Charity Christmas Gift-Guide

This year, we have been overwhelmed with support, not only from our wonderful members and supporters, but from other charities. To say thank you to them, we have put together this Christmas gift-guide to showcase some of their fantastic gifts. With pieces to suit all budgets and tastes, we’re sure you’ll find something for the garden lovers in your life – and you’ll be supporting the amazing work that these charities do throughout London.

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Nick Andrew Art

This weeks blog post has come from Nick Andrew Art. Nick is an extraordinarily talented artist, based close to the River Wylye in South Wiltshire. He has recently illustrated ‘Bloomsbury’s Squares and Gardens’ written by Susan Jellis, a showcase of the green spaces of Bloomsbury. Nick has kindly shared his experience of autumn in London, exploring St Anne and St Agnes Garden and St John Zachary Garden (The Goldsmith’s Garden). 

Concerto for clanking scaffolding and saxophone (Wednesday 3 November 2016)

Back in the heat of August 2016, while wandering this area after drawing the gardens at St Mary Aldermanbury; St Mary Staining and St Olave Silver Street, all of which lay on the grounds of churches destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, I came across this little pair of sainted green spaces, just a street’s width apart, also created in churchyards. Extraordinary to imagine that 400 years ago, these 5 churches all stood so close to each other within an area of only about 200 x 200 metres. But I guess, in these heavily populated city streets and alleys, there would need to be enough pew space, when most people, devout or not, attended church. The chorus of ringing must have been deafening on Sunday mornings. (The bells of St Anne and St Agnes church are immortalised in a verse in the traditional nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’: “..Kettles and pans, Say the bells at St. Annes..”)

So I return today and, as I approach the junction of Noble and Gresham Streets, trees seem to be leaning out and shaking their autumn foliage at the glass and steel of the surrounding blocks, flinging showers of leaves with every shake. Many scarfed and wrapped office workers rush by quickly to escape this easterly breeze, chill as a blade.

This was on the northwest edge of Roman Londinium. A fort built here in AD120 housed the official guard (over 1000 men) of the Governor of Britain. Wartime bombing uncovered sections of its foundations, including a square sentry turret. From the edge of St Anne and St Agnes you can look down over a wall at the excavations and can clearly see the stone square foot of this turret and stretches of wall, topped with layers of masonry and brickwork from medieval to Victorian. These two churches were built before the 12th century, just outside the site of the fort.

St Anne and St Agnes Garden
Around the corner a scaffolding lorry is being unloaded. Temporary barriers have closed off the gardens! Steel poles and planks are encasing the church in preparation for essential restoration work; hammers clang and ring as the structure builds towards the roof. I ask one of the workmen if I can stand just inside their temporary barriers to do my drawing and he shrugs his permission.

St Anne and St Agnes – Sketchbook Page Nick Andrew

In earliest Norman records the church that stood here was confusingly referred to either as St Agnes or ‘St Anne in the Willows’.  By the 15th century, these names had been brought together in its double dedication. As with the neighbouring churches, mentioned above, this was also engulfed and destroyed by the Great Fire. Only the lower section of its tower stood above the charred rubble. But within 20 years, this had been incorporated into a new and elegant brick church, designed by Wren, based on a Greek cross plan. It was severely damaged again in an air raid in 1940. Postwar reconstruction was funded by the Lutheran church, and reopened in 1966 for use by London’s Estonian and Latvian communities. Since 2013 it’s taken on a new identity, as the Gresham Centre: the exciting home of the musical educational charity, VCM Foundation, inspiring and engaging young people through song and sound.

These third of an acre gardens were laid out on the old churchyard in the 1970s, a variety of trees planted, including maple, lime and catalpa, plane, ash and cherry. They wrap an L shape around the south and east of the church, sections of which are shrouded behind tangled and mingled branches and twigs of autumnal and evergreen foliage. I draw the complex leafy lacework in front of scaffolded walls. At the southern end a rowan is a gold yellow flame, the most intense hue in view. People stream in and out of Lloyds Bank Head Office, just up the steps. Some stop to smoke, leaning on the wall overlooking the ruins. One of the scaffolders comes over to have a look at my drawing. He shouts up to his mate: “ere Kirk! e’s drawn a picture of you up there!….. Not very flattering!” In fact I hadn’t drawn Kirk. He wouldn’t keep still long enough!

