Tag: art

Sticks in the Smoke 73: The Regent’s Park (west and north)

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‘The Golden Dome and the Flying Saucer’  (Thursday 2 August 2018)

My second drawing visit to The Regent’s Park. The first was nearly 2 years ago (8 Sept 2016), to the southern section: Avenue Gardens, the boating lake, the bandstand and the perfect round of the central Queen Mary’s Gardens with its rose beds and outdoor theatre. Visit Sticks in the Smoke 30: The Regents Park (South side) to see the drawings made on that occasion, and to read the rich and royal history of this grand space.

Today I’m planning to explore the western and northern sections of the park. I walk in through the Baker Street entrance. To my right I can see the crisscross ironwork of the Clarence Bridge, which I struggled to draw on my last visit. The morning is heating fast as I turn onto the wide western path, following the lakeside. Waterfowl busy and teeming out onto the tarmac where squawking and piping knots are fighting over picnic leftovers. Ripples sparkle bright blue against the greenish lap of lake water.

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The lake was excavated in the 1820s, opening out the course of the little River Tyburn in a naturalistic style across the south of the park. The River Tyburn rises in Hampstead, about 3km to the north,  but today most of its flow is hidden underground in culverts or sewers. From the 1830s when the The Regent’s Park was opened to the public, the lake was a popular attraction, for boating, paddling, swimming and skating. During the severe Victorian winters of the mid 19th century, many thousands turned out on to the lake. Tragically, in January 1867, at least 40 people died here when the lake ice broke, weakened by the sheer volume of skaters.

On this sweltering day it’s hard to imagine the sting of icy air as I stroll around the children’s boating pond, where a girl in waders is picking litter caught in the island bushes. Over to Hanover Gate lawn where the sunbleached grass is dotted around its edge with a variety of trees and little copses (This sits just to the south of the 12 acre grounds of Winfield House -the grand Neo Georgian mansion residence of the US Ambassador, the second largest private garden in central London after Buckingham Palace). I find the canopy cover of a tulip tree and set up to draw towards the Hanover gate and the London Central Mosque. The shade is almost solid with only a few chits of sunlight getting through. An occasional gust of cooler air is a momentary respite. The papercut leaves brittle and rattling above. The mosque dome glints copper gold. But also shimmery greens and blues. It rises like a fleeting mirage between the treetops, unearthly and hardly solid at all. I struggle and fail to get those transient and subtle colours right (The London Central Mosque with its striking golden dome was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd  and completed in 1978. The main hall can accommodate over 5,000 worshippers. It is joined to the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) which was built in 1944 on land donated by George VI to the Muslim community of Britain).

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There’s a constant flow of tourists and families. Many people in Islamic dress. A woman in hijab with her daughter comes over to look at my drawing. The young girl loves drawing and wants to be an illustrator. She asks an enthusiastic string of arty questions.

All the time I’ve been drawing, a man has been stretched out asleep in the foot of the far hedge. The shadow gradually moves away and he eventually wakes up, flustered.  He hastily pulls his things together and staggers off towards the gate to the Outer Circle. Behind me I hear a man shouting. A harassed dad is letting off steam at his two young children. He drags them past, hot and sobbing. On a day like this I think they should all just go and eat ice cream. And dangle their bare feet in the cool lake water.

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The day has heated more. I cross the bridge at the lake’s head and walk through stands of woodland. Oaks, plane, maple provide leafy relief. I wander through the Winter Gardens towards the outer circle. Across the road the Gorilla Circus trapeze school is in full swing. I stand and watch for a while. A latticework of ropes and swings. Anxious looking students being coaxed to take a leap into the warm August air.

Then back, across to the north section of the park, which opens out into a wide plain of roller flattened fields, parched horizontal bands in every direction (this part of the park was originally left open and undeveloped to protect the views from the villages of Hampstead and Highgate). Crows pick listlessly at the scuffed ground. I make a hasty beeline across the pitches towards a further clump of trees, narrowly avoiding an all- women fitness class, who are energetically and sweatily star jumping to the enthusiastic whooping of their coach.

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I dive into the welcome shelter under a lime tree in a wilder fringe, where dried grasses droop and tall thistles cluster. Sports are happening all around: cricket, baseball, football. Much cheering, yelling, clapping, whistling and clack of bat on ball.

I set up to draw across the pitches, towards the clumped trees of St Mary’s Gardens and the Euston office blocks behind. The BT tower a sci fi space rocket stands ready for blast off. Close to me a flying saucer has landed. It sits raised up on a grassy mound and surveys these 360 degrees of  dried out fields. This is the Regent’s Park Hub. Opened a few years ago, a focus for all the sporting activities here, providing changing rooms, showers and cafe. An oasis and a lookout across the sports ground. Two toddlers are roly-polying down its slopes and yelping as their mothers chat on the cafe terrace.

A cricket game has finished, the young players excitedly chattering, file down the path below. Scrunch of shoes on scatterings of brittle lime leaves.

I drain the last dregs from my water bottle. It’s tepid. My thoughts drift towards the ice cream kiosk I passed on the way here.

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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.



The Regents Park, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR
Opening times: 5am – dusk

Google earth view here

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Sticks in the Smoke 72: Ravenscourt Park

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‘Circles of Sun and Pools of Shade’  (Thursday 19 July 2018)

Ravenscourt Park occupies land that was once part of the estate of Pallenswick in the Manor of Fulham, and at its greatest extent covered around 100 acres. By the 13th century the manor house was surrounded by a moat fed by the Stamford Brook (the lake in the centre of the park is the only remaining evidence of the original moat).

Over the next few hundred years the estate was owned by various private owners, including Alice Perrers (Edward III‘s mistress), in the 14th century. In 1650 the house was demolished and a new mansion built to the west of it. It was bought in 1747 by Thomas Corbett, Secretary to the Admiralty, who changed its name to Ravenscourt (a pun on his own name, ‘corbeau’ being French for raven, a feature of his coat of arms).

I enter the park from the south at the King St gate and follow curving paths which cut through tired lawns of parched grass. Red oaks, plane trees and sweet chestnuts are oases of cool. A line of railway arches separates this small quiet space from the rest of the park (Hammersmith and City railway was brought through here and opened in 1869). Only one of the benches is occupied; an elderly man reading his newspaper. He has a bright white handkerchief in the top pocket of his jacket. As I walk under one of the arches into the main park a group of yellow shirted nursery children are walking through the adjacent arch with their teachers. They all stop and the teacher counts “one, two, three. NOW!!” And they all shout and scream wildly, their voices ricocheting and pinging satisfyingly off the curving brickwork.

