Tag: Lake

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 visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter.  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

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

Google earth view here

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Sticks in the Smoke 53: Battersea Park (North), London

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Pagoda and plinths (Thursday 30 March 2017)

I cross Chelsea Bridge on this perfect sunshine day and enter the park through Chelsea Gate. A meander westwards along the wide riverside terrace of lawns and enclosed shrubberies, stands of planes, chestnuts and limes. Bursts of blossom. Past the entrance to the Children’s Zoo. A glimpse of lemurs performing high- rope acrobatics. I wander across to the embankment path, dodging the many joggers and dog walkers. Then, when it starts to get hot, I escape back to the relative shade of the tree- lined North Carriage Drive, where cyclists whisk past on two wheels, and processions of riders on three- 053awheeled recumbent bikes (hired from londonrecumbents.com in the park). I soon realise that, at 200 acres, this is another huge green space that I’ll have to tackle in more than one visit. So today I decide to concentrate on the northern half of the park.

Originally the tidal Thames spilled across this low lying land. Mud banks and reedbeds were washed by tributaries and the now continuous south bank was once a strew of islands. Battersea is first written in Anglo Saxon as Badrices īeg (meaning the island of Badric). There was a manor here, presented by the King Caedwalla of Wessex to Saint Earconwald (Bishop of London 675- 693). It was used as a spiritual retreat by his sister, Saint Ethelburga, Abbess of Barking, whose memory is held in the names of a nearby street and community centre. These were marshy meadows to the east of the farming village, which was roughly where St Mary’s Church, Battersea now stands. Over the centuries, the riverbanks were raised, ditches dug to drain the land and streams channelled into culverts. Battersea Fields were some of the most productive in the district, with a patchwork of market gardens growing vegetables (including the famous ‘Battersea Bunches’ of asparagus) and herbs, including lavender to sweeten homes in the stinking City across the river.

The park is teeming- as well as the successions of runners and dog walkers and cyclists, 053b..there are tourists, families and parents with buggies. Toddlers lunge unsteadily across the grass arms held up and pudgy fingers spread. Groups of schoolkids on Easter holiday playing football, unruly piles of jackets and scooters.

And there’s the Peace Pagodalooming closer, its double roofs spread like bats wings, proudly commanding this stretch of the park. A beacon of serenity. Built by monks and followers of a Japanese Buddhist movement in 1985 to advance the cause of peace, its large gilt-bronze reliefs gleam out, depicting significant stages of Buddha’s life. Maintained by the saffron- robed monk, Gyoro Nagase, who spends his days in meditation within.  A sound of cheering from the grassy banks outside the pagoda momentarily breaks the calm: a group of about 20 excited students (?) are holding up giant polystyrene letters and posing for photos.

I set up to draw under the spread of a just budding oak tree, surrounded by a flock of daffodils and enclosed in a ring of ironwork fencing. A further outer ring of temporary 053gfencing is fixed with warning posters reading ‘BEWARE!, Processionary Moths and Caterpillars. KEEP OUT!’. (I look this up on my phone and read about the spreading invasion of these oak loving creatures, known to have toxic hairs which can cause rashes and skin irritation. Luckily it’s a bit early in the season). To the left of the Pagoda is the haze of Chelsea Bridge. My eye traces the opposite Chelsea riverfront upstream of the bridge. Almost entirely free of high rise or modern development. A progression of fine brickbuilt Dutch gabled townhouses behind a tree lined embankment.  I can see the treetops of Ranelagh Gardens, which I drew on that sultry day last August (see Sticks in the Smoke 28). River breeze softens the traffic noise to a gentle hum.

Back in the 1700s this was a popular place for day trips, for its mostly rural location by the river, a ridge of woodland to the south. Visitors would arrive here by ferry boat at the picturesque Red House Tavern and walk out across the fields, play sports and games or go pheasant shooting. However, by the early 19th century, the tavern had gained an infamous reputation for gambling, debauchery and theft. In the 1840s, the local vicar, Rev Robert Eden put together a plan to solve these antisocial problems. He proposed the creation of a large Royal Park and was financially supported by Property developer, Thomas Cubitt (who had an eye on the potential for building here!). This received Parliamentary 053eapproval in 1845, with a grant of £200,000 from the Commission for Improving the Metropolis to buy the land and develop the park.

