Month: March 2016

Sticks in the Smoke 10: Hyde Park (south east)

010a-Hyde-Park-(Joy-of-Life(Wednesday 23 March 2016)

At 350 acres, this isn’t a park that I can easily sum up in a few paragraphs, or encapsulate in just one or two drawings. As I pass through the wide white Ionic Screen Gate at Hyde Park Corner, while dodging out of the path of oncoming cyclists, I quickly realise that I’ll have to tackle this great green space in manageable portions. So perhaps a return in the Autumn.

010aI decide to keep to the eastern edge, in sight and sound of Park Lane to my right. Up here, the giant statue of Achilles, sword at the ready and shield held round and black against the sky, was the first statue erected in Hyde Park, in 1822.  It commemorates the Duke of Wellington and is made from bronze from cannons captured in his French campaign victories. After faints and complaints, the fig leaf was added later.

It’s a good spot to survey across the park, through the bare plane tree branches. This was all originally a vast tract of rural land which Henry VIII seized from the monks of Westminster Abbey in 1536, during the Dissolution. He turned it into his royal hunting park and it has remained a Royal park ever since. Well, apart from in the 1640s, during the Civil War, when forts and fortifications were built here by Parliamentary troops. There is a grassy bank running north for about 300 metres from here, which is believed by some to be the remains of these 17th Century defences. However, the less romantic truth is that it is just spoil, left over from the widening of Park Lane last century.

010bFurther along, sheltering at the base of this bank from the horns and sirens of Park Lane, are the 52 silver grey steel columns of the 7/7 memorial. I walk between them and we brush shoulders. In this chill grey light, the day after the Brussels bombings, there is a poignant offering of white carnations lying at the victims‘ name plaque.

Ahead is the brightest thing on this overcast day: a  butter gold slash of daffodils swathed over bank and amongst trees. They’re massing more as they encircle the ‘Joy of Life Fountain‘. Designed by T. B. Huxley-Jones in 1963. Exuberant figures of man, woman and children in blue bronze fly just high enough over gushing water.

I make my drawing across the massed yellow heads to the fountain and on to Park Lane, where coaches and red buses crawl. A pair of greylag geese march defiantly around the fountain edge, stabbing beaks and honking. Magpies swoop down every time someone leaves a bench and squabble over dropped crumbs, but are scattered by a woman in black and green striped top, who runs at a slow plod round and around the fountain. Overhead, incessant screeches are parakeets, exotic and wrongly vivid green for this murky day, but very much at home here. A photographer, with a thick cigar clenched in his teeth, half kneels to capture some good low- level shots of the daffodils.

010cI draw until my daughter Millie joins me (her University halls are 10 minutes away, just past Marble Arch). I pack my drawing things and we walk together back down Broad Walk. We buy coffee from a stall to warm up, and wander along the edge of Rotten Row. This wide sandy track was laid in the late 17th Century, during the reign of William and Mary, to link Kensington Palace, the royal court, with Westminster. Originally ‘Route du Roi’ (King’s Way)but over the years corrupted to ‘Rotten Row. To deter highwaymen, it was lined with 300 oil lamps, the first road in the country to be artificially lit. It became fashionable to be seen riding your horse here. It is still used by the Household Cavalry to exercise their horses, which are stabled here at Hyde Park Barracks.

010dWe walk slowly up through the tranquil Holocaust Memorial Garden with its boulders and bright white birches and past the cascade at the foot of the Serpentine. Then thread our way through the outdoor tables of the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen to the lake end. I lay out my drawing things on a table and a heron glides down and perches on the rail, so close, waiting for thrown scraps. When it realises there aren’t any, it turns its long beak away and launches back up and across the water towards the Serpentine Bridge, far off and misty. Once, all this was just the ponds and meanders of the River Westbourne, flowing through pastures and meadows and providing water for the royal deer. In the early 18th Century, Queen Caroline ( wife of George II), decided to have it dammed and the present lake filled the contours of the Westbourne valley. This ‘natural’ look of artificial lakes was soon copied and became fashionable in parks and gardens all over the country (In 1739 Thomas Thynne, the 2nd Viscount Weymouth, was appointed as Ranger of Hyde Park and soon after ordered the creation of the serpentine lakes in the grounds of Longleat, his home in Wiltshire).