St John Zachary Garden (The Goldsmith’s Garden) 

On the opposite side of Noble Street, St John Zachary Garden is shaded by two massive plane trees, which compete in height with the sheer steel and glass Lloyds bank building which looms like a cliff over the garden. Walk under an ironwork arch with golden leopard’s heads on either side and at the apex. This garden is on two levels. Past beds of evergreen shrubs and exotic plants, some late lillies still in ragged flower, and up five wide steps into a small paved and gravelled garden, with ancient gravestones laid. Here the gnarly plane tree trunks. Simple benches sit amongst ferns and spreading shrubs and low, feathery trees around the edge. There’s no-one here but I’m on the same level as the ground floor of the adjacent Lloyds building, and have a commanding view of multifarious and hectic office activity through the grid of windows. This is on the site of the churchyard of St John Zachary (aka John the Baptist), which dates from before the 12th century.  It too was heavily damaged in the Great Fire, after which it remained as ruins until pulled down in the 1800s.

St John Zachary – Sketchbook Page Nick Andrew

A flourishing fig tree overhangs as I take the steps down to the sunken level. More golden leopard masks on guard, fixed to the walls. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths have owned land hereabouts, dating from 1339. After the buildings here were destroyed in the war, this little garden (less than quarter of an acre) was laid out in 1941 by firewatchers (in 1950, it won the Best Garden on a Blitzed Site). The lower garden is the site where the earliest recorded Livery Hall was built. In 1300 Edward I decreed that quality of gold and silver should be standardised across the country, assayed by the Goldsmith’s Company and marked with the leopard’s head- the first ever hallmark. Today, assaying is carried out in the current Goldsmiths Hall, a solid Victorian edifice which sternly overlooks these gardens from the other side of Gresham Street.

Down here, a simple path around the edge, a square, well-tended lawn with pedestal fountain in the centre, a few small trees and shrubs around the edge and climbers up the brickwork. In the far corner, a sculpture by Wilfred Dudeney of three printers, showing the whole newspaper process from editor to printer to newsboy (originally commissioned in 1957 for New Street Square, but moved here when it was being redeveloped). I look for a suitable spot to draw and set up on the lower path close to the Lloyds building, where warm air is wafting from a heating vent. A laurel in the foreground and a red- leaved Japanese Maple (I think) spreads out from the upper beds. Not many people in the garden; a businessman with his coat collar pulled up, gripping a steaming cup and murmuring into his phone. A young couple come down the steps hand in hand and sit on a bench close to the view I’m drawing, hold each other closely and kiss. I look up from my sketchbook and we accidentally make eye contact a few times. A bit awkward.

Calls of crows echo loudly between the buildings: the song of the fast approaching autumnal gloam. And, to add to the effect, for a few minutes there’s the halting howl of a saxophone from the direction of St Anne and St Agnes Gardens.   

You can view the original post on Nick’s Blog here, other posts from his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ series here, and more of his incredibly beautiful illustrations on his instagram page.

Copies of Bloomsbury Square Gardens, illustrated by Nick Andrew, can be purchased from bloomsburysquares@talktalk.net and are £8.99. All proceeds go to support the work of The Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens that of the Friends groups.

Discovering the Great North Wood

During lockdown, Catherine, like many of us, suddenly found herself spending a lot more time at home, and in need of something to do to break up the zoom call schedule (I think we can all relate to the zoom fatigue!). What better way to do this than getting outside, exploring the local area, and getting involved with a charity? Catherine has kindly written about her lockdown experience, and how it inspired her to become an outdoors person.

“Like many people, I learnt a lot about both myself and my neighbourhood during Lockdown. One of the most significant things was discovering that just 10 minutes’ walk from the flat I have lived in for 16 years is a lovely little wood. That wood became one of my Lockdown happy places.  

