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Sticks in the Smoke 80: Parliament Square, Westminster

‘Palace and protest‘ (Saturday 23 March 2019)

We join a host, marching their hopes and demands for a people’s’ vote and protesting with banner and song and chant and passion against Brexit. An exciting festival atmosphere but with the turnout of many hundreds of thousands, the march makes glacial progress from Park Lane towards Westminster. Tanya and I furl our euro flag and shortcut through Horseguards Parade to Parliament Square.

Sadly we arrive too late to listen to the speakers, but well placed to witness this massive gathering, with more people arriving all the time to swell the numbers, waving placards, signs and flags. The gargoyled gothic edifices of the Palace of Westminster loom over this space although, due to restoration works, much adorned with scaffolding and sheathed in white plastic. A large screen is above the stage, an intense yellow rectangle, which masks across the eastern flank of St. Margaret’s Church.

I wrote about the early and medieval history of this part of Westminster in my post about Victoria Tower Gardens (Sticks in the Smoke 50) and Deans Yard, Westminster Abbey (Sticks in the Smoke 39). Parliament Square covers the site of a once crowded district with narrow streets, small houses and a host of small alleys near the medieval Palace of Westminster and St Margaret’s Church. In the early 1780s the buildings were demolished and the churchyard was cleared and grassed over, the cleared space becoming known as ‘the Desert of Westminster‘.

In 1834, following a fire which destroyed a large portion of the medieval Palace of Westminster, Sir Charles Barry won the competition to redesign a new home for the Houses of Parliament. Work began in 1837 and the new buildings were pretty well completed by the end of the 1850s. The area in front of the Palace was opened up around a central railed enclosure. However this wasn’t considered a grand enough approach to the Palace of Westminster. The opportunity arose to rethink the space in 1868, after major excavations had been completed to drive the new Metropolitan District underground railway diagonally through the square. The garden redesign was by Barry’s 3rd son, Edward Middleton Barry, who had taken over after the death of his father in 1860. With plane trees, sweeping lawns and simple planting schemes, the new garden formed an elegant green foil to the precincts of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

In 1950 Parliament Square was again reconfigured to improve traffic flow for the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition. Architect George Grey Wornum was appointed. He came up with a simple and dignified scheme, incorporating the line of existing London plane trees on the west side of the square and the six existing statues placed on new pedestals (Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli, Abraham Lincoln, George Canning, Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby) and Lord Palmerston) with a terrace garden, flower beds and large stone jardinières. The remainder of the square was laid to turf, except for a paved walk with catalpa trees on the north side. The plan was intended to set aside open space for future public monuments. Wornum received the Royal Institute of British Architect’s Gold Medal on the strength of his achievement which was vaunted as a ‘New Look for the Hub of Empire’ by The Sphere newspaper.

Since then the square has undergone relatively few modifications. Recent additions have been the statue of Mahatma Ghandi (sculpted by Philip Jackson in 2015) and Nelson Mandela by Ian Walters in 2007). They gaze down from their plinths and across the crowds with beneficence. Other bronzes include Field-Marshal Jan Christian Smuts by Sir Jacob Epstein (1956). In 1973, the statue of Sir Winston Churchill by Ivor Roberts-Jones was added, and in 2007 a bronze statue of David Lloyd George was unveiled.

Westminster is well used to marches and protests of this kind. Sitting opposite one of the key entrances to the Palace of Westminster, it has traditionally been a common site of protest against government action (or inaction!). On May Day 2000 the square was transformed into a giant allotment by Reclaim the Streets guerrilla gardening action. From 2001 – 2011 activist Brian Haw staged a continual one- man campaign there , with his sign- emblazoned peace camp, protesting against UK and US foreign policy.

From my viewpoint on the low surrounding wall I watch as a forest of banners and flags are caught by the breeze, fluttering and swirling. Small groups of protesters form and then disperse. Rain over the previous few days has left the grass damp. Many feet churning patches into mud. Paper flyers scatter across and are trampled into the ground like fallen leaves.

So much else has been demanding my time and attention since I started writing this post. Six months have rolled away. Spring and summer have come and gone. March and this march seem like a distant memory. My little action the tiniest scratch on the Brexit monolith that continues to cast its deep and all consuming shadow across the country. Its ugly and battered face a bloody mess of scratches.

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. It is planned to publish the first two sketchbooks as a book. . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support

Parliament Square, Westminster, London, SW1P 3BD
Opening times: unrestricted
Google earth view

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

Sticks in the Smoke 78: Crossbones Garden, Southwark

crossbones‘Sage, skulls and oyster shells’  (Wednesday 13 February 2019)

The entrance gates are chained when I arrive at 11. A flapping laminated sign tells me I have an hour to kill before the garden opens. So I wander the maze of surrounding Southwark streets between tall warehouse buildings, transformed from Victorian industrial grime into trendy loft apartments and designer office space. I pick up a coffee and get back well before 12 to find the gates already opened. Welcomed by smiley volunteers, I follow the entrance walkway, sloping up under its wonderful goose wing wooden roof, supported on twisty hand wrought posts (designed and built by Arthur de Mowbray).


Once dank and misty marshland rolling down to the southern tide torn banks of the Thames, Southwark has been linked by bridge to the City since Roman times and has since seemed an integral part of London. In the 12th century an Augustinian priory was founded close to the river, about half a mile north east of here, where Southwark Cathedral now stands. This was under the patronage of the Bishops of Winchester, who governed this district from their London seat of Winchester Palace. This area became known as the ‘Liberty of the Clink’, after the notorious ‘Clink’ prison, run by the Bishops of Winchester until 1780, when it was burnt down by Gordon rioters.