I work fast in the lake’s cold breeze, making my drawing of the lake across towards its southern bank. The reflection of Basil Spence‘s tall Hyde Park Barracks tower shivers down towards the fluttering dried reed stems and papery leaves, which are bedded into planting cages. A huddled figure paddles his red boat through the ripples. The call and cry of waterbirds seem plaintive as a rosy hue seeps into the light. Swans clap the water and a well- fed coot dabbles close by at the water’s edge, as black and round as a cannonball.

I finish my sketch and we head off, walking quickly to warm up, taking the long straight path through open fields, down to the South Carriage Drive and back to Hyde Park Corner.

In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018. . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support

Hyde Park, London W2 2UH
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 9: Emslie Horniman Pleasance

009-Emslie-Horniman-Pleasan(Thursday 17 March 2016)

Through the Southern Row entrance, a tree- lined path leads you away from the housing- blocked streets of North Kensington. You walk alongside ‘Horniman’s Adventure Playground‘: exciting and colourful rope swings and wooden towers emerge tantalisingly above wall and fence. Ahead, the lawns open out, rising towards the warehouse frontage of Canalot Studios on Kensal Road. On this sunny March morning, the brickwork is a red- orange blaze through the trees that mark the top of the park.  Today the park is sparsely 009apopulated, there seem to be more gardeners than visitors, but the lawns show signs of being well- used. Tall aluminium lighting posts telescope up, out of the grass and march beside the winding paths.

Emslie Horniman Pleasance was opened in 1914 on land donated to London County Council by Emslie John Horniman in 1911. He was Liberal MP for Chelsea and was committed to improving conditions for the urban poor. His philanthropic spirit was funded by a family fortune from tea importing. He was encouraged to provide this park by Sister Ruth, a nun who worked with the local poor and understood the benefits to people, particularly children and the elderly, of access to nature and space for recreation. Horniman, who had a background in the Arts (he studied at the Slade), wanted it also to be artistically uplifting through the use of progressive design.

Horniman engaged his friend, Charles Voysey, one of the foremost Arts and Crafts architects of the late 19th century, to design these gardens. Voysey believed strongly in the importance of simplicity in design, creative individuality and use of good quality materials. As well as a small children’s playground and sandpit, he designed an enclosed garden with moat, pergola, bridge and planting areas, describing his plan as follows:

“with the idea of securing brightness, the new boundary walls and shelters are built of brick, roughcast in cement and to be kept lime­washed in white.  They thus form a good background for the flowers, which are arranged on an oak pergola, flanking the oak bridge and all around the waterway, the latter being provided with clay holes for the water plants.”

Voysey did not like the term ‘park’ as he felt it sounded too municipal, and preferred ‘Pleasance’, the older term for a pleasure garden. The planting scheme was designed by the young garden designer, Madeline Agar, to contain 100 types of herbaceous plant.

After the slum clearances of the 1930s, reclaimed land was added to the Pleasance, extending it to its present 3½ acres, with broad lawns, sports facilities and tennis courts, a bigger playground and much tree planting, but the original Voysey Garden remained at the core.

In the 90’s, Voysey’s garden was faithfully restored, after decades of underfunding, lack of maintenance and vandalism had left it in a sad state. The rest of the Pleasance underwent a major redesign. Following Horniman’s tradition, the arts featured highly: a team of contemporary artists, led by Peter Fink were involved in the design of everything from 009blighting to children’s play equipment. A wavy steel and cable fence, with accompanying gates, gleams playfully through the park like a metallic ribbon.

I walk from the main park into the original Voysey Garden and feel that I’ve walked into the next season. Like a Mediterranean courtyard, the tall, whitewashed wall, pierced with large portholes, traps and reflects the early spring warmth. In the centre, the large oak pergola is the ribcage of a fortress, with its great, thick beams, silver- grey and run through with long splits. An arched bridge climbs through the structure, but sadly with padlocked gates. At its feet, a moat runs the long rectangle, decorated with already flowering water- lily. The moat protects an island planted with ferns, dwarf palm trees, pruned balls of box and hebe. Bricked beds  have evergreen shrubs and spring bulbs spiking through. All is well cared- for, but Madeline Agar’s ‘100 types of herbaceous plant’ are long gone. Way too much to maintain!

I take the wide path all round, looking through the pergola as it frames and slices the view beyond. At either end are Gothic pavilions with Tudor arches, giving generous shelter for old wooden settles. I perch at the edge of the moat, on a decked corner, to make my drawing. The sun blazes through the pergola, making stripes across the grass. From here I can peer into the water, the reflections of Voysey’s portholes blink back at me like the great round eyes of an underwater creature.

