist of 25 cases was selected by an expert panel comprised of external and internal partners to go forward to full assessment for registration. This shortlist included the designed landscape of the The Water Gardens, which has now been registered at Grade II.

The reasons for this NHLE designation include the site's design interest as 'an innovative and ambitious Modernist urban water garden that utilises the roof slab of a basement car park as the base of the pools; it is the work of Philip Hicks, a distinctive London landscape architect who went on to build a second career in North America; the design uses clean lines and geometric forms to successful effect, incorporating pools, paved areas, deck terraces, flying staircases, raised walkways and intermediate platforms to act as key features within the landscape; the Brutalist treatment of shuttered concrete is enhanced by contrasting soft planting in raised planters and the fluid movement of the water in the pools and fountains; the landscape is closely integrated with the surrounding unlisted buildings and was designed to be viewed both from the ground and the balconies of the flats above; the clever use of design tricks, such as limiting views into and out of the gardens and incorporating fountains to counteract traffic noise, maximises the space of a relatively small site, creating a feeling of openness and expansiveness despite the landscape being fully enclosed, and creating a hidden oasis behind busy Edgware Road.' Its historic interest is cited as 'a rare example of a mid-C20 landscape associated with private luxury housing rather than public sector development that was more prevalent at the time, and is reflective of the growing recognition of the importance of providing good landscaping in an urban setting.' Finally, it is noted that 'despite some later alteration the overall form and character of The Water Gardens survives well.'

Sources consulted:

Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 3: North West' (1991, reprinted 1999) pp.687/8. Further information from Historic England (Designation) Consultation Report, 27 November 2019, Case Name: PW Landscapes - The Water Gardens, Burwood Place, which lists the following sources: Current Work: 1 The Water Gardens London, W.2' in Journal of the Institute of Landscape Architects, Vol 82, (May 1968), pp16-19; C. Whittaker, 'The Water Gardens, 'An Underrated Corner of the Capital'' in Twentieth Century Architecture 9. Housing the Twentieth Century Nation, Vol 9, (2008), pp122-130. Re Hicks and Birds Eye HQ see Tess Canfield, 'Modernist Menagerie: Birds Eye at Walton-on-Thames', The London Gardener, vol 3, 1997/98.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ272813 (527263,181395)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Church Commissioners
Site management:
Burwood Place Development Company
Philip Hicks, landscape architect. Refolo Landscape Architects (landscape refurbishment 2018)
Listed structures:
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:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

The Water Gardens *

The Water Gardens, May 2014. Photograph Sally Williams

Photo: Pamela Paterson (1995)
Photo: Pamela Paterson (1995)
Photo: Pamela Paterson (1995)

Click a photo to enlarge.

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