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In 1812 Ravenscourt House and estate, which still consisted mostly of fields and meadows, were bought by builder and philanthropist George Scott. He employed leading landscape gardener Humphry Repton to lay out the estate, with flower gardens, lawns and orchards. A variety of trees were planted, and an ice house built to store winter ice cut from the lake. By this time Hammersmith had grown to be an important and growing settlement on the Great West Road (originally a Roman road, leading west from London to Bath), so Scott encouraged building on the fringes of his estate to meet the growing demand for good quality housing, endeavouring to ensure that they were well-designed and well built. By the 1850s there were over 330 houses.

North of the railway arches are children’s playgrounds, sandpits, paddling pools. Teeming and lively. The park opens into a wide open field, crossed with long straight, tree lined walks (grand avenues of elm and chestnut trees planted in the 18th century stood until the 1920s, but became dangerous and had to be cut down by the LCC, and were replaced with sweet chestnuts and flowering cherries). Further north, around where the manor house would have stood (its site visible as a mound by the lake), the park takes on a timeless and traditional feel, with stands of cedars, planes, shrubberies, flower beds, paths sweeping and curving through. Railed and rolling lawns, filled with family groups and friends, playing, relaxing in the sun, laughing, lounging.

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The lakeside confines are railed. Once there were boats for hire but now the lake is reserved for wildlife. Canada geese graze and moorhens waddle across the grass. A flock of pigeons pick lazily at the hard dry earth until they’re flurried into the air by a yipping golden spaniel off the lead. It’s owner on the path ineffectually yelling “Margo! Margo! MAARGO!! COME BACK! From the bridge I can see the lake surface is covered with a slimy skin of blue green algae, prolific in this heat. Some ducks dabble lazily at the edge. I decide not to draw here but walk on, past more playgrounds and ball courts towards the walled garden at the north end of the park.

In 1887 the estate was sold by the Scott family for development with much needed workers’ houses. However, this scheme was blocked by local residents and the land was sold on to the Metropolitan Board of Works who established a public park, laid out by Lt Col J. J. Sexby, in the 32 acres of land surrounding the house. It was opened to the public in 1888 and soon attracted visitors. The main house became Hammersmith’s first public library, opening in 1890. An Old English Garden, later known as the Scented Garden, was created in the former walled kitchen garden. You enter through recently restored original 18th century ornamental iron gates.

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A rose covered pergola is a circlet around the centre of the walled garden. An orrery sundial floats here in this space orbited by box hedged ball planets and wooden benches. Symmetrical with radiating paths, yews and beds and herbaceous borders. Wooden shelters at the edges, brick walls hidden behind thicknesses of trees and climbers. On this baking morning I step into pools of shade, eventually finding a cool leafy spot to set up my easel, behind a firework explosion of day lilies. Something on the ground catches my eye: a child’s pencil drawing of a lily (see below). From just over the wall, the continual backdrop sounds of children’s excited screams and hoots. Effervescent energy. And the playground gate a continual squeal and clang. At first I am one of the only occupants of this beautiful and fragrant space but lunchtime brings more people to sit and wander. And breathe in the perfume. For a few minutes the sound of someone at the opposite corner sneezing continuously.

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I’m finishing my drawing and notice a man in a dark t-shirt meandering through the garden, looking and poking into every bin. He reaches into the nearest one but comes away empty handed. As he leaves he stoops down to sniff a crimson rose.

During the two world wars the park was the venue for fundraising and events such as concerts and other entertainments. In WW2 trenches were dug and lawns dug up for allotments, but on the night of 21 January 1941 incendiary bombs destroyed the big house. All that remains today is the stable block which is home to the park café.

Behind the cafe are two glasshouses that have now been converted into Community Greenhouses by Hammersmith Community Gardens Association, which provide a busy programme of events and classes.

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I walk across to the cafe to fill my water bottle and buy a cup of tea. In the full sun the air is hazy hot. Figures stretch out in delicious shade. Glorious inactivity. But the park is also heaving with activity. Alive and energetic with the run and jump and roll and kick and hit and bounce and yell and cheer of many sports.

I take my tea over to a splash of shade under a ring of ageing limes and sit on a log. I watch as a pair of gardeners park their tractor by a wall behind the ball courts where 5-a -side football is happening. They start to listlessly hack and pull at an over abundant ivy but very soon stop to wipe their brows and watch the game. I walk over to the busy basketball ground and set up to draw under a line of cherry trees which make dark frames for the bright view. Basketball nets are supported on strangely bent trees on red padded posts. Occasional missed balls bobble past me chased by eager players.

People walking along the nearby path are decorated with flickering fragments of dappled light.

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After the war additional facilities were built in the park: a bandstand, tennis courts, a bowling green and pavilion. Further additions more recently include the basketball circle, ball courts, all-weather pitches and an ecology area with a pond.

A cluster of teenage boys are straggling over some benches. Bags and bikes spilling over the ground. Their music hops and pounds across the hard ground: “tak, tak, takka, takka..” And all the leaping, reaching basketball players seem to be dancing to the pulse.


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.



Ravenscourt Park, Paddenswick Rd, Hammersmith, London W6 0UA
Opening times: 7.30am – dusk

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 71: Gordon Square and Woburn Square Gardens

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‘Hula Hoops and the Hermit’  (Thursday 21 June 2018)

These two garden squares are the green core of UCL (University College, London), the breathing spaces of this part of busy, bustling Bloomsbury. The morning is warm; pavements simmer as I enter the western gate to Gordon Square Garden. An intensity of brightness across these sun drenched lawns. Circles of students sitting cross legged on the semi parched grass. Some groups seem more organised, maybe alfresco seminars. Some more informal. Friends lunching together. A hum of voices; at times reaching a crescendo. A global mix of many tongues. Fast and urgent conversations. Soundtrack of stimulated minds.

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I pause at the bearded bust of Rabindranath Tagore (the Indian poet, philosopher and Nobel Laureate, sculpted by Shenda Amery) and read the plaque inscribed in his own handwriting:

“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new. At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.”

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Along the curving shaded southwest path to the Ginger Jules Cafe (was once the gardeners’ cabin). Outside there’s a man wearing a beret and holding a coffee. He has a (Siamese?) cat attached to an extending dog lead and is trying to stop it scrambling up a nearby tree.

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Prior to the building up of Bloomsbury, the area that’s now occupied by Gordon and Woburn Squares was open marshy farmland, part of the Tottenhall Manor Estate.

As demand grew for housing in the late 17th century, the Dukes of Bedford who owned the land began to develop Bloomsbury as a desirable location for high end residences away from the crush and stench of the City. A basic grid of streets was laid out, interspersed with garden squares, a fashionable feature of the time. These two particular squares were fairly late developers: laid out in the 1820s and 30s. The finest Georgian houses were built around Gordon Square by master builder, Thomas Cubitt. Whereas, the terraces around Woburn Square were built by James Sim and his sons to be more functional. The houses were narrower, less imposing and were cheaper to rent, so this square lacked the grandiose status of other Bloomsbury Squares.

