Why I Volunteer – Thrive

One of the charities that we are donating London Open Gardens 2021 tickets to, Thrive use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Read below to find out what makes Thrive so special, and why Katy Perceval loves volunteering for them.

Katy Perceval

Who are you, a little bit about yourself and which charity do you volunteer for? 

I’m a freelance journalist – and superfan of all things green! Work-wise, my previous career was 20+ years in communications with John Lewis and Waitrose, which was fun but I got burned out. So when I saw the chance to leave and take a career break to reset my life in 2017, I jumped right in – or should that be right out? Whatever, I was free. Top of my list was becoming a Garden Support Volunteer with Thrive London in Battersea Park.  

Read More »

Return of the light – A walk round the Olden Garden in early spring

By Catherine Miller

The Olden Garden is tucked away from the traffic of nearby Holloway Road on a small piece of land, some of it flat, most of it sloping down to a narrow rail track, on the opposite side of which is a separately-managed allotment site. This makes it part of a larger wildlife corridor, especially important given that Islington is generally short of open space.

Read More »

Is London about to be kicked out of top spot by a green Champ Elysees?

 By Tim Webb. This article originally appeared in our members monthly newsletter.

Our latest Members magazine is due out and mentions London being the world’s best city according to the online magazine BestCities.org.

It’s the sixth year on the trot London has held the position but is now facing increasing pressure from the second and third placed contenders, New York and Paris. A number of factors are taken into account, from the economy, housing, culture and outdoor space.

Read More »

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.

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