Month: August 2016

Sticks in the Smoke 27: St Mary Aldermanbury; St Mary Staining; St Olave Silver Street

027a-St-Mary-Aldermanbury(Thursday 18 August 2016)

This is part of the City  where ancient and very modern just about rub along ok, sometimes almost literally! I’m so close to gardens I’ve visited before: Postman’s Park, St Pauls, St Alphage and Finsbury Circus are each less than 5 minutes away. The map here is littered with these little green fragments, almost as though the occupants of this area of high rise, high finance and high flyers, more than most, need regular grounding!

It’s warm and bright and breezy. Perfect conditions for drawing. So today I’m feeling ambitious and aim to tackle three gardens, all on the footprints of ruined churches. They’re so close that you could comfortably hold your breath while walking from one to the other. I don’t do that though.

But exactly 350 years ago you’d probably want to! If you were winding your way through the waste ridden and filthy narrow streets of this part of London in the heatwave of August 1666, the air would be ripe and malodorous and full of flies. But in just over a fireengravingfortnight, and less than a mile away, a small bakery fire was to get out of control, fanned into the thundering inferno of the Great Fire, and funnelled ever closer towards these alleys, fuelled by the tinder dry timber and thatch houses. You and your family would be forced to take flight, clutching the few possessions you could manage, towards what you hoped would be the sanctuary of one of the three nearby stone churches of St Mary Aldermanbury, St Mary Staining or St Olave Silver Street. But very soon you’d have to flee again, as these havens were also threatened. A desperate dash towards the staunch firebreak of London Wall, joining the panicking throng trying to squeeze through Cripplegate. Maybe abandoning precious belongings so you could protect your children from the worst of the choking smoke and showers of burning embers. And looking just to the south: a great plume of leaping flame and sparks from the tower and roofs of St Paul’s Cathedral. What hope then for these small parish churches.

St Mary Aldermanbury

I stand in the shade of a robinia tree, a flame of golden green, in a corner of this comfortable retreat of just under 2 acres. Hedges, shrubs, herbaceous planted beds, a parched, well- used lawn and enclosed seating areas on different levels. The ancient stone pillar footings, now used as picnic tables, seating or backrests for relaxing and lunching 027boffice workers: an ever- changing, munching congregation. The cooling breeze brings spiced and pungent aromas of at least 30 diverse lunches to my nostrils. And the mix of scrunches, crackles and rustles of food wrappers to my ears.

This ground is where a Roman amphitheatre once stood, the largest in the land (you can still see remains of it in the nearby Guildhall Art Gallery basement). Over the centuries, this became established as a major gathering place; probably why the Guildhall (the administrative centre of the City of London for over 800 years) was originally sited here in Saxon times. The church of St Mary Aldermanbury was built next to the Guildhall in 1437. After its destruction in the Great Fire, it was rebuilt in Portland stone by Christopher Wren, but fire-gutted once again during the Blitz on the night of 29/30 December 1940. It was not rebuilt (although its stones were transported across the Atlantic in 1966 by the residents of Fulton, Missouri to build a replica of the church).
A plaque on the garden wall reads ‘Aldermanbury Conduit stood in this street providing free water 1471 – 18th century’. This was a branch of The Great Conduit: a system of lead pipes
027awhich channelled fresh water from a spring near Tyburn village. Local streams and rivers were becoming increasingly contaminated as the City’s population grew. Much of this pipework melted during the Great Fire and proved too costly to replace.
The breeze ruffles the newspapers of bench occupants in the upper terrace area, surrounding a pink granite monument to Henry Condell and John Heminges, who lived in this parish. They were the first publishers of Shakespeare‘s plays, and actors / partners in the Globe Theatre (It’s known that Shakespeare wasn’t bothered much about publishing his writing. One of the plaques reads: “What they did was priceless, for the whole of his manuscripts, with almost all of those of the dramas of the period have perished”). The monument is topped with a bust of Shakespeare, sunlight glinting from shiny bald head.

