Tag: Mayfair

Sticks in the Smoke 47: Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair

mount-street-gardenGiraffe in the mist (Wednesday 25 January 2017)

I can feel the damp cold pressing down as I walk past expensive restaurants, polished hotel entrances and luxury shoe shops in this, one of the most well-heeled parts of London. With my scuffed walking boots and rucksack I feel like an intruder. Through 19th century lanterned gates into this old churchyard garden, hidden from the surrounding streets.
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A ride of a mile or so out of the medieval city, these open meadows were on the northern edge of the Manor of Ebury (named after the Eye Bourne, the stream which became known as the Tyburn). For centuries, a quiet backwater. But during the English Civil War, this piece of land was in a strategic location. In 1642, fears that the Royalists were planning to invade the Parliamentarian City prompted the building of defences and fortifications. A structure was built nearby, called Sergeant’s Fort, but nicknamed Oliver’s Mount (giving it’s name to Mount Street).
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‘Into the Wind’ by Nic Fiddian -Green
Defensive ditches and ridges were built right through where the present day gardens lie. They were manned by voluntary militia known as the Trained Bands. No Royalist attack on the City happened and little evidence is left of these defences.
After the end of the Civil War this area was livened up by an annual fair that took place for a fortnight at the start of May. It began as a livestock market but by the start of the 18th century had developed into a large, unregulated, sprawling event with food sellers, beer stalls, street entertainers, gambling booths, acrobatic and wrestling shows, comic theatre and lots of other attractions. Inevitably, however, as it grew it attracted thieves, pickpockets and troublemakers. Drink ran freely and the nights became rough and noisy, which didn’t go down well with local residents. Since being acquired by the Grosvenor family in 1677, this was now becoming established as a fashionable district for the gentry and aristocracy, with its grid of elegant streets and squares being laid out. So the event’s days were numbered and, following a riot in which a police constable was killed, it was brought to an end in 1709, but is still preserved in the name of the district: Mayfair.
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I follow the path past the entrance to the Neo-Gothic Church of the Immaculate Conception (built in the 1840s, designed by Gothic revivalist architect J.J.Scoles, with magnificent altar by Pugin), guarded by the densely twisting branches of an ornamental pear tree, an unnatural grey purple in this weakly light.

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Bronze giraffe presented by Italy

Lawns of threadbare winter grass are neatly enclosed with metal edging into round cornered triangles and lozenge shapes, which roll to the rim of the basement drops of the surrounding Victorian mansion blocks. These tall red brick and stone buildings, both hem in and protect the garden. There are several exotic trees planted here, such as an Australian Mimosa and a huge Canary date palm, which wouldn’t survive without the windbreak of these walls. The paths are lined with benches, only a few occupied today by hardy lunchers (there are roughly 90 benches here, many of them with dedications sponsored by Americans due to the close proximity of Grosvenor Square and the US Embassy).

At the southeast entrance, a little bronze giraffe is grazing the ornamental grasses in a wide stone planter, inscribed with: ‘A gift to the City of Westminster from the Italian Republic 20th November 1987’.
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A dense mist sits on the rooftops like a shroud, seemingly supported by the twisted branches of several massive plane trees. The garden feels slightly eerie in this gauzy light. Sounds of traffic from outside are muffled. People’s voices ring and echo around the space. Decorators are stripping paint from a grand first floor balcony window. Tapping and scraping a constant theme. A scatter of paint fragments like a light sprinkle of snow on evergreen shrubs below. I set up to draw eastwards along the garden (see top), towards the giant verdigris horse’s head on a black cube plinth, which dominates the garden (‘Into the Wind’ by Nic Fiddian-Green), its neck and mane deeply and expressively grooved. The submissive downward thrust of its head somehow adds to the melancholy air of this space.
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Grosvenor Chapel spire and Mayfair Library
In 1710 an Act of Parliament was passed, set up to relieve the pressure on overcrowded inner London churchyards. Sites were purchased to build a ‘necklace’ of churches and cemeteries around the city. This space was bought in 1723 to be used as a burial ground for the newly built St George’s Hanover Square (about quarter of a mile northeast of here). A few years later, the Grosvenor Chapel, simple and puritan (design inspiration for many New England churches), was set up here, a sentinel, its gravestone shaped east window watchful over the garden. Today, its stocky copper bluegreen spire dissolves coldly up into the mist.
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At about the same time, the parish workhouse was built on the garden’s northern flank. The local jobless and roofless were provided with hard work, board, and lodgings, their outlook over this dark and shabby cemetery. In the 1870s they were moved to a larger institution further west in Chelsea, and the workhouse was swept aside to make space for the grand apartment houses which stand here today.
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In the 1850s, these burial grounds were closed by Act of Parliament, like all others in central London, due to concerns about the health risks caused by overcrowding. In 1887, the Metropolitan Open Spaces Act allowed ‘open spaces and disused burial grounds in the Metropolis for the use of the inhabitants thereof for exercise and recreation’.