The park and gardens were laid out by Sir James Pennethorne to have carriage drives running around its perimeter, plantings of trees and shrubberies. Terraces of tall town houses were built on surrounding avenues. Battersea Park was opened in 1858 by Queen Victoria. Chelsea Bridge was completed in the same year which made the park easily accessible (Albert bridge, at the west corner, opened 15 years later). The embankment wall was completed in 1877, giving the park this broad riverside esplanade.

The park became increasingly used for sports: the first FA rules football match happened here in 1864. Grounds for cricket, croquet and tennis were rolled and laid out. Today there’s a well used running track and tennis courts in the north east portion, all weather astroturf pitches, cricket ground and football pitches in the west. I look up from my drawing- a sweating runner has paused in the shade for a rest, hands on knees, panting at the ground.

During both World Wars, Battersea Park was roped into the war effort with the football pitches dug up for vegetable growing, shrubberies turned into a pig farm and the croquet ground used to site anti- aircraft guns. Great grey silver barrage balloons floated overhead like whales, to protect against air raids.

053fDrawing finished (see above), I pack my things and continue my walk, following the North Carriage Drive as it turns and becomes the West Carriage Drive. The day warms and park visitors lounge summerlike on the grass. I’m led by a leafy pathway into the Old English Garden, an idyllic sanctuary of rose beds and herbaceous borders laid out in 1912. Herringbone brick paths. Lilacs and blossoming fruit trees. A gushing fountain urn and cool shaded arbours. Old men on benches with newspapers seem as permanent as the surrounding walls. Today, I could easily and happily join them and take root here. But I leave and continue across the wide green expanses of the cricket grounds and busy football pitches. The long Central Avenue cuts through as straight as a throw, once lined with elms. Today strongly decorated with shadows from its parade of plane trees. I arrive at the central hub of the park, like a circular forest clearing, where the bandstand stands. An intriguing choice of six pathways lead away.

I take a path northwards, which brings me out into blinding sunshine. When my eyes get used to the dazzle I see that I’ve arrived in the 1950s. This was the site of the Festival Pleasure Gardens, one of the locations for the Festival of Britain, which took place across FoB-battersea-cover-smthe country in 1951, intended as a colourful and exuberant celebration after the devastation of war ravaged Britain. To lift people’s view out of the greyness of the postwar years, towards a more optimistic, exciting and brave new world of design, colour and technology. Here, colourful geometric planting displays by the garden designer Russell Page, were interspersed with theatrical sets, pavilions, tea terraces, a miniature railway and fountain pools by artists and designers including John Piper, Rowland Emett and Osbert Lancaster. One of the most popular features was the Guinness Clock which, every 15 minutes, gave a fantastical kinetic performance. After the end of the festival year, most of the structures were dismantled but some of the original landscaping remain, such as paved areas, lawns and the fountain pool. In recent years, some features have been restored or replicated in the 50’s ‘contemporary‘ style, to give a sense of the original festival feel: flower displays, a whimsical pergola, tea tent, restored fountains. The ‘sputnik‘ design railings remind me of a primary coloured 1950s magazine rack that my parents had (used to make a satisfying doinking sound when hit with a wooden spoon!).

I set up to draw at the edge of the rectangular fountain pool. It feels like a lido, the heat shimmering off the water. Foursquare groups of pollarded trees stand around the pool edge, alternating with oblong flower beds, planted with red and yellow tulips. A pair of brown and ochre Egyptian geese are very active, flying from the poolside and honking every time a dog or child gets too close, sometimes landing on one of the blue and white fountain podiums and strutting angrily.

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There was also a funfair which sat to the east of the Pleasure Gardens. This continued as Battersea Fun Fair for another two decades. The main attraction was the Big Dipper rollercoaster, but a tragic accident in which 5 children were killed led to the eventual closure of the funfair in 1974. From where I am I can just see the white roof of Battersea Evolution, which now occupies the funfair site. It hosts temporary events, conferences and exhibitions (including the Affordable Art Fair, where I’ve had work on show several times).

A group of excited schoolgirls, all wearing hijabs, form a lively sculptural arrangement on top of an empty plinth which sits above the fountain pool. Classmates keep arriving and, when that perch is full, run round, past me, and occupy the plinth on my side. Much laughing and calling and urging each other to jump in the water! But no one does.

It does look cool and inviting on this scorching afternoon. I’m tempted. But… Maybe another day!

