Tag: park life

Sticks in the Smoke 55: Camley Street Natural Park, King’s Cross, London

camley-street-natural-park

The surge of nature (Friday 28 April 2017)

I wasn’t planning to come here today. To my shame I didn’t even know about Camley Street Natural Park! I was on my way to St Pancras Gardens but took the wrong turning out of the maelstrom of St Pancras Station, walked up the street and found myself standing in front of these elegant curlicued iron gates, restored from their former use as Victorian coal yard gates (photo 1). A green thickness and abundance is bursting out from its streetside boundary, clearly waiting for an opportunity to engulf the paving. I’m intrigued and decide to investigate what lies through the gates.

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This is a narrow 2 acre strip, squished between the Regents Canal which laps its north edge and Camley Street to the south (originally Cambridge St), which runs below the Eurostar rail line.

St Pancras Gardens are only 80 metres to the west, on the other side of the raised railway embankment. I’ll make it the subject of the next post so I can bring both spaces together (like long lost siblings), as they were originally part of the same fields, which surrounded the church in a farming village on the banks of the River Fleet called Battlebridge (supposedly named after a major battle between Queen Boudicca‘s Iceni army and the Roman army in around 60AD, fought on this important river crossing point. There’s an urban myth that Boudicca’s grave is said to be nearby, under a platform of Kings Cross station! Hmm).

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Next door, construction work is going on: power drills and hammers, dust and debris. A footbridge is currently ring built to cross the canal to link with the impressivenew Granary Square and Gasholder Park developmentI walk up under the creaky wooden veranda of the visitors centre. The park is run by the London Wildlife Trust. Here are offices, information boards, exhibition space, cafe and teaching rooms. I notice plans for a new state of the art building to replace these tired and ramshackle structures, to open next summer. I step out into a tranquil natural space, tangled twiggery and fresh spring growth. Through the hedges are glimpses of the canal; coal dark and chrome light ripples tremor at the bank. Woodchip paths wind up and down between low rustic hazel hurdles (photo 2). Past blossoming fruit trees, flourishing meadow, thick with grass and wildflowers, bluebell and cow parsley. Sedged marshland and reedbeds. Natural pools and ponds, boardwalk bridges. And on, through young but dense woodland of hazel, alder, sycamore and more.

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At the southern end a line of beehives and, above are the towering Kings Cross office blocks. Down some earthy steps and you’re led round to the canal and onto ‘Viewpoint‘ (photo 3), a floating wooden platform, like a gently swaying deconstructed pyramid (designed by Finnish architects inspired by Nordic islands), a water level teaching and meeting space. Viewed from here, the canal is like a polished sheet, stretching away to the north and the east.  Opposite is the Fish and Coal building, Victorian offices which closely follows the canal’s sharp bend. At its foot, a temporary pontoon gangway has been fixed along the towpath. It resounds with a rattly clashy metallic rhythm whenever runners or cyclists pass along it!

Regent’s Canal was excavated  through here in the 1820s. The Prince Regent‘s architect in chief, John Nash designed a redevelopment of much of this area, which included this waterway, from the junction with the Grand Union Canal at Little Venice (see Sticks in the Smoke 11, Rembrandt Gardens), around the edge of Regents Park, turning this sharp bend just here and on through east London towards the salty docks on the Thames at Limehouse. Along its towpaths grew warehouses, wharves and grimy waterside industry which spread over former pasture and market gardens. This particular strip of land was used for coal chutes to supply fuel for the canal and later, after the 1860s, for the Midland Railway, which steamed through just a hoot to the west.

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I wander back through the woodland and find a place to draw over a reeded pool, brimming and skimming with invertebrates. Mallards dabbling at the fringes, moorhen and coot paddling (photo 4). Birdsong. The scent of damp leaf litter and breeze rustling reeds. So rural. It’s almost impossible to imagine this was once fouled ground and industrial wasteland. And yet reminders of where we are permeate from all directions. Sudden platform announcements from St Pancras Station bark through the foliage: “the 2.45 to Faversham will leave from platform 11”. The roar of trains. And now and then, the  sound of the Eurostar passing right behind, like a giant vacuum cleaner. Through the opening ahead the occasional narrowboat chugs along the Regents Canal.

This 2 acre site continued as a coal depot until the 1960s. It was then abandoned and left as waste ground. A rubbish dump. But nature managed to reclaim the space, surging through a century’s worth of accumulated coal dust and contamination. It became a wilderness, a natural sanctuary, much loved by local people. So, when threatened with a plan to turn it into a lorry park, a campaign ran by the local community with support from the London Wildlife Trustpersuaded the GLC (Greater London Council) to save the space and retain it as a community nature park. It was landscaped, the visitor centre built and opened to the public in 1985. It has become an important resource for visitors and especially local schoolchildren, whose experience of wildlife is often limited. It’s a similar space to Meanwhile Gardens in Kensington, which I visited last June: a community wildlife park next to the Grand Union Canal (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ 18).

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A few park visitors pass by. One or two come across and make comments on my drawing, but in hushed tones as though they shouldn’t really be here. A couple of volunteers with clipboards, pointing at the pond with their biros and making notes, whisper ‘hello’ as they walk past. There’s something about this place. It offers a truce, a respite. I feel rooted, fixed. I know I’m overworking my drawing but I can’t seem to stop. I feel the need to stay and get everything in. To capture all this surging complexity.

There’s the “chip chip”, of a long tailed tit from above. I watch it flitting from twig to branch. A quick, quick tip of its head. And then, when I look down, a blackbird has hopped onto the bench where my paintbox lies open (photo 5). Inquisitive. Pecking and investigating with his beak.

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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 

Camley Street Natural Park, Kings Cross, London. NW1 0PW
Open daily 10am – 5pm
Google earth view here

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

Peace-Pagoda-Battersea-Park

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!