The Liberty of the Clink, being outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, became a place of entertainment with theatres, bear baiting, bull pits, taverns and brothels under licence from the Bishop, leading to the local prostitutes being nicknamed ‘Winchester Geese’.

The burial ground here is thought to have been established originally as an unconsecrated graveyard for these prostitutes and was known as the ‘Single Women’s Burying Ground’, but by 1769 it had become a pauper’s cemetery (regularly preyed on by body-snatchers who provided cadavers for anatomy classes at nearby Guy’s Hospital).


The garden has a homely backyard character that seems to have evolved through unfettered creativity of many unknown hands: making, planting, building, painting, sculpting, writing. Rough stone walls, grafitied poetry, corner shrines made from broken pots and stone masks and stretches of hedging lovingly laid. Much evidence underfoot of the recent history of this space in its cracked patchwork of concrete floors, mossy tarmac, rough blockwork, rickety wooden hoardings, stain streaked brick walls. And throughout the garden reference to its more distant history in the presence of decorated and spangled skulls, planted in beds and hidden corners as reminders of those buried here, names long forgotten. A rough pyramid, 2 metres high or so, dominates the north end of the garden, built up from fragments of stone and mortar reclaimed from this ground,  adorned on one side with oyster shells (a reminder of the staple diet of the poor in this area who, living close to river, relied on this abundant and cheap protein source for most of their lives).

In the 19th century two charity schools, for boys and girls, were built on the south end of the graveyard, restricting the space for burials. By the 1850s the ground had become so overcrowded and conditions so squalid that it was closed. The site was sold for building in 1883, but this was declared void under the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884 so it remained vacant, despite threats of development over the years (although it did have temporary uses during the 20th century as a timber-yard, warehousing and once even a fairground!). An archaeological dig by the Museum of London in the 1990s, prior to the construction of an electricity substation for the Jubilee line extension, uncovered 148 of the Victorian graves. Over a third of the bodies were babies and most of the adults were women aged 36 and over. It is estimated that nearly 15,000 people had been buried here over the centuries.


The midday dong dong dong.. from the church across the street. A reminder that my drawing time is limited. So I set up in front of a herb bed, tangled with rosemary and sage, last season’s dried flowers, tawny heads nodding, and look across to the red iron memorial gates- the ragged shrine to the outcast dead, of bright colourful ribbons and notes and messages and photos and mementos and dried flowers and strings of beads. This shrine to the ‘Outcast Dead’ was created by the Friends of Crossbones (established to protect this ancient burial ground by Southwark writer and poet,  John Constable, following a vision he had in 1996 in which The Goose appeared as the spirit of Crossbones protecting her outcast children). Regular events happen in and around the site including talks, workshops and Halloween processions. A candlelit vigil is held on the 23rd of each month instigated by the Friends of Crossbones, when visitors can bring their own ribbons, mementos or totemic objects to tie to the memorial gate.

Above the walls and hoardings, the austere faces of  Victorian terracing on Redcross Way stare down sternly. The crisscross steelwork of railway bridges, and the endless trundle and squeech of southeastern trains from London Bridge station. And beyond, the jutting cranes of riverside development lead my eye over to the angled cluster of city skyscape.

A volunteer with biker jacket and punk hair (I later discover her name is Nik) is diligently lighting candles in lanterns and placing them on walls under the shrine to the outcast dead and around the garden. Reverential and with a sacred step. Priest like.


Between 2006 and 2012 a secret guerrilla wildflower garden was created on the site, tended by ‘invisible gardenerAndy Hulme, who was living in a caravan on the site (he was later to work as gardener for Vivienne Westwood). He created figure of eight ‘infinity beds’ and the Pyramid from old bricks, lime mortar and rubble. In 2015 a ‘meanwhile garden‘ lease was granted which has allowed Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST), supported by a team of  volunteers, to create a new garden. Designed by Helen John, it incorporates elements of the ‘invisible garden’ as well as new features such as the ‘Goose Wing’ entranceway, drystone walls and a wildflower meadow next to the Jubilee Line substation. Raised planting beds were used in order not to disturb human remains beneath the ground.

A scruffy pigeon lands on top of the gates, perching there to become, for a moment, part of the shrine, before flapping down to the sloping lawn where little early narcissi have pushed through the patchy winter turf.

Today’s chill breeze tucks around my neck but the sun shines warm and I feel comfortable here, at home in this shared space. I’m aware that soon the gates will be rattled shut and I have to hurriedly finish my drawing. I’d like to build a shrine here or add an offering to the ragged memorial. And I look across once more and catch a pale face staring through, framed with ribbons.


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

Cross Bones Garden, Redcross Way, Southwark, London, SE1 1TA
Opening times: 12noon – 2pm (variable depending on volunteer stewards)
Google earth view

Sticks in the Smoke 77: Euston Square Gardens

euston-square-gardens‘Bus stops and tree scarves’  (Wednesday 16 January 2019)

My first ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ drawing since October. I feel a little shameful about this gaping hole in the project, but sadly the pennies haven’t been there to get to London over the past few months. Now a New Year’s pledge to revive the visits (and some recent painting sales) if not exactly weekly, then as often as I can.

Relentless Euston Road, a city artery, conveying a clamour of traffic east to west, west to east. Two and a half centuries ago this was New Road, laid through rolling farmland at the northern peripheries of London, to establish a cattle drovers’ route to Smithfield Market. Market gardens and nurseries grew up along the route. As demand grew for homes away from the city smoke, Euston Square was laid out here in the early C19th as two wide rectangles of fine housing around gardens either side of New Road (the name Euston comes from the country seat of the Duke of Grafton, the landowner: Euston Hall in north Suffolk). In the 1830s the properties on the north side were replaced by the grand façade of Euston Station, although the gardens were preserved. And half a century later the gardens on the southern side of Euston Square were lost when they were parcelled off for redevelopment.