I take my coffee for a walk around the garden. A line of lime trees which borders the north east path casts pools of blue violet. At the top corner a memorial bust of Noor Inayat Khan (an SOE agent who infiltrated occupied France, but was executed at Dachau Concentration Camp in 1944 and was honoured with the GC, MBE and Croix de Guerre) is looking out across the lawn where a pair of girls are hula- hooping in the hot sun and laughing loudly at each other.

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In places, the fringes of the park, under the spread of the plane trees, are deliberately left overgrown with shrubs and wild plants to provide habitats for wildlife and encourage biodiversity. At the northern end is a wilder pocket, like a piece of woodland thicket where several homeless men, with sleeping bags and possessions gathered around them, are sitting in a group, talking together and smoking.

The original design of the gardens was by John Russell, the sixth Duke of Bedford (Gordon Square was named after Lady Georgina Gordon, his second wife and Woburn Square named after Woburn Abbey, the Duke of Bedford’s country seat). He laid out both gardens with elaborate arrangements of curving paths, shrubberies and lawns, for the sole benefit of residents of the surrounding terraces. By the end of the 19th century the layout of both gardens had been made less formal, with serpentine paths and more natural looking shrubberies, borders and tree planting.

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I set up to draw in the dust dry shade of a broad beech next to a central island rose bed. Colour rich and intense. A sporadic breeze cools my hot neck. The park fills with gatherings of young Education First (Summer Language School) students from around the world. A group of young East Asians sit on the grass to picnic just in front of where I’m working and glance at me nervously in case they’re in my view. They are but I decide not to include them in my drawing. They talk and laugh excitedly. One or two come over and glance at my sketchbook and nod and say ‘Very nice, very nice’. Summer school leaders circulate with placards reading ‘chocolate’ and ‘vanilla’ and shepherd their animated groups together and away for the afternoon’s sessions.

The University of London was founded in 1826. The following year it moved into the grand neoclassical Wilkins Building, just round the corner from here. However, over the next decades, with expansion and the need for ever more space for new educational roles and departments, by the twentieth century it had outgrown this and other sites in London.  In 1920 the Duke of Bedford agreed to sell a large parcel of his Bloomsbury estate, including these two squares, for the building of new University premises.

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I pack my things and leave the teeming Gordon Square. The day has heated further and there is the scent of warm dust and diesel as I cross the road which separates the two parks. But the air freshens as I enter the shade of Woburn Square Garden. A patched pattern of light scatters across the long rectangle of lawn, transforming it into a giant rug laid out in a lofty hall. The leafy roof held high with great plane tree trunks for pillars.

This is a quiet, hushed space. A wooden shelter at the northern end sits proprietorially over the lawn. Like a cricket pavilion. Or a royal throne. A man in a shabby dark coat sits bent over in one corner, bags and things gathered around him. Lost in thought. Like a hermit. I don’t go in. Neither does anyone else. It would feel like an intrusion. Some people perch for a while on the benches which tuck in amongst the shrubs and bushes beside the perimeter path. Most people looking for a picnic or sunbathing place would surely opt for the more open and warmer lawns of Gordon Square.

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Further university expansion encroached on to Woburn Square in 1958 when the original terraces on its western flank made way for the Warburg Institute. And in 1972 part of the north and south sides were demolished for the Institute of Education and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). 

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I stroll down towards the children’s playground at the southern end. It’s deserted. But there is an onlooker: a figure standing near the southern gate, thrusting a peeled fruit (or nut) into the air: ‘The Green Man’ a bronze by Lydia Kapinska, sculpted in 1999 (he looks to me somewhere between Mick Jagger and Peter Pan!). Someone has given him a flat cap (see below), which I remove before starting to draw this sprite- like guardian of the garden. A plaque close by is inscribed with an extract from Virginia Woolf‘s ‘The Waves’ (Woolf lived at 46 Gordon Square from 1903- 07, where the circle of writers and artists who were to form the Bloomsbury Group first started to meet):

“My roots go down to the depth of the world, through earth dried brick, and damp earth through vein of lead and silver. I am all fibre.

I am green as a yew tree in the shade of the hedge. My hair is made of leaves. I am rooted to the middle of the earth. My body is a stalk. I press the stalk.

The roots make a skeleton on the ground, with dead leaves pressed in the angles”

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A pigeon hops amongst the crunchy leaf debris under the railings. As I draw, I throw down a small crust from my sandwich but a blackbird darts down in a flash and carries it off before the pigeon gets a look in.

For a few minutes I’m alone in the garden. Well, apart from the man in the pavilion who’s there immobile and hunched over for the whole time I’m drawing.

A gentle gust sisses through the high foliage.


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.



Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PQ
Woburn Square,  London WC1H 0AA
Opening times: 8am – dusk or 8pm

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 70: Wandsworth Park

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‘Silt, Sports and Stinkpipe’  (Thursday 7 June 2018)

The refined and polished residential streets of East Putney lead to the gates of Wandsworth Park. This broad, tree- fringed rectangular field opens out, sloping gently down to the Thames which runs below the north flank of the park. A sign at the west entrance directs cyclists to the left and I follow the arrow too, drawn by the watery shimmer through the line of great gnarly plane trees whose branches spread and wave at passing rivercraft. I amble along the wide embankment path, trying to dodge cyclists and mums jogging with buggies. Looking over the railings, the river slides silver grey under today’s bright cloud. The thick  line of trees opposite at the Hurlingham Club riverside reflect a dark ribbon in the water.

Once marshy farmland, cattle grazing down to the water’s edge. The village of Wandsworth grew up close to where the River Wandle joins the Thames a short walk east from this park (and from where Wandsworth gets its name). Travellers, traders and horse- drawn coaches would cross the Wandle here, on their way to Central London from the West country.

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Since the early 16th century, Wandsworth offered settlement to consecutive waves of immigration, including Protestant Dutch metalworkers fleeing persecution in the 1590s, whose expertise contributed to the establishment of ironworks and brass foundries. Later, French Huguenot refugees settled here to work in the cloth mills on the Wandle and developed a hat industry for which the town was famous. Brewing began a stones’ throw from here at The Ram Pub sometime in the 16th century, making use of the ready supply of water. The Ram Brewery developed through the following centuries and was taken over in 1831 by Charles Allen Young and his partner Anthony Forthergill Bainbridge who founded the brewery and pub company, Young & Co which became a major employer in the town (large scale brewing only stopped on that site in 2006, when Young’s operations were moved to Bedford).

I lean my things against the river railings and stand my easel in the leaf choked gutter. I set up to draw the view downstream towards Wandsworth bridge, moorings of houseboats and quayside developments. Colourful and busy. Cranes punctuate the skyline, I count 12. A cool breeze from down river has a salty, seaweed tang. A quartet of Canada geese dip and paddle along the lapping silty strand. A rook paces the brick studded shingle then flies up to the railing and calls: “caw, caw, caw”. A distant answer from across the park: “cark, cark, cark!”