Fountain-Pool-Battersea-Par


(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 52: Brunswick Square Gardens, Bloomsbury

Nick Andrew. Sketchbook 2 (pages 51 and 52)

‘Peter Pan and the Foundlings’ (Thursday 16 March 2017)

The younger and smaller sister to Russell Square (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ 45), a short walk From Russell Square tube station. That same airy Bloomsbury morning feel under today’s blue skies. But as I enter at the western gate, eyes still muted from the gloom of Underground and shaded streets, I’m unprepared for the resonant vivid green bounce from the new spring grass which hits me and, for a moment, turns everything else to monochrome: hulking silhouettes of surrounding buildings; still winter-bare Oriental Planes, with their swollen-bellied trunks; and the rounding tarmac paths, crisscrossed with shadows, which circuit these 2 acre gardens.

With a line of natural springs, this piece of land was always well watered and ideal for grazing. Since Elizabethan times it was known as Lambs Conduit Fields, named after the 052abenefactor, William Lambe, a gentleman of the Chapel Royal who, aware of the increasing problems of access to fresh water in 16th century London, funded the construction of a reservoir to feed a large lead pipe or conduit which carried the water into the City. He also paid for 120 pails to be given to poor women so they could earn a living by distributing the fresh water.

The fields were highly popular for sports and recreation and, in the early 1700s were used as a cricket ground for some of the first matches to be played in London.

I turn my back to the sun, following my purply shadow along the northern path. A man with a bright orange scarf is sitting on one of the benches, drinking coffee and throwing a ball for his yipping dog. Well tended beds and bountiful borders edge the park. A volunteer gardener is on her knees in the soil, armed with a trowel, headscarf tied around her hair (although Brunswick Square is maintained by Camden Council, volunteers from The Friends of Brunswick Square provide a little extra love and care into the planting and aim to encourage wildlife and biodiversity). 052d

In the 1740s these fields were purchased for building the Foundling HospitalEstablished by philanthropist Thomas Coram, who had been so moved by the frequent sight of abandoned infants on the squalid London streets, that he campaigned for and achieved a Royal charter to set up a children’s home. This was the ideal location (peaceful, fresh air, out of the City) and a large functional building was erected with dormitory wings and a central courtyard (built with bricks made on site from clay dug in nearby fields). This grew to became London’s most popular charity, supported by donations from wealthy benefactors. Artists such as Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth and composer Handel all gave money but also donated works to the Hospital’s collections, to enlighten the children and enrich their surroundings. It became one of London’s first public galleries.

Babies up to a year old were accepted (a basket was hung outside the gates for anonymous deliveries). Most would then be sent out to families in the countryside, paid for by the charity, to be raised until the age of 5. They then came back to live here and were eventually apprenticed out (at 14 for boys and 16 for girls) as servants, factory workers and a variety of other occupations.

052bOn the eastern boundary of the park is a raised bank, ridged with a swathe of narcissi which seem to transmit their own citrussy light. I walk up amongst them taking photos. On a bench below, a workman has pulled his hi- vis hood over his head, like a giant daffodil closing its petals in on itself.  On the other side of the fence is the Harmsworth Memorial Playground, where a lively football training session is being led by a passionately enthusiastic coach. That’s all part of Coram’s Fields: on the old Foundling Hospital footprint: seven acres devoted to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of children and young people (no adult can enter without being accompanied by someone under 16).

I walk across to the central hub of the park and set up my easel to draw. A circular fenced bed of shrubs and perennials and three snake bark acers brandish their angular branches, strikingly patterned as if birthday wrapped in exotic paper, colours changing from gold and blue grey in the sunshine to purple and ochre when the clouds close over. Workmen picnic on the grass. A constantly changing population of office workers, students and tourists on the park benches. While I’m drawing, the bench nearest to me has the following sequence of occupants:

  • 3 girls in sports gear drinking coffee and chatting loudly and talking over each other.
  • 2 guys with packed lunches. Much packet rustling but not a word passes between them. One’s smoking, the other bats away the clouds while trying to eat.
  • A bearded man in sunglasses and cycle helmet stretches his legs and smokes a cigar.
  • A pair of girls taking selfies and laughing. One of them has a laugh that sounds like she’s crying hysterically.
  • A man in a cap plugs himself into his phone, looks up to the warm spring sky, smiles and then nods rhythmically.
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The Foundling Museum

By the end of the 18th century, with the huge demands on its generous services, the governors of the Foundling Hospital decided to develop the surrounding estate to raise extra funds. Continuing the symmetry of the hospital and its grounds, two near- identical squares of elegant terraces were built, opening like wings on opposite flanks of the hospital grounds (Brunswick Square on the west and Mecklenburgh Square to the east). The square and the gardens were completed in by 1804 and named after Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the Prince Regent.

In Jane Austen‘s Emma, John Knightley and his family move into one of Brunswick Square’s townhouses. boasting: Our part of London is so very superior to most others. The neighbourhood of Brunswick Square is very different from almost all the rest. We are so remarkably airy!’

A blackbird lands in the flowerbed and hops amongst the shooting irises and twitches the yellow ring of his eye towards me before flapping under a shrub. A female appears and there’s much chittering and fluttering. I think I’m witnessing the start of a beautiful relationship.

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Oriental Planes and the Brunswick Centre

By the early 20th century, this once ‘airy’ piece of suburban London had been enveloped by smoky smoggy London. The governors of the Foundling Hospital considered it unhealthy for its young residents and in the 1920s it upped sticks and relocated to rural Surrey and then to purpose built premises in Hertfordshire (now Ashlyns SchoolBerkhamstead). There was a plan to transfer Covent Garden Market to the vacant site, but this was fought off by local residents. The original hospital building was eventually demolished. Over the years all the original Georgian houses around the square have been replaced: by UCL (University College London) buildings (the School of Pharmacy and International Hall of Residence) and, on the west side, the iconic Brunswick Centre built in the late 60s: Patrick Hodgkinson‘s modernist tiered apartment block, shopping and entertainment centre, with distinctive pairs of ventilation towers protruding ladderlike to the sky.

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Thomas Coram‘s legacy still lives on here. The original charity has become the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, structured as an umbrella group of charities working with vulnerable children in different areas. It has a headquarters and a children’s centre on the site of the original Hospital and also the Foundling Museum, where you can view the Hospital’s extensive Art collection (including Hogarth’s March of the Guards to Finchley and Gainsborough’s ‘The Charterhouse’) in recreations of beautiful eighteenth-century interiors from the original Hospital building.

