Sticks in the Smoke 79: Mint Street Park, Southwark

‘A sudden spatter!’  (Wednesday 13 February 2019)

I walk the five minutes or so from Crossbones Garden (see ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ 78) through Southwark’s bistre bricked back streets, shrill echoing with sounds of nearby school playtime. Bushes and low trees reach out over the boundary walls of Mint Street park. Welcoming. Early afternoon, quiet and still. A flowing pattern of lawns, wild planting beds with bark chip paths. Stands of plane, cherry and maple. A few figures dash through clutching shopping bags, dog walkers huddled against the February chill. Tiers of banked seating, empty today, waiting for spring life and summer lunchers. The playground and ball courts are deserted.

Mint Street derives its name from a Royal Mint established here briefly in the late 1540s by Henry VIII (the royal finances were in such a sorry state that Henry ordered a large increase in the production of coins and had four new mints opened across the city) in the grand palace where his sister Mary Tudor lived with her second husband, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

I set up to draw by the western park edge under a plane tree. Branches swaying, its dark fruits hang like dots of music across the reddening sky. The wall behind shields me from Southwark Bridge Road. I look across to the Victorian shop and warehouse frontages which line Marshalsea Road, named after the notorious Marshalsea prison, which stood 300 metres east of here. Made infamous in Charles Dickens‘ ‘Little Dorrit‘. Dickens’ own father was locked up for a baker’s debt ( I’d hoped to draw today in nearby Little Dorrit Park but ran out of time. And light! Hopefully on another visit). To the northeast, The Shard is a glinting, translucent presence, spiking up, and out of my sketchbook page.

The park is laid out on the site previously occupied by the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children (founded by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in memory of his wife Evelina who died in premature childbirth in 1866. It opened in 1869 and remained here until 1976 although it was later re-established in a new building next to St Thomas’ Hospital). After the hospital closed the buildings were demolished and the site became green space.

A man on a skateboard with a large guitar case on his back glides and weaves the park’s gently curving paths. An old man, stooped and bearded, a clutch of plastic bags heavily held, shambles through. But then- a sudden spatter! And I feel it in the back of my neck! A pigeon taking to flight has released its ballast. Congratulating itself with its ‘clap, clap!’ wingbeats. I definitely don’t feel like applauding but hastily remove jacket and shirt and mop at the worst of the discharge and try to remind myself it’s meant to be lucky. Hmm!

The park starts to fill with children, stopping off after school to play and run. Playgrounds and ball courts come to life. A father in white sports top and son school uniformed kick a ball at each other. Dad yells encouragement and claps his hands. Two (8-ish year old) boys come over to watch me working and, wide eyed, ask questions and comment on every part of my drawing. I appreciate their interest but they stay just a bit too long and I find it difficult to focus under their scrutiny.

Mint Street Park was re-landscaped recently by Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) working with local people to carry out improvements that included new landscaping, access and lighting. Raised beds were created and planted by the gardening club working with Putting Down Roots, a project run by St Mungo’s Association working with homeless people.

The boys spot a friend and dash across. Light is ebbing now and I close my sketchbook. Wintery branches and high smudgy clouds are bathed in the fading sun gold orange light.

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 2019. . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support

Mint Street Park, 14 Weller St, London SE1 1QU
Opening times: unrestricted
Google earth view


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