I walk across the western wing of these remaining gardens to discover that, due to HS2 works, it too has been lost (The High Speed 2 rail link to the Midlands and the North. Euston Station will be the HS2 London terminus) under concrete and tarmac and metal for taxi ranks and bicycle racks, which were just unveiled last week. Only a few of its original plane trees remain, sitting in bark mulch beds. So at the moment the only green around here is the eastern flank-  a flat smudge of winter green lawn with patchy scrapes of muddy earth. A path snakes through from the Euston Road corner to the gateway opposite the station. People, hunched and hooded, trundling luggage, hurry through. Naked plane tree branches twine and twist, forming an uneven latticework through the dimming air and across the looming silhouette of the tower and portico of St Pancras Church, at the far southeast corner. Several tree trunks are wrapped with brightly hand knitted scarves, carrying labels ‘Aboricide in the Autumn’, vainly against the clearance of plane trees for HS2.

Misty spatters of cold drizzle. A greying and deepening sky threatens something heavier. I find shelter against a pillar under the massive slab bus station roof. On a little concrete island, buses roaring behind and in front, sporadically breaking my view into blurred red and glass and glimpsed faces, swiftly right to left. One bus whooshes in tightly and grates its wheelarch loudly against a kerb as it comes to a standstill, a serious sounding bang and scrape. The driver gets out and saunters round to inspect the damage and pokes at the damage with the toe of his shoe.

Double deckers enter the bus station along Euston Grove, which passes between a bookend pair of stone lodges. When Euston Station was built in 1837 (planned by Robert Stephenson), these sat either side of the great ‘Euston Arch’, the 72 foot high imposing Doric propylaeum entranceway to the station, designed by Philip Hardwick, to be seen as “the gateway to the north”. The names of stations served by the London and North Western Railway company are inscribed on the lodges and the pediments have reliefs with allegorical figures, sculpted by Joseph Pitts, representing England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Most of the original station was demolished in 1963, including the Euston Arch (despite protests and demonstrations against its destruction) making way for the functionalist new station which opened in 1968. All that remains are the pair of lodges which are now bars, The East Lodge (The Euston Tap) is in my drawing.

In front is the Euston war memorial, which was erected in 1921 to honour the 3719 railwaymen who lost their lives in the First World War (additional panels were later added to commemorate those who were killed in WW2). The dark, rain-glistened statues of a sailor, an infantryman, a member of the Royal Flying Corps and a gunner stand with heads bowed as commuters rush past below, brandishing umbrellas.

Thrumming and grinding engines, an ever present soundtrack under this echoing concrete and tarmac box. And from the Euston Road, the rumble of traffic, scree of taxis, toots and hoots of vans and lorries. And the sudden shock of a speeding ambulance siren lifts a flutter of pigeons into the treetops.


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

Euston Square Gardens, Euston Rd, London, NW1 2AE
Opening times: unrestricted

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 75: Joseph Grimaldi Park


‘Clown and Crocodiles’  (Thursday 11 October 2018)

Half a mile of the dusty, grey concrete and glass blocked, wide worn, perspective straight, whitelined rise of Pentonville Road brings me to the iron railed and gated Joseph Grimaldi Park. It occupies the former churchyard of St James’s, built in 1787/8 as a chapel to serve the newly laid out suburb of Pentonville (named after Henry Penton who, from 1773, developed this 66 acres of rural farmland into a grid system of streets and squares).

Where the chapel once stood, dead centre to its grounds now stands Grimaldi Park House (built in 1990 as offices, a pastiche of the original chapel design which had fallen out of use and was demolished a few years before). Its facade catches today’s warming autumn sun and tree shadows scribble across.


I push open the stiff gate into a shady rectangular area and weave the shady paths between rust leafed chestnut and plane trees, humped and rounded privet hedges hugging the base of their trunks, past stone banana- shaped benches. Only one occupied- a worried young woman rummaging through her bag. Ancient gravestones, words eroded, stacked like ill matched teeth against the walls, separating this quiet treecast area from the bright, active, yelling, cheering, clapping sports courts and children’s playground beyond.

The park is symmetrically divided into four rectangular segments, more or less following the divisions of the original burial ground. It is named after the famous actor, comic performer and dancer, Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) who was buried here, his grave sits enclosed with curlicued railings in the southeast segment. A pair of metal tragi- comedy masks hang at the foot. The comic mask grins up at the dappled sunshine turning leaves to gold; the tragi mask frowns down at the grave, choked with drooping plants and weeds. A string of (fake) pearls has been draped around the headstone, paper streamers wind through the ironwork.  Grimaldi lived in this area for most of his life. He performed at Sadlers Wells Theatre and in Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and is best known and celebrated for developing the role of the white faced clown, and is revered as forerunner of the modern circus clown.


In the far corner a pair of coffin- shaped bronze installations are set into the ground: an interactive musical artwork by Henry Krokatsis. One is dedicated to Grimaldi and the other to Charles Dibdin the Younger (composer and proprieter of Sadlers Wells theatre, who worked closely with Grimaldi. He was also buried in this churchyard). Stamping your feet on these produce clanging musical notes which, when in the right order will play the tunes of a couple of  Grimaldi’s popular songs, written by Dibdin. I do a hesitant (and slightly self conscious) tap dance on the coffins and make some discordant clanks but my unmusical feet produce nothing close to a melody!

I set up to draw where I can just glimpse the Grimaldi grave through a gap in the wall. It’s a warm autumnal October morning but gusty bursts of breeze rattle the lime tree foliage and send scatters of contorted bronze amber leaves, maple, lime, plane across the grass. Cascades of virginia creeper drape the stone walls. Red as a passing bus, a traffic light. Or a clown’s nose.