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Thomas Coram

A coffee at the Foundling Museum cafe then out into the afternoon sunshine. Now a slight chill in the air. The statue of Thomas Coram smiles beneficently from his plinth. A man whirrs past on his mobility scooter. Closely followed by his elderly 3 legged spaniel which hobbles along and keeps having to sit down in the path. I notice that all three of them (Thomas Coram, the scooter man, and the dog) have virtually identical hairstyles.

 

Some magnificent trees in this park. But stretching over the south west quarter is the second oldest plane tree in London: The Brunswick Plane. I make my way over to its trunk and run my hands around its knobbly crocodile bark. I sense its roots coursing and pushing down, through the centuries, the same soil compressed by the feet of modern Londoners, medieval villagers, livestock and Anglo Saxon travellers. I set up to make a drawing of the tree with the square shouldered Brunswick Centre in the background (see drawing below). Branches spread out appearing to defy gravity, this closest one quivers as though the tree is breathing. It twists with the great gnarled elbows and the bubonic biceps of some great beast.

When he first arrived in London, the young writer J M Barrie lived in cheap lodgings just over to my left, on the south west corner of the square (a blue plaque marks the site). In Peter Pan, he based the Darlings’ home here and, when writing stage directions for the play, specified that Peter and Wendy would fly out of the window and over the treetops of Brunswick Square.

I look up and imagine them momentarily perched and swaying on those highest twig tips, stars above them flickering like fireflies.

Nick Andrew. Sketchbook 2.(pages 53 and 54)

 


(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 

Brunswick Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1AZ
Open daylight hours
Google earth view here

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

kyoto-garden..

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 50: Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster

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Sore thumb and golden top hat. (Wednesday 1 March 2017)

Turn through the northern gate into a calm circular courtyard, an anteroom to the main park, a sigh of relief after the stress of zigzagging the packed pavements of Abingdon Street past the Houses of Parliament. The resolute figure of Emmeline Pankhurst, sculpted by Arthur 050dWalker dominates this little space (unveiled in 1930, just 2 years after her death and 2 years after women achieved the same voting rights as men, for which she campaigned most of her life), gesturing towards Parliament with her right hand. Spring blossom and a cluster of daffodils decorate the beds either side of the path. Victoria Tower soars in its majestic perspective seeming to pierce today’s low cloud. The path leads through and the long, triangular 6 acre park opens out. A wild grassy and shrubby fringe garnishes the base of the sedum roofed Parliamentary education rooms. Benches teem with excitedly talkative school groups eating their picnics while another group funnels into the visitors’ entrance.
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Auguste Rodin‘s powerful sculpture The Burghers of Calais sits at the conflux of arching paths. A dark and looming presence above the wide lawn. It was installed in the gardens after the 1st World War. This is Rodin’s memorial to self sacrifice: the six officials of the French port of Calais who surrendered themselves to end a brutal English siege in 1347 during the Hundred Year’s War. The grim and tortured figures, faces downcast, have their 050cbacks turned to the Palace of Westminster, in opposition to its soaring gilded stonework.
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A very different landscape here a thousand years ago- mud flats and reedy marshes, washed by tides. The river wide and swirling. We’d be standing at the southern edge of Thorney Island, originally a wild and inhospitable eyot but, tamed over centuries by the Benedictine monks of Westminster, it became the location for royal palaces and the seat of government, surrounded by natural defensive moats. Fortified walls surrounded the cluster of stone structures and towers of the original Palace of Westminster and Abbey buildings. Over the following centuries, when defensive needs grew less, the River Tyburn, which held the island between its two tributary branches, became more of a hindrance to easy passage to and from the surrounding city. It was eventually diverted into culverts and sewers and filled in.
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Before the 19th century the City’s trade was largely river borne, so much of its river frontage was covered with wharves and quays for unloading building materials, fuel, fish, grain and goods from overseas. A tangle of warehouses and sheds spread out behind. By the time the present Houses of Parliament were built in the mid 1800s, there was a cement works here, along with sperm whale oil refinery and flour mills.
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050eThis riverside park is often seen as a background to TV interviews with Westminster MPs. At times of parliamentary crisis you can guarantee a shot of a junior minister avoiding questions while a Thames barge chugs into one ear and out the other.  No camera crews to be seen today though.
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I walk the embankment path, and weave the line of broad and spreading plane trees which reach their branches out across the tarnished silver Thames. Lunching tourists occupying the seats on raised platforms. Commanding views across the river to Lambeth Palace. Then, at the centre of the park: the Buxton Memorial: a brightly coloured, ice cream cornet that’s been thrust upside down into the ground by a spoilt giant. This neo gothic confection was commissioned by Charles Buxton MP to celebrate those MPs, including his father, Sir T. Fowell Buxton, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery, which was achieved in 1834. It was designed by Samuel Teulon, and built in 1865, originally in Parliament Square, then moved here in 1957. Marble pillars support limestone arches decorated with stone florets and gargoyle like lizards. The pointy roof a colourful 050bpatchwork of enamelled metal. All to give shelter to drinking fountains. Still intact with granite basins and spouts but no longer used in these days of bottled water. A woman is sitting in one of the basins, feet on a ledge, smoking and chatting on her phone.
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As described in the posts for several other gardens in this series ( see Sticks in the Smoke 3, 8, 15 and 31), as part of a Metropolitan Board of Works plan to build a modern sewerage system for London, administered by Joseph Bazalgette, embankments were built along the river frontage, which housed the sewers and also, in some cases, underground railway lines. A partial embankment was built along here in the 1870s which allowed a small square ornamental garden to be laid out at the southern entrance to Parliament. By the early 1900s, the rest of the riverside land had been compulsory purchased. The wharves and warehouses were demolished and the embankment extended southwards. The land was raised using spoil excavated from the creation of docks downstream, and the gardens were extended a further 300 metres or so to the foot of Lambeth Bridge.
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At the western end, where the park narrows, a curving wall is topped with a pair of modernist sculptures of goats with kids (created by Philip Tilden, arts and crafts designer, in 1923). The ground behind is devoted to play: circular sandpit, slide, swings and climbing structures, landscaped with flowerbeds and shrubs. I climb the wide steps up towards Lambeth Bridge. From this elevated level I have a view back across the park. It encompasses everything from the Victoria Tower, the Buxton Memorial, the wide Thames downstream to the flattened arches of Westminster Bridge. I unpack my things and set up to draw.
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050aBehind me the traffic on Lambeth Bridge is a relentless roar. But from down below I hear an intermittent jingling. It’s a square of step chimes in the playground on which children are dancing tunes. Someone’s close to achieving “twinkle twinkle little star”, so nearly got it, when the noble bongs of Big Ben drown out all lesser sounds for the song of one o’clock.
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Tourists on their way down the steps stop to look at my drawing (see top). A trio of Italians take photos of it and as I step back I’m suddenly aware I’ve made the Tower way too big, clumsy and out of proportion, damn it! Standing out like a great fat sore thumb on the page! When they’ve gone I cover it with lashings of correction fluid and rework it at half the width it was.
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A cruiser passes under the bridge and its wake laps the exposed shingle. River breeze ruffles the water and shakes the plane branches. It feels chill and damp and a few raindrops land on my paper but I persist as they get more insistent, peppering the paint. I quite like the effect, but decide to look for cover and head for the WCs, just under these steps. Well worth the 20p entry: warmth and shelter for a while, but even better: a hand dryer! I waft my damp sketchbook under the blast of heat until it feels as crisp as a sun warmed sheet.
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I walk through the drizzle to the Buxton Memorial and lay my sketchbook out on a basin, protected from the rain. To draw through the frame of polished pink pillars across the rising tide to the tall structures on the far bank, ranged like the teeth of a broken comb: the medieval battlemented Lollards and Lauds Towers of Lambeth Palace; the watchtower of 050fthe old St Thomas’s hospital– a riverside perch for seagulls. And misty in the background- The Shard and the high rise blocks of Kennington.
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This park is the proposed site for a Holocaust Memorial, announced by David Cameron in 2016. A range of shortlisted designs were unveiled on Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 (27 January), from artists and architects, including Anish Kapoor, Daniel Libeskind and Rachel Whiteread. However, the siting is controversial. Partly that it will be a massive intrusion into this airy and open space, but more importantly: that the memorial is far too significant to be hidden away here, around the side of Parliament. Why can’t it be placed in a more prominent position (such as Parliament Square or College Green), where it can be an ever present and insistent reminder of the greatest of human tragedies? (You can follow this link to sign a petition to Save Victoria Tower Gardens).
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My drawing nearly finished (see below). The drizzle has eased. A smartly suited businessman comes over, thrusts his phone towards me and asks if I can take a photo of him in front of Parliament to send back home (I think he’s from India). He stands stiffly to attention and grimaces at me. I take the picture then hand back the phone. He thanks me and wanders off, looking at the screen. Then turns around and comes back, shaking his head, “I wasn’t smiling enough, do you mind taking another one?” He stands just the same, but this time I say “Smile!” But he doesn’t really, he just stretches his mouth a bit wider horizontally. I take the photo, then realise he has Victoria Tower exactly sticking out of the top of his head like a very tall, golden top hat. But he seems satisfied, nods, and walks away.
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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 

Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster, London. SW1P 3JA
Open dawn – ­  dusk
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 49: Lincolns Inn Fields, Holborn

Lincolns-Inn--FieldsStorm Doris. And her opposite. (Thursday 23 February 2017)

So very windy today – London’s catching the swishing skirts of Storm Doris. I pass many people gripping their jackets and coats tightly around them as they dash to pick up some lunch.

I take an anti clockwise route around the perimeter path of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which wraps this space, the largest garden square in London. The paths are strewn with 049btwigs, shed from the mature plane trees which give this space its crisscrossing vaulted roof. Clatters more with every gust. No one seems much bothered by this fall of wood; there’s a healthy flow of lunchtime walkers in ones and twos and more. A mix of students, lawyers and office workers, local residents walking dogs. But, much more than any other park I’ve visited in this project: so many runners, fitness groups. The slap of trainers on tarmac. And, on the south quarter, overshadowed by the imposing portico of the Royal College of Surgeons and Hunterian Museum, are the tennis courts, bursting out of their nets with vigour and volleys.

Bounce back 500 years or so and this was a cattle grazed pasture called Cup Field. Londoners came out here from the City to fill their lungs with fresh air or take part in open air sports such as jousting, swordfighting or archery. Turnstiles were placed on the footpaths into the fields to allow people in, but to stop livestock straying. These remembered in the names of three narrow alleyways just to the north of the park: Little Turnstile, Great Turnstile and New Turnstile.

049cLincoln’s Inn itself is one of London’s four Inns of Court, housed in a collection of fine historic buildings set in a collegiate enclave of courtyards and gardens, just to the east of the Fields. A diaper patterned brick wall surrounds and encloses its eleven acre estate. Lawyers were originally encouraged to move up here to the hamlet of Holborn in the 13th century by the third Earl of Lincoln  after a royal decree that no legal education could take place in the City of London. The Inn became formally established and purchased the present site in the 16th century. The turreted towers and tall Gothic windows of the Great Hall (built in the 1840s) and the Library (completed in the 1870s), peer out over these fields.

I’m blown towards the centre of the park, where a large gravelled circle is a hub to the four north, east, south and west tarmac paths plus one earthy diagonal shortcut track worn across the northeast lawn.  A surrounding ring of mature plane trees. Dead centre to this is an octagonal bandstand or shelter. A brass plaque set into the floor reads: “Near this spot was beheaded William Lord Russell, a lover of constitutional liberty 21 July AD 1683”. This was the site of occasional public executions. Lord William Russell (mentioned in ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ 45 Russell Square, Bloomsbury) was executed (with four clumsy hamfisted blows of the axe, it’s said) for his alleged part in the Rye House Plotthe attempted assassination of King Charles II. He was later proven innocent and posthumously pardoned. Which I’m sure made him feel a whole lot better!