027b-St-Mary-StainingSt. Mary Staining

A minute’s walk down Love Lane and through the square tunnel of St Alban’s Court under the 100 Wood Lane office building and out into this intimate space enclosed 027cby the towering semicircle of steel and bluegreen glass around two sides, and the brick solidity of the 1950s Pewterer’s Hall along the west edge opposite. I can’t believe this overshadowed little garden (less than tenth of an acre!) ever receives sunlight! One great plane tree is all it can support, along with evergreen shrubs, a fatsia, laurels. And a bed of hydrangeas and amaryllis. I find a spot in the flowerbed by the entrance steps to set my easel so I can get the best possible view across the garden.
In 1189 there is a reference to the church here as ‘Ecclesia de Staningehage’. This roughly translates as ‘church under the control of Staines‘; it is thought that this church was attached to an area here which was owned and administered from Staines, possibly as temporary compound and storage for crops and livestock being 027dmoved to market. In 1278 a murder took place here when Richard de Codeford, accused of robbery, took refuge in the church and speared his pursuers with a lance through a hole in the window.
After the Great Fire in 1666, the church was never rebuilt, but the space kept as a churchyard.
This isn’t nearly as busy the other St Mary. A few people come and go. Workmen eating and smoking, chatting and laughing. One is lounging on the grass and talking on his phone. The breeze is picking up and I have to hold my sketchbook down. I can hear the clattering of a drink can being blown around in circles, echoing from wall to wall. Three official looking men in suits carry huge bobbing bags of metallic red balloons up Staining Lane and into the office building opposite.

027c-St-OlaveSt. Olave, Silver Street

Only another minute or so up to the top of Noble Street (Silver street no longer exists, wiped 027eout in the massive redevelopment of this area after the 2nd World War), and the garden of St Olave, on the edge of the frantic thoroughfare of London Wall. The original church was dedicated to St Olaf, a Norwegian Christian ally of the English king Ethelred II.
I get myself a cup of tea from EAT, just behind the garden, and take scalding sips while drawing from the upper lawn, towards the huge red and blue aircon funnels of the 88 Wood Street building, looking like a supertanker has just docked alongside.
A large roughly octagonal stone, with a hollow of water in its top, stands in the lower lawn, marking the site of the old church. It looks like a wide font, but is more likely to be the base of a pillar.
027fExcited knots of international students are blazing a historical trail through the city of London and descend on the garden every few minutes. They have to locate the stone commemorative tablet engraved with skull and crossbones. Most find it eventually, but one group walks straight past and then wanders around looking confused. I’m standing close to the top of the steps where the stone is embedded (I could have shown them where, but don’t, and then feel guilty!). Below the skull and crossbones, the tablet reads: “This was the Parish Church of St. Olave Silver Street, Destroyed by the Dreadfull Fire in the Year 1666”
On a bench behind me, a cycle courier has his bike upside down, trying to fix the chain. For a while there’s the spasmodic buzzing of his spinning bike wheel, amplified by the wooden bench slats.
From the outside this is an unassuming little garden (about sixth of an acre), mostly used as a shortcut and somewhere for a quick bite or a smoke in passing. But step within and stay awhile and, enclosed by its thriving greenery and spreading foliage, a great sense of serenity and stillness descends.

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 Aldermanbury, Love Lane, London. EC2V 7HP
St Mary Staining, Oat Lane, London. EC2V 7EE
St Olave Silver Street, Noble St, London. EC2V 7EE
Google earth view here

Illustration: Woodcut from ‘Shlohavot, or, The burning of London in the year 1666’ Museum of London


Sticks in the Smoke 26: Holland Park, Kensington

026a-Holland-Park(Thursday 2 August 2016)

The forecast was for a 20% chance of light rain today, but I’m splashing along Kensington High Street towards the Holland Walk entrance to the park through a heavy downpour and hoping the 80% begins to happen soon.

Holland Park spreads across land that was once part of the grounds of Cope Castle, built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope, the Chamberlain of the Exchequer. His daughter, Isabel, inherited the property. She married Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, a Royalist officer, who was beheaded for treason in the Tower of London in 1649 and is said to haunt the house with his head under his arm. During the Civil War, the castle was taken over and occupied by the Roundheads and was often used by Cromwell. After the war it was returned to the family, who renamed it Holland House. This was still a predominantly rural area, but during the 1800s, as demand for housing grew, much of the 500 acre estate was sold off for building, leaving these 54 acres.
026aThe rain continues on and off. This is such a full and multifaceted park: enclosed gardens, hidden spaces, ornamental flower gardens, sculptures, secret corners, rose beds etc that it takes me an hour or so of walking, dodging showers, and hunting for a view that encapsulates it. In the end I’m forced under cover in the Orangery arcade, looking out across the Iris Garden (sadly too late in the year for the flowers!) and towards the William Pye ‘Sibirica’ fountain sculpture, rising like a verdigris flower trumpet from the circular pond. Up to the left is the Belvedere restaurant, topped with bell tower and resident peacocks strutting haughtily and announcing their presence with strident shrieks.