The leaf strewn length of this segment erupts in grassy bulges. Like giant underground bubbles ready to burst out of the lawn. A father and young daughter run up and over the hummocks. Squeals from the little girl as they race back down. Buses, lorries, vans, cars growl as they start stop on the Pentonville Road. Bright coloured rectangles flickering left to right behind the trees.

A constant turnover of parties of schoolchildren arriving in clusters and crocodiles to do sports in the ball court and on the grass. A background canticle of screams and laughs and whoops with teachers’ shouts and whistles.

A crow cackles from the high top of a plane tree.


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

Joseph Grimaldi Park, Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JE
Opening times: 8am – dusk

Google earth view here



Sticks in the Smoke 74: Waterloo Green

IMG_1793‘Marsh and mattress’  (Monday 3 September 2018)

This morning was my daughter, Millie’s graduation ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank. A celebration of achievements. She mounts the stage and takes her award and follows her fellow gowned graduates as they swish back down. So the world moves and she moves with it. And as the parade continues on in this packed and stuffy auditorium my thoughts drift away towards air and sunlight and green spaces. And drawing.

After the event and photos and lunch I check my drawing things out of left luggage and push through the tumult of Waterloo Station and on down the Spur Road slope towards Waterloo Green.

Down here, with the massive glass and steel roofs of the station looming to the north, this is a busy community of cafes, pubs, small independent shops and the daily Lower Marsh Street Market. Now all but cleared away. Just scatterings of papers, battered boxes and spills of bruised fruit. But the name gives a clue to the origins of this area. Once mostly marshy floodplain south of the Thames. Banks of clay and stone were raised close to the river, possibly during Roman times, to keep the tidal washes at bay. Also a raised road called Broad Wall was built through as a southern route to London. The small settlement of Lambeth Marsh grew up around this road and spread sporadically as the marsh was drained over the centuries.


I walk into the park. On this warm afternoon, parched and scuffed lawns still show the ravages of the early summer’s drought and heavy use. Shadows sweep across undulating ground and dapple under clusters of trees. Cherries and mountain ash. Stands of silver birch shade the ring of ponds and rills. Sadly today there’s no flow, no water. Many of the park benches are occupied, people in conversation. Groups of friends sitting on the grass, eagerly talking. A busy social space. The community’s back garden.

By the end of the 18th century Lambeth Marsh was still a predominantly rural area, with smallholdings and market gardens, providing produce for the ever demanding City of London across the river. Until the beginning of the 19th Century Lambeth Marsh was surrounded by open fields, with a windmill in the Cut (remembered in The Windmill Pub, just 100 metres east of here).

By the time Waterloo Station was built in 1848 all the fields and market gardens had been built over. Grimy streets crammed with poor quality housing butted up against the railway noise and smoke. This was not a place that respectable Londoners would have ventured in the latter part of the 19th century. In “Twice Round the Clock“(1859), George Sala wrote of the New Cut: “It isn’t picturesque, it isn’t quaint, it isn’t curious. It has not even the questionable merit of being old. It is simply Low. It is sordid, squalid, and the truth must out, disreputable..”


The water feature looks like it’s been empty for some time; drifts of leaves and litter. And there’s a mattress, complete with bedclothes and pillow, laid out in one of the channels. Its owner sits nearby, surrounded with bags and rucksacks, a woman wearing several coats, a scarf and headdress. She’s intensely reading a book. It’s difficult to tell her age.

At a higher point in the park some curving benches wrap around tree trunks, overlooking the space. I set to draw the view down towards the north park gate and up to the complexity of Waterloo station walls, roofs and windows. A chinking of glass to my left; through the trees I catch the sunlit flash of a barman’s shirt as he collects empties from the tables outside the Duke of Sussex pub. To my right I glimpse two of the round arches on the side of The Old Vic, like raised eyebrows, echoing the ironwork arches in the station canopy. And behind, the hazy semicircle of the London Eye, slowly turning. (The Old Vic Theatre was founded here in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, later renamed the Victoria Theatre after Queen Victoria’s mother).


In the 20th Century, many of the run down streets around here were cleared and redeveloped. The area was heavily bomb damaged during the second world war. Waterloo Green, alongwith the ball courts and play area, was opened in 2001, created from a piece of wasteland of just less than 1 hectare. Its development was led by local people who wanted somewhere to enjoy the outdoors and nature. Now managed by BOST (Bankside Open Spaces Trust)

The afternoon creeps towards evening and I’m running out of time so don’t get around to opening my paint box.

The homeless woman hasn’t moved. She reads on.

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

Waterloo Green, Baylis Road, Lambeth, London, SE1 7AA
Opening times: unrestricted

Google earth view here


Sticks in the Smoke 73: The Regent’s Park (west and north)


‘The Golden Dome and the Flying Saucer’  (Thursday 2 August 2018)

My second drawing visit to The Regent’s Park. The first was nearly 2 years ago (8 Sept 2016), to the southern section: Avenue Gardens, the boating lake, the bandstand and the perfect round of the central Queen Mary’s Gardens with its rose beds and outdoor theatre. Visit Sticks in the Smoke 30: The Regents Park (South side) to see the drawings made on that occasion, and to read the rich and royal history of this grand space.

Today I’m planning to explore the western and northern sections of the park. I walk in through the Baker Street entrance. To my right I can see the crisscross ironwork of the Clarence Bridge, which I struggled to draw on my last visit. The morning is heating fast as I turn onto the wide western path, following the lakeside. Waterfowl busy and teeming out onto the tarmac where squawking and piping knots are fighting over picnic leftovers. Ripples sparkle bright blue against the greenish lap of lake water.