049eI start setting my drawing things up under the shelter but realise it’s filling with people in sports gear getting ready for a class, doing warm up exercises and stretching and making appropriate sporty grunts and snorts. I back away and set up instead in front of a bushy thicket to draw the view across the park, with the former Land Registry Building (now a department of the London School of Economics) a stately redbrick backdrop. I start scribbling, one hand holding my easel from being blown over, trying to describe the upper tree branches swinging and swooping with the wind, a curly, jiggly aerial dance. There’s even movement detectable in the upper trunks. The gale rages overhead in waves of roaring bursts, but thankfully no rain. With every wave, a great crashing racket like an explosion! It turns out to be plastic sheeting covering scaffolding at the northwest corner of the square. The exercise class goes on regardless, under the canopy, led by a girl in lime green lycra. Her voice shrill across the gravel, enthusiastically counting her victims through a sequence of acts of self torture.

Across to my right, the Fields Cafe parasols are being buffeted and shaken. Five hundred years ago, that spot was the site of a gunpowder house (after many accidental explosions and fires in the City, gunpowder storage was moved out to fields like this, well away from habitation or means of detonation). But London was fast expanding in this direction and it wasn’t long before developers saw the plump potential of these fields for building. 049a Lincoln’s Inn enjoyed its rural and pastoral outlook so took a dim and nimby view to proposals for development. It was only after several decades of negotiations between the landowners and the Inn that agreement was reached whereby houses could be built, but the Inn had control over their design . And these seven acres where I’m drawing today, was to be kept green, with walks and trees and lawns.

In the 1700s, residents of the square, outraged by roguery, thievery and rubbish tipping in the fields appealed to have the square enclosed. Which it was in the 1730s, making it a private and more genteel space of lawns and paths and, for a while, a duck pond just about where I’m standing. Later in that century, many of the fine houses around this square were taken on by wealthy lawyers, attracted by its proximity to the Royal Law Courts. Barrister’s chambers were founded and solicitors’ offices opened (including Farrer & Co who are still there today, in their stately premises at No. 66; solicitors to much of the aristocracy, and the Queen).

049fDrawing finished (see at top), I shake a couple of twigs out of my rucksack and haul it on my back and explore the rest of the park. Sunshine flings tree shadows across the fields. Dogs of all sorts are having a field day, with a million sticks to chase after. A group of runners are sprinting across the gravel, crunching woody debris as they go. Parks workers are trying to collect up the fallen twigs, but one of their large canvas sacks has escaped from the truck. It careers past, billowing, dancing; it pirouettes a full circle on one of its corners before being whisked away behind a stand of shrubs. 

The layout of the park hasn’t changed much since the start of the nineteenth century, with perimeter shrubberies, trees and bandstand. Towards the eastern side was a little subtropical plantation, which is still here. The park was eventually opened to the public in 1894 and was immediately popular, being pretty well the only substantial piece of public green space for at least half a mile in any direction. Bands played on summer afternoons. Areas were set aside for tennis and golf putting. As I walk the paths I pass several memorials, but the one that stands out the most commemorates Margaret MacDonald the social reformer (wife of Ramsey MacDonald, first Labour prime minister), who died in 1911, 049dway too early at the age of 41. A curving bench seat topped with a sculpture (created by sculptor Richard Goulden), of this beneficent woman, tending a twisting clutch of playing children and inscribed below: “This seat placed here in memory of Margaret MacDonald who spent her life in helping others”.

The sun catches specks of pink standing out against the dark of a holly tree. Blossom glowing on bare black viburnum sticks. I scramble around and start a drawing from behind them (see below), looking through and across the open stretch of northern lawns. Leaves scratching the back of my neck as the tree sways. Cold gusts in my face. A constant parade of runners pass. A game of three a side football gets underway on the worn grass. Bags and coats for goals.

And then, from the corner of my eye, a tightly raincoated figure, bent over, almost double, shuffling along. Painfully, painfully, picking her way with a pair of sticks. Woollen hat pulled over ears, bag over shoulder. Advancing so very slowly, gaze intent on dragging feet and knocking the odd twig away with a stick. She pauses in front of me and tortuously turns her head round from under her collar to look up. I smile and nod. She looks for a while; a slight tremor, then gets back to her mission. It takes a full five minutes for her to walk across my field of vision. Quiet and measured: the very opposite of today’s Storm Doris. And I think: of all the people in this park today, exercising, stretching and pushing themselves to the limit, it’s that bowed and aged soul who wins, hands down, the gold medal for endurance and determination.
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Lincolns-Inn--Fields2

(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 

Lincolns Inn Fields, Holborn, London. WC2A 3TL
Open 8am – ­  dusk
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 48: Paddington Street Gardens, Marylebone

paddington-street-gardensA Place in the Earth (Thursday 2 February 2017)

The deep desire for a piece of the Earth to call your own after you die has saved many acres of original London soil and clay from being paved, concreted or tarmacked over. Just like several of the other public gardens I’ve visited in this project, Paddington Street Gardens owes it’s existence to an earlier incarnation as burial ground.

048bThe sky today is a slab of slate. I feel a few flicks of rain but turn up my collar and follow the paths which trace a tapering rectangle around the garden and a curving ‘X’ across the middle. As I walk I try to imagine this landscape about 280 years ago, dank and misty this time of year, a line of wintery willows in the west which mark the line of the stream, or bourne (the village name was originally St Mary le Bourne).  And in the sky to the southeast, a bruise black shroud hanging over the City. Sometimes for days on end. Smoke from the 30,000 coal fires of Georgian London. Getting ever closer each winter. And a couple of fields away the stubby stone spire of the village church, with rooks clamouring and circling. By the 1730s, the church sexton was struggling to find space for new graves, so this 2.5 acres of land I’m visiting today was donated to the parish as a new burial ground by Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford (a politician and major London landowner; Harley Street and Oxford Street were named after him).

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Fitzpatrick Mausoleum

Forty years later, an additional acre of land was acquired on the opposite side of the street, which has now become Paddington Street Gardens North: a square of lawn with shrubs and beds and edged with old gravestone remnants, overlooked by a smart apartment block; its plate glass reflecting and fragmenting the crooked tangle of tree twiggery.