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As I draw, a continual process of passing humanity. Amongst them: a man skitting along on a very rattly scooter, several pairs of women running and chatting, a man fast sprinting the 1k circuit of the park, a girl running in a flowery African dress, she circuits the park several times, cyclists, tourist groups. A man stops to look at my drawing while munching noisily,  Many dogs and their walkers. Dog names here seem to have a colonial feel: “Stanley, STANLEY! C’mon!”, “Here, Rupert!”, “WINSTON, STOP THAT!”

By the 19th century, Wandsworth was a densely built and cramped agglomeration of coal stained terraces, grimy streets, sprawling industries and heavily polluted creeks and river (and the setting up of the Wandsworth coal gas plant in 1834 didn’t help matters!). To address the health concerns of its population, London County Council (LCC) saw the creation of public parks as one of its primary concerns and when, in 1897, Wandsworth District Board were given the opportunity to buy this 18 acres of (formerly) allotment land for this purpose, they contributed a third of the purchase price of £33,000.

By the time I’ve finished my drawing, the tide has fully retreated. Houseboats have settled onto mudflats. A handful of waders are sifting the exposed riverbed. A heron stands in the ebbing tide above its shimmery reflection. A mudlark stoops with a metal detector and picks and dips his way amongst the mud coated stones and debris, occasionally stopping to pick up an oddment of treasure (?).

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Wandsworth Park was designed and constructed under the supervision of the LCC Chief Officer of Parks Lt Col J J Sexby and opened in early 1903. The Thames was embanked and a riverside walk created. The overall park design responded to two main influences current at the beginning of the 20th century: firstly the increase in maintenance costs and the shortage of gardening staff, and secondly the growing interest in organised sports. So most of the space was given over to a large central expanse of grass playing field surrounded with walks. The park’s perimeters were planted with lines of trees, including plane, sycamore, holly and false acacia. A few ornamental flowerbeds were laid out near the main entrance.

The park’s layout has remained relatively unaltered since it was originally opened. A bowling green with a pavilion was added in the 1920s but this was removed a few years ago. In it’s place: Putt in the Park: miniature golf / crazy golf with a cafe. A bandstand sat close to the river walk but was demolished in the 1950s. There’s a busy children’s playground to the east of the playing field which was first laid out in the 1960s.

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I make my way south to the top of the field. Pausing at ‘Pygmalion’ (above) one of Alan Thornhill‘s 9 eloquent bronzes on the Putney Sculpture Trail (another; ‘Nexus’ is at the top of the field’). A tractor mows back and along the long grassy ride. I walk across the straight path, fringed with more regular ranks of mature planes. Gaps have been filled with beeches. I stop and watch an energetic game of wheelchair cricket. On the field, nursery children are playing running games. Further on, enthusiastic young coaches lead school sports, yelling encouragement and clapping.

I buy a coffee from the Putt in the Park cafe pavilion, walk past the mini golf course, the tennis courts, flowerbeds, then to the top path where I can get a wide view across the field and its many activities. Along here, bordering the Putney Bridge Road, the park is edged with a procession of great old (non prickly) holly trees with a few rowans and maples. Its starting to lightly spot with rain so I set up to draw just under a holly’s spreading branches. Close to its base is an iron pillar-like structure (inscribed: “Fred Bird and Co, Engineers”), whose top disappears into the tree canopy. This turns out to be a Victorian sewer ventilator (commonly known as a ‘stinkpipe’).

Footsteps on the pavement behind the railings scrunch through the scatter of dried holly leaves. A blackbird lands very close to my easel and cocks his head to look up at me, hops around and picks at the fallen leaves, looking for hidden invertebrates. Suddenly screams from across the field and the blackbird flits off. A white shirted team of schoolkids are celebrating a win, jumping and high- fiving!

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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.



Wandsworth Park, Putney Bridge Road, London SW18 1PP
Opening times: 8am – dusk

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 69: Charterhouse Square, Smithfield

Charterhouse-Square.-03-05-18‘Plague and Confetti’  (Thursday 3 May 2018)

Away from frenetic Aldersgate and Barbican high rise blocks, Carthusian Street leads me to this piece of medieval monastic London on this mild May day of brisk bright clouds and broken blue. Most of the lawns in this 2-acre (0.8 ha), 5 sided square are roped off today and the grassy perimeters allowed to run to spring abundance. But the wild flowers and herbage hide the grim past of this piece of former ‘No Man’s Land’ (beyond the City walls). Beneath are the remains of a large 14th century plague pit, known as Pardon Churchyard, the largest mass grave in London during the Black Death from 1348 – 50, containing the bodies of tens of thousands of victims. It was uncovered during deep excavations for the Crossrail project  in 2014.

A nearby field called Spital Croft was acquired by Sir Walter de Manny in 1349 on which he built a chapel and later founded the Charterhouse as a Carthusian priory to commemorate the ‘Great Pestilence’.

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I find a park bench under an apple tree, where broken shadow mottles the ground, sprinkled with fallen blossom. Above me, sunshine pierces the canopy and edges the silk pink petals with light. Every slightest puff of breeze scatters pink confetti across the grass.

This is the largest of the 7 green spaces and courtyard gardens associated with the monastery and schools of the Charterhouse and the only one that allows free access to the public. I set up to draw and try to make sense of the complexity of roofs and chimneys and ragstone gables, chequered walls and mullioned windows of the mostly Tudor and Stuart Charterhouse buildings to the north of the square (restored in the 1950s after being devastated during the London Blitz in 1941). The museum entrance with overhanging cherry tree and a sinuous contemporary ironwork entrance gate (I’m told later that this was recently commissioned, was only installed last week and is still waiting for its lantern). And to the right is the Thackeray cafe (named after William Makepeace Thackeray who was a student at Charterhouse School in the 1820s), its outdoor tables full of people lunching in the shade of flapping parasols.

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Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a substantial Tudor mansion was built here in 1545, the London home of businessman and philanthropist Thomas Sutton. After his death in 1611, the house was endowed as almshouses for 80 poor gentlemen and a school for 40 scholars, becoming Sutton’s Hospital in the Charterhouse. The almshouses remain on the site, although now providing accommodation for 40 residents. Charterhouse School moved away in 1872 to its present site in Godalming.

Construction workers in orange hi- vis stride to and fro across the park. One sits on the bench just behind me and for 10 minutes the crackle and crunch of crisps being eaten is an accompaniment to the sporadic scree of drill and grinder from the Crossrail site just to the south where a new ticket hall for Farringdon Station is being built.

Flies are busy and insistent today, annoyingly pattering my head and dive bombing my sketchbook, maybe made a little mad by the apple blossom scent. My daughter Millie joins me (she’s taken a break from exam revision) and brings me a coffee. And birthday presents and cards (for tomorrow!). We chat for a while. Then she takes out a book to read and I return to drawing.