The lake was excavated in the 1820s, opening out the course of the little River Tyburn in a naturalistic style across the south of the park. The River Tyburn rises in Hampstead, about 3km to the north,  but today most of its flow is hidden underground in culverts or sewers. From the 1830s when the The Regent’s Park was opened to the public, the lake was a popular attraction, for boating, paddling, swimming and skating. During the severe Victorian winters of the mid 19th century, many thousands turned out on to the lake. Tragically, in January 1867, at least 40 people died here when the lake ice broke, weakened by the sheer volume of skaters.

On this sweltering day it’s hard to imagine the sting of icy air as I stroll around the children’s boating pond, where a girl in waders is picking litter caught in the island bushes. Over to Hanover Gate lawn where the sunbleached grass is dotted around its edge with a variety of trees and little copses (This sits just to the south of the 12 acre grounds of Winfield House -the grand Neo Georgian mansion residence of the US Ambassador, the second largest private garden in central London after Buckingham Palace). I find the canopy cover of a tulip tree and set up to draw towards the Hanover gate and the London Central Mosque. The shade is almost solid with only a few chits of sunlight getting through. An occasional gust of cooler air is a momentary respite. The papercut leaves brittle and rattling above. The mosque dome glints copper gold. But also shimmery greens and blues. It rises like a fleeting mirage between the treetops, unearthly and hardly solid at all. I struggle and fail to get those transient and subtle colours right (The London Central Mosque with its striking golden dome was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd  and completed in 1978. The main hall can accommodate over 5,000 worshippers. It is joined to the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) which was built in 1944 on land donated by George VI to the Muslim community of Britain).


There’s a constant flow of tourists and families. Many people in Islamic dress. A woman in hijab with her daughter comes over to look at my drawing. The young girl loves drawing and wants to be an illustrator. She asks an enthusiastic string of arty questions.

All the time I’ve been drawing, a man has been stretched out asleep in the foot of the far hedge. The shadow gradually moves away and he eventually wakes up, flustered.  He hastily pulls his things together and staggers off towards the gate to the Outer Circle. Behind me I hear a man shouting. A harassed dad is letting off steam at his two young children. He drags them past, hot and sobbing. On a day like this I think they should all just go and eat ice cream. And dangle their bare feet in the cool lake water.


The day has heated more. I cross the bridge at the lake’s head and walk through stands of woodland. Oaks, plane, maple provide leafy relief. I wander through the Winter Gardens towards the outer circle. Across the road the Gorilla Circus trapeze school is in full swing. I stand and watch for a while. A latticework of ropes and swings. Anxious looking students being coaxed to take a leap into the warm August air.

Then back, across to the north section of the park, which opens out into a wide plain of roller flattened fields, parched horizontal bands in every direction (this part of the park was originally left open and undeveloped to protect the views from the villages of Hampstead and Highgate). Crows pick listlessly at the scuffed ground. I make a hasty beeline across the pitches towards a further clump of trees, narrowly avoiding an all- women fitness class, who are energetically and sweatily star jumping to the enthusiastic whooping of their coach.


I dive into the welcome shelter under a lime tree in a wilder fringe, where dried grasses droop and tall thistles cluster. Sports are happening all around: cricket, baseball, football. Much cheering, yelling, clapping, whistling and clack of bat on ball.

I set up to draw across the pitches, towards the clumped trees of St Mary’s Gardens and the Euston office blocks behind. The BT tower a sci fi space rocket stands ready for blast off. Close to me a flying saucer has landed. It sits raised up on a grassy mound and surveys these 360 degrees of  dried out fields. This is the Regent’s Park Hub. Opened a few years ago, a focus for all the sporting activities here, providing changing rooms, showers and cafe. An oasis and a lookout across the sports ground. Two toddlers are roly-polying down its slopes and yelping as their mothers chat on the cafe terrace.

A cricket game has finished, the young players excitedly chattering, file down the path below. Scrunch of shoes on scatterings of brittle lime leaves.

I drain the last dregs from my water bottle. It’s tepid. My thoughts drift towards the ice cream kiosk I passed on the way here.


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

The Regents Park, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR
Opening times: 5am – dusk

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 72: Ravenscourt Park


‘Circles of Sun and Pools of Shade’  (Thursday 19 July 2018)

Ravenscourt Park occupies land that was once part of the estate of Pallenswick in the Manor of Fulham, and at its greatest extent covered around 100 acres. By the 13th century the manor house was surrounded by a moat fed by the Stamford Brook (the lake in the centre of the park is the only remaining evidence of the original moat).

Over the next few hundred years the estate was owned by various private owners, including Alice Perrers (Edward III‘s mistress), in the 14th century. In 1650 the house was demolished and a new mansion built to the west of it. It was bought in 1747 by Thomas Corbett, Secretary to the Admiralty, who changed its name to Ravenscourt (a pun on his own name, ‘corbeau’ being French for raven, a feature of his coat of arms).

I enter the park from the south at the King St gate and follow curving paths which cut through tired lawns of parched grass. Red oaks, plane trees and sweet chestnuts are oases of cool. A line of railway arches separates this small quiet space from the rest of the park (Hammersmith and City railway was brought through here and opened in 1869). Only one of the benches is occupied; an elderly man reading his newspaper. He has a bright white handkerchief in the top pocket of his jacket. As I walk under one of the arches into the main park a group of yellow shirted nursery children are walking through the adjacent arch with their teachers. They all stop and the teacher counts “one, two, three. NOW!!” And they all shout and scream wildly, their voices ricocheting and pinging satisfyingly off the curving brickwork.


In 1812 Ravenscourt House and estate, which still consisted mostly of fields and meadows, were bought by builder and philanthropist George Scott. He employed leading landscape gardener Humphry Repton to lay out the estate, with flower gardens, lawns and orchards. A variety of trees were planted, and an ice house built to store winter ice cut from the lake. By this time Hammersmith had grown to be an important and growing settlement on the Great West Road (originally a Roman road, leading west from London to Bath), so Scott encouraged building on the fringes of his estate to meet the growing demand for good quality housing, endeavouring to ensure that they were well-designed and well built. By the 1850s there were over 330 houses.

