Volunteer Researchers Find Almshouse Garden Gems

By KRISTINA TAYLOR, LPGT Researchers Group

Bromley College

Bromley College was founded in 1666 by the Will of John Warner, Bishop of Rochester, 1638-1666, to provide housing for "twenty poore widowes of orthodoxe and loyal clergiemen". Situated no more than 300 yards from Bromley's main shopping area, the College grew to comprise 40 almshouses built around two quadrangles. The Wren gates date from 1720.

Hopton's Almshouses

Hopton's Almshouses (in Hopton Street, SE1) were founded by fishmonger Charles Hopton, who died in 1730. The 26 almshouses for 'poor decayed men' of the parish were erected in 1746-9 and opened in 1752. The residents, who included gardeners, watermen and fishermen were also granted £6 per year and 32 bushels of coal. In 1825 two extra houses were added. The complex includes two garden squares with centre lawns and roses, edged with shrubs. The almshouses were rebuilt and modernised in 1988 and remain used for housing owned by The Anchor Trust.

These almshouses feature in the Walk through Lambeth and Southwark

At the beginning of 2005, we formed a group of volunteers to research gardens throughout London, to enhance the Trust inventory. We started researching almshouse gardens, partly as a training exercise to accustom ourselves with the recording forms and partly to research a group of gardens which had not previously been looked at thoroughly.

Lots of valuable and interesting material has turned up. Some were tiny like Sir William Powell's almshouses in Fulham, completed by Adrian Marston, with one bay tree, while others like St Clement Danes in Summerstown Tooting, were much larger and more complex. Here Selene Leatharn found the complete planting list for the 2.4 hectare site at the Westminster archives. In 1848, 40 two-storey cottages were laid out and Robert Mackay, Nurseryman of Stoke Newington planted over 2,000 shrubs and trees, with 6,000 bulbs.

Bromley College, tucked in the centre of Bromley, Kent, had three very sad-looking mulberry trees reputed to have been given by John Evelyn, but probably planted in the 1720s. The suckers of elm trees seen on the Kip and Knyff`print still sprout up in the garden, though they were all taken down in the 1970s. A charming dovecote sits at the end of the Chaplain's garden. You can see more about Bromley College at http://www.bromleycollege.org/ (opens in new window).

Researchers moved on to other sites near where they lived and Sheena Ginnings studied Holly Lodge Estate in Highgate, a house and grounds which belonged to the Burdett-Coutts family throughout the 19th century. We also started researching the gardens of the Crown Estates Paving Commission in the terraces around Regent's Park. Jenny Turner and Patricia Birch began by completing a magnificent history of Carlton House gardens, a shortened version of which will appear in the London Gardener, and the information gathered will be used by Chris Bull to replant in the 'spirit' of what the gardens looked like when Nash originally designed the terrace in 1828.

Should anybody like to join the group, please email office at  londonqardenstrust.org