London's little gardens

One of the many wonderful things about London is that there are gardens everywhere, even on walls!


Somewhere in the vicinity of Dr. Johnson’s House.


Everyone knows the big parks, like St. James and Hyde Park, famous in novels and history books and hard to avoid when you visit. But few people apart from those who live or work nearby know about the tiny gardens that have survived the ages in the very heart of the glass-and-concrete landscape of central London.

These little gardens, called the City Gardens, have a website. You can take a guided tour which meets at the Tourist Information Office near St. Paul’s. They cancelled the scheduled tour on the one day I could go; not, they said, because of the weather, which was raining cats and dogs that afternoon.

I was disappointed at the time — I love that sweet, soft English rain — but decided I could follow the map by myself on Sunday morning, when there would be less traffic. Fortune often favors the persistent. Sunday turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day, ideal for rambling through the middle of one the world’s largest cities taking photographs.


St. Ann Blackfriars

st-ann-blackfriarsIn Farringdon Within. (Within the walls that means, which aren’t there anymore.) This little church was built on the remains of the medieval monastery of Blackfriars, dissolved by Henry VIII. It’s now tended by the Corporation of the City of London. It’s a nice shady place to have a sandwich or a smoke break from work; empty on a weekend.

Not far from this tiny retreat, I found this plaque upon a wall:


“On 10th March 1613 William Shakepeare purchased lodgings in the Blackfriars Gatehouse located near this site.”

This is a warren of narrow streets, mostly filled with tall office buildings. The occasional pub or friendly old shop front remains; not many. Lady Elizabeth Russell lived in Blackfriars too, but there aren’t any plaques commemorating her. Ah, well.

The Guild Church, St. Mary Aldermary

This medieval church in Bow Lane was rebuilt in 1510 and then again after the Great Fire in 1666. Windows were shattered during the Blitz and it’s had other repairs through the centuries. It’s a survivor. The little garden is too shady to sustain much plant life, but hey – it’s a break from the concrete.

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Postman’s Park

Here’s one with a secular name. From Wikipedia: “Postman’s Park opened in 1880 on the site of the former churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldersgate church and expanded over the next 20 years to incorporate the adjacent burial grounds of Christ Church Greyfriars and St Leonard, Foster Lane, together with the site of housing demolished during the widening of Little Britain in 1880.” (Little Britain is the name of a street nearby.)

It’s a nice one, large and sunny enough for flower beds and a little fish pond.

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St. Mary Staining

This park is small, but large enough to camp out in overnight. The streets around it were closst-mary-staininged off for a film production, though I didn’t see such activity while I was there. Lots of movie-type trucks parked around and a uniformed policeman making sure we tourists didn’t interfere with anything. No idea what the movie was. For all know, this tent was occupied by a devoted film fanatic.

I’ve seen people camping now and then in Austin’s parks, in tucked-away places. Not homeless people; people with fancy equipment like this. People with more courage than I have!

The church was first mentioned in the 12th century. It served its parish until the Great Fire, when it burned down and was not rebuilt. A poorish parish, I would guess.

The Churchyard of St. John Zachary

st-john-zacharyThis was another medieval church destroyed in the Great Fire. Its parish was united with that of St. Anne and St. Agnes. It has two parts: a little entry part with a big brass plaque I will copy rather than show, and a lovely interior part shown in the photograph.

The plaque says, “Churchyard of St. John Zachary. This garden belongs to the WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF GOLDSMITHS and is maintained for the enjoyment of the citizens of London.

In 1994/1995 it was refurbished by the WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF GARDENERS assisted by the WORSHIPFUL COMPANIES OF BLACKSMITHS, LIGHTMONGERS AND CONSTRUCTORS in partnership with the Goldsmith’s Company and THE CORPORATION OF LONDON as a City Changes Project.”

And we thank them for it. Anyone who preserves a park does a service to all.

St. Mary Aldermanbury

Best for last, although there are several others that I’m going to skip over. This is the one on Love Lanest-mary-aldermanbury dedicated to Shakespeare, who lived nearby on Silver Street for a time. The church that used to stand here was destroyed by the Great Fire, rebuilt, and destroyed again in the Blitz. In 1966 the remains of the church were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA, where they were used to rebuild the church as a memorial to Winston Churchill. Its medieval founders would perhaps be less astonished than we might first imagine. They believed in perpetuity, after all.

Now it’s a lovely herb and flower garden with a big bust of Shakespeare, dedicated to his fellow actors Henry Condell and John Hemmings who were key figures in the printing of the playwright’s First Folio of works. Both actors are buried in the church. They might have gotten busts of their own, if they’d been vain enough to put their own portraits on that Folio.

The sun was very bright by the time I got to this garden (and I was panting for my lunch), so these pictures don’t do it justice. If you ever take the Shakespeare and Dickens London Walk, you’ll stop here and learn about Condell and Hemmings and how lucky we are that they lived and cared about English drama enough to give the world perhaps the greatest literary gift of all time.

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I walk all day when I’m out a-touristing (I’m Super Tourist!), but I think the guided tour of these pretty little gardens takes about 2 hours. Or get the map and discover them on your own. It was a delightful way to poke into the alleys and byways of a city I thought I already knew, from the historical perspective at least. Always more to learn and enjoy! The City Gardens of London.

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