Month: October 2016

Sticks in the Smoke 35: Ropers Garden, Chelsea


Thomas More’s Head and Epstein’s Plinth (Wednesday 19 October 2016)

Walk here from the east along the Chelsea Embankment and, as you pass Chelsea Old Church, there’s a painted statue of Sir Thomas More (by Leslie Cubitt Bevis ), erected in 1969, with gold hands clasped tightly in prayer, sitting up on a plinth in a little semicircular garden (if you look on Google Street View, his face has been blurred out, which seems macabrely appropriate considering his fate!). Revered scholar and 035astatesman, Thomas More settled in Chelsea in 1520, where he built a grand home: Beaufort House, just round the corner. (Chelsea was a popular  rural location for the wealthy to build their large houses, conveniently close to the city, but far enough away from the stink! It was once described as “a village of palaces”). He had a close association with the Old Church and built his own chapel there.

The orchards, meadows and formal gardens of his estate rolled up from this stretch of riverbank where his official barge was moored (In the 16th century travel by river was much more reliable than the rough and rutted roads; Sir Thomas could get to Westminster or Hampton Court on state business with relative ease).  More was living here with his family until he was arrested for treason for refusing to swear allegiance to Henry VIII as head of the English Church. He was executed at the Tower in 1535. Beaufort House remained standing for a further 200 years, but now only few fragments of orchard wall remain in private gardens nearby.

I cross Old Church Street and take the steps down into this sunken rectangle of a third of an acre. The roar of embankment traffic dulls as I descend. I catch the scent of tidal water. Lined with characterless 1960s brickwork, two kerb edged lawns and a raised seating area with naked timber pergola (office staff and workmen lunching and smoking: a stage with ever changing progression of actors). Ivy and climbers trail down from beds at the 035ctop of the walls. A simple, well- used space with benches and lawns worn and earthy, but is lifted out of its functionality by the captivating bronze nude: ‘The Awakening’ by Gilbert Ledward (1888-­1960), which stands on a square column at the centre and, arms reaching high, dominates the garden. I walk around to get the best view- through tree branches, silhouetted against the river sky or looking down from the embankment wall. I choose to draw her (see drawing above) framed by the straight lines of the apartment block behind and the tall medieval windows of Crosby Hall (this is the surviving part of one of the mansions of Richard III, originally built in 1466 in Bishopsgate. When threatened with demolition in 1910, it was carefully dismantled and rebuilt on this spot, with neo-Tudor brick and stone additions added more recently and made into a private mansion). 

My easel is perched on the edge of the eastern lawn. There’s a litter of black nut husks from a walnut tree at one end. At the other corner is a dark barked cherry tree, planted to commemorate Gunji Koizumi, father of British Judo, who died in 1965. A magpie strides around the grass, chakking proprietorially. Above, patches of hazy blue sky between the clouds. Cries of soaring seagulls are interrupted by the rumble of aircraft, following a northwest flight path. The noise is somehow amplified as it rolls around the brick walls. The woody donk of walnuts dropping onto flagstones.

A sudden glint of light catches my eye as a woman slides open an upper door in the apartment block. She yawns, then leans over the balcony and shakes three rag dolls over the side. One after the other. Then aggressively whacks them on the rail. Then she returns 035bwith some small rugs and does the same with those.

Ropers Garden is on the site of riverside orchards which were part of the wedding gift from Sir Thomas More to his daughter Margaret on her marriage to lawyer, William Roper in 1521. Margaret Roper was one of the most learned women of the age: writer, translator and poet. After her father was beheaded, she managed to rescue his head from its spike on London Bridge and is said to have pickled and preserved it in a barrel of spices, until her own death in 1544 at the age of 39

I move my drawing things to the courtyard area at the eastern end of the garden. This is the site of a warehouse building which was one of Jacob Epstein’s earliest sculpture studios before the 1st World War. I start to draw the standing stone relief by Epstein (see drawing below) which stands here on a circular plinth (unveiled  in 1972): ‘Woman Taking Off Her Dress’, an unfinished piece in white stone, but fabulously full of energetic evidence of chiselled scores and notches. Arms grappling above the head, crudely echo the reaching arms of the Ledward bronze. Behind is a magnolia tree, its curving branches spread out above four rose beds, which have seen their best and are now little more than twisted sticks. And there, I can see, just above the wall, Thomas More in his garden next door.