This, the library and the east wing of the house is all that survived a massive ten- hour Blitz bombardment of 22 incendiary bombs during the night of 27 September 1940. The ruins and the grounds were purchased by London County Council in 1952 from the last private owner, the 6th Earl of Ilchester and opened to the public. The formal gardens, walls and walks were restored. The southern section was laid out as sports fields and the northern half left as mostly natural wild woodland.

On the back wall of the colonnade is a long mural by Mao Wen Biao, depicting scenes of Edwardian social grandeur: elegant ladies and blazered gentlemen against backdrops of rose bushes and dappled sunlight. A far cry from today! I unpack my sketchbook and light raindrops pitter on its cover. I step further back under the arch.

As I draw, I start to notice figures dodging through the drizzle, some hooded, some hunched, all determinedly hunting with phones clutched in front. Singly, in pairs or groups, they make their way down the steps, around the pond, along the colonnade: Pokémon Go hunters! Hesitant footsteps behind me as I draw, and “it’s gotta be down here somewhere!” and a yell of “Hey! There’s an Eevie down there!”.  I find out, a bit alarmingly, that I’m standing halfway between a Bulbasaur and an Eevie.

026cThe sun peeks out for a moment and brings a busily chittering coach party of about 20 ladies in wide red hats with purple ribbons and red jackets into the garden. They linger and look lost and some point in different directions. One asks me if I know where Alice is. And I say that I really have no idea. Then one shouts “This way girls!” and they swish down the passage and out. An acrid cloud of mingled perfume hangs in the air behind them and slowly descends on me and two young lads who are trying to locate the Bulbasaur.

Music stutters and wafts across. Sounds of tuning up, a trumpet, fragments of song. Later, I discover that it’s for this afternoon’s opera: Alice in Wonderland ( composed by Will Todd). Since 1986, opera has been staged every summer under canopied cover on the lawns. After scores of critically acclaimed performances over the years, Opera Holland Park has become a prestigious mainstay of the London cultural calendar.

On the further lawn, I can just see some teenagers are manically clonking each other with the giant plastic garden chess pieces.026b

Flagstones steam in the muggy sunshine. I pack my things and meander through the magnificent Dutch garden, box- hedged and elegantly colourful. Then skirt around the edge of the Japanese themed Kyoto garden (I’m planning to come back to draw here another time). Down a path and here’s a pond with seated statue up on a plinth, of the Victorian 3rd Lord Holland, sculpted by George Frederick Watts. Remember him? Creator of the extraordinary Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice at Postman’s Park, in ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ 25.

On into the wilder, wooded area. There’s a damp leaf littery scent. A maze of paths and tracks. Sounds of wildlife rustling, calling and chirping in the dark and dripping woods. Three teenage boys lurch past on Boris bikes, trying to keep an eye on their phones as they go.


I find a clearing near the Abbotsbury Road entrance and set up my easel for a second sketch. Watery light makes a bright pool on the grass, which looks stringy and parched after last month’s lack of rain. Five pathways converge and emanate from this clearing. As I draw, ever more Pokémon Go seekers walk past, in twos and threes and larger groups. They seem to be coalescing with the gravity of a common purpose. A large group of, 026dperhaps, 15 disappear up one path, only to reappear five minutes later from another, having collected 7 or 8 more members. Every one an Alice, chasing after their own versions of the White Rabbit.

A squirrel scuttles through the oak tree canopy above. Birdsong echoes. Much happens here to encourage, preserve and protect nature. The Ecology Centre promotes awareness and understanding of biodiversity, working particularly with schools. Pigs and cows have been brought in over the past few years, as part of a conservation-grazing project by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to restore woodland meadow areas, which had become nettle and bramble choked. And the Friends of Holland Park is a voluntary group to promote the conservation of the natural plant, animal and bird life of the Park and, in particular, its retention as a natural woodland habitat for wildlife.

Spits of rain begin once more and I pack my things.  The 3 boys on bikes wobble past again. The last one struggling and out of breath and yells: “I’m knackered and wet and still not caught nothing. Whose dumb idea was this?

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

Holland Park, Kensington, London. W8 6LU
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 25: Postman’s Park, St Martin le Grand

025-Postman's-Park(Thursday 28 July 2016)

The layout of Postman’s Park looks like it was based on 3 different sized envelopes dropped randomly together on the doormat. And, although the ‘envelopes’ do unify together into this calm, welcoming and sheltered space, each still retains its own unique character. They were originally the churchyard of St Botolph-without-Aldersgate (St Botolph was the Anglo­Saxon patron saint of travellers, consequently churches dedicated to him were often close to city gates.  The church has been here since the 12th century, although the present brick building, with pillared and porticoed frontage, dates back to the early 1800s), alongwith the adjacent burial grounds of nearby St Leonard’s Foster Lane (destroyed in the Great Fire of London) and Christchurch, Newgate Street (which was mostly burnt to the ground in the Blitz).