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

Battersea Park, Battersea, London SW11 4NJ
Open 8am – dusk
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 51: Kyoto Garden, Holland Park, Kensington

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Looking for frogspawn (Thursday 9 March 2017)

I came to Holland Park last summer and made two drawings between the August showers from this green and multifarious mix of formal gardens, lawns, historic buildings and wild woodland (see Sticks in the Smoke 26). That day, on my way across the park I took a loop around the Kyoto Garden. But it was the height of the Pokemon Go craze and the paths were teeming with players excitedly brandishing their phones. So I resolved to return at a quieter time. So here I am today.
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This is the first warm day of the season. I stroll through Holland Park in the sunshine. Round a bend and a fox is lying there, stretched out and lapping from a puddle. It eyes me 051aas I slowly approach and only bothers to wearily raise its scruffy body when I’m as close as a tree shadow’s width. It drags its tail tip through the puddle and disappears around a laurel bush.
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I take the sun patch dappled steps up into the Kyoto Garden. Around the bamboo fence and this mini oriental landscape of water, rocks, trees and carefully placed ishi-dōrō (stone lanterns) is revealed. It was created in 1991 by the Garden Association of Kyoto (the original imperial capital of Japan) in collaboration with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and was opened by The Prince of Wales and The Crown Prince of Japan as a part of the Japan Festival celebrations. It was designed and laid out by a team of specialist gardeners from Japan as a traditional Kaiyushiki, or a pond- stroll garden, where the visitor walks in a clockwise direction around a small lake and is presented with a series of scenes intended to be viewed at aesthetically and spiritually significant points around the path. Benches are placed at some of these key points so that visitors can relax and contemplate.
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051eJust inside the entrance is a round stone tsukubai (a washbasin for visitors to purify themselves by rinsing hands); no water running today so I have to explore the garden in an unpurified state. I put my hands in my pockets and start my clockwise circuit. A stillness here, the pond is barely ruffled. Japanese willows fringed with magenta. Maples. Birches reflected, vertical bands. Rounded shrubs in blossom fringe the bank and their reflections complete circles in the water.
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Even after our wild and messy winter, this space seems perfect and tended with care. Ropes sling between bamboo posts; visitors are kept strictly to the paths. No straying onto lawns, which undulate up to and into the surrounding woods (where the technique of ‘shakkei‘ uses elements outside of the garden to create the illusion that the garden is more expansive than it is). I follow around and down towards the staggered granite slab bridge, which hangs over the water at the foot of a rocky waterfall. Normally the sound of running water trickles out across the whole garden but it’s not flowing today. A gardener tells me that the lake has recently been cleaned out and refilled. Which is also why the giant koi aren’t in the pond at the moment; they’ve been moved to an indoor pool for a mini break but 051dbeing returned next week. I wait for a knot of young Spanish tourists to finish taking group selfies on the bridge. Coins sparkle in the water.
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I complete my circuit and set up close to the entrance to draw across the pond back towards the bridge (see drawing at top). The sun warm on the back of my neck. Then almost hot, like summer.
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The garden fills with visitors but there’s a respectful and contemplative hush here. It’s not that you don’t hear sounds from beyond the space: traffic, sirens, dogs barking, planes and the strident calls of peacocks; it’s just that in this special space designed for meditation and reflection, they simply have no significance. The only time this reverence is disrupted is when a squadron of parakeets swoop over the garden, their shrill squawks piercing the peace.
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A pair of moorhens paddle like clockwork, trailing little shimmery wakes across the pond surface
   
The paths are narrow and I have to stand aside to allow room for mothers pushing buggies past. A little dark haired girl of about 4 is holding her younger sisters’s hand and squints at my drawing. She asks “Is there frogspawn in there?” And I reply I don’t think so. And she says they saw some frogspawn earlier in another pond in Holland Park and then tells me in detail the life 051cstory of tadpoles and frogs, almost without taking a breath. I say thankyou and their mother smiles indulgently as she steers her daughters away. A little later I look across and see them kneeling on the bridge and peering down into the water. Looking for frogspawn.
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A crescent of lawns and shrubberies wraps to the south. This is the Fukushima garden, opened in 2012 as an adjunct to the Kyoto Garden. Designed by famed Kyoto landscape gardener Yasuo Kitayama, this was a gift from Japan to honour the help and support of the UK following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima. It’s a simple space, half hoops in bamboo fringe the pebble paths. Weeping birches trail their branches to the grass. Two girls drink tea and chat on a shaded bench. A path leads to the top of the garden and goes no further. Just some trees and rocks and an ishi-dōrō. And the glint of pond below.
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A pair of peacocks appear and begin to strut haughtily, owning the garden, tails swishing and flaring; posing for photographs, electric blue necks proudly plumped.
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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. These will be shown in a London exhibition in 2018. Sadly, the original planned exhibition at the Curwen Gallery, London in April 2017 has been cancelled as Curwen Gallery has had to close unexpectedly)  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

