Month: May 2016

Sticks in the Smoke 16: Cremorne Gardens

016a-Cremorne-Gardens(Thursday 26 May 2016)

This is an area of many parts: culturally diverse with a huge mix of lifestyle, wealth and housing. Cremorne gardens sits alongside the river here and reflects this diversity in its different sections. I enter from Lots Road, into a paved courtyard area with pergolas and planted pots and brick walled beds with tall, gently swaying birches. In its centre a splashpad with squirty nozzle, dry at the moment but just waiting for the slap of little feet. 016b.jpgI sit in the shade, hot after a long walk, almost wishing I could paddle!

A pair of large, ornamental iron gates dominate this part of the gardens. They seem a bit grandiose for this patch of just under an acre, but they are all that remains of the famous (and infamous) Cremorne Pleasure Gardens. They once stood at the entrance to Viscount Cremorne‘s estate (known as Chelsea farm), which extended from Kings Road in the north, down to the Thames. Originally, from before the Middle Ages, this tract of farming land was divided into individually owned and leased ‘lots’ (the origin of Lots Road) for growing crops and grazing livestock to supply the burgeoning needs of the City. It was pulled together as a single estate in the 18th Century.

The Cremorne family sold the estate in 1831 to Charles Random De Berenger, a colourful character, who set up a sports club for for ‘the cultivation of skilful and manly exercise‘, which included fencing, shooting, archery and sailing but, after running up huge debts, the venture sank. The estate was purchased by coffee house owner, Thomas Bartlett Simpson and the gardens were remodelled. Theatres, halls, restaurants, a hotel, and an illuminated pagoda with a massive dance floor, were built and terraces, fountains, Chinese- lantern walks and flowerbeds were laid. And in 1845 these very gates were opened once more to welcome visitors of all classes.
016a.jpgA century later, the gates were donated to the Borough of Chelsea by the old Watney’s brewery in King’s Road, where they had been used for an entrance. They were painstakingly restored and installed here in 1982 when the present day Cremorne Gardens was created from waste ground, a tiny fraction of the original gardens, but in the exact spot where Victorian pleasure seekers would stroll in the riverside gardens or lose themselves in the maze.

I walk through into a grassed area, like a slightly overgrown back garden with a variety of trees, bushes, large shrubs and wildflower corners with marguerittes and celandine. The benches all have occupants, variously snoozing, reading newspapers, drinking cider. A wonderful growth of many birdboxes in a Tree of Heaven is the ‘spontaneous city‘ installation: a blue- tit version of the tall, red, castle- tower blocks of the World’s End Estate, always visible through the trees.

A weeping willow and flowering shrubs frame a view to the river frontage where steps lead to the embankment wall and pier. Terraces and walls provide river- watching shelter. I make my way towards the pier. I know several paintings of Cremorne made by Whistler (he lived at nearby Cheyne Walk), including one or two ‘nocturnes‘ which he painted from across the river: lights  from the gardens reflected down into the silver whistler-falling-rocketblue- violet water and firework displays with rocket sparks falling into the luminous Thames. So I’m keen to make a river’s eye drawing back towards the garden. I balance my sketchbook on the wide railing top. The river breeze is cooling and brings with it a sea brine scent. A sudden gust catches at my sketchbook. I grab hold but one of my bulldog clips gets dislodged and plummets to the shingle below.

150 years ago this is where summer evening visitors would disembark from the threepenny steamers from the City. At it’s heyday in the 1850’s and 60’s you could watch ballet, hydrogen balloon flights (including, once, an ascent by French balloonist, Madame Poitevin, dressed as  Europa, seated on the back of a heifer disguised as Zeus!), Japanese jugglers and Austrian marionette shows. You could visit the Crystal Grotto, go American bowling, go dancing, eat lobster and drink champagne in the restaurants. But after dark, the gardens increasingly took on a more disreputable element, with pickpockets, drunks, prostitutes and marauding gangs. By the mid 1870’s, local residents had had enough and raised a petition, stating that the gardens were a ‘nursery of every kind of vice’. Its licence was revoked and it closed, debt-ridden. In the subsequent decades, much of the land was built on with much needed housing and riverside warehousing and industry, but the area suffered hugely from WW2 bombing.

A group of high spirited teens are laughing loud and playing music and strutting along the wall tops in the sunshine. It’s very warm and little flies dance up and down in front of my face and I swat at them ineffectively with my paintbrush.