035dA woman leans over the wall and calls “the plinth!” I look up and realise she’s talking to me. I say “sorry?” And she nods at the relief, “the best part of that thing is the plinth!” and walks off disdainfully. I get the feeling that the Epstein’s not very popular with the locals!

The buildings here were destroyed by a parachute mine on 17 April 1941 during the Blitz. On the same night much of Chelsea Old Church next door was reduced to rubble, apart from a section which included the Thomas More Chapel. Following the war it was painstakingly rebuilt and was reconsecrated in 1958. This garden was excavated out of the bomb site, designed, laid out, and opened in 1964, dedicated to Margaret Roper.

A taxi driver has parked his cab and is smoking on the steps. He blows a last cloud and wanders over to look at my drawing and we talk about art for a minute or two. He narrows his eyes at the Epstein and says “Not really my cup of tea, mate. Reckon the best bit is…the plinth!”

 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


Ropers Garden, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London. SW3 5AZ
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 34: Westbourne Green, Paddington

034a-Westbourne-GreenFlowers under the Flyover (Wednesday 12 October 2016)

A piece of land covering about 8 acres, mingling unevenly between thoroughfares ancient and modern and much shaped by their development. Overhanging this space is the elevated curve of the A40 Westway, which carries an endless stream of traffic east to west and west to east, and piggybacks the ancient route of Harrow Road. And then, a little further, crosses Edgware Road: the Roman Watling Street. The major westward railway tracks running from nearby Paddington Station are a musical score stretching just to the south. 034bOn the north edge of Westbourne Green, the Grand Union Canal bends like an elbow.

My shadow leads me away from Royal Oak tube station, over Lord Hill’s Bridge and then disappears under the colossal concrete slab of the overpass (Westway was built in the late 60s to relieve congestion into central London. The route closely followed the railway to minimise its impact on housing, but still resulted in the demolishing of a large number of buildings. There were campaigns and rooftop protests about the disruption and noise). I dash across the busy junction into the calm of these open, gently undulating grounds. The paths follow the dips and rises, between striped sweeps of mown lawn and oaks and poplars and shady stands of lime (It’s difficult to imagine that, 50 years ago, this was a demolition site and was then used to store the massive concrete sections of the flyover before being craned into place). To the west, the high rise housing blocks of the Warwick Estate are tall silhouettes but don’t overshadow, their stark verticals softened and broken by the billows of tree foliage, autumn tinged from bright golden yellows through to warm mauve greens. And further round: the red and white spire of St Mary Magdalene Church juts sharply between the tree tops. A handful of people, dog walkers, runners. A group of teenage boys stand chatting around a bench, leaning close towards each other as they talk. A man with orange work trousers lies on the grass and seems to be simply contemplating the tops of buses and lorries rushing over the flyover.

034aAt the eastern slope of the Green is a wildflower area: grasses and a mix of plants now dead, long white-pink stems and brittle seedheads waving stiffly in the breeze. But scattered amongst the dried herbage are bright dandelion- like flowers, very much alive. But not quite dandelions. Slightly bigger. I want to draw these exploding yellow stars in the undergrowth, with the thundering swoosh of the Westway above. So I set up my drawing things in the middle of this little bit of wildness and start scribbling in my sketchbook (see drawing at the top).

All around where I’m standing was once the hamlet of Westbourne, which dates back to well before the 12th century. Manor house, farm and cottages gathered around the green. The spring- fed River Westbourne winding through the surrounding fields. Over the following centuries, its well- watered and fertile meadows, orchards and nurseries provided produce for the growing population of London.  As I draw today, goods are being transported into London at speed from all over the country from right to left across my field of vision. And I try to picture weary carthorses 500 years ago, hauling heavy carts, creaking with sacks of apples and onions. Or livestock being shepherded onto the rutted Harrow Road, just in front of me, for the journey to the City markets.