Kyoto Garden, Holland Park, Kensington, London W11 4UA
Open 7.30 am to half an hour before dusk
Google earth view here

 

Sticks in the Smoke 46: St James’s Park, London

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Ice and fireworks (Wednesday 18 January 2017)

I push my hands deeper into my pockets as I leave Queen Anne’s Gate and cross Birdcage Walk. Brr! Feels like the coldest day! The air is crisp and glistening above these 57­ acres of frosted grass, rolling out northwards to the The Mall, which cuts, as straight as a march, from Buckingham Palace to Admiralty Arch. The sun is melting stripes of green between the shadows of random clumps of trees.
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St James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park in London. It takes its name from a women’s leper hospital, which was built in the 12th century and dedicated to St James the Less. The views southwest from here, where the park lies today, were across marshy meadowland on the banks of the River Tyburn, grazed by cattle and wallowed by pigs. And further, towards the towers of the original Westminster Abbey against the watery gleam from the Thames beyond. In the 1530s, Henry VIII acquired all this land. He had the hospital demolished and built the redbrick St James’s Palace  as his hunting lodge retreat from the stress of Whitehall 046acourt life. He had the meadows drained and fenced as a deer park. This provided him with an almost unbroken 2 mile gallop of royal hunting grounds, from here, westwards through what is now Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
I make my way towards the lake’s Blue Bridge  (the lake was originally spanned by an ornate Chinese inspired structure, built for national celebrations of victory against Napoleon in 1814. It had a tall pagoda rising from the middle but this was destroyed in a blaze during the firework festivities. It was replaced by an elegant iron suspension bridge in 1857, which itself was replaced by this one in 1957. It looks incongruous here, better suited to link a multi storey car park with a shopping centre). The lake courses the whole length of the park. On a map it looks like a giant claw, clutching at the seat of government in Whitehall. Today the middle part of the lake is frozen in a great sheet. Two confused coots are tottering tentatively and gulls appear frozen to the surface, but a pair of swans are determinedly breaking a winding channel through the ice. Tourists and park visitors line the bridge, fascinated and clicking pictures. As the swans push ahead, the ice flexes for a moment with an eerie doink doink sound until it shatters. 046bThe dull and waxy lustre of willow ginger in the ice suddenly replaced by sharp reflections of sunlit gold.
In the early 17th century, the park was landscaped and the drainage improved. The deer made way for the royal menagerie, which included camels, crocodiles and an elephant. Also a row of aviaries which housed the royal collection of exotic birds (hence Birdcage Walk). The Tyburn wound through the park at the foot of a vineyard, to the eastern end where pools and reedy islands lured ducks which were shot for the royal table. In 1660, Charles II celebrated the return of the monarchy with a bold redesign of St James’s Park in the formal French style, under the direction of Andre Mollet, the French landscape gardener. Avenues of chestnut trees and limes with a central feature of a straight ‘canal’ half a mile long. It would freeze hard in those little ice age winters and Londoners would flock here with their skates. In the summer, visitors could take a boat along the Canal (there were even a pair of gondolas from Venice, given by the Doge). Or promenade and maybe even meet the King (sometimes accompanied by his favourite mistress, Nell Gwynne). In the evenings, though, the park gained a reputation as a place for moonlit trysts, especially at the western end, 046caround a small lake called Rosamond’s Pond (thought to be named after the tragic and romantic heroine, Rosamond Clifford).
I follow the lakeside path with the sun warm on my left cheek and the chill from the lake on my right. The banks are bustling with all kinds of water birds trumpeting, screeching, piping and calling. Then, as I walk, there’s the thud thud of a marching band pulsing the chill air. As I get closer, try as I might, I can’t stop myself stepping in time to the drumbeat. I arrive to watch as, with Buckingham Palace in the background, the bearskinned and grey- coated Foot Guards bandsmen stride as one trumpeting, piping, umpahing and thumping body round Spur Road and into their home in Wellington Barracks.