Let me rewind. It was the morning of 23rd April and I was heading to the park at the end of my road for a quick breath of fresh air before a day full of Zoom workshops. I bumped into one of my neighbours and her kids coming out of their house: ‘We’re off to pick wild garlic in the woods’, she said. ‘Which woods?’ I replied. ‘That makes me feel so much better,’ she exclaimed, ‘I felt so guilty when I discovered them last week. I have lived on this street six years!’ I have lived on this street for 16 years this week.  

The following day (when I was blissfully free of Zoom calls!) I followed her instructions to go through the gateposts on the corner of Beulah Hill and Spa Hill: ‘The ones that look like you’re going to go into someone’s garden.’ Twenty metres or so on a beautiful tranquil path opened up in front of me and within seconds I was plunged into a green oasis that smelt of wild garlic and was noisy with bird song. I spent the next hour or so wandering around the woods, discovering the fairy houses and wooden carvings that have been the hard work of The Friends of Spa Wood

Since then I have gone walking in those woods more times than I can remember. I soon realised that it provided a handy short cut to my partner’s house so I would cut through it on the way for garden gate chats and cake deliveries. I saw numerous dog walkers and runners and even spotted one person sat on a fallen tree working on their laptop.

I happened across temporary street art that just looked so amazing strung between two trees. One day I said to my oldest friends in our WhatsApp group: ‘I am off to the woods to listen to the birdsong,’ to which one of them quipped: ‘Is this your emergency message? Have you been kidnapped?’ I very much was not the kind of person who would go listening to birdsong, but listen to this – in the silent days of Lockdown the birds were magnificent. 

At some point I took to Google to find out more about Spa Wood. I had heard of the Great North Wood and knew that my area of Upper Norwood (better known as Crystal Palace) and the neighbouring West Norwood and South Norwood carried its name. My Googling quickly led me to the London Wildlife Trust and their conservation work on 13 remaining patches of the ancient wood. Their Go Jauntly App showed me walking routes to visit these sites. I decided that one of my Lockdown projects would be to visit all the sites in the London Wildlife Trust project. On the 12th of July I ticked off the last on the list with a trip to One Tree Hill.

Well, I say the last. Actually I couldn’t visit the New Cross Gate Cutting site because it is restricted access, but hopefully before too long I will get there. That’s because after my visit to One Tree Hill I came home, signed up to be a member of London Wildlife Trust and am now a volunteer on the Great North Wood project. I run my own business, a storytelling agency called Mile 91, so I am lucky enough to be have the flexibility to be able to take time out to volunteer during the week. My first session was at Spa Woods and I will be there again next Friday. They’re easy sessions to get to as I only need to leave my desk 15 minutes before the start time. When work allows I hope to volunteer at some of the sites further afield and I’ll make getting to the New Cross Gate Cutting a priority.

At the start of 2020, if someone had told me I would spend a large chunk of my year walking around woods in South London and by the time September came I’d be a volunteer for a conservation charity I would never have believed them. But would anyone have believed what was to come at the start of the year? Discovering the woodland areas near me as been one of the great joys of this unbelievable year though and I am really happy to now be doing my small bit to keep them healthy for others to enjoy.”

Catherine Raynor is a founding director of Mile 91, a storytelling agency for people who do good things. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @catherineraynor. All images courtesy of Catherine Raynor.

Vestry House Garden

Nathan, one of our Trustees, has been visiting some of our gardens, learning more about their history and the people behind them. This week he chatted to Marion, a professional gardener and florist, a City of London Tour guide specialising in green spaces, a member of Friends of City Gardens, an accredited guide for Smithfield market & The Temple, and one of our area coordinators. Marion also works at Vestry House, maintaining the garden. She spoke to Nathan about the history of the garden and how she became involved with Vestry House (unfortunately, she doesn’t share how she manages to fit all of that in!) You can listen to Marion’s interview on our website.