North of the railway arches are children’s playgrounds, sandpits, paddling pools. Teeming and lively. The park opens into a wide open field, crossed with long straight, tree lined walks (grand avenues of elm and chestnut trees planted in the 18th century stood until the 1920s, but became dangerous and had to be cut down by the LCC, and were replaced with sweet chestnuts and flowering cherries). Further north, around where the manor house would have stood (its site visible as a mound by the lake), the park takes on a timeless and traditional feel, with stands of cedars, planes, shrubberies, flower beds, paths sweeping and curving through. Railed and rolling lawns, filled with family groups and friends, playing, relaxing in the sun, laughing, lounging.


The lakeside confines are railed. Once there were boats for hire but now the lake is reserved for wildlife. Canada geese graze and moorhens waddle across the grass. A flock of pigeons pick lazily at the hard dry earth until they’re flurried into the air by a yipping golden spaniel off the lead. It’s owner on the path ineffectually yelling “Margo! Margo! MAARGO!! COME BACK! From the bridge I can see the lake surface is covered with a slimy skin of blue green algae, prolific in this heat. Some ducks dabble lazily at the edge. I decide not to draw here but walk on, past more playgrounds and ball courts towards the walled garden at the north end of the park.

In 1887 the estate was sold by the Scott family for development with much needed workers’ houses. However, this scheme was blocked by local residents and the land was sold on to the Metropolitan Board of Works who established a public park, laid out by Lt Col J. J. Sexby, in the 32 acres of land surrounding the house. It was opened to the public in 1888 and soon attracted visitors. The main house became Hammersmith’s first public library, opening in 1890. An Old English Garden, later known as the Scented Garden, was created in the former walled kitchen garden. You enter through recently restored original 18th century ornamental iron gates.


A rose covered pergola is a circlet around the centre of the walled garden. An orrery sundial floats here in this space orbited by box hedged ball planets and wooden benches. Symmetrical with radiating paths, yews and beds and herbaceous borders. Wooden shelters at the edges, brick walls hidden behind thicknesses of trees and climbers. On this baking morning I step into pools of shade, eventually finding a cool leafy spot to set up my easel, behind a firework explosion of day lilies. Something on the ground catches my eye: a child’s pencil drawing of a lily (see below). From just over the wall, the continual backdrop sounds of children’s excited screams and hoots. Effervescent energy. And the playground gate a continual squeal and clang. At first I am one of the only occupants of this beautiful and fragrant space but lunchtime brings more people to sit and wander. And breathe in the perfume. For a few minutes the sound of someone at the opposite corner sneezing continuously.


I’m finishing my drawing and notice a man in a dark t-shirt meandering through the garden, looking and poking into every bin. He reaches into the nearest one but comes away empty handed. As he leaves he stoops down to sniff a crimson rose.

During the two world wars the park was the venue for fundraising and events such as concerts and other entertainments. In WW2 trenches were dug and lawns dug up for allotments, but on the night of 21 January 1941 incendiary bombs destroyed the big house. All that remains today is the stable block which is home to the park café.

Behind the cafe are two glasshouses that have now been converted into Community Greenhouses by Hammersmith Community Gardens Association, which provide a busy programme of events and classes.


I walk across to the cafe to fill my water bottle and buy a cup of tea. In the full sun the air is hazy hot. Figures stretch out in delicious shade. Glorious inactivity. But the park is also heaving with activity. Alive and energetic with the run and jump and roll and kick and hit and bounce and yell and cheer of many sports.

I take my tea over to a splash of shade under a ring of ageing limes and sit on a log. I watch as a pair of gardeners park their tractor by a wall behind the ball courts where 5-a -side football is happening. They start to listlessly hack and pull at an over abundant ivy but very soon stop to wipe their brows and watch the game. I walk over to the busy basketball ground and set up to draw under a line of cherry trees which make dark frames for the bright view. Basketball nets are supported on strangely bent trees on red padded posts. Occasional missed balls bobble past me chased by eager players.

People walking along the nearby path are decorated with flickering fragments of dappled light.


After the war additional facilities were built in the park: a bandstand, tennis courts, a bowling green and pavilion. Further additions more recently include the basketball circle, ball courts, all-weather pitches and an ecology area with a pond.

A cluster of teenage boys are straggling over some benches. Bags and bikes spilling over the ground. Their music hops and pounds across the hard ground: “tak, tak, takka, takka..” And all the leaping, reaching basketball players seem to be dancing to the pulse.

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

Ravenscourt Park, Paddenswick Rd, Hammersmith, London W6 0UA
Opening times: 7.30am – dusk

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 71: Gordon Square and Woburn Square Gardens


‘Hula Hoops and the Hermit’  (Thursday 21 June 2018)

These two garden squares are the green core of UCL (University College, London), the breathing spaces of this part of busy, bustling Bloomsbury. The morning is warm; pavements simmer as I enter the western gate to Gordon Square Garden. An intensity of brightness across these sun drenched lawns. Circles of students sitting cross legged on the semi parched grass. Some groups seem more organised, maybe alfresco seminars. Some more informal. Friends lunching together. A hum of voices; at times reaching a crescendo. A global mix of many tongues. Fast and urgent conversations. Soundtrack of stimulated minds.


I pause at the bearded bust of Rabindranath Tagore (the Indian poet, philosopher and Nobel Laureate, sculpted by Shenda Amery) and read the plaque inscribed in his own handwriting:

“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new. At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.”