From here the path drops down to the sunken area below the balustrade of the Queen Victoria Memorial Garden. The waters of the Tyburn are gushing from an ornamental outflow to feed the lake, which keeps this end ice free. I unpack my things to draw the view down the lake (see drawing at top). The West Island hangs just there, a magical fragment of wilderness with a weeping willow draping like a golden string curtain towards the water. At the far end, the towers and domes of Whitehall twinkle like a Disney fairytale palace. The Ice Queen’s?
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In the 1820s, George IV commissioned the renowned landscape architect John Nash to remodel the park. Nash cast aside formality and straight lines to transform St James’s to pretty well its current, more pastoral appearance, with naturalistic lake, undulating lawns, winding paths and informal shrubberies and trees, which mingle up towards more formal tree lines at the edges of the park
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046dAs I finish my drawing, a rat purposefully scurries through the bank side undergrowth. Probably kept fat by the thousands of handfuls of bird seed thrown every day. A woman in a parka walks past, pigeons clinging to her shoulders and one on her hat. I think they know her. She probably comes every day with a Tupperware box of bird food.
It’s so very cold. I walk the lake path. A mass of waterbirds. And there in the quivering blue violet ripples, overlooked by the curvilinear and turf- roofed ‘Inn the Park’ cafe, is a host of coots, like a cluster of clergymen shivering in the water. I buy a steaming coffee and grip it tightly to defrost my drawing hand. My eye is caught by the sparkling spray of the Swire Fountain (installed in 2007, the jets reach over 4.5 metres high, helping to oxygenate the water), with the bright backdrop of Horse Guards Parade and WhitehallReedbeds fringe the banks at this end, fostering wildlife. And just across is Duck Island, a wild reserve for waterfowl, including a colony of pelicans (first introduced when a 046epair were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664), which are publicly fed every day between 2 and 3pm. It’s also home to the London Parks & Gardens Trust charity.
I meander across the hard ground, my shadow stretching long, up towards The Mall. A glimpsed band of bleached white elegance between the trees. But here, at a junction in the path, stands a cherry tree, abundant with early pink blossom, ignited by sunlight. I set up my easel and start to draw (see below). On a nearby bench, a man in a khaki jacket and close cropped hair is holding a can of Special Brew. And more in a plastic bag. He calls over “excuse me my friend, what are you doing?” I tell him I’m drawing. “When did you start doing that?” I say about half an hour ago “no I mean when did you start doing art?” I tell him about a century ago. He comes over and joins me and introduces himself: “Paddy”. His face has lived and there’s a scar under his left eye. Tells me he came down from Leicester. He’d lost his mother and sister in the past 6 months and things not going too well for him up there. He came down to London to “be somewhere that no-one knows me”. Been sleeping rough; slept last night under a bush in Vauxhall. He wants to talk. Needs to tell his stories. As we chat I keep drawing the cherry blossom. It’s a burst of fireworks. Or neurons sparking in a busy mind.
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The long shadows grow longer. We share my sandwiches and he tells me that last time he was in London was in the 80s, bricklaying at Canary Wharf and he earned a packet “and I mean a packet, Nick!” And he tells me how at the age of 7 he watched his drunk Dad attack his mother with a hammer. He had to call an ambulance.
As the sun sinks the earth chill rises through the soles of my shoes. I give Paddy money for a cup of tea. He picks up his cans and rucksack and says he knows where he can go and ask for a room “I mean they’ve got about 50 bedrooms, they can spare one for the night!” and weaves off in the direction of Buckingham Palace.
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(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew is  visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London each week of 2016 and early 2017, leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter.  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

St James’s Park, London. SW1A 2BJ
Unrestricted opening
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 36: Hyde Park 2

hyde-park3Ladybird shower and “The Right to Speak” (Wednesday 26 October 2016)