Vestry House Garden is one of a pair of award-winning gardens, which are privately owned. The garden was originally created on the site of the 12th Century Churchyard of St Laurence Pountney and the College of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi College was founded by Sir John Poultney who was Lord Mayor in 1330, 1331, 1333 and 1336, in the parish of St. Lawrence. His name was also given to the church. Both the church and the college were destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666 and were not rebuilt. Sir John Poultney’s house had been on the west of Laurence Pountney Hill. A number of fine late C17th and early C18th houses survive in this area.

This former graveyard consists of two raised garden areas, which are divided by a sunken pedestrian passageway to Martin Lane. The area to the north is believed to be the site of the church of St Laurence Pountney. Both gardens are planted with trees and shrubs and are contained by railings which date from c.1780. Restoration works were undertaken in the south ground in 2003 as a private residential garden of adjoining property.

The gardens combine traditional parterre planting with a more contemporary design which works its way around tombs and headstones. There is a secluded planted area, naturalistic in style, and containing nectar-rich flowers to encourage wildlife. A wisteria walkway and espalier fruit trees provide formality, while the textural hard landscaping contrasts with the perfect grass lawn. The garden focuses on increasing biodiversity within The City. 

While the gardens are now private and residential, in 1370 the churchyard was used as a meeting place of Flemish weavers for the purpose of hiring. Weaves of Brabant gathered in the churchyard of St Mary Somerset. This separation was due to a disagreement between the weavers. We’re pleased to say that hiring practices have moved on since the 1300’s and we much prefer the ‘c.v via email’ route! 

You can read more about the St Laurence Pountney Graveyards on our inventory

Guest Blog from Growing Spaces

Growing Space is a not-for-profit project of Arcadia Charitable Trust.  We are transforming underused church gardens into edible teaching gardens for surrounding schools and communities in West London.

We believe that it is important for everyone, but especially children to interact directly and consistently with nature and to engage in the practice of growing food.  This can be especially difficult for those living in urban areas.  

Growing Space secures the location in the long run and coordinates the usage of edible teaching gardens for schools and communities. In 2019, we have built gardens in two locations: one at Christ Church Kensington (in W8), the other one at St-Helen’s North Kensington (in W10).

We provide ongoing support to partnering school staff as well as arrange workshops for the broader community during weekends and school holidays, all while ensuring that the garden is looking lovely year-round.

Through the use of those beautiful green oasis, participants come to understand the importance of looking after the soil and are encouraged in healthy eating habits as they enjoy sampling the fruits of their labour. 

During the Covid-19 lockdown…we have not had the pleasure of welcoming our regular school groups, but we have enjoyed the help of local volunteer families and children from Victoria Road Montessori, Bassett House School and Thomas’s School, who have come to sow seeds, plant, weed and water the gardens.  

We have also been fortunate enough to invite children of NHS doctors and nurses from Bassett House School (featured on the pictures, Ollie and Elisabeth) to explore and work in our Growing Space at St. Helen’s North Kensington. 

All fruit and vegetables harvested during this time have been given to local families and our host churches to be distributed as needed.  

We also welcomed a family of foxes who found the tranquility of our garden the perfect place to shelter a brood of four kits! They have happily now moved out into the broader world and just in time, except for our little Feisty!… a young female cub, which we had to rescue as infected with mange. 

She is now in a safe place and being cared for with antibiotics to fight the disease. She should be back on her feet very soon… hopefully in a few weeks!

 We will continue to monitor the current situation with Covid-19 and will again offer our fun outdoor workshops to the community following government guidelines and protocols from August.

We would encourage everyone to begin a small garden at home, even if that simply means putting a pot of herbs in a windowsill.  The fragrance and flavour of a herb such as thyme, rosemary, mint or oregano can lift the spirits any day!


Tips of the month:

Its time to propagation your herbs! You can also cut back your mint right to the bottom once this summer to allow a second growth to happen during the summer! Harvest also vegetables planted in the early season. Our potatoes will be very soon ready to be harvested, which the children will love to help with!