016cThe tide is on the turn and begins to creep slowly in as I draw. There’s a beachcomber down there, slowly picking his way across the shingle and beach debris: squashed dustbins, traffic cones, smashed pallets, rocks,  bricks and flowerpots, everything the same warm grey clay hue. A large flat piece could be the side of a boat. There must be precious things buried here: lockets, cigarette cases or pearl topped hairpins dropped by carefree Victorians having too much fun. And champagne!

As he passes near I call to the beachcomber and ask him to pick up the bulldog clip for me. He retrieves it and throws it up  and I manage a fumbling left-handed catch! And he shouts “Nice one, mate!”

(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. )

Cremorne Gardens, Lots Road, Chelsea, London. SW10 0NA
Google earth view here



Sticks in the Smoke 15: Whitehall Gardens

015-Whitehall-Gardens-(Thursday 19 May 2016)

 A long 2½ acre rectangle of formal, daisy- spotted lawns subdivided with a regular pattern of straight and circular paths. It’s a warm day, almost hot! I try to keep to the shade of the mature and overhanging trees of the deep shrubbery which screens the halting and tooting stream of Victoria Embankment traffic.

015aThe gardens are dominated by three grand statues, on high stone plinths, of William Tyndale at the southern end;  Sir Henry Bartle Frere  standing at the centre of the gardens, looking out across at the line of bright- coloured coaches parked on the Embankment, with the London Eye behind: that big bicycle wheel on the London skyline. At the northern end is Sir James Outram who peers through tree foliage at the the structure of The Golden Jubilee Bridge, like a giant array of randomly aimed arrows, leading across the river to the vibrant Southbank. Each stands in a circular island lawn, surrounded by high palms and rounded beds planted with a wide range of flowers, making distinctly coloured brackets of bright orange, deep reds and forget- me- not blue, giving each man his own individual celebration of colour.

This ground is where once were the tide- washed mud flats and shingle banks of the Thames, just beyond the walls of the Whitehall Palace. From 1530, this huge sprawling citadel was home to the British monarchy until 1698, when much of it was destroyed in a fire. Later, the gardens of grand townhouses rolled down to the river, until the construction of the Victoria Embankment in 1870, under the direction of Joseph Bazalgette, the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW). This, most importantly for Londoners, created the space for a massive brick sewer (still in full use today), 015cdiverting raw sewage to treatment works to the east of the city, rather than pouring straight into the river, which eliminated London’s regular and catastrophic cholera epidemics. Excavated soil was used to create a series of public parks and gardens, including Whitehall Gardens, alongside this stretch of the river. Bazalgette even designed the decorative iron railings for this garden (they were removed during World War II and replaced with chain-­ link fencing. The current railings are based on the original design). The garden was laid out in 1875 by George Vuilliamy who worked alongside Bazalgette as chief architect for the MBW (he also designed the writhing dolphin lampposts that can be seen all the way along Embankment walls).

I follow the long, straight eastern path, pink and dappled violet- grey under today’s strong sun, then loop around the statue of James Outram, past two picnickers sitting on his plinth base, and walk  back on the other side, with Whitehall Court (built in the 1880’s, it was the home to MI6 during WW1. Now the 5- star Royal Horseguards Hotel), rising like a huge French chateau, with its impressive towers and pointed slate roofs. Under its spell, the gardens become a Parisian park, flat and long and elegant, with ornamental lime trees, lit up like flares in the sunshine. An ancient Catalpa tree leans across the lawn, its twisting branches held up on long supports: a frail old man leaning on several walking sticks.

015bMany people promenade alone or in pairs, or jog, or sit and relax. One dishevelled snoozer stretches along a bench, hat sagging over his face so that all that’s peeping out is his grey beard, like some kind of furry creature.

I make my way back to the Horseguards Avenue end, where I perch my sketchbook and box of drawing things precariously on the edge of a rubbish bin, under the watchful eye of Tyndale (sculpted by Sir Joseph Boehm in 1884), whose left hand clutches a manuscript to his chest, and his right rests on an open bible, balanced on what appears to be a road drill, but I think is intended to be an early printing press.

It’s busy here and tourists pause behind me to look as I draw. I feel like I should be putting on more of a performance and worried that, at any moment, my drawing box could overbalance and empty its contents into the bin! A  man in his 60’s approaches and starts proudly telling me the names of artists whose exhibitions he’s seen recently and do I know them? He asks me what my name is and I tell him and he shakes his head dolefully and says “No…..No, sorry” and walks away.