I pick up a coffee at the Serpentine Cafe. This is where I left off my last visit to Hyde Park in March, when I explored the east and south of the park (see Sticks in the Smoke 10, where you can read about Hyde Park’s hunting park origins). I can’t believe that it’s 7 months since my daughter Millie and I were here. Huddled and trying to keep warm with hot chocolates as I made my drawing across the lake. Today there’s sunshine and still a fragile warmth which belies the fast approaching end of October. As much as I can, I’m planning to roam the west and north of the Park today. I wander along and across the park road. Cyclists and joggers dodging geese along the lakeside. A stand of limes are flaming gold beacons on the leaf strewn grass. Their branches gently reaching to the ground, brushing the already fallen litter, forming pointillist speckled circular mats of ochre and yellow around their bases. I walk around and through this little grove and find a view to 036adraw between the trees, towards a shimmer of the Serpentine and the jagged Edwardian roofline of the Hyde Park Hotel (now the Manadrin Oriental. Originally opened in 1899 as an exclusive gentleman’s club).
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As I draw a squirrel keeps jumping out of the closest tree and hops in circles, flicking its tail aggressively, with quivery shakes. I think it owns the tree and resents my presence. Then I feel something small and hard land on my head. I brush it off and it lands on my sketchbook- a ladybird! Then I see a couple on my sleeve. And another lands on the back of my neck. And they keep arriving like mini helicopters! Looking up, the air above me is freckled with flying dots. They’re everywhere! On the move to find hibernation quarters. I just don’t think my shirt pocket is the best place for them to see through the winter!
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Many people are in the park: picnic groups, half term families on London day trips, a kid’s sports club is taking place nearby: excited yelling and enthusiastic cries. From behind me, the sound of construction: drilling and hammering – a long wall of hoardings conceals the site for Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. Coming soon: skating rink, funfair and Christmas Market! This its 10th year, due to open in mid November. Hyde Park has a history of hosting big events, from The Great Exhibition of 1851 (housed in Joseph Paxton‘s extraordinary Crystal Palace, which would have been visible from here, just on the other side of the Serpentine, sunshine sparkling from its glass roofs), to events in the 2012 Olympics (triathlon and marathon swimming in the Serpentine), to big concerts such as British Summer Time, which this July, hosted Carole King‘s first concert in London for nearly 30 years, 036bwhere she performed the whole of her 1971 album Tapestry live for the first time.

Drawing finished, I follow the path behind me, alongside the hoardings. It leads up towards the Reformer’s Tree mosaic, a rounded mound with image of an oak tree, created from black pebbles on a white pebbled background. It was designed by Harry Gray and Roz Flint of Colvin and Moggridge Landscape Architects and was unveiled in 2000 by Tony Benn. The inscription engraved in the surrounding sandstone circle describes its significance: “THIS MOSAIC HAS BEEN DESIGNED TO COMMEMORATE THE ‘REFORMERS TREE’, A VENERABLE TREE WHICH WAS BURNT DOWN DURING THE REFORM LEAGUE RIOTS IN 1866.  THE REMAINING STUMP BECAME A NOTICEBOARD FOR THE POLITICAL DEMONSTRATION AND A GATHERING POINT FOR REFORM LEAGUE MEETINGS.  A NEW OAK TREE WAS PLANTED BY THE THEN PRIME MINISTER JAMES CALLAGHAN ON 7 NOVEMBER 1977 ON THE SPOT WHERE ‘REFORMERS TREE’ WAS THOUGHT TO HAVE STOOD”

