Austerity, Car Parks and Concrete

October in Bedford Square
George Salter (active c.1956–1959)
Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

detail from Leicester Square proposals from Illustrated London Life xxx

I looked last week at the fate of London’s  squares during wartime, and one might have thought that things couldn’t get much worse.  Unfortunately, as in many other areas of post-war life they did.  There was no quick recovery and austerity hit harder than bombs. Part of the problem was that in the drive to rebuild, the normal standards of care and concern didn’t seem to apply.  Economic growth and regeneration and the need to rehouse large numbers of people took precedence over most heritage and environmental issues. And leading the way in all that was dependence on the motor car.  Many London squares were on their metaphorical knees at the end of the war and continued to have a rough time at the bottom of the priority list for decades….


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The Square at War

This post is another in my series about London squares and will look at what happened to them during  the war.  They were dug up for allotments and bomb shelters, used as bases for barrage balloons and most famously had their railings pulled down to be recycled into munitions.

However I discovered very quickly that while some of this was easily provable, an urban myth had grown up about others, particularly the fate of the railings.  There is now a “standard” internet version of the story, recycled with the help of  Mr Google from website to website,  but is it actually true?


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Gardening Good Taste…according to The Studio

Some people [including me] are lucky enough to have found a second career after retirement by turning their hobbies into work or at least almost full time voluntary activity.   One such was Charles Holme who, after a successful career  in textiles, took early retirement and founded The Studio: an illustrated magazine of fine and applied art, which first appeared in  April 1893.  

One of the applied arts he and the magazine  took an interest in was gardening, and in the years between 1907 and 1911 there were three special editions devoted to English gardens which amount to a summary catalogue of  what Holme thought was horticultural good taste at the time.  He was, as you will see, a man of decided views!

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Mornington Crescent and beyond

Our series of posts about the London Square has now reached the turn of the 20thc and the dawning recognition of their  importance.  So why Mornington Crescent?  

I’d guess that for most people all that  Mornington Crescent means is the zany panel game without rules on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.  Although no-one knows why the name was chosen   it may have been because of  its reputation as a downmarket slice of inner north London, wedged in between a major road  and the main railway line into Euston station, and served by a rather dilapidated tube stop on a branch of the Northern Line.  Unlike  the panel game it probably  wasn’t the destination  everyone aspired to reach.   

That hasn’t always been the case.  In the early 19thc when the area was being developed Mornington Crescent was a lot grander and had 3 grand curved terraces laid out around about large communal gardens and overlooking fields at the rear.  Later, after going into decline  it became home to a colony of artists.  Unfortunately the story ends with  developers building all over the gardens, but the one upside of what happened was that it served as a warning and helped saved the rest of London’s urban green spaces. Continue reading

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A picture is worth a thousand words: Drawing Tudor Royal Gardens…

detail from Wyngaerde’s drawing of Richmond Palace, 1562

At Christmastide 1497 a great fire broke out in Henry VII’s private chambers in the mainly wooden mediaeval palace at Sheen in Surrey. It burned for 3 hours destroying a large part of the building  but it was reported that the king “does not attach much importance to this loss. He purposes to build… all in stone, and much finer than before.”

Henry did just that.  His new palace became his favourite home and was used by successive monarchs up until Civil War.   Then, along with all the other royal estates it was confiscated and sold. The new owners rapidly demolished it for its building materials.  There is now almost no trace of it left and if it wasn’t for one man we wouldn’t really have a clue  what this spectacular Tudor palace and its gardens  looked like.

I’m mid-way through running a course on Tudor Gardens for the Gardens Trust and when preparing it I was reminded of  how much we owe to this one individual not just about the  appearance of  Richmond, but also the palaces and gardens at  Hampton Court and to a lesser extent Oatlands and Westminster as well of the entirety of the  city of London at this time.   So today can I introduce you to him:  Antonis van den Wyngaerde…and please don’t be put off by his unpronounceable name

His signature on the drawing of Richmond Palace, 1562

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