Month: February 2016

Sticks in the Smoke 6: Brompton Cemetery

(Thursday 25 February 2016)


It’s not in the strictest sense a park or garden, but Brompton Cemetery is administered by Royal Parks and is designated Grade 1 on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens. An oblong of 39 acres, it stretches out south of Earls Court for half a mile  and kicks against Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC football ground) in the south. It contains over 200,000 resting places, a verdant treasury of 35,000 memorials, dating from the early 1840s.

This land was originally market gardens on land owned by Lord Kensington. It was purchased as part of a scheme to establish a ring of suburban cemeteries (known as the ‘Magnificent Seven‘). These were intended to relieve the huge pressure on London’s burial grounds at a time when the population was soaring and most city churchyards were only intended to serve village- sized populations. Other cemeteries established at this time include Kensal Green and Highgate.

006bThe formal layout was based on the plan of a cathedral, with a wide central ‘aisle’, long and impressive, leading past colonnades and bell tower towards an octagonal domed chapel. Parallel side aisles and transverse paths form a grid pattern out towards the high brick walls which contain the whole site.

Famous occupants chart the social, political, commercial and artistic history of the past two centuries, including broadcaster Bernard Levin, Edward Wadsworth the Vorticist painter, the cricketer, John Wisden and Samuel Cunard, founder of the shipping line. But possibly the most influential resident is Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragettes. As I walk from the entrance gates and set off along the main central avenue, her grave and tall sandstone Celtic cross are just there on the left. It is well cared for with pots of tulips in bloom and a vase of irises freshly placed.

006aThe central avenue stretches to the south, boulevard- wide. On this sunny morning, shadows cast from the procession of lime trees curl and criss- cross the tarmac. Distant cyclists and runners are tiny smudges which gradually enlarge, then whoosh by. I wander past elaborate but shabby mausoleums, age- stained angels, standing high. Gravestones range from the polished and sharp, to the cracked and lichen- blotched, their inscriptions long eroded.

I walk a path towards a gleaming Paperbark birch over to the right, its branches reaching bone- white into the sky. I get my sketchbook out and try to draw how it frames the colonnade of arches and bell tower. The arches are echoed by the assorted grave tops, filling the space in front of me, probably as varied in shape, size, colour and texture as the individuals that they commemorate. Amongst them, grasses, weeds, dog rose stems and evergreen bushes of holly, laurel and boxwood thrive. The occasional dark form could be a figure standing in contemplation, or just a side- view gravestone, upright in the shade of a tree. Sun passes, then steely clouds, then sun again. The breeze is a cold breath on the back of my neck. One or two people pass by. We nod hellos. Some walkers approach from way up the long straight path but, at the next glance, they just seem to have just faded away.

There’s more life here than in any of the parks and gardens I’ve visited so far. Squirrels scratch and leap, a robin choruses from an ash branch right overhead then hops close by from stone to stone. Crows caw. A rural serenity broken only by clangs and girder dongs from nearby construction sites. Trains rattle and scree into West Brompton station just over the west wall. I hear a jogger with a squeaky trainer advancing from far off; he lopes past, then squeaks away towards the south end.


Drawing completed, I walk back to the central drive, then down between the colonnades, through a forest of wonky stone crosses. I pause to watch a fashion shoot happening against the mottled stone, then skirt round the chapel, and beyond into the southern end.

006dI find another view to draw: looking back to the chapel rising through the wilderness; honey Bath stone gleaming in the sunlight. Here the cemetery is wilder, dishevelled and unkempt, brambles well- established. Ivy wraps around rust-railed tombs, rambling holly and yew have taken over. Nettles push through the complexity of bleached stems from last year’s jungle. An old, grey- muzzled fox warms himself against a stone sun-trap, hardly bothered by my presence. A younger, brighter red fox dashes across the path into the unconsecrated burial ground behind, pursued by a yipping spaniel, which ignores its owner’s calls, as she waves her poop- scoop.

I finish and, as I pack up my sketchbook and drawing things, I peer over at the inscription on the stone right in front of me, draped with hanging bramble tendrils. It reads: ‘FRANCIS NICHOLSON  1753 – 1844 LANDSCAPE PAINTER’. How amazing and coincidental! Of all the places I could have chosen! I’ve been drawing and painting in this spot for over an hour, unknowingly paying homage to one of the greatest pioneers of landscape watercolour painting! He is kept company here by his artist daughter, Marianne Croker and her husband Thomas Crofton Croker, who was an antiquary. I’ve always loved the series of strong pastoral paintings that Francis Nicholson made at Stourhead in the early years of the nineteenth century. I regularly used them to inspire my students in the painting workshops I taught at Stourhead each summer.