Westbourne green remained largely rural until the mid 1800s when housing began to spread northwards after the new Great Western Railway line (Paddington to Taplow) was brought through in 1838. Building at first along Harrow road, but it wasn’t long before 034cnew streets of terraces pushed northwards towards the canal until, before the end of the century, this whole area was densely covered. The only green spaces were private gardens. The river was diverted underground into buried pipes and culverts, where it flows today

I close my sketchbook and walk out of the main park area and through the grove of oaks and planes, dappled shade across the path and grass. Past the lively Edward Wilson School playground and northwards towards the church and canal. With inter war neglect and wartime bombing, by the 1950s, this had become one of the most deprived and densely populated areas of London. This walk towards the church would have been through grimy streets, past tattered terraces, grubby kids playing hopscotch in the gutter. Despite the conditions, this was a thriving and close- knit community. But it wasn’t to last. In the 1960s, London County Council initiated a programme of major slum clearances which wiped the slate clean here. Many families were displaced to new towns out of London (such as Stevenage and Harlow). Others were rehoused in the Warwick Estate tower blocks that rose from the newly landscaped area.  Today, the church and the school are all that remain of Victorian Westbourne Green. A new, multi ethnic local community now benefits from this leafy, canalside setting.

St Mary Magdalene Church rises from the grassy, slope below the canal. Built in 1872, it was originally squeezed into a narrow site between streets, its needle spire soaring above the parish it served. It is widely recognised as architect, George Edmund Street’s gothic 034dmasterpiece in London. Two boys on wobbly scooters are racing each other down the slope past the church. I step out of the way and, looking down, see some flowers chalked on the tarmac.

The path continues up to a footbridge over the canal. We’re less than 500 metres upstream of Little Venice and Rembrandt Gardens (see Sticks in the Smoke 11) and just over 500 metres downstream of Meanwhile Gardens (see Sticks in the Smoke 18). This was the Paddington branch of the Grand Junction Canal (now part of the Grand Union), opened in 1801, built for the same reason as the Westway: improved access into the city, for all kinds of goods, but especially heavy cargoes like coal, timber or building materials, which were difficult and costly to transport any other way. The downside in the 19th century was the transporting out of the city of rubbish, cinders and horse manure, much of which was dumped in sites next to the canal. This wasn’t a pleasant place up until the 1950s: dirty, smelly, rubbish and rat infested.  But, opened up during the slum clearances and redevelopment and after years of clearing and restoration it has been transformed into today’s idyllic wildlife corridor.

A line of narrowboats are moored alongside the towpath. These are serious, lived in boats, with piles of logs on top, and gardens in buckets and growbags. I stroll towards the western end and, under a sycamore tree start another drawing looking along the canalside towards the Harrow Road bridge. On the wall across the water is a mural made from recycled scrap: a giant dragonfly, swans, kingfisher and frog, reflected into multicoloured ripples below. In front of me a beautiful metal fence with swirly circular design. More of a long, curving sculpture than a barrier, but separates me from the flow of runners and walkers, cyclists and skaters. A little girl walking home with her mother runs her lunchbox along it to make clink clunk metal-plastic music.

A sycamore seed twizzles down and flips onto my sketchbook.



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


Westbourne Green, Harrow Road, Paddington, London W2 5ES
Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 33: Porchester Gardens, Bayswater

033-Porchester-Gardens(Thursday 6 October 2016)