 
This feels like the hub of Hyde Park. A landmark; runners and cyclists use it as a pivotal point on their routes. Two children stand on top of the mosaic and thrust their arms out like tree branches for their Dad’s photo. From this point, 9 footpaths lead off, straight as spokes to all parts of the park. I take the path out to the west. As I walk the sun streams through autumnal foliage. Big cutout leaves of a red oak are ablaze against a maple’s lucent yellow. The path leads me past the Old Police House, which is now the HQ of The Royal Parks.
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036cI carry on and arrive at the Hudson Bird Sanctuary Memorial, a relief sculpture by Jacob Epstein, of Rima, the jungle girl from William Hudson‘s novel, Green Mansionsspreading her arms as wings. It commemorates W H Hudson as 19th century naturalist and campaigner for wild areas in parks to attract and protect birds.  This part of the park is still a refuge for birds such as robins, wrens, goldcrests and mistle thrushes, although all I see today are a couple of magpies drinking from the long rectangular pond. This is the second week in a row that I’ve encountered an Epstein (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’35 Roper’s Gardens). This more highly finished, but still the strong, broad and primal forms.
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Behind here is the site of the Hyde Park nurseries. Currently being demolished for reconstruction as a £5million ‘super nursery’ to be opened in 2017, where flowers, shrubs and trees will be grown to supply all the Royal Parks. As I walk its perimeter, I glimpse through the bushes and trees at a scene of rubble, dust and JCBs. And then wander back towards the east along the latticework of paths which carve the north part of Hyde Park into little untamed pastoral pieces: many many trees in stunning shades of gold and 036drusset and cherry violet. I join the North Carriage Drive and march on to Speakers Corner.
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Following the Reform League riots of 1866 and further protests in 1867, campaigners agitated for the “right to speak” in Hyde Park. The government saw this as a way of ‘relieving the pressure’ and avoiding further confrontation. So the Parks Regulation Act was passed in 1872, which allowed public speaking in the northeast half of the park. Although, since then, this paved area, where Hyde Park meets the heaving confluence of Park Lane with Edgware Road and Bayswater Road, has been the traditional point for soapbox speakers, and Sunday the traditional day. Anyone can turn up and hold forth on almost any subject, but they need the guts and staying power to contend with hecklers and arguments from the crowd! Speakers Corner is a powerful symbol of freedom of speech in the UK. A recent court ruling stated that freedom of speech should not be limited to the inoffensive but extended also to “the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome, and the provocative, as long as such speech did not provoke violence.”
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I draw a view across to Marble Arch and the white stone Art Deco facade of the Cumberland Hotel, rising behind. It’s a lively corner, a continual back and forth circus of joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, skaters, ice cream licking meanderers. A crossblader speeds by, propelling himself with ski sticks. No speakers here today, but lots of talkers, wanting to see and ask about my drawing. A little girl points to my scribble of tree branches and says she likes the ‘spider’s web’.  A smiling man pushing a bike, goes up to everyone he passes and says “Jesus London!”. He wheels over and looks at me and then down at my drawing and hesitates. But then says “Jesus London!” enthusiastically. I’m not entirely sure what he’s getting at, but that’s ok; if you can’t say what you want here, where can you?
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hyde-park4

 

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

Hyde Park, London W2 2UH
Google earth view here

 

Sticks in the Smoke 30: The Regents Park (South side)

regents-park-1(Thursday 8 September 2016)

This is another park that’s so huge (182 acres) that I can’t possibly sum it all up in one visit (I’ll return at some point over the next few months to explore the wider and more open northern meadows, pitches, winter gardens and canalside walks, not forgetting a glimpse through to the zoo).030e

I’ve just this week finished reading the amazing John Fowles book ‘The Magus’ in which, coincidentally, the final chapter is set in Regents Park. His description is so evocative:

“The park was full of green distances. of countless scattered groups of people, lovers, families, soilitaries with dogs, the colours softened by the imperceptible mist of autumn, as simple and pleasing in its way as a Boudin beachscape”

Today I’m sticking to the southern section, east of the boating lake. Even this part is like a progression of different gardens, jigsaw- puzzled together, each with its own character. There is a ring road called the Outer Circle, which circumnavigates the whole park for over 2.5 miles, and the Inner Circle which is about half a mile in circumference. These, apart from the linking roads, are the only routes for motor traffic.

The tree lined paths and straight hedged formality of the Avenue Gardens remind me of a Parisian Park. Ornamental fountains or decorative urns at every intersection and colourful box- hedged beds. At a distance the strolling figures could be promenading Victorians. But Marylebone Green, just next door, by contrast, is a proper village green, rough- grassed, tree- shaded, mole- hilled. You just want to run across here tugging an old fashioned kite!

There is a pull which draws you away from the noise of hectic Marylebone Road, towards something sweeter, like the pull of nectar for a bee. So I cross York Bridge and through the gently meandering and wooded waterside walk. And the banks are crowded with every 030dkind of waterbird! A group of hunched herons are standing around in their grey tailcoats like a bunch of bored wedding ushers; they couldn’t care less about me being so close (on  river walks at home, you can’t even tiptoe closer than 25 metres to a heron without it taking off with an annoyed, pterodactyl cry).

Here I can almost imagine myself traipsing a winding track in the vast Forest of Middlesex that, a millennium ago, thickly blanketed the land from here northward, up over Primrose Hill, the whole of north London and further. Before the 16th century it was a mix of woodland and rough pasture belonging to Barking Abbey.  It was appropriated by Henry VIII in 1538, during the Dissolution, adding the land to his growing collection of Royal hunting grounds.