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In the 16th century, handsome houses were built around the Square but it did not take shape as a formal residential square until the 17th century when it was laid out with diagonal walks lined with lime trees, bordered on three sides by fine mansions and on the north by the old priory buildings.

The Charterhouse opened its doors to the public for the first time in January 2017. You can visit the museum and chapel and take tours around other parts of the complex, including the Tudor Great Hall and the Great Chamber. The Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and the Queen Elizabeth II Infirmary care home are also on the site.

Several people, each holding long phone conversations, walk past and carry on around the square, to come back round a couple of minutes later and repeat the circuit several times. A crumpled looking businessman with equally crumpled Tesco bag. A man in a pink jacket. A blue suited girl with knee high boots. All of them walking anti- clockwise around the garden. I watch as they are momentarily enveloped by scrawly shadows cast by the mighty mature plane trees.

The afternoon warms and settles and lulls us. A pair of pigeons amble along the path as if they own it. My drawing is drawing to a conclusion. But then from nowhere a sudden gust of wind riffles our pages and sends a blizzard of blossom across the lawn. The pigeons fly off and, in front of the cafe the yellow umbrella has been thrown upside down against the park railings and tableware sent crashing.

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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.



Charterhouse Square, Carthusian Street, London EC1M 6AN
Opening times: Tues-Sun 11am-5pm

Google earth view here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sticks in the Smoke 68: Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (Imperial War Museum), Southwark

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park 1‘War and Peace. And heat!’  (Thursday 19 April 2018)

Today a sudden shock of summer in spring. The streets are shimmering with heat haze. I explore the wide, tree- picked lawns either side of the museum. Teeming with visitors, sweltering school groups sheltering in the broken shade of trees just budding. Dazed coach parties straggling to the entrance. I meander to the east fields, the clatter of mower cutting stripes across the lawns of the Samten Kyil or Tibetan Garden of Contemplation and Peace (opened in 1999 by the Dalai Lama). In its central circular court a mandala hovers, surrounded by sculptures by Hamish Horsley representing the four elements of earth, fire, water and air. The dazzling white stone slabs reflect the heat and the air vibrates. There’s a scent of jasmine mixed with cut grass.

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This was marshy grazing land where spring fed ponds and streams drained into the Neckinger Brook, a tributary of the Thames (its watery past still remembered in Brook Drive, to the south of the park). The area was used for military exercises, assembles and, in 1537, the Guild of Fraternity of St George was granted a charter by Henry VIII allowing them to practice archery here (after which it became known as St George’s Fields). Forts were built during the Civil war to house Roundhead soldiers. Over the following 100 years, drainage was improved, roads and rough settlements spread. The fields were used for fairs, pony races and other public entertainment. In the 18th century the old Dog and Duck pub, which stood here, was upgraded to accommodate a growing numbers of visitors, attracted by nearby mineral springs. Renamed St George’s Spa, it provided tea rooms, a music gallery, ladies’ and gentlemen’s baths, skittle grounds, bowling green, but over the years became notorious and rowdy and was closed in 1799.

My priority today is to find some cool shade to set up and draw in, and eventually in desperation step over railings into a shrubby bed where a tree (which I’m struggling to identify) with thick dark foliage is the parasol I need. Over there, a stand of mature plane trees are just leafing, their green yellow fizz at the ends of long twisting branches, through which I can see the museum’s copper green dome set against the perfection of today’s sky. The great naval guns at the entrance gleam greenblue through the trees. On the grass, families, lunching office staff and students picnicking. Dogs chase and tumble. Sunbathers exposing winter skin and turning pink. The ‘Peace’ tree sculpture (carved from a diseased plane tree by mORGANICo) stands twisty- sinewy in the sunlight.

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From the sports courts to my left come sporadic shouts and screams from 5 a-side football and a netball match. The frequent clash of ball against wire fencing.

In 1810 plans were agreed for The Royal Bethlem Hospital (known colloquially as Bedlam) to move to this site. Its governors had been offered 12 acres of St George’s Fields in exchange for the site it had outgrown at Moorfields. The new neoclassical building was completed in 1815 and patients moved in. Expansion over the following years brought new wings and blocks, including the copper dome, designed by Sidney Smirke. In the mid C19th, the care of the mentally ill improved, largely as a result of the work at Bethlem Hospital by Dr Charles Hood and his colleagues. Their more compassionate approach brought about better furnishings, books, art and music introduced as well as the laying out of lawns and flowerbeds, ornamental and kitchen gardens and the planting of trees in the land around the hospital.

The day heats more. Stifling even in this shade. But then briefly, a welcome gust of cool air. A silvery lilt of birdsong (maybe a blackcap?) streams from the dense foliage above. A man cycles past on the path and calls across, laughing “hey, Mr Artist, save yer trouble and get yourself an iPad and stylus..” I smile back and carry on scribbling but within seconds my pen runs out!

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I walk back past the museum frontage and linger in its shadow. A tall chunk from the demolished Berlin Wall is a big grafitti mouth shouting “CHANGE YOUR LIFE”. Opposite is an ice cream van and I think that at this moment my life would change for the better with the addition of a cold cornet. But, deterred by the long queue, I opt for tea from the cafe and carry it to the far west corner, where busy picnic tables submerge into dappled tree shade (hornbeam and english oak, part of the Ice Age Tree Trail around the park). I set up my drawing things, looking across a raised flower bed. Large fatsias, laurel, tulips and gone over daffodils are a foreground fringe. Beyond, seated figures at the tables are ever changing silhouettes against the brightness of the field beyond, punctuated by many trees, lampposts and in the middle: the Soviet WW2 Memorial is a hunched soldier- bell tower (sculpted by Sergei Shcherbakov and unveiled here in 1999).

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In 1926 Bethlem Hospital moved to Bromley and the existing patient wings were demolished. The land and buildings were purchased by Viscount Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, who presented it to the London County Council for use as a public park for the ‘splendid struggling mothers of Southwark‘; and named in memory of his own mother, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth. The Imperial War Museum was established in the remains of the hospital in the 1930s (the collection previously housed in South Kensington).

Sudden loud laughing from The Tankard pub on the corner, behind me (it was built in 1825, and had a large roof terrace so customers could look over the high wall into Bedlam and gape at its residents!).

For a while there is the low thrum of a guitar from a man sitting on a rug, his back against the wide belly of an oriental plane tree. As he plays, on this day of the turning of the seasons, I’m sure I can actually see the unfolding of leaves.

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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.



Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, Kennington Rd, London SE1 6HZ
Opening times: unrestricted

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 67: Sussex Gardens Open Space.

Sussex-Gardens-Open-Space..‘Castaway in a box- hedged island’  (Thursday 12 April 2018)

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).

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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.

