Tag: hammersmith

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

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Sticks in the Smoke 59: Margravine Cemetery, Barons Court

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View from near Field Road entrance. Mixed media sketchbook drawing

Stone angels and butterfly wings (Thursday 22 June 2017)

At the Margravine Road entrance to the cemetery a pair of gothic arches and gateposts stand like helmeted sentinels, staring across the road at the austere 1970s blocks of Charing Cross Hospital (relocated here from central London over forty years ago, standing on the original site of the Fulham Union Workhouse).

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It’s another warm day, but less severe than the searing summer heat of the past week. The central axial drive advances away in perspective straightness. A busy progress of people cutting through, perhaps students and staff from the hospital escaping after the end of shifts, or about to start. Workers on lunchbreak, making for their favourite spot in the sun or shade. I meander the grassy paths either side of the central avenue. Wild flowers and sun bleached grasses surround subsiding memorials and praying angels at precarious angles, preparing to take flight on their stone wings.

Apart from the chapel and cemetery lodges, the ground enclosed within these cemetery walls have never been built on. Originally part of Fulham Fields, which for centuries had been a patchwork of market gardens and orchards, laid out across this fertile flood plain loam, providing fruit and vegetables for the ever growing city to the east.

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Following the 1850s Burial Acts, which prohibited further interments in the overcrowded city churchyards, the Hammersmith Burial Grounds Committee spent fifteen years searching for suitable local sites. In 1866, a local outbreak of cholera injected an urgency into the search. Ten acres were purchased for £600 from the estate of Sir William Palliser (politician and armaments inventor). Tenant farmers with plots here were ordered to leave after the following year’s harvest. Margravine Cemetery opened for business 3 years later with space for 12,000 occupants. (The name derives from playwright, Margravine of Brandenburg-Anspach, formerly Lady Craven, who lived in the nearby riverside Brandenburg House at the end of the 18th century). Lodges and chapels were designed by local architect, George Saunders, including a unique octagonal mortuary, where bodies of paupers in coffins were stored until their families could afford to pay for a funeral (see photo below).

 

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Octagonal mortuary

 

At the top of the central drive, a circular box hedged bed, colourful with a mix of herbaceous and wild flowers. Lavender, pelargonium, hemp agrimony. An axle for paths leading into the eastern section.

Suddenly a distant amplified voice booms out from the right and then is borne away on the breeze. I walk in that direction and then, there’s the voice again. But the words are muffled. All I can make out is an eager enthusiasm. Then I realise they are announcements from over the wall, where the AEGON tennis championships are taking place at The Queen’s Club,  (Established in 1886, The Queen’s Club was the first multipurpose sports complex ever to be built, anywhere in the world. Named after Queen Victoria, its first patron).

Walking south towards the Field Road entrance, I find myself in front of the old nonconformist’s chapel, now a gardener’s store (there was another chapel for the Anglicans, but this was demolished in the 1930s after falling into disrepair). The rounded wings of a child’s chalked butterfly are barely visible on the tarmac forecourt (see photo below).

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The sun scorches through the clouds and I seek out the parasol cool of a nearby maple’s spread to open my sketchbook and make a start (see drawing at top). My eye is caught by a shock of lady’s bedstraw, a yellow gold glow beyond the shade of a horse chestnut tree. And further: hosts of trees, windswept swathes of grasses, beech hedges. Gravestones stand dark like punctuation marks. Or like fleeting figures. A gentle warm breeze shooshes the foliage above me. The scrit scrit of a grasshopper just to my left. Commentaries blare again from behind. A peck of pigeons rise en masse, disturbed by the arrival of a gardeners cart in front of the chapel. The sound of their massed wings merges with another swell of tennis applause. Animated groups of tennis spectators stride the shortcut from Queens Club to Barons Court tube station.

By the 1920’s, the cemetery was seven times oversubscribed and bursting at the seams, prompting complaints from local residents. This definitely wasn’t the place for a fresh air meander or picnic; every available piece of ground, including some of the paths, had been dug up for burials. It had taken on a further 6 acres at the turn of the century but, now hemmed in by terraced housing, railway tracks, roads and sports club, there was no room to expand further. So a new piece of land was acquired 3 miles away in Kew, opening in 1926. After then, the only burials here were in private spaces, reserved for eminent members of Hammersmith society. By the Second World War, Margravine had fallen into sad disrepair. Wartime bombing left it gruesomely cratered and dilapidated.

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Central drive, with buildings of Charing Cross Hospital in the background

Between the 50s and 60s, Hammersmith Council resuscitated the space, removing or burying damaged memorials and tombstones. Areas were cleared and laid to grass. Trees, shrubs and hedges planted. Only privately owned graves, war graves and significant memorials were left remaining, such as the ornately gothic Young Mausoleum, near the south entrance, now in a fairly rickety state. And a sober stone memorial was erected close to the entrance, listing all the Commonwealth War graves in this cemetery.

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The Young Mauseleum

I walk the eastern track. There are fewer stones here. It has the forsaken feel of a wild and overgrown walled garden. Buddleia and clumps of willowherb, alive with flickers of butterflies. Dead trees are left limbless for nature’s undertakers to deal with and insect boxes have been fixed to tree trunks by the Friends of Margravine Cemetery to encourage invertebrates (see photo below).

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At the north corner a patch of oxeye daisies shine out, bright stars in the wilderness. I set up for my second drawing (see below) near the base of the high cemetery wall. On the other side are the backs of Palliser road businesses and houses. Clattering of crockery and busy chattering from the building behind is presumably a cafe. From over the ivy clad wall to my right, snippets of conversation and laughter from people walking to Barons Court station. The screech and rattle of rolling stock over points. A sky streaked with cloud wisps behind 60s high rises and roofs of Victorian back terraces.

It’s almost hot now. There’s a hint of perfume, a waft of honey. The whole time I’m drawing only 2 people pass. Dog walkers. A place for seclusion like the quiet corner of a country meadow.

A pair of chittering squirrels chase each other along the wall top, crash down through a rowan tree then continue the pursuit, arched jumps through the long grass.

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Baron’s Court corner. Mixed media sketchbook drawing

(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. These will be shown in a London exhibition in 2018.  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

Margravine Cemetery, Barons Court, London W6 8HA
Opening times: Various throughout the year, but you can guarantee it will be open between 10am – 4pm

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