The parkland was seized by Cromwell during the Civil War and much of the remaining forest’s timber was cleared and sold to pay off war debts. After the Restoration in 1660, the land was returned to the crown and was leased out to tenant farmers, who supplied the city markets with milk, butter and cheese.

On the bank, just before the boating lake there’s a planting of young birch, gleaming against the dark strap of Clarence Bridge. I set up my easel where I get the view through to a ribbon glimpse of water. It’s a very warm and sunny day, but pretty breezy, so I edge back into the shade of a mulberry tree. A branch keeps getting blown into my neck so I bend it away and clip it temporarily to another branch with my spare bulldog clip. Two Egyptian geese flap down and immediately stage a squabble then lose interest in fighting and start earnestly pecking at the grass, taking surreptitious glances at me with their unblinking orange eyes.

030bThe piping, squawking and cawing of waterfowl is punctuated by the incessant squeal and clash of the gate into Regents University grounds just behind me. A constant flow of park visitors (just as Fowles describes above) across the bridge, break into shifting colour diamonds through the gaps in its iron latticework.

In 1811, the Prince Regent saw this area as a perfect location for a new summer palace and commissioned John Nash to make it happen. Nash’s original idea was for a circular park, with a lake, a canal, the palace and 56 private villas set in ornamental gardens. The whole would be surrounded with streets of grand Regency terraces. But it didn’t all go to plan: the fickle Prince’s interest was diverted by other projects, such as Buckingham Palace and the Brighton Pavilion so, although the park was established (and renamed as The Regents Park), there was no palace and only a few of the planned villas were built. However, Nash did manage to build the white stucco terraces and sweeping Regent Street to link the Park with other Regency schemes such as Carlton House Terrace and Buckingham Palace.

030aSome of the park was opened to the general public from 1835. Other portions were leased out to local societies and groups, ranging from The Royal Botanic Society to the Zoological Society (which still runs the Regents Park Zoo) and various sporting, scientific and educational bodies. Each of these portions were developed differently which has led to today’s diverse patchwork of gardens, recreation grounds and park buildings.

I pack my things and step back onto the path. The breeze has dropped and the heat is building. I walk alongside the lake; the mass of waterfowl reluctantly letting me through. A couple in a blue pedalo are having steering problems and seem to be going in circles, backwards. I cross the lawns, between deckchairs, push under the swaying curtains of a high weeping willow, with flickering reflections and glimpses across the blue banded water. And out, to pause by the bandstand (there’s a memorial stone here to the seven bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets who were killed by an IRA bomb in 1982 while performing a lunchtime concert).

I feel that ‘nectar’ pull again and am drawn up the slope, across the Inner Circle road and into the perfect round of Queen Mary’s Garden (named after the wife of King George V). This 17 acres was originally used by the Royal Botanic Society for nurseries and a huge conservatory, but they gave it up in 1931. It was relandscaped and planted and opened to the public to experience its exotic leafy borders and Mediterranean gardens and colourful beds and walks. And secret corners. A pond with little rills. And lawns and trees. The conservatory 030cwas demolished and later, on its site: the Triton fountain built, jetting high (with gleaming and dripping mer figures, as a memorial to artist Sigismund Goetze), .

I buy a cup of tea from the cafe and walk on and, as I leave behind the aroma of pizza and chips, there’s a syrupy, heady scent wafting to greet me. I’m lured to the rows of rectangular rose beds next to the stately Jubilee Gates (donated by Goetze for George V‘s Silver Jubilee in 1935). I’ve never been the greatest fan of roses, but these beds are truly magnificent! (There are around 12,000 rose plants of many varieties in these gardens). Ablaze with vibrant colour, petals pierced by bright shards of sunlight, alive with bees and gusts of breeze. I have to draw! Drawn closer by the intoxicating cocktail of scent and colour and movement. And the sun beating down. Bursts of laughter and applause bounces across the lawns from the Open Air Theatre on the opposite side of the garden (performing ‘Pride and Prejudice’ today).

As I draw, a magpie hops in amongst the rose bushes. It re-emerges with a crimson bud in its beak and pecks at it on the grass. Then hops back in to pick another!

regents-park-2

 



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

The Regents Park, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR
Google earth view here