009cThe tranquility of this place is relaxing and calming. Everything slows. Even the hoots from nearby mainline trains sound long and laid- back. Breeze sisses through the palm leaves. For several minutes, a woman calls “Pixie, Pixie. Pixieeeee!” from the main park. I hear Pixie barking back.

A girl in spangled baseball cap and headphones stops and says “that’s cool” and then goes to sit in the shade at one end of the pavilion under a gothic arch. She sings along to her music unselfconsciously. Another girl in charcoal grey hijab wanders over to the other bench and unpacks her lunch. As I struggle with the colours and contrasts in the water, I’m accompanied by baseball cap girl singing along to the rhythmic rustle and scrunch of hijab girl’s crisp packet.

In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018. . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support

Emslie Horniman Pleasance, Bosworth Road, London W10 5AN
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 8: Inner Temple Gardens

(Thursday 10 March 2016)


Although only open to the public for 2½ hours a day (12.30 – 3.00pm every day, except when very windy!), I’m loosely classing these handsome 3 acres as a public green space, even though the rest of the time they’re only accessible to the fortunate residents of apartments in the surrounding buildings, who have keys.


The Inner Temple is one of the 4 Inns of Court in London, offering training for the bar, regulation, and chambers for practising barristers and judges. This has been home to lawyers  since the 12th century. At that time the land was owned by the Knights Templar who founded their Temple here. They built a round church which still stands, thanks to much restoration and repair over the years (especially after extensive damage during the Blitz). After the downfall of the Templars in the early 14th Century this became established formally as a residence for lawyers and a centre for legal education. The Inner Temple was established on the consecrated land close to the church and the Middle Temple occupied unconsecrated land to the west of Middle Temple Lane.

Drop south from Fleet Street and through the medieval- like maze of narrow lanes, cobbled and fountained courtyards, worn stone steps and echoing alleys. Keep walking downhill, around Temple Church, past chambers buildings and academic halls until the gardens open out below, behind railings and the ornate, early 18th century gates. I join a gaggle of waiting people and look up at the black iron Pegasus (the emblem for the Inner Temple), rearing on the gate top.  The gates are unlocked at precisely 12.30 and we disperse along the perimeter paths. I walk past carefully tended beds, hoed and mulched, roses pruned, spring bulbs pushing through, winter flowering roses and euphorbias. The broad lawns have been recently mown, green stripes leading towards the row of tall planes that rise aloof from the Embankment clamour and river beyond.


From before the time of the Templars, on this land were orchards, planted on the fertile soil, south- sloping towards the riverbank. As buildings grew and spread and land was enclosed, terraces, paths and lawns were laid. Roses, decorative bushes and trees were planted. (Shakespeare claimed in Henry VI, Part 1, that the Wars of the Roses started in this garden when supporters of the rival Lancaster and York factions picked either red or white roses). The gardens have been redesigned and modified over the centuries, with changes in fashion, with boundary changes, and after the construction of the Thames embankment in the 19th Century.

I follow the path around the foot of the ‘Paper Buildings’ and find a sunken lawned area carved out of the slope. An old Black Mulberry dominates this space and forms a knobbly and twisted ‘Y’ leaning towards Kings Bench Walk which sits above the garden wall and railings. Violet and white crocuses have pushed through the rich red- brown bark mulch. A palm- skirted statue of a slave (by Jan van Nost), kneels on a plinth and carries a sundial on his head. I lay my drawing things out on the damp grass and draw the view framed by the mulberry, and a spreading cherry-tree beyond, towards the embankment boundary and the OXO tower silhouetted on the south bank. The air hanging above the river is a misty shroud.

008bSmart- suited lunchtime walkers in twos and threes go by. Four young trainee barristers (?) head purposefully for the outdoor table-tennis table. Lilting birdsong trickles from a tree high up behind. A crow perches on a chimney pot and caws hoarsely. A wren hops the low branches in the nearby bed and chirrups angrily. Shouts and laughs from the table- tennis group carry across the lawn with clack of bat and ball. Pale pink petals from an overhanging plum branch gently fall like snowflakes and skim my sketchbook.