Along the curving shaded southwest path to the Ginger Jules Cafe (was once the gardeners’ cabin). Outside there’s a man wearing a beret and holding a coffee. He has a (Siamese?) cat attached to an extending dog lead and is trying to stop it scrambling up a nearby tree.


Prior to the building up of Bloomsbury, the area that’s now occupied by Gordon and Woburn Squares was open marshy farmland, part of the Tottenhall Manor Estate.

As demand grew for housing in the late 17th century, the Dukes of Bedford who owned the land began to develop Bloomsbury as a desirable location for high end residences away from the crush and stench of the City. A basic grid of streets was laid out, interspersed with garden squares, a fashionable feature of the time. These two particular squares were fairly late developers: laid out in the 1820s and 30s. The finest Georgian houses were built around Gordon Square by master builder, Thomas Cubitt. Whereas, the terraces around Woburn Square were built by James Sim and his sons to be more functional. The houses were narrower, less imposing and were cheaper to rent, so this square lacked the grandiose status of other Bloomsbury Squares.

I take my coffee for a walk around the garden. A line of lime trees which borders the north east path casts pools of blue violet. At the top corner a memorial bust of Noor Inayat Khan (an SOE agent who infiltrated occupied France, but was executed at Dachau Concentration Camp in 1944 and was honoured with the GC, MBE and Croix de Guerre) is looking out across the lawn where a pair of girls are hula- hooping in the hot sun and laughing loudly at each other.


In places, the fringes of the park, under the spread of the plane trees, are deliberately left overgrown with shrubs and wild plants to provide habitats for wildlife and encourage biodiversity. At the northern end is a wilder pocket, like a piece of woodland thicket where several homeless men, with sleeping bags and possessions gathered around them, are sitting in a group, talking together and smoking.

The original design of the gardens was by John Russell, the sixth Duke of Bedford (Gordon Square was named after Lady Georgina Gordon, his second wife and Woburn Square named after Woburn Abbey, the Duke of Bedford’s country seat). He laid out both gardens with elaborate arrangements of curving paths, shrubberies and lawns, for the sole benefit of residents of the surrounding terraces. By the end of the 19th century the layout of both gardens had been made less formal, with serpentine paths and more natural looking shrubberies, borders and tree planting.


I set up to draw in the dust dry shade of a broad beech next to a central island rose bed. Colour rich and intense. A sporadic breeze cools my hot neck. The park fills with gatherings of young Education First (Summer Language School) students from around the world. A group of young East Asians sit on the grass to picnic just in front of where I’m working and glance at me nervously in case they’re in my view. They are but I decide not to include them in my drawing. They talk and laugh excitedly. One or two come over and glance at my sketchbook and nod and say ‘Very nice, very nice’. Summer school leaders circulate with placards reading ‘chocolate’ and ‘vanilla’ and shepherd their animated groups together and away for the afternoon’s sessions.

The University of London was founded in 1826. The following year it moved into the grand neoclassical Wilkins Building, just round the corner from here. However, over the next decades, with expansion and the need for ever more space for new educational roles and departments, by the twentieth century it had outgrown this and other sites in London.  In 1920 the Duke of Bedford agreed to sell a large parcel of his Bloomsbury estate, including these two squares, for the building of new University premises.


I pack my things and leave the teeming Gordon Square. The day has heated further and there is the scent of warm dust and diesel as I cross the road which separates the two parks. But the air freshens as I enter the shade of Woburn Square Garden. A patched pattern of light scatters across the long rectangle of lawn, transforming it into a giant rug laid out in a lofty hall. The leafy roof held high with great plane tree trunks for pillars.

This is a quiet, hushed space. A wooden shelter at the northern end sits proprietorially over the lawn. Like a cricket pavilion. Or a royal throne. A man in a shabby dark coat sits bent over in one corner, bags and things gathered around him. Lost in thought. Like a hermit. I don’t go in. Neither does anyone else. It would feel like an intrusion. Some people perch for a while on the benches which tuck in amongst the shrubs and bushes beside the perimeter path. Most people looking for a picnic or sunbathing place would surely opt for the more open and warmer lawns of Gordon Square.


Further university expansion encroached on to Woburn Square in 1958 when the original terraces on its western flank made way for the Warburg Institute. And in 1972 part of the north and south sides were demolished for the Institute of Education and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). 


I stroll down towards the children’s playground at the southern end. It’s deserted. But there is an onlooker: a figure standing near the southern gate, thrusting a peeled fruit (or nut) into the air: ‘The Green Man’ a bronze by Lydia Kapinska, sculpted in 1999 (he looks to me somewhere between Mick Jagger and Peter Pan!). Someone has given him a flat cap (see below), which I remove before starting to draw this sprite- like guardian of the garden. A plaque close by is inscribed with an extract from Virginia Woolf‘s ‘The Waves’ (Woolf lived at 46 Gordon Square from 1903- 07, where the circle of writers and artists who were to form the Bloomsbury Group first started to meet):

“My roots go down to the depth of the world, through earth dried brick, and damp earth through vein of lead and silver. I am all fibre.

I am green as a yew tree in the shade of the hedge. My hair is made of leaves. I am rooted to the middle of the earth. My body is a stalk. I press the stalk.

The roots make a skeleton on the ground, with dead leaves pressed in the angles”


A pigeon hops amongst the crunchy leaf debris under the railings. As I draw, I throw down a small crust from my sandwich but a blackbird darts down in a flash and carries it off before the pigeon gets a look in.

For a few minutes I’m alone in the garden. Well, apart from the man in the pavilion who’s there immobile and hunched over for the whole time I’m drawing.

A gentle gust sisses through the high foliage.