The garden is well tended, abundant shrub foliage is a mix of hues, from shiny blue laurels to the brightest yellow choisya, singing out through the light rain. Planted terracotta pots line the paths. A symmetrical pattern of lawns with embellishments of geometric beds evenly pricked with yellow and blue flowers. Winter worn grass has been taped off and reseeded. A flock of pigeons pecking their way across.  The north lawn has a series of segmented beds planted with different rose varieties. At the moment all are simply woody stems, well pruned and spiky, tiny buds of new growth just emerging. I have to content myself with the colourful pictures on the labels at the head of each tranche. Overhanging the northwest corner a towering structure is rising, scaffolded and plastic sheeted: the Chiltern Place apartments will look down onto the broad canopies of mature plane and lime trees 048gwhich fringe these gardens. And on, over the roofs and chimneys of the surrounding Victorian streets.

In the second half of the 18th century, two workhouses were built to the north and south of these burial grounds (just as in Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair. See Sticks in the Smoke 47). Perhaps it was thought that a view of a cemetery would be a constant reminder to the inmates of their own mortality. Sure to make them feel better about being poor! A little stone sculpture of a boy gutter sweeper was placed here in 1943 (sculpted by the Milanese artist Donato Barcaglia), maybe a reminder of the once less fortunate occupants of this place.

The burial grounds were officially closed in 1814. The roots from these trees and shrubs are twining their way through the remains of around 80,000 graves.

048aThe rain comes and goes raggedly. Thankfully there are two hexagonal shelters in the gardens. Ideally, I wanted to draw from inside the north one, through its glass windows, which would frame the view of a bright metal astrolabe, perched on the top of a drinking fountain, the rose beds and tree branches interrupting the hard lines of sixties housing blocks in the background. But its ironwork gates are padlocked today, so I hurry to the far end, where the other shelter, without glass, squats in front of the twists and coils and primary colours of the children’s playground. Its gates are open and welcoming. Half lined with benches, a scent of musty damp and tobacco mix to create an atmosphere of stale incense, like in an ancient chapel. I set up to draw across the lawns, back towards the other shelter whose roof moss glows an acid yellow. And in the distance, at the end of Luxborough Street I can just about see the frontage of Madame Tussauds on Marylebone Road. A huddle of hardhatted and hoodied workmen are in here too on lunch break. They’re cackling and jeering at a 048cvideo on a phone. From their remarks and the loud soundtrack, it seems to be footage of a noisy and sweary argument between the wife of one of them and a neighbour. Voices ricochet off the hard surfaces of the building. I peer closer at the garden through the hoops of the decorative ironwork grille that clads this structure but find it difficult to focus on my drawing. A sharp shower rakes the park and rattles the roof, a bead curtain of drips sparkling in front of me. The shelter fills with people. Sheltering.

In 1885 the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (MPGA) took on the task of developing these sad and neglected acres for the recreational use of the local community. Their landscape gardener, Fanny Wilkinson (designer of over 75 public gardens in London, many of them disused burial grounds), created the design and the garden was opened by Princess Louise the following summer. The original plan has stood the test of time, changing little over the years. It has always been a popular and well used space, a focus for community events, including live music in the summer. The shady plane tree 048ecanopies providing a leafy auditorium roof.

The rain stops as quickly as it started and the building empties. Sunshine glistens the paths as the garden begins to fill for school lunchtime. Yells and excited screams and hoots fill the air. A group of girls enter the shelter and sit on the benches. A sound of quiet murmuring and crinkle of crisp packets. A hi vis park keeper with litter stick and bin liner picks up discarded cans and cartons and sheets of newspaper. He glances at my drawing (see top) and nods at me as he leaves.

I pack my things and follow the east path. Bunches of schoolkids bustle around an elegant block of weathered Portland stone with classical arches and a square dome. Inscriptions on carved drapery have been eroded into illegibility. A stone urn sits high against the gathering sky, adorned with slightly sinister cherub heads that stare down at you with hollow eyes. This is the Fitzpatrick Mausoleum, erected by Richard Fitzpatrick as memorial to his wife Susanna who died in 1730. His daughter Anne, was later also interred here.

Garden of Rest

048fBefore I leave Marylebone I want to visit the original site of the parish church which was served by this ground, so walk the wet pavements up to the little courtyard space on Marylebone High Street. The chapel was built in 1740 (replacing one which was portrayed by William Hogarth in the marriage scene from ‘The Rake’s Progress’ in 1735).  An inscribed slab lists some of the notable people who were buried here, including Charles Wesley in 1788. A memorial obelisk marks the site of his grave, and a round tablet set into the paving, with spirally inscription. The chapel was used until 1926 but was demolished after suffering damage in 2nd world war bombing. Now this ‘Garden of Rest’ sits within its footprint.

Conscious once more of impending rain, I quickly set up to draw the garden’s length (see below). A gnarled and twisting locust bean tree spreads its tortured branches in front of the Victorian flank of the adjacent St Marylebone CE school. Zigzag brickwork like arches of electric shocks above its windows. Much of the paving slabs are worn and cracked gravestones. Today puddle dappled.

A couple, hands full of large bulging bags are holding a heated exchange in Russian. Their words accentuated in a bizarre dance of waving white and blue plastic. A strident bell from over the wall. The air bursts with the sound of excited girls’ voices rising to crescendo. Spots of rain pock my drawing and I realise I’m not going to get a chance to put paint to my drawing. I quickly pack and haul my rucksack onto my back just as the shower breaks.

garden-of-rest


(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 

Paddington Street Gardens, Marylebone, London. W1U 5QA
Garden of Rest, Marylebone High Street, London. W1U 5BA
Open 7am – ­  dusk
Google earth view here

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

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

Sticks in the Smoke 45: Russell Square Gardens, Bloomsbury

russell-square1The psychedelic feeding box and paradise for dogs (Thursday 5 January 2017)

At 6 acres, this is one of the largest garden squares in London. And even on this cold January day (my first London visit of 2017) it’s pretty busy; scatters of visitors enjoying this airy space, figures seated on sunlit benches, people hurrying briskly through, school groups marching the diagonal between the British Museum and the Russell Square tube station. And, with its close proximity to University College London (UCL), which occupies many of the buildings on the north and west of the square and beyond, there are plenty of students racing the shortcut across to lectures or taking a break here. A girl is cross legged 045bon the grass playing a guitar and singing. Breath steam wisps with her song. A young guy filming on his phone.