(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. )

Whitehall Gardens, Victoria Embankment, London, WC2N 6PB
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 14: St Lukes Garden

014a-St-Lukes-Gardens(Wednesday 27 April 2016)

As I approach, the tall tower of St Luke’s Church is clear light gold in the afternoon sun. Opposite, the brickwork of Brompton Hospital is in the shade, windows reflecting pinpoints of sky through the twig lacework of the gard014ben trees. The chill air vibrates with drill and power saw from construction works that are replacing iron railings which separate churchyard and park. A line of netting screens create a vibrant band of artificial emerald, underlining the church’s soaring bath stone walls and buttresses.

This 3 acre garden is a banquet of colour and pattern- bursts of cherry blossom and fruit trees pink and white. A scatter of white blackthorn flowers in the surrounding hedges. Still bare branches hang or radiate. Mature hardy palms cast spiky shadows across the paths, while the looming horse chestnut at the eastern edge spreads its unfolding foliage.

This whole site was originally laid out from pasture and consecrated in 1812 as an overflow cemetery to the Kings Road burial grounds which were running out of room for the burgeoning population of Chelsea village. Within ten years this new, bigger and grander parish church was being built in the centre of the grounds. It was designed by James Savage and was one of the first new Gothic Revival churches to be built in London.

Later in the century, with the advent of the larger city cemeteries (eg: Brompton Cemetery, see Sticks in the Smoke 6) and less demand on the smaller local burial grounds, burials  ended here and the land was converted into a public garden, funded by a grant of £1500 from London 014aCounty Council in 1887. It was laid out by local Kings Road horticulturist, James Veitch, who designed a heterogenous scheme which mixed indigenous trees such as oak, ash and sycamore, alongside more exotic species, such as lime, tree of heaven and catalpa, with a wide variety of shrubs, to ensure a captivating and colourful garden, all year round.

I unpack my drawing things at a bench in the shade, close to an old, dark barked mulberry, whose branches frame the elegant Gothic windows of St Luke’s. Below are scruffy patches of late daffodils, drooping now and interlaced with growing grasses and dandelions. I try to draw the curling and bowing cherry branches, heavy with blossom. A crow hops on the path here and flaps up to the bin, its head on one side to inspect me before pecking at a discarded sandwich packet.

The garden is full of activity, groups of mothers meeting after school, release their children to hop and hoot across the grass, a teenage boy plays his guitar haltingly where the sun has warmed and dried the ground. Old men in scarves and turned up jacket collars talk on benches, heads bent together. A lady with a big, broad smile in a pink coat and pork pie hat that match the cherry blossom, exercises her mobility scooter. She passes by several times,  always smiling, traversing the gently curving paths which form an X across the garden. A little later, a small girl with red coat and hair ribbon, scuttles past several times on her pink scooter, followed by a vexed- looking mother pushing a buggy.

014b-St-Lukes-Gardens(Thursday 12 May 2016)

I missed a week of Sticks in the Smoke, while on exhibition duties. This is a time of rapid seasonal transition so I decided to return to St Lukes to see how things have changed. And I discover it so transformed! A warm, almost hot day. Trees that were bare branches 15 days ago are 014cnow heavy with summer green. The horse chestnut is now weighed down with creamy candles while parakeets screech from its dark interior. The grass is fresh yellow mowed and peppered with daisies. Under the cherry trees, the lawns are thick with pink snow. I walk through wafts of scent, some delicate, some thick as honey.

I lay my sketchbook on a big flat box tomb on the southern lawn. It has script engraved on its lid, but too weather- worn to easily read. My view is east, through the rose bed circlet, dashes of vibrant red and crimson bloom amongst the foliage.

On a bench nearby, a man in shorts and sunglasses gently feeds a drinking straw between his elderly mother’s lips. She sips the juice and slumps down into her wheelchair. His girlfriend / wife helps her up and they try to lift her for a walk but she resists and stumbles and makes a little yelp.

There is still that constant background buzz of drilling, but lifted and somehow made melodic by the birdsong from trees and bushes all around. Chattering and laughs from groups of picnicking friends (maybe hospital staff from over the road taking a sunshiny lunch break). A gust of wind snatches a Pret A Manger bag and tosses it across the lawn, chased and caught by a giggling 014dgirl. A full- bearded Irishman in stripy t- shirt wanders over to look at my drawing. He says “beautiful, bea-utiful”, then asks “but where does the Art come from?”. And we have a discussion about the nature of creativity, while the nearby picnickers get up and brush grass off their bottoms.

I pack my things and walk across to the squat stone sundial which stands in the rose garden. Inscribed on its top: ‘Make time, Save time while time lasts. All time is no time when time is past’

(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. )

St Luke’s Gardens, Sydney Street, Chelsea, London, SW3 3RP
Google earth view here