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Drinking fountain. Church of Immaculate Conception in the background

It was laid with lawns and flowerbeds, and trees were planted. The layout has stayed almost the same since then. In 1891 a bronze drinking fountain, with lions head spouts and topped with rearing horse, was designed by architects, George and Petocommissioned by a local estate agent (in 2005 it was restored to full flowing order after falling into disrepair).

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Towards the western entrance are four cherry trees, full with blossom, light and whippy against the majestic planes behind them. A scatter of pink on the grass, not fallen petals but, on closer inspection, confetti: fallout from weddings held regularly at the registry office above the Mayfair Library.
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Several school processions excitedly cross the diagonal path between St George’s Primary School on the southeast corner of the garden, and the Library. Both are impressive redbrick cakes, with Portland stone icing, built in the early 1890s in Jacobean style. One class of animated children is touring the garden with clipboards making nature notes and drawings. I hear the teacher’s stern voice: “Kyle! What did I say about keeping off the grass? AND not pulling leaves off the shrubs?”  My inner schoolboy shrinks and I hastily start packing my things, hoping she doesn’t spot me standing on the grass.
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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.



Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair, London. W1K 2TH
Open 8am – ­  dusk
Google earth view here

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Sticks in the Smoke 38: Grosvenor Square Gardens, Mayfair

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“As I was walkin’ ’round Grosvenor Square. Not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air..”* (Thursday 10 November 2016)