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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.

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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

Sticks in the Smoke 63: Hammersmith Park, Shepherd’s Bush.

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Crane and Turtle. And Rat (Thursday 17 August 2017)

Until the mid 1800s, Shepherd’s Bush was mostly rolling pasture and woods. Tight growing thickets on common land here were regularly used as makeshift enclosures by weary shepherds on the trek to London’s Smithfield Market, to corral their flocks overnight. From the 1840s, railway lines were driven through these fields with Shepherds Bush station opening in the 1860s, making this prime for development and transformation into Victorian commuter belt.

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The paths are wet from earlier showers as I walk through the South Africa Road entrance into this six acre green space, past football and basketball and tennis courts and on, between lawns and cherry trees, a suntrap seating spot where 3 runners rest and an old man in a cap peers into a newspaper on his daily bench. And there ahead, the rounding metal bows of Tim Fortune‘s sculpture, ‘Three Arches’ appear to launch and swoop above the central shrubbery (above). Beyond this point, the park opens out its wings and takes on a different identity: Japanese peace garden, overshadowed by the massive, white tarpaulin clad curving hulk of the old BBC Television Centre (now being converted into flats, offices restaurants and film studios).

At the turn of the 20th century, 140 acres of land here, including brickworks, market gardens and still undeveloped pasture was chosen for the site of the Franco-British Exhibition which took place from May to October 1908, organised jointly between the UK and France as celebration of the Entente Cordiale agreements signed in 1904. It was overseen by Commissioner General, Imre Kiralfy. This was the largest ever international fair held in the UK, visited by 8 million people during that summer.

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An artificial lagoon was surrounded by a grand array of 140 buildings (above) in an eclectic range of ornate international styles but all uniformly white (which gave this district its nickname of White City). Pavilions, palaces and exhibition halls, linked by a grid of roads, bridges and canals, were designed by a team led by architect John Belcher, to represent the world’s nations and cultures, but also to highlight the achievements of British and French industry, achievements and empires. Viewed from today’s perspective they demonstrated imperialistic high- handedness and superiority, with ‘colonial villages’ including the Irish village and Senegalese ‘native village’, with imported inhabitants demonstrating arts and crafts and scenes from everyday life. There were also cafés, restaurants and funfair rides, including the Flip Flap on which, for sixpence, you’d be gently lifted up on a platform, from where you could experience dramatic views right across London to Crystal Palace, and west to Windsor Castle. Not exactly a white knuckle ride but still attracting tens of thousands of passengers.

The Olympic stadium was a last-minute addition to the White City site when London took over the 1908 Olympics from Rome (which had been due to host the event but had to pull out due to the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius in 1906).

In the years before the First World War, more big exhibitions took place here, including the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, which brought awareness of Japan to the general public and ran for 6 months. A Garden of Peace was created by a group of Japanese and British gardeners in 1909, part of which forms the heart of this park and is all that now remains of the exhibition.

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I walk through the gate into the Japanese peace garden. Abundant with trees, chestnut, willow, red oak and cherries. A tumble of rocks form the bed for a waterfall (a meagre trickle today), feeding the pond (above) which cuts in an arc through the lawns. The curve completes in a dry rock garden playground (below), a recent addition, which has boulder arrangements on shingle representing the story of crane and turtle on their voyage to Shangri La. A plaque on the site explains the design of this garden was inspired by dry gardens found in Zen temples:

“All dry gardens have a story behind them and each group of rocks plays a part in the story. Ours is a story of the Crane and the Turtle in their voyage to the Island of Shangri-La, a place of eternal happiness floating in the Ocean which takes the shape of the Chinese character for ‘heart’. The ocean is ‘Magatama’ a symbol for good luck. The Crane lives for 1000 years and the Turtle walks the world for 10,000 years. They both symbolise long life. This garden is a metaphor of a child’s journey though life, a materialisation of a desire for it to be happy and that is why it is a playground.”

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I unpack my sketchbook and set up to draw. The day is breezy and, with every gust sissing through the still rain-wet maple leaves above me, a scatter of drops dot my page. An orange plastic bag sweeps across the grass and slaps into turtle rock, clinging fast. I retrieve it and drop it into a nearby bin. Sunlight breaks through the slate grey clouds and dazzles on the white pea shingle.

White City was commandeered for training troops during WW1 then gradually fell into disrepair. Much of the site was flattened in the 1930s to make way for the White City housing estates (the street names of Canada Way, Australia road and India Way are now the only reminders of the 1908 Exhibition). Some of the remaining halls were used for manufacturing parachutes during WW2, but were themselves replaced by the BBC television centre in the 1950s. At the same time Hammersmith Park was laid out below the dramatic modernist curve of the new building, with tennis courts and playground, and accommodating the remnants of the original Japanese peace garden.

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The garden of peace was improved for the Japan 2001 Festival and was restored to a more traditional Japanese aesthetic by Yoshihiko Uchida, Japanese landscape architect, and Satoru Izawa, an engineer and expert in traditional Japanese gardens and a team of volunteers, Funded by the Japan-British Exhibition 100 Committee, the local council, and numerous other supporters. Laid out along the lines of a Japanese Strolling Garden, similar to the Kyoto Garden at Holland Park, which I visited and drew in March 2017 (for Sticks in the Smoke 51) but with a more relaxed feel and freedom to wander. The restoration was completed in 2010, the centenary of the original festival.  In addition a new Japanese- themed natural and adventurous play area has been installed to provide a continuous play trail across the whole site. Other attractions include a maze, a climbing forest and three large play mountains.

The air weighs warm and humid. I wander down to the rock arch bridge and stand aside for a moment while a group of  chatting mums cross over with their children. I stumble back along the rocky ‘beachside’ through the cooler shade and set up to make a second drawing (see below). A notice has a description of the philosophy behind this piece of the garden landscape:

“Japanese gardens try to capture the essential spirit of nature. At the beach, where the pond represents a rocky seashore, the solid, yang element provided by the rocks meet the balancing yin element, the water.”

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The pond has a thick pea soup blanket of duckweed. Green ice where twigs are caught along with other debris, juice cartons, cigarette packs and an empty scotch bottle. Blue shadows spread across the surface. Noise from the construction site, drilling, hammering, shouting. The continual hum and rattle of builders’ lifts. For a moment a the high pitched metallic screech of a drill rakes across the park.

I sit for a while to eat my apple. A dark movement catches at the corner of my eye. I glance across to see the silhouette of a rat under the nearest shrub. Stretching down for a drink.


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.


 

Hammersmith Park, South Africa Road, Shepherd’s Bush London W12 7RW
Opening times: 7.30am – dusk

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 62: Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Lambeth

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Allées and Dragons (Thursday 20 July 2017)

As I leave Vauxhall station a gauze of light rain is being blown across from the river. It eases as I pass between the two black entrance pillars, tall as trees, each supporting a sculptural outline of a Victorian pleasure seeker (photo below).