Drawing completed, I walk along by the eastern border beds: narcissi, roses, peonies and shrubs just budding on new red- purple winter stems. Then along the broad and majestic plane walk to the far corner. I find a spot at the foot of some steps by a locked gate and make another drawing back across towards warm- bricked Kings Bench Walk and Paper Buildings. On the other side of the gate, people carrying bundles of papers or trundling wheeled cases hurry between the stone gateposts of Middle Temple Lane.  The sky gets heavy, like slate, a cold breeze rises and there are flicks of drizzle. In front of me, dried hydrangea heads bob and sway like balls of crumpled parchment. The cries of seagulls from the river pierce through the din of embankment traffic.


I walk back up, past fruit trees blossoming against the warm walls of the tall Harcourt Buildings, to the entrance gates to find them locked! I’m imprisoned! I was too involved with my drawing and misjudged the time. Luckily, a man wearing a gleaming Pegasus badge, here to walk his dog, unlocks the gate for me and I’m set free.

In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018. . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support


Inner Temple Gardens, off Victoria Embankment, London. EC4Y 7HL
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 7: St. Mary Abbots & Alec Clifton- Taylor Gardens

(Thursday 3 March 2016)


Turn from Kensington High Street into Kensington Church Walk and immediately the rush and heave dies and is left behind. The damp flagstones lead past the Old Vestry Hall into the leafy hush of what was, for 700 years, part of the churchyard of St Mary Abbots. This ‘L’ shaped third of an acre was grassed and planted in 1953. Brick pergolas support climbing rose and clematis. They frame the view across to the gleaming west front of the church, with its tall triple window and rose window above. Today it’s adorned with shadows cast by the rank of gangling pollarded limes. This exquisite spire, at 85 metres was built to be the tallest in London. It defines a lofty air, suggestive of a cathedral close with its contemplative serenity.

007aSt Mary Abbots was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1872, replacing at least 4 previous churches on this site, dating back to 1262. It was founded by the Abbots of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary in Abingdon, who were given the land as a gift by Sir Aubrey de Vere Cole, a Norman Knight who was awarded the manor of Kensington after his participation in the Norman conquest.

The path doglegs between the two gardens, bounded by strong railings with curlicued ironwork and pointy tops. Daffodils burst through a wide circular bed and wave in the chill, early spring breeze. A couple of ancient stone box tombs stand as clues to this garden’s former life.

007bI walk under the arched gateway into the Alec Clifton- Taylor Memorial Garden. This small space was created from wasteland and opened in 1991 to commemorate the life of Alec Clifton- Taylor OBE, the architectural historian and broadcaster, who lived in Kensington. A stone plaque is inscribed: “He opened mens eyes to the delights of English Architecture”. Box and euonymus beds, curving metal benches, brick- edged paths form arcs around a stone foliate sundial (sadly fin-less). A mountain ash reaches over, already in yellow- bright foliage.

I rest my sketchbook on the rounded top of a bench back. On the wall behind me, an old worn pair of boots have been incongruously placed.  A vigorous Fatsia fills the bed to my right with its leaves like wavy green hands stretching up. My view is across the garden, over the path and towards the gables of the old Victorian redbrick primary school buildings (now Bluebell Cottage Nursery). All is verticals and uprights: railings, tree trunks, the tall school windows, drainpipes, scaffolding and chimney stacks silhouetted against bright sky. The lamppost glass captures the sunlight and glows.

This is a haven: pigeons cooing, high birdsong, broken only by the clack and shuffle of footsteps on stone and the occasional squeal of bus brakes echoing from the High Street. There’s muted drilling from an upstairs flat. But suddenly- an explosion, an outburst! Pigeons fly! Playtime has started at St Mary Abbot’s primary school next door: excited hooting and roaring. The playgrounds are fenced around these gardens: a zoo of schoolchildren. After half an hour, the clang of a bell, a chorus of “Happy Birthday to Beth”, the scrape and clatter of play equipment being stowed away. The haven returns.

Workers from nearby offices and shops have timed their lunch breaks for the end of playtime. They begin to filter into the gardens. Cigarette smoke wafts and scents the air. A couple sit on the sunny bench opposite and share their lunch. They take pop shots into the waste bin with scrumpled rubbish. She scores. He misses. They get up and kiss and leave through a sunlit tobacco cloud.

In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018. . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support


St Mary Abbots and Alec Clifton- Taylor Gardens,
off Kensington High St, London W8 4LA
Google earth view here