I brush the stone free of vegetation and gently sprinkle my painting water onto his overgrown grave.


(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew is  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London each week of 2016, leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in an exhibition in London in 2017. )

Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Rd, London SW10 9UG
Google earth view here




Sticks in the Smoke 5: Leicester Square Gardens

(Thursday 18 February 2016)


A bustling and busy pedestrianised West End area, with theatres, multiplexes, casinos, grand hotels, fast food restaurants (and some not so fast). A multiplicity of architectural genres. Currently the whole block on the west side a construction site sheathed in fluttering plastic and, next door, an empty space where the old 1930’s Odeon West End building used to stand until its demolition last year, allowing a temporary view across to the south west roofscape.

005cThe park is just less than an acre, a concentric fit, owing its not- quite- square shape to the original piece of common land in the rural parish of St Martins. It was bought by the Earl of Leicester in the 17th century to build his home, but he was ordered to keep ‘Leicester Field’ open for the use of parishioners to “Drye their Clothes there as they were wont, and to have free use of the Place..”

As London developed through the 1700s, houses were built around the square and the gardens became gentrified, with railings, lawns and gravel paths and, in the centre, a gilt statue of George 1 on his horse. It was a fashionable site for duels to be fought. Later in the century other amusements included the Museum of Natural Curiosities, known as The Holophusikon (later known as the Leverian Collection). You could pay to view the severed heads of executed traitors on Temple Bar Gate through a telescope. Or you could watch street acrobats, fire eaters, dancing bears and fortune- telling buderigars.

The buildings grew and jostled together through the 19th century. There were theatres, music halls and James Wyld’s very popular ‘Great Globe‘ which was built in 1850 in the centre of the gardens on top of George 1’s statue. It housed a giant scale model of the earth, which you could walk inside and view all the features of the planet in brightly coloured relief. This was demolished after 10 years or so and the gardens were re- modelled. In the centre, George 1, havily vandalised and dismembered, was replaced with a statue of Shakespeare raised on a plinth with dolphins and a pond. There were also busts of famous residents of Leicester Square, including William Hogarth, Isaac Newton and Joshua  Reynolds, but after the park was redesigned for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2012, only Shakespeare remained.

005dThe lawns are triangles of late winter- green grass, roped off to protect the soft ground from the many, many feet. I walk the wide paths of the giant X which crosses the garden, then past the shivering queues of hopeful theatregoers outside the TKTS Lodge on the south perimeter and lay my sketchbook on a low wall in front of a box edged bed of euphorbia. I peer past the new wavy stainless steel railings, across towards M & M’s World, like a curved blue curtain at the north west corner. The majestic plane trees, their knobbly bark catching the sun, arch over like cathedral vaulting. Seed- baubles dangle and semi- deflated Chinese New Year balloons bob and tangle in the twigs.

All humanity passes, this feels like a global square. Everyone’s here to seek amusement: as I draw I get snips of excited conversations in many languages and I realise that laughing doesn’t have an accent.


I stroll to a bench in the centre of the park, and start another drawing towards the open south west corner, the sun streaming through. In front of me, Shakespeare stands high, pigeons landing on his head from time to time. His unfurled scroll reads: ‘THERE IS NO IGNORANCE BUT DARKNESS’ while he looks out towards the Vue Cinema, with 005aits Deadpool billboard declaring ‘WAIT TIL YOU GET A LOAD OF ME!’ Below, newly opened daffs are gold against the shadowed marble.

There’s hardly any sound of traffic here, apart from a few momentary sirens. Instead, the sound of amplified voices from competing street theatre and acrobats, along with onlookers cheering and whistling. Half- term kids yell and chase the pigeons. Two children come over and stare and ask if I’m a famous artist. I reply not yet but I’m working on it. Groups of padded- jacketed tourists grin together under selfie sticks.