I walk a wide path, which traces around the garden’s long elegant rectangle. A sedate acre of lawns, flowerbeds and surrounding shrubberies, many mature trees, including limes and planes providing pools of shadow, cherry trees and ornamental acers. It’s clearly well tended and cared for. The tarmac is a deep purple patchwork within the patterns of strewn fallen leaves and twigs. All seems in slow motion, sharp sounds absorbed by the swaddling 033bsoftness of foliage above, below and all around. There are very few people, figures restful on benches. And, in the children’s playground, a mother tightly rocks her baby, as daughter swings.
At the time of the Domesday Book, in 1086, the land in which this garden sits was mostly rough pasture and woodland belonging to the Abbey of Westminster. It was well known for the purity of its spring water which fed the Westbourne River. At this time much of it was leased by a close associate of William the Conqueror called Baynard (or Bainiardus), who built the fortified Baynard’s Castle, close to the Thames riverfront. He used this land for grazing and to supply his household with fresh water. Over the centuries that followed, this tract of semi- rural land became known as Baynard’s Watering, later corrupted to Bayswater.
I arrive at the southwest corner directly beneath the flagpole, which proudly flaunts the garden’s fluttering Green Flag award. From this point I have the path’s perspective all the way to the far end, where the sun dappled stucco and porticoed windows of the terraces glimpse between the plane branches.

London’s explosive expansion into the surrounding countryside during the nineteenth 033acentury buried Bayswater’s fields under stone and cobbles. Squares and terraces spread and railway lines stretched and stitched these new communities together. Porchester Square was one of the last areas to be developed. Begun in 1850 and completed within 10 years, the houses were built piecemeal by about 8 different builders, more or less to the same proportions, and including the same features of columned porches, balconies and balustrades, but they’ve clearly tried to outdo each other with a range of different architectural ornamentation, such as scrolls, bosses, swags and volutes.
The leftover oblong of pasture in the middle was laid to lawns and flowerbeds to provide a private garden for the square’s residents. Although opened to the public in 1955, it still has the air of genteel exclusivity: the entrance gate is hidden down the side street and the houses of the north terrace back on to the garden where, in times past, children would have been able to run out of their back doors into a safe and enclosed play space.

033cThe shrubs are thick and abundant at the west end of the garden, shielding the busier Porchester Road. But I can see across to the stone lion heads roaring either side of the entrance to Porchester Hall, as sunlight rakes across its art deco frontage. It was built in the 1920s and houses a banqueting and concert hall. It’s had a colourful and sometimes controversial history: home to London’s earliest drag balls in the 1960’s. And it was where some of Monty Python‘s ‘The Meaning of Life’ was filmed (including the delightful exploding Mr Creosote!). Here too are the Porchester Spa:  London’s earliest Turkish Baths (still going full steam), a swimming pool and the Paddington Library.
Cars pull up at the junction and I hear an eclectic range of world music blasting through the railings from their open windows, from Armenian rap to Arabian hiphop. Bayswater has long been one of the most cosmopolitan areas in London, with communities including Greek, Arab, French and Brazilian.
Hardly anyone comes round to this end of the garden. A woman walking her King Charles Spaniel lifts her sunglasses to look at my drawing and says she thinks it’s ‘nice’. Meanwhile her dog licks my paintbox that I’ve left lying on the ground. The sun edges round and I catch an awareness of the flag’s shadow dancing on the lawn to my left. But I’m also aware of the sun hot on my right cheek. I move my easel forward into the slowly retreating shade and, by the end of the drawing I’ve probably moved about 3 metres! Later, the sky clouds over and an insistent easterly breeze sends leaves shivering across the path. 

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

Porchester Gardens, Bayswater, London W2 6AW

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 32: Upper and Lower Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia

032a-Upper-Grosvenor-Garden(Wednesday 28 September 2016)