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The original garden on this site was in the riverside grounds of Vaux Hall, the stately home of John and Jane Vaux, who were vintners.  Opened to the public in the 1650s as New Spring Gardens by Jane Vaux, following the death of her husband. London pleasure seekers would arrive by boat (it was still a century and a half before Vauxhall bridge was built), to escape the filthy, teeming and stinking city for a few hours and enjoy fresh flower scented air, attractive tree lined walks, shrubberies and fine vistas. Entry was free in the early days, with refreshments sold to support the venture. Sir Samuel Moreland, the inventor, built a central feature for the garden with fountains and a mirrored pavilion.

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The drizzle eases and I trace a tour around the wide undulating lawns, past the riding paddock where a horse stretches out to nibble at the hedge. And the Vauxhall City Farm where damp donkeys nod and bray in earthy pastures. I turn and take in the view across the width of the park to its westmost fringe, where trees partially obscure the mainline railway embankment. And rising behind, the angular blocks of Albert embankment riverside buildings, including the ‘legoland’ postmodern castle of the M16 HQ, behind which the sky is deepening to a threatening pewter. The breeze picks up and rain comes again, more insistent this time. I scurry to the hopeful shelter of the trees which fringe the crescent ridges that bound the western edge.

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It’s relatively dry under the dark canopies of horse chestnut trees and maples which grow thickly all along the ridge top. I scramble down the slope and set up to draw under one of the procession of lime trees on the path towards the Tea House Theatre (cafe and events venue, set up in 2011 in the premises of a Victorian pub which opened here after the pleasure gardens closed). People are scattering away under umbrellas. A few raindrops percolate through but it’s mostly dry under here. The anaemic light and chill breeze makes it feel less July and more like February and I’m wishing I’d brought a jumper!

By the early 18th century, the gardens had developed a reputation for impropriety. The secret walks and hidden bowers made this a perfect location for furtive liaisons. The author, John Lockman described it as little more than a “much frequented rural brothel”. Around 1730 it was taken over by entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers (who had made his money trading leather in Bermondsey. See ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ 58). He wanted his pleasure garden to become a “rational, elegant, and innocent” space, a civilised and civilising environment. It was remodelled with help of his friend, the artist William Hogarth, who lived nearby. The garden transformed into a space for performance and display, with specially designed pavilions and  grottoes in the new Rococo style, displays of paintings and sculptures, formal allées and serpentine walks illuminated with many glass lamps. For his inspirational work, Hogarth was given a free pass to the gardens for life.

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The Orchestra (see illustration above), an octagonal building designed for the performance of music in the open air, was opened in 1735, the first of its kind in England. Around it in colonnades, were rows of supper-boxes where people could enjoy the music while eating and drinking. Frederick, the Prince of Wales, was a prominent patron of the Rococo and gave his support to the Gardens, having his own pavilion built here. The central grove, with its classical portico at one end, was like “an ancient Greek agora”. It could accommodate 3,000 people. In 1749 a rehearsal of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks attracted an audience of 12,000.  and in 1786 a fancy-dress jubilee to celebrate the proprietor’s long ownership was thronged with 61,000 revellers. With 100,000 visitors each season, the gardens provided London-based composers with their first mass audiences.

Tyers’ sons Jonathan and Thomas took over managing the pleasure gardens after their father’s death in 1767 (the family name is remembered in Tyers Street, on the park’s eastern boundary). The site was renamed as Vauxhall Gardens in 1785. New entertainments included firework displays, balloon ascents, and tightrope performances by Madame Saqui. In 1817 the Battle of Waterloo was re-enacted, with 1,000 soldiers participating.

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As the shower passes people begin to permeate through the gardens again. A 12 strong female fitness class is being taken through their paces on the damp grass. They stand in a circle and flex their limbs at each other. Two guys carry sheets of cardboard to the top of the tree sheltered hummock. They sit on the cardboard and drink lager while watching the fitness class. On the lawn below them a squirrel is digging for nuts, then sits on its haunches and nibbles at its treasure. Trains are a constant rumble and scree.

The sun emerges and a warmth radiates across the park. I finish the drawing (see top) and pack my things and walk past the tea house and across the middle of the garden. Rough carved wood sculptural pieces sit in the grass, including a fire breathing dragon (from the St Georges Festival, an annual event here since 2012. See photo above). Avenues of trees lead to a central grid of beeches, wet foliage dripping onto stone block benches. Shadows flood the gravel between splashes of sunlight like a Parisian park in the summer. Further on, the scuffed grass ground is patterned with beer bottle tops and laughing gas cannisters. Much evidence of pleasure having happened. Over there the remains of a couple of disposable barbecues.

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During the early 1800s, Vauxhall Gardens continued under different owners but suffered financially due to competition from the more fashionable Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens (see Sticks in the Smoke 28) and the popular Cremorne Gardens (see Sticks in the Smoke 16), both on the opposite bank of the river. It closed in 1840 due to bankruptcy then reopened and staggered on for another few years, but its fate was sealed with the building of the 2 mile long railway viaduct from Nine Elms to Waterloo Station, creating a curving cliff that severed the gardens from its river frontage. Visitors lost interest and the gardens fell into disrepair and closed for good in 1859. This site, for 200 years the most famous and notorious of all the pleasure gardens, immortalised by Thackeray, Dickens and Hardy, was wound up and its contents sold by auction for £800.

The land was redeveloped in the following decades and built on with streets and some light industry, but wartime bomb damage and postwar slum clearance saw these 7½ acres of the original site opened up as a public park. This was initially called Spring Gardens but renamed in 2012 as Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

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I walk to the western edge, where Goding Street underlines the viaduct. Grassy banks here are covered with yarrow, bright as snowflakes. I set up to draw, with the contrasting background of the railway arches. Umber bricked. The furthest arches are occupied by the Metropolis Motorcycles shop and garage. Ranks of motorcycles outside. Every few minutes a bike roars down the street, echoed and amplified by the high wall. In the nearer arches is the Chariots Roman Spa, London’s biggest and most popular gay sauna.

A man wearing batman t-shirt has a stick and is systematically patrolling the banks, poking and prodding at the long grass. Every now and then he bends down to pick something up. He pauses to look at my drawing and I ask him what he’s looking for. “Money” he says and shows me a handful of coins. He’s wearing plastic gloves. “Anything valuable I hand in. Found a samurai sword once in Vauxhall Park.” (Vauxhall Park is about 300 metres south of here.)

An insistent call of crows from the nearby stand of horse chestnuts is echoed back from the other end of the park. The exchange goes on for a full 10 minutes. Then one takes flight, right overhead, cawing noisily, a ragged feathered silhouette against the clearing sky.