The Ronald Reagan statue gleams at me as I cross the road on the southwest corner of the square. I walk past the modernist US Embassy building (designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1960. Although I think it’s been used as a model for countless multi storey car parks since it was built!). A powerful statement in an otherwise predominantly Georgian and neo- Georgian part of London, spanning the whole west 038awidth of Grosvenor Square. Its great gilded eagle, spreading wings on the roof, ready to soar over the luxury hotels and other embassies standing around these 6 acres. Debris and crumpled placards from last night’s protests against Donald Trump’s election lie discarded amongst the fallen leaves.
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There’s been an American presence in Grosvenor Square since the 18th Century, when John Adams became the first American ambassador to Britain and, from 1785 -88, lived in a house on the north east corner of the square (ten years later he was elected the second president of the United States). The US Embassy and other departments have been here since the 1930s (Eisenhower had his HQ here during World War 2, when the Square was popularly  known as ‘Little America’). In 1968 there were large anti war protests against American involvement in the Vietnam War and, over the years, this square has been the focus for the venting of feelings about American international policy. Security has become a huge issue since 9/11 and the road in front of the US embassy was closed permanently to traffic in 2001, and defensive barriers put in place. However, partly because of continuing security concerns, and partly out of a need for a 21st Century upgrade, USA is now building a new high security embassy across the Thames, sitting close to the old Battersea Power Station. An energy efficient glass cube, due for completion in 2017.
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Sunshine as I enter the park (and definitely a nip to the air!), speckled shadows over golden orange leaf litter under a grove of plane trees. This is a broad and airy space, which feels like a piece of ancient land. Which indeed it is; just like Berkeley Square, down the road (see Sticks in the Smoke 13), this was a piece of original pasture retained within a fine square of elegant houses when Mayfair was first being developed by the Grosvenor family in the early 1700s. It was laid out as a private garden to serve the residents of the square. Oval in shape, enclosed by railings, with hedges and elm trees. Formal gravel and grass 038dpaths and a pattern of shrubberies around a central statue of George 1 in a commanding position on his horse. It was redesigned in the 19th century, made less formal and with tennis courts and children’s swings, and the elms were replaced with plane trees, which could better cope with acid fallout from the smoke of the city’s hundreds of thousands of coal fires. George 1st’s statue had fallen into disrepair so was removed.
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Heavy slate purple clouds are building from the west. Rain was forecast. I take the perimeter path, past the tall Eagle Squadrons Memorial, erected in 1985 at the southern end of the main paved axis of the gardens. The bronze eagle sculpted in 1985 by Dame Elisabeth Frink sits on its peak, silhouetted against the darkening sky. It commemorates the 244 Americans and the 16 British fighter pilots who served in the three Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons before the US officially joined the 2nd world war.
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On to the far end, where the September 11th 2001 garden faces the American embassy across the lawns. A semicircle of colourful and textural planting, symbolic of love, 038bfriendship and remembrance, including lilies, rosemary, ivy, lavender and roses. A wide green oak pergola, inscribed with the words ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’, houses memorial plaques for the 67 UK citizens who lost their lives in the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on that awful day. An anonymous sleeping bundle is swaddled in a blanket on a bench under the pergola.
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There’s the smell of approaching rain, so I walk across the lawn and make a speedy start on drawing the view towards the Stars and Stripes on the US embassy flagpole, twisting and furling through bare oak twigs (see image at top). Many well dressed people stride past, talking earnestly, with a serious and important air. A jaunt of smart suited men with scarves talking Italian (the Italian embassy is behind me on the east flank of the square). Two high vis clad workmen stop to watch me draw. They’re taking a break from conservation work on one of the older houses in the square. Replacing cornices. One comments that drawing must be such a relaxing thing to do. I reply “Hmm, yes, it is sometimes!”, while consciously trying to unfurrow my brow and loosen the tight grip on my pen.
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The inevitable downpour arrives and I quickly gather my things together and beat a retreat under a tree. For a while it’s torrential. I stand under my umbrella for half an hour, 038cwatching figures scurrying by under their brollies, fragmented reflections in the paving. Trees and buildings fade in the rainy haze. My shoes are soaked.
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After the second World War, as the perimeter iron railings had been removed to support the war effort, it proved impractical to keep people out of these private gardens. And with so much surrounding devastation, access to green space was more important than ever. So it was decided to officially open Grosvenor Square Gardens to everyone. The garden was redesigned by architect B. W. L. Gallannaugh, with peripheral holly hedge, Portland stone axis path, pools, fountains and a bronze statue of Franklin D Roosevelt, sculpted by Sir William Reid Dick, high up on a stone pedestal (this intended as a commemoration to American support and sacrifice during the War and the relationship between US and the UK. It was 038eentirely funded by the British public). He stands tall and stately with cape and stick, above a seating area, flower beds and yew hedges. And pleached limes behind him.
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The rain eases and the sky begins to clear and I squelch across to look at the statue of Roosevelt, reflecting down into wet paving. A lone bouquet of white hydrangeas has been placed on his steps. The note reads: “THERE WAS NEVER A DEMOCRACY YET THAT DID NOT COMMIT SUICIDE” –JOHN ADAMS. As I draw the statue (see image below), set behind a bed of fading shrubs, those words bounce around my mind. And I think of last night’s protests and the discarded placards. And I think about the memorials here to the consequences of inhumanity. And humanity. The sky is now clear and pinky blue; the sun has dropped below rooflines. A crane alone is catching the light and glows a silver gold. My shoes are cold and damp and I stamp my feet.  A nanny, pushing a pram that’s almost as tall as she is, stops and watches me drawing and we talk. She tells me she loves to paint flowers and won the art prize when at school in the Philippines. I look in at the baby and wave my fingers at her and say “helloo there!” She just stares out at me with the brightest, steadiest, most intense eyes. Full of promise.
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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.


 

Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London. SW1W 0AU
Google earth view here

 *From ‘Scarlet Begonias’ by The Grateful Dead