Like two wedges of Camembert pointing at each other across the cheese board, these two gardens are laid, with a whiff of France, at the edge of Belgravia. They sit within a long ‘X’ of mid- nineteenth Century Parisian style houses, tall and stately, with white stone arches and pillared porches, and ornamental ironwork balconies.
Built in the mid 1860s, these palatial terraces were designed by Thomas Cundy II to celebrate Gallic design and culture, echoing the newly opened French Renaissance- style Victoria Station. In fact there were 3 generations of Thomas Cundys (or would that be Cundies?), all of them surveyors to the Grosvenor Estates, spanning most of the 19th century. Between them they created the grand squares and terraces of Belgravia. This area was instantly fashionable, but I’m imagining the 3 Thomases collectively spinning in their graves at the thought that the houses they built are now some of the most expensive in the world, fetching up to £100 million.
Upper Grosvenor Gardens
This is the north garden, almost touching the grounds of Buckingham Palace, corner- to- corner, across busy Grosvenor Place. As I stroll around the modest wedge of lawn I sip a rich Sicilian coffee, bought at Victoria Station. Mature plane trees, foliage in yellows and ochred greens. Wafts of fallen leaves on the ground. Beds of evergreen shrubs in front of iron curlicued railings.  An unremarkable piece of ground but for the dynamic and powerful 30- foot bronze of a ferocious lioness hunting an antelope. These tensely muscled dark forms dominate the space. It was commissioned by the Duke of Westminster from sculptor Jonathan Kenworthy and installed here in 1998.
I set up in front of a locked and stone- piered gateway, to draw the sculpture within its setting. Backdrop of a heavily ivy- covered tree, dark against stately stonework catching the sun. A halting flow of buses become a broken banner of red. Not many garden visitors. A few workmen lounge on the grass and smoke. One jumps on the back of the antelope and mimes a riding action and shouts to his mates. Who mostly ignore him. Behind me, just outside the railings is a traditional green wood cabbies shelter, dating from the late 1800s. Aromas of fry-up lunches and loud snatches of cabbie conversations filter through. A young family walk over to the lioness. The father reaches his son up to sit him on its back, but the little boy starts crying when his dad walks away to take a photo, his roaring mouth so similar in shape to the lioness’s.
The silhouetted figure of a soldier stands to attention high on top of the Rifle Brigade Monument, forever facing across and over the wall of Buckingham Palace Gardens.
Lower Grosvenor Gardens
I leave the pointy end of upper Grosvenor Gardens and head across the 25 metres or so of tarmac and traffic towards its twin. But only twin in shape. Though also a triangle of lawns, and also with mature planes, this space is far more decorative, with circular planted beds, tree ferns and box hedging.
Halfway down, on either side of the park are two ornamental garden huts, which are embedded all over with seashells (mostly scallops, with conches in the pediments), pieces of volcanic rock and gravel in bands and diamond patterns. This afternoon the western hut is in the shade, but the eastern one is sitting in a pool of sunshine and, with the effect of light reflected from its textured surface, appears to be glowing golden and lustrous, and dissolving, as though only partially there, like a holographic projection. I get out my drawing things to try and capture this mirage.
After the second world war, the gardens were in serious need of a makeover, having suffered much from bombing, with piles of rubble and air raid shelters dug for the local residents. It was agreed to appoint French architect Jean-Charles Moreux to redesign the gardens in an ornate French style to celebrate Anglo- French entente cordiale. As part of this project, the shell huts were built in the tradition of  French ‘Fabriques de Jardin(small buildings as decorative landscape features, similar to British follies ). These are now the only surviving parts of Moreux’s original design.  
The remodelled garden was opened in 1952 bythe French ambassador, who dedicated it to Marshal Foch (French hero and Allied Commander during the final year of the First World War), whose horse- mounted statue (scuplted by Georges Malissard in 1930) sits high on a plinth at the south entrance to the garden and looks sternly across Buckingham Palace Road at the teeming entrance of Victoria Station.
Being just across from Victoria, this garden is heaving! Lots of travellers pass through with rucksacks and rattling suitcases, office workers having late lunches on the lawns, groups of construction workers from the site at Victoria, a few daytime bench boozers, several rough sleepers like bundled snoozing caterpillars on the grass. An old bearded man in a shabby suit and broken baseball boots, systematically riffles through the bins. The lawns are threadbare and strewn with the debris and detritus of its thousands of daily visitors. As I leave I notice a sparkling bracelet lying in the grass. But suddenly a huge cloud of pigeons burst around me from the other side of the garden, then swoop and gather expectantly in a dense flock around a woman who has put down her collection of heavy shopping bags with relief. When I turn back round to pick up the bracelet, there’s absolutely no sign of it, no matter how hard I look. 

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


Upper and Lower Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia, London SW1W 0EB
Google earth view here