(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew is  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London each week of 2016, leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in an exhibition in London in 2017. )

Leicester Square Gardens, London WC2H 7DE
Google earth view here




Sticks in the Smoke 4: Whittington Gardens & Cleary Gardens

(Wednesday 10 February 2016)


To the west of Cannon Street station, on the north side of Upper Thames Street, Whittington Gardens lays where, in Roman times, there would have been the muddy tidal banks of the Thames. Part is on the original site of St Michael Paternoster Royal churchyard. The gardens are named after Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London four times from 1397 – 1419. Immortalised in the nursery rhyme and pantomime as Dick Whittington with accompanying black cat, I think he would have preferred to be remembered for his funding of the rebuilding of this church and the founding of a college and almshouses here. It was recorded that he was buried in the grounds, encased in lead, but digs after the war couldn’t find the Lord Mayor’s grave, but did unearth a mummified cat!

004aThe church has been destroyed and rebuilt twice since Whittington’s days: in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and in the Blitz in 1944. In the 1960s it was restored and the gardens, a little under quarter of an acre, were laid out. The college has moved and its buildings now house the Mission to Seafarers.

I walk up Little College Lane, turning my back on the frenetic Upper Thames Street, past a naked beech hedge which reaches around this end of the garden. Looking up this way I would get the feeling of being in a quiet corner of a university town, if it wasn’t for the noise from traffic and roadworks behind.  Across the east end is a patchy swathe of crocused grass with mature trees, including beech, plane and, I think, an old black locust tree. There’s also a twisted magnolia tree in bloom, the flowers bright against the background cliff of green- blue glass.

I draw from the paved and brick- bedded west end, looking past the wide goblet fountain, sploshing and spittering down onto its pebbled base. Sitting on a cold stone wall, my view is across towards the magnolia and redbrick Innholders Hall with its grand west window.

It’s February cold today but an occasional shaft of sunlight tracks across the lawn. Many people take moments in the garden to eat, to rest, to phone, to read. A smoking couple stroll back and forth, chatting and laughing until their cigarettes are finished. A skein of lycraed cyclists stream around the fountain and gather beneath St Michael’s Church tower for a pep talk.

This' deafening noise of road drills and grinders starts up again and fill the day, but when it stops for a few moments, I hear the call of gulls and the long honk of a barge, reminding me that the river is very close.

Drawing finished, I walk towards the western corner, running my hands over the tactile shiny black Cambellotti horse and rider bronzes (‘Magister Equitum’), mounted on granite (gifted by the Italian president on his state visit in 2005) and leave past a bed of shrubs, trees and winter flowers. There’s an overpowering sweet perfume from a white- flowered shrub (I looked it up later: Sarcococca), which stays with me as I walk west along Upper Thames Street.

Less than 5 minutes brings me to Cleary Gardens. It’s on three levels, covering about quarter of an acre below the rush of Queen Victoria Street, stepping down the slope of old Huggin Hill (named after the hogs that were kept here in mediaeval times) and overlooked by the Painters Hall at the east side and tall office buildings opposite. Pergolas of dark beams sit on chimneystack- thick brick supports on the upper terrace and lower gardens, with trails of vine and honeysuckle tangling around. Beds are cared- for and weeded, planted with evergreen shrubs: mahonia, laurel and box. Collections of winter- flowering peonies light up the leaf- mulched beds.


I draw from the halfway turn in the steps which carry you to the lower garden, where old walls of decayed and blackened brickwork now have trellis and clematis, but still give a sense of an industrial past: this was the site of a printing works which was bombed and destroyed in the Blitz.

004cThe garden is named after Fred Cleary, who was chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association in the ’60s and ’70s. A commemorative blue plaque states he was ‘TIRELESS IN HIS WISH TO INCREASE OPEN SPACE IN THE CITY’. However, it was Joe Brandis, a leather worker, who first cleared this space, spending all his spare time in the years after the war, labouring, digging and planting the original beds. A little plaque sunk in a bed on the middle level reads: ‘JOSEPH BRANDIS CORDWAINER created the original garden here on a Bomb Site after the 1940 Blitz assisted by his son Jack’.

My view is divided horizontally by the pergola beams which sit at my eye level. I look down and through the garden towards a beech hedge, which sections off the foundations of a Roman bath house, discovered in the 1960s. It would have been built in terraces 004boverlooking the Thames and fed by spring water. The site is now mostly covered with a lawn as protection. I also look up and over the hoarding of a demolition site, across to the Palladium portico of The Vintners Hall and on, beyond to the gleaming Shard. The garden is lit- up now and then by the glare of sunlight reflected from an office block behind.

This is a tranquil space, being sunk below, many city noises are dulled. One or two people pass by to sit down there and read. A pair of hi- vis jacketed gardeners sweep the steps and stop to chat about my drawing. I forget to ask them the name of this flake- barked woody climber in the foreground with its fiery red brown twisted stems and buds like bright- green flames. A magpie hoarsely caws from the plane tree above.