I stroll the sinuous paths across and all around the park looking for a suitable view to draw. I’m attracted by the long tree shadows raking across the lawns and the lacework patterns decorating nearby trunks cast by the lime tree tunnel. Reflected stabs of light dazzle between winter branches from windows of the buildings around the square.

The earliest written mention of this area which was to become Bloomsbury is in the Domesday Book, described as fertile land with vineyards and a “wood for 100 pigs”.  In 1202 a carucate of this land was sold to the Norman landowner, William de Blemont (a carucate was a medieval unit of land which a plough team of eight oxen could till in a year: about 120 acres). For the next 200 years his family developed and managed the estate, which became known as the manor of Blemundsbury. At the end of the 14th century, Edward III acquired the land, and bestowed it to the Carthusian monks of Charterhouse Priory, who leased it out for farming.

In the 16th century, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Bloomsbury manor was seized back by the Crown and granted to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, a loyal counsellor of Henry VIII. His great grandson, the 4th Earl, built stately Southampton House 045cin 1657, later Bedford House, on what now is Bedford Square, just west of here. After his death, his daughter married William Russell, son and heir to the 5th Earl of Bedford, bringing the Bloomsbury Estate into the Russell family.

I set up to draw the curving ribcage of the lime tree tunnel, underlined by shadow stripes. The Senate House Library, in it’s box- shouldered Art Deco solidity (when it opened in 1936 it was, at 209ft the tallest secular building in London) rises in the background behind the square’s terraces. And, in psychedelic contrast to the elegant and serious buildings around this square, I discover a brightly decorated feeding box for squirrels, jauntily fixed to a tree trunk, and decide to include this in my foreground.

My daughter Millie joins me for lunch (in her 2nd year of an Art History degree at UCL, she’s been studying in the library today, just a few minutes away). It’s good to catch up but she’s very distracted by the many dogs being exercised here. Every moment another little 045apug or pup to coo over! An elderly lady, warm and smart in a long dark coat with fur trim stops to let Millie fuss over her little westie. She tells us she has to travel on the bus here every day “to come to a proper park to walk my Fluffy”. A slight mid European accent. A man with bright white trainers is walking hurriedly, a phone clamped to his ear but stops every minute or so to shout “Reg! REG! C’mon!” to his stout and dawdling border terrier. Which ignores him. A little black spaniel suddenly appears and drops a ball at my feet, which I kick away through a flurry of pigeons. The little dog whisks off to retrieve and brings it back like a dark flash. I pick up the slobbery ball and throw it further away but it’s returned in seconds. This goes on until its owner, a girl with crimson hair appears and says “I see Tessa has found a playmate!”

This area to the north of Bedford House was known as Southampton Fields, a mix of formal gardens, nurseries, pasture, and processions of lime trees creating a vista from the back of the house, with views across open countryside towards the village of Hampstead. It was developed from about 1800 when Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, had Bedford House demolished as he was no longer using it, and commissioned property developer James Burton to develop the land to the north into a residential area with Russell Square forming the focal point. Handsome terraces of brick and stucco were built, most of which still stand, with wrought iron balconies to overlook the gardens. The area came to be known as ‘Judge-land’ as many of the properties were taken up by members of the legal profession, 045dLincoln’s Inn and the Royal Courts being only a short carriage ride away.

Russell Square garden was designed by Humphrey Repton after the success of his work for the Dukes of Bedford’s Woburn Estate. It was originally intended for the private use of the square’s residents and guests. A genteel Georgian playground, where they could walk the perimeter promenades while protected by a high hedge from any awkward encounters with tradesmen, street hawkers or grimy child beggars. They could parade the gravelled diagonal paths intersecting the lawns, to be seen and be sociable with their neighbours. Or through the rounded walk of the lime tree cloister, providing cooling summer shade  and secret glimpses across the lawns. If they wished, they could find more private seclusion in seats under twining vines around a central shelter. Dominating the space then, as now, a statue of Francis Russell (by Sir Richard Westmacott) at the south gate, with his back to the garden. He stands high and proud, as benevolent agriculturalist, with a plough, and holding stalks of corn. Farm animals and allegorical farming figures beneath his feet.

Millie leaves to get to a lecture. A young boy and girl run across and stand on either side of my easel to watch me draw. I say hello and the girl tells me she likes drawing animals. I scribble a little dog on my drawing for her. They carry on watching. The rest of the family arrive and gather behind me and stand there. I say hello to them and carry on drawing. They watch in silence. For just a little bit too long. Slightly awkward.

In 2002, after changes to the layout in the previous few decades, the garden was re-landscaped in a style based on the original layout, reintroducing the serpentine paths from the four corners, weaving through the lawns and flower beds, and partial restoration of the lime tree tunnel. In addition, the café in the 045esquare was redeveloped and a new ornamental fountain installed. Not working today but when it’s warm, young children and drunk students love playing dare through the spurty water jets.

I pack up and walk through the west entrance to buy a cup of tea from the cafe in the green wooden Victorian cabman’s shelter. Originally there were over 60 of these shelters around London, providing hot food for hansom cab drivers. Only 13 shelters survive, some still used, like this and the one outside Upper Grosvenor Gardens (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’32), and some sadly redundant like ‘The Kremlin’ on Chelsea Embankment (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’3). I carry my tea across to the eastern corner and set up to draw through the half moon shrubbery: a wintery mix of evergreens and complex patterns of twigs and dried stems and seedheads, towards busy Southampton Row. The squeal of buses and taxis and the wail of sirens surge through the open gates. My easel suddenly starts to shake. I look down: a squirrel is dibbling at the soil, its rear paw grips the leg of my easel. A tiny silver grey hand.

