A morning meeting in Newbury means I don’t get into Paddington until 3.00pm. But my
destination isn’t far. The air has been chill and watery all day and as I turn the corner, the spire of St James’s church is just a rising spike of denser mist above Sussex Gardens Open Space.
Originally farmland, part of the Bishop of London’s Tyburn Estate, the meadows here were overlaid in the 1830’s to a plan by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, with long straight streets and grand squares of elegant stuccoed town houses. Renamed Tyburnia, it was to attract London’s prosperous classes away from fashionable Belgravia and Mayfair. This half acre triangle was intended as a private garden for occupiers of the surrounding homes. But it was also designed to give a semi- rural setting and foreground to St James’s Church. Built in the early 1840s, this church was the last project by John Goldicutt, architect and artist traveller, whose original neo classical design, based on his visits to Italy, was given a Gothic makeover after his death by George Gutch (Cockerell’s surveyor).
A three- way intersection of roads meet and circumnavigate and swoop off into long tree lined boulevards, turning this garden into an island. I’m a castaway, wandering alone the paths around and across this small triangle of lawns, box-hedged rose beds, potted bays trees and tall plane trees, bare limbs stretching up and making lacework of this afternoon’s meagre misty daylight.
An apple (or pear?) tree in full blossom lights up the southern corner and I set up to draw where it’s branches reach across and obscure the church’s dingy facade. A constant clamour of traffic from all sides and scree of brakes at the traffic lights. Horns are being hooted. Nerves are frayed. Someone toots for a full 30 seconds. Someone shouts “lunatic!” Someone else yells something (!) back. Diesel fumes fill my breath and I feel them thick in my head. I struggle with the drawing and my lines straggle frustratingly out of my control. Now and then the sun just flirts above the low cloud but doesn’t break through.
As the afternoon turns and the light dims even more I begin to relax with my drawing. A slight breeze brings a snow of blossom petals over my page. Over the road, the forecourt of the church is guarded by a trinity of cherry trees, only a slight glimpse of faded red blossom in their foliage. On the pavement below there’s a constant backwards and forwards of walkers. But in this garden / island the only company I’ve had the whole time have been a pair of fat thrushes and a blackbird picking at the grass amongst a scatter of discarded party poppers.
Until later, an overcoated man walks in and hunches on a bench at the garden’s boxhedged hub and holds a loud phone conversation in Italian. And another man enters and sits on a bench opposite. He takes out a crumpled paper bag and starts swigging from it and watches the daffodils droop in front of him.
In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018. www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.
Sussex Gardens Open Space, Paddington, London W2 2RL
Opening times: 8am – dusk
Google earth view here