(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London since January 2016. This is leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter which will be shown in a future London exhibition. www.nickandrew.co.uk 

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Tyers Street, London SE11 5HL
Opening times: unrestricted

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 61: Finsbury Square Garden, London

A busy and full- on August has meant less London drawing visits and frustratingly little chance to get down to writing, so I now have a backlog (or Backblog? Or Blogjam?) of posts to write!  Please forgive the erratic production; hopefully a near normal service will resume in September. Maybe!

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Mercury and the disappearing deckchairs (Thursday 13 July 2017)

A few of the original engraved copper plates still survive for one of the earliest printed maps of London dating from 1558, known as the Copperplate map’. One of the plates shows the area to the north of London Wall (see below. The green rectangle roughly indicates where Finsbury Square is today), much of which was owned by St Pauls Cathedral. A patchwork of marshy fields such as Moor Field, open meadow land such as Fynnesburie Fields and enclosed paddocks alongside Bishopsgate Street. Little drawings of figures engaged in everyday activities: walking dogs, hauling sacks, tending cattle, laying washing out to dry. Where the modern Finsbury Square now lies are a couple of figures with longbows raised, ready to shoot. At that time, young men were strongly encouraged to practice their archery for possible conscription into the army. Over the fields just north of here were the Finsbury Marks, a network of metre- high roughly carved tree stumps and stone markers, a kind of golf course for archers to sharpen their aim and hone their skills.

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Finsbury Square is a double blank domino of 2 grass squares, each about a third of an acre. I enter at the City Road (northwest) corner. Stretched taut and sprinkler green in front of me is one of the grass squares, the bowling lawn. A white chain around its edge declares it out of bounds. The benches all around are chock full of lunchtime refugees, staring pensively across the empty flatness as they munch their steak wraps (from the ‘PopUp at the Patio’ street food cafe on the central terrace of the garden).

I stroll the perimeter of the bowling green and up to the cafe and push between the crush of lunchtime office workers. I’m served coffee by a smiley Irish girl who tells me about the Barefoot Bowls events which happen here regularly (www.barefootbowls.co.uk). She says it’s pretty cool and you don’t have to take your shoes off. Or your socks! I look back out at the green. A pair of starlings are its only occupants today, bickering over a piece of pizza crust. I feel an irrational urge to pull off my boots and take my coffee to the middle of the pristine green. But I don’t.

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During the Great Fire of London of 1666 many people fled through London wall’s Moor Gate into the sanctuary of these damp fields. A sizeable shanty town community grew here for weeks afterwards made up of those who’d lost their homes to the blaze until many were found accommodation in regional towns and cities.

Barbecue aromas from the Pop Up cafe drift through the clutter of bright coloured deckchairs which litter the crowded south lawn. Most of them occupied. Intermittent sunshine makes head-and- shoulder shadows come and go on the canvas backs. This space a contrast to the other face of the domino: sun scorched grass, worn and foot hardened bare earth. But at one end is a large puddle, presumably from the heavy rain the day before yesterday. A smart businesswoman in a tawny suit walks her little Pomeranian over to the puddle. The dog drinks and paddles while it’s owner chats into her phone. Then it shakes itself free of muddy water and the woman shrieks and flinches and hauls the little creature away while dabbing at her skirt.

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Facing the incessant and noisy intersection at the square’s southwest corner is a quiet and simple black memorial settled in a flowerbed, wreathed in rosemary and lavender and black eyed susan. Installed in 2013, it lists in gold the names of the 43 who died in the tragic 1975 Moorgate tube disaster.

As London began to stretch out beyond its walls in the 1700s, plans were drawn up by the City surveyor, George Dance the Elder, to develop this as a residential area where the city still flirted with the open Middlesex landscape. Finsbury Square was eventually laid out by his son George Dance the Younger between 1777-92, with grand houses and fine Georgian terraces, aiming to attract the burgeoning professional classes who were already making the new west end streets and squares around Mayfair fashionable.

The central gardens were circular and for the exclusive use of residents but were opened to the public in the early 1800’s so that everyone could enjoy and wonder at the new gas lighting, the first to be installed in a London public square.

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I walk to the southeast corner, where the Martha Smith drinking fountain stands (in the form of a Gothic tower, presented to the parish by her sons). A couple of massage tables have been set up nearby by urbanmassage.com for the benefit of the needy stressed.

I set up my drawing things under a robinia tree. I take a view across the busy lawn towards the grand and imposing art nouveau Alphabeta Building (formerly Triton Court) on the opposite flank of the square, its facade rising majestically like an angular mountain face. Poised precariously on a globe at the pinnacle of the summit is the tiny triumphant figure of Mercury, the messenger and God of trade and merchants (inset in photo below). Since the building’s major refurb of 2014 the exterior has hardly changed but its interior has been opened up into a light 21st century space of glass, floating meeting spaces and greenery-filled atrium. All the large blocks which range around this square date since the last century, replacing every one of the original Georgian town houses. The most recent arrival, the undulating glass and steel facade of 10 Finsbury square (see photo at bottom).

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I think I’ve parked myself in smokers’ corner; from behind me billows of smoke waft over my shoulder. By the time the drawing is finished (see top) I feel like I’ve inhaled a whole packet of cigarettes! I’m standing close to one of the entrances to the subterranean car park, where people have to insert their tickets to gain access. The huge prewar growth of car ownership meant that parking in central London’s business districts was becoming a pressing issue. Plans were drawn up to create a car park under this space, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that Finsbury Council were able to start excavating. It was completed in the early 60s, the first under a London square, and the shabby and war worn gardens were redesigned in the form they are today, with bowling green, lawns, flowerbeds and cafe. But it’s good to see that two Victorian stone horse troughs have survived the upheaval (below. Donated by Martha Smith’s daughters. Now filled with bedding plants), one of them just streetside of where I’m drawing. Reminders of the predominant transport system 120 years ago, before the need for underground car parks was even imagined.

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There’s continual activity. People getting up from deckchairs, people sitting down (I notice that almost everyone has the need to move or adjust the deckchairs before sitting in them. Taking ownership maybe). A woman in a long green dress sits and stretches out. She slips off her trainers to reveal Union Jack socks. A lunchtime party is happening within a conclave of deckchairs. Silvery birthday balloons bob above.

At 3.00, park attendants begin to collect deckchairs, crashing them closed and loading them, clattering onto a trolley. They beckon the sitters off with a flicked thumb (as if saying “Go on you, back to work!”). The displaced occupants resigning themselves to sitting on the ground or slinking back to the office. Or moving off to the park benches or playing ‘musical chairs’ until the number of available deckchairs get fewer. And fewer, until all are gone.

The empty lawn breathes and a slash of sunlight rakes across.

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(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London since January 2016. This is leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter which will be shown in a future London exhibition.  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

Finsbury Square Garden, London EC2A 1RR
Opening times: 8am – dusk

Google earth view here