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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. These will be shown in an exhibition in the Curwen Gallery London in April 2017.)  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London. WC1B 4JA
Open 7am – ­  dusk
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 44: Millbank Gardens

millbank-gardenTransportation and ‘Walking in the Air!’ (Wednesday 21 December 2016)

A winter solstice leaden sky threatens rain as I approach Millbank Gardens, along John Islip Street and behind Tate Britain. The parade of roadside plane trees are leafless, their pollarded branches reaching up like gnarly arms shaking fists to the sky. Seeds dangle like Christmas baubles. Below, leaf imprints in the tarmac are like faded fragments of an antique tapestry.
Millbank is a half mile or so riverside sweep south of Westminster, deriving its name from a water mill built by the monks of Westminster Abbey (see Sticks in the Smoke 39), that stood at the outflow of the River Tyburn into the Thames. Prior to the 1800s, this low and marshy piece of land was sparsely populated, merging into riverside mudflats, where mists would rise, pierced by the echoing call of snipe and the cries of gulls. Rough farmsteads squatted in these boggy meadows, cattle grazing down to the water’s edge.
This ground was long considered unsuitable for housing or development. But the perfect place, away from the city, for incarcerating enemies and undesirables, where 044bconsiderations for health and wellbeing were not high on the agenda. In 1651, four thousand Scottish Royalists were captured during the Battle of Worcester (the final battle of the English Civil War). They were force marched the 100 miles to Millbank and held here in a makeshift prison camp, where 1200 of these bone- weary prisoners died and were buried in mass graves. The survivors were sold as slaves and transported to the plantations of Barbados. Many of whom perished under creaking decks on the long ocean voyages.
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Two pieces of lime green training equipment have been installed on the central terrace of the garden (installed by The Great Outdoor Gym Company). They look like user- friendly torture devices. A personal trainer in pink top is putting her two clients through their paces: one a smallish young woman, the other a large man, like a bear in sports gear. As I walk the boundary paths, the trainer’s antipodean twang bounces around the garden: “Ok guys just 20 more seconds now……keep with it!” “C’mon! Don’t think about it, just do it!”  I set up my easel and drawing things (that’s my exercise for the day!) next to the oblong brick pavilion, in case it starts to rain and I have to scoop my things under cover. I glance over: they’re now doing bench presses on the park benches.  
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044cGuided by the spirit of Christmas, I choose a large variegated holly bush as my foreground and draw the view into the eastern half of this garden (see drawing above) where four Whitebeams (I think) grow from the lawns, displaying red clouds of delicate berries. I can just make out bright green bulb shoots cautiously emerging from a bare rectangle of earth. In the background an upper terrace behind ironwork balustrades, with large terracotta pots containing trimmed standard hollies. A fringe border of laurels and palms and evergreen shrubs. Graffiti adorns several of the rubbish bins. The trio have just finished doing crunches amongst the leaf litter. The large bearlike man lies on his back panting and groaning loudly!
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These gardens stand exactly central to where the Millbank Penitentiary was built in the early 19th century. This massive eight- sided structure covered a site of 18 acres. It rose grim and fortress- like from the muddy ground, having to be built on a concrete ‘raft’ to stop it subsiding. Six cell blocks heaved outwards, from a central circular core, where the main terrace of the gardens are today. It contained a chapel and the governor’s residence. Millbank was the largest prison in Britain, housing 1100 male and female convicts. However, the inherent dampness of this place seeped into the mildewed walls and, from its earliest days, fostered a general unhealthiness, contributing to epidemics of  dysentery, scurvy and depression. In the 1840s, because of this, and the high running costs, long term prisoners were moved to other prisons and, this became a holding depot for convicts prior to transportation.  They were held in solitary confinement for three months until their destination was decided (mostly Australia). After the brutal policy of 044dtransportation ended in 1867, Millbank reverted to being a local prison, before finally closing its heavy studded doors in 1890.
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You can still see the octagonal impression left by this structure on today’s street plan here, an indelible geometric ghost from a grim past.
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A blackbird flies a blue-black flash into the holly bush and chirrups loudly from its interior. A man comes through the gate, wearing a tall white knitted hat and clutching a whisky bottle. Tightly. He talks at me for 5 minutes in non-sequiturs, about how he used to draw but was told his line was too heavy; about the steep rise in council tax; and the cost of getting a haircut. The scotch in the half full bottle sloshing as he speaks (Later, while visiting the Tate, I see him curled in a booth seat opposite the Tate cloakroom, hat off, and fast asleep!).
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The forbidding prison walls and buildings were demolished and the site, now drained, was broken into large plots, subdivided by a grid of streets, with John Islip Street (named to commemorate John Islip, abbot of Westminster in the 16th century) bisecting north- south. For most of the 1890s and into the new century, the site echoed with the clang of construction; materials offloaded from barges moored where, only 40 years earlier, chains of convicts were being loaded onto transportation ships. The first building to be opened faced out across the Thames in its classical porticoed poise. This was the National Gallery of British Art, later to be known as the Tate Gallery (after its founder Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate) and more recently, Tate Britain. Its back is turned to Millbank Gardens; the only concession 044eto art back here is a statue of John Everett Millais, Pre-raphaelite painter, brandishing his palette and standing sentinel on a high plinth.
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Next to the Tate, and filling the southern corner of the site, the Royal Army Medical College was built in a grand mix of Baroque and French Renaissance style. Since 2005, the buildings have been home to Chelsea College of Arts.
Millbank gardens was laid out at the heart of the plan. A recreation breathing space for a new community of working families, housed in 17 redbrick mansion blocks, built by the LCC (London County Council) in the western half of the old prison footprint, using bricks salvaged from its rubble. Following Arts and Crafts Movement principles of design and respect for the individual, they welcomed their first tenants in 1903. Inspired by the proximity to the Tate, each block is named after an English artist. The gardens are overlooked by the Turner, Ruskin, Millais and Leighton Houses, which embrace the space and reflect a terracotta warmth even under today’s damp blanket of cloud.
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The exercising trio have gone. Two young sisters wearing Rudolph antlers are now playing on the gym equipment, supervised by their Dad. They’re joyfully singing ‘Walking in the Air’. 
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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. These will be shown in an exhibition in the Curwen Gallery London in April 2017.)  www.nickandrew.co.uk 

Millbank Gardens, John Islip St, London. SW1V 3SG
Open 8am – ­  dusk
Google earth view here