25bSturdy decorative railings stand at the St Martin le Grand entrance, with an 1870s granite drinking fountain (still working!). The gate arch has its original Victorian gas lamp girdle. Up these steps and into a cool and shady yard, trees and luxuriant evergreen shrubs forming a leafy guard of honour. Then a round pond with dripping mossy fountain, tree canopies darkly reflected and sparkles of sky, with vivid ribbons of goldfish slowly curling in the depths.

Emerging into the wider, brighter section, I look across to the southern border: rounded lawns and a variety of trees, dominated by the rockface of a neoclassical office block. This was the site of the 8th century collegiate church and monastic precinct of St. Martin’s, originally founded by King Wihtred of Kent, rebuilt and expanded over the centuries.  As it 25awas so close to Aldersgate, the church was responsible for sounding the curfew bell in the evenings, which announced the closing of the City’s gates. It was dissolved in the Dissolution and demolished in 1548. The huge GPO headquarters and central sorting office were built on this spot in the early 1800’s. The gardens were so popular with the Post Office staff that it was renamed ‘Postman’s Park’.

A fine drizzle starts and I stroll around the shadier northern garden segment, which is bordered by Little Britain (an ancient, narrow street which winds from Smithfield, named after the Dukes of Brittany who built a house here in the 15th century) and set my easel on a piece of earth under a chestnut tree for cover.  I think it has blight as there’s an untimely rustling scatter of red gold leaves on the ground (Later I catch sight of a planning notice on the railings outside stating that the chestnut and a plane tree 25care due for felling soon, to be replaced by an ornamental acer). The park is busy with office workers, tourist groups and day- out families.

In front of me are colourfully planted quadrant beds, encircling an old stone sundial base. It has the feel of an abundant tropical garden, with four banana palms, large leaves spreading and unfurling and seeming to transmit a vivid yellowgreen light. And a host of verbena flowers on tall stems appear to hover in front of my eyes like exotic violet moths. And opposite is a long loggia, looking something like an Indonesian monsoon shelter.

But take a closer look and the contents of that shelter transform this space from pleasant garden into a place of truly powerful significance! This is George Frederic Watts‘s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice: glazed plaques commemorating the lives of 62 individuals who died while saving the lives of others and who might otherwise be forgotten.  Watts, a well known Symbolist painter and sculptor, had long considered a national monument to the bravery of ordinary people, believing that these people were models of exemplary behaviour and character. He said: “the material prosperity of a nation is not an abiding possession; the deeds of its people are“. In the 1860’s he had proposed a colossal bronze figure: “a great statue to Unknown Worth”, but was unable to get funding for this. As an alternative, he proposed this memorial. Even then it was a struggle for him to win support and find a location So it wasn’t until 1900, only 4 years before his death, that the project was finally realised. There is space here for 120 plaques. The first 24 were designed and produced by William De Morgan, each one glazed onto a block of six tiles.  After Watts died, his widow Mary Watts, oversaw the creation of a further 29 by Royal Doulton. The following give a flavour:







The project lapsed after 53 plaques had been installed until, in 2009, the Diocese of London finally consented to further additions and another was added, the first in 78 years, to Leigh Pitt, a print technician, who died in 2007, rescuing a 9 year­ old girl who had fallen into a canal (a cellophane wrapped rose is taped to his plaque).


In 2015 The Friends of the Watts Memorial was established, run by volunteers, with the primary aims of protecting, preserving and promoting the memorial and, ultimately, to work towards completing Watts’ original plan. A full list of the plaques can be viewed here.

A squirrel skitters across the wet tile roof, a shortcut from oak to plane. The rain has stopped. The sun emerges briefly, sending sprinkles of light across the paving.  A guide is giving a passionate talk about the Watts Memorial to a tour group, but all look around at the sudden loud shriek of a little girl who’s slipped while chasing her brother around the sundial. A large and burly dad springs over to scoop her up.

This is not a place of morbidity. The Arts and Crafts design and lettering of each plaque instead evoke celebration of life and humanity. Look over the heads of people sitting and chatting or eating their Pret a Mangers and sheltering from today’s light showers. Be drawn along by these nutshells of tragic dramas immortalised in ceramic. Then walk away in thoughtful contemplation of these ordinary people whose heroic final moments have raised them far above the ordinary.

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


Postman’s Park, St Martin le Grand, London. EC1A 4AS

Google earth view here