(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew is  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London each week of 2016, leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in an exhibition in London in 2017. )

Whittington Gardens, College St, Upper Thames Sreet, London EC4R 2RL
Cleary Gardens, Huggin Hill, Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V  4HQ
Google earth view here

Photo of Magister Equitum sculptures by Mike Quinn 

Sticks in the Smoke 3: Chelsea Embankment Gardens & Albert Bridge Gardens

(Wednesday 3 February 2016 )


Chelsea Embankment Gardens and Albert Bridge Gardens spread out like dragonfly wings on either side of Albert Bridge road. They are in four parts, totalling about 2 acres, enclosed and separated by the busy and roaring Chelsea Embankment and the more sedate Cheyne Walk. These gardens were laid out and the roads built in the 1870’s on land reclaimed from riverside clay sludge and shingle after the Thames embankment was completed and Albert Bridge was built.

atlantaAlbert Bridge gardens are small raised packets of greenery, trees and shrubs, either side of the bridge, behind the embankment path. The path squeezes under the span to link them. At the western end of this strip is a sculpture of ‘Atlanta’ by Francis Derwent Wood erected in 1929 in his memory by the Chelsea Arts Club. She stands looking out across the river, ignoring the heavy traffic only a few feet away. Just behind her is a cherry tree, heavy with early blossom. I walk on and step up from the path amongst privet and evergreen shrubs and ground cover of baby nettles. From here I have the view upstream towards Battersea Bridge and across to where an old masted Dutch barge sits in the low- tide mud, incongruously beneath the new steel and glass development at Albert Wharf. I draw the dark branches of cherry tree reaching across the clouds, the white- pink blossom transformed into fairy lights by intermittent sunshine. I have my back to an old, green, disused and shabby cabman’s shelter. It was called ‘The Pier’ from its proximity to Cadogan Pier, just east of Albert Bridge and in the 1970’s was nicknamed ‘The Kremlin’ due to its clientele of left-wing cabbies (

As I 003adraw I try to filter out the drone of engines, hooting and frequent sirens behind me, and focus more on the river sounds carried across on the stiff cold breeze: ferries chugging, geese honking, gulls calling and the drilling from a moored houseboat on the river below. Runners and cyclists swish along the path in high- vis.

I finish my drawing and cross the road, away from the river to Chelsea Embankment Gardens. To the west, it isn’t much more than a route used mostly by dog walkers, running between a strip of lawn on the road side and a ribbon of mature trees, bushes and tall shrubs, shielding Cheyne Walk from the hectic A3212. A statue of a pensive Thomas Carlyle sits up on a stone base. He lived in Cheyne Row nearby from 1834 – 81.

rossettiI head for the broader gardens to the east. The path snakes past Bainbridge Copnall‘s sculpture of the boy David ( a memorial to the Machine Gun Corps) high up on a granite pillar. It passes a tall stone drinking fountain above which Ford Maddox Brown‘s sculpture of an elderly Dante Gabriel Rossetti looks out from a niche (Rossetti lived just behind, in Cheyne Row until his death in 1882).  I walk out across the lawns and around the viola- planted ornamental beds, but looking down I realise my mistake, discovering I’m in a minefield of poop that dog walkers didn’t bother to scoop: definitely not somewhere for a picnic!

At the far east end of the garden I stand on the roadside pavement, the wind is cold but it’s good to see the broken sunshine. The roar of buses, lorries, vans and taxis stopping and starting at traffic lights just behind, the whiff of diesel wafting across.


I make my second drawing close to the foot of an ancient and wonderfully gnarled beech (I think) tree, the heavy ridges and crevasses of its bark ranging in colour from rich deep browns to violets and sheens of blue. My view is across the lawns and over to the bust of Vaughan Williams (sculpted by Marcus Cornish). He lived at Cheyne Walk and composed much of his work here. Bright crocuses burst through the patchy grass close by. Through the network of winter branches hanging low and the long, narrow thicket of ornamental trees and shrubs are sunlit patches of red brickwork, subdivided by tall white window rows.

(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew is  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London each week of 2016, leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in an exhibition in London in 2017. )

Chelsea Embankment Gardens & Albert Bridge Gardens, London SW3 
Google earth view here

Photo of Atlanta from
Photo of Rossetti drinking fountain from