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

Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PQ
Woburn Square,  London WC1H 0AA
Opening times: 8am – dusk or 8pm

Google earth view here

Sticks in the Smoke 70: Wandsworth Park


‘Silt, Sports and Stinkpipe’  (Thursday 7 June 2018)

The refined and polished residential streets of East Putney lead to the gates of Wandsworth Park. This broad, tree- fringed rectangular field opens out, sloping gently down to the Thames which runs below the north flank of the park. A sign at the west entrance directs cyclists to the left and I follow the arrow too, drawn by the watery shimmer through the line of great gnarly plane trees whose branches spread and wave at passing rivercraft. I amble along the wide embankment path, trying to dodge cyclists and mums jogging with buggies. Looking over the railings, the river slides silver grey under today’s bright cloud. The thick  line of trees opposite at the Hurlingham Club riverside reflect a dark ribbon in the water.

Once marshy farmland, cattle grazing down to the water’s edge. The village of Wandsworth grew up close to where the River Wandle joins the Thames a short walk east from this park (and from where Wandsworth gets its name). Travellers, traders and horse- drawn coaches would cross the Wandle here, on their way to Central London from the West country.


Since the early 16th century, Wandsworth offered settlement to consecutive waves of immigration, including Protestant Dutch metalworkers fleeing persecution in the 1590s, whose expertise contributed to the establishment of ironworks and brass foundries. Later, French Huguenot refugees settled here to work in the cloth mills on the Wandle and developed a hat industry for which the town was famous. Brewing began a stones’ throw from here at The Ram Pub sometime in the 16th century, making use of the ready supply of water. The Ram Brewery developed through the following centuries and was taken over in 1831 by Charles Allen Young and his partner Anthony Forthergill Bainbridge who founded the brewery and pub company, Young & Co which became a major employer in the town (large scale brewing only stopped on that site in 2006, when Young’s operations were moved to Bedford).

I lean my things against the river railings and stand my easel in the leaf choked gutter. I set up to draw the view downstream towards Wandsworth bridge, moorings of houseboats and quayside developments. Colourful and busy. Cranes punctuate the skyline, I count 12. A cool breeze from down river has a salty, seaweed tang. A quartet of Canada geese dip and paddle along the lapping silty strand. A rook paces the brick studded shingle then flies up to the railing and calls: “caw, caw, caw”. A distant answer from across the park: “cark, cark, cark!”


As I draw, a continual process of passing humanity. Amongst them: a man skitting along on a very rattly scooter, several pairs of women running and chatting, a man fast sprinting the 1k circuit of the park, a girl running in a flowery African dress, she circuits the park several times, cyclists, tourist groups. A man stops to look at my drawing while munching noisily,  Many dogs and their walkers. Dog names here seem to have a colonial feel: “Stanley, STANLEY! C’mon!”, “Here, Rupert!”, “WINSTON, STOP THAT!”

By the 19th century, Wandsworth was a densely built and cramped agglomeration of coal stained terraces, grimy streets, sprawling industries and heavily polluted creeks and river (and the setting up of the Wandsworth coal gas plant in 1834 didn’t help matters!). To address the health concerns of its population, London County Council (LCC) saw the creation of public parks as one of its primary concerns and when, in 1897, Wandsworth District Board were given the opportunity to buy this 18 acres of (formerly) allotment land for this purpose, they contributed a third of the purchase price of £33,000.

By the time I’ve finished my drawing, the tide has fully retreated. Houseboats have settled onto mudflats. A handful of waders are sifting the exposed riverbed. A heron stands in the ebbing tide above its shimmery reflection. A mudlark stoops with a metal detector and picks and dips his way amongst the mud coated stones and debris, occasionally stopping to pick up an oddment of treasure (?).


Wandsworth Park was designed and constructed under the supervision of the LCC Chief Officer of Parks Lt Col J J Sexby and opened in early 1903. The Thames was embanked and a riverside walk created. The overall park design responded to two main influences current at the beginning of the 20th century: firstly the increase in maintenance costs and the shortage of gardening staff, and secondly the growing interest in organised sports. So most of the space was given over to a large central expanse of grass playing field surrounded with walks. The park’s perimeters were planted with lines of trees, including plane, sycamore, holly and false acacia. A few ornamental flowerbeds were laid out near the main entrance.

The park’s layout has remained relatively unaltered since it was originally opened. A bowling green with a pavilion was added in the 1920s but this was removed a few years ago. In it’s place: Putt in the Park: miniature golf / crazy golf with a cafe. A bandstand sat close to the river walk but was demolished in the 1950s. There’s a busy children’s playground to the east of the playing field which was first laid out in the 1960s.


I make my way south to the top of the field. Pausing at ‘Pygmalion’ (above) one of Alan Thornhill‘s 9 eloquent bronzes on the Putney Sculpture Trail (another; ‘Nexus’ is at the top of the field’). A tractor mows back and along the long grassy ride. I walk across the straight path, fringed with more regular ranks of mature planes. Gaps have been filled with beeches. I stop and watch an energetic game of wheelchair cricket. On the field, nursery children are playing running games. Further on, enthusiastic young coaches lead school sports, yelling encouragement and clapping.

I buy a coffee from the Putt in the Park cafe pavilion, walk past the mini golf course, the tennis courts, flowerbeds, then to the top path where I can get a wide view across the field and its many activities. Along here, bordering the Putney Bridge Road, the park is edged with a procession of great old (non prickly) holly trees with a few rowans and maples. Its starting to lightly spot with rain so I set up to draw just under a holly’s spreading branches. Close to its base is an iron pillar-like structure (inscribed: “Fred Bird and Co, Engineers”), whose top disappears into the tree canopy. This turns out to be a Victorian sewer ventilator (commonly known as a ‘stinkpipe’).

Footsteps on the pavement behind the railings scrunch through the scatter of dried holly leaves. A blackbird lands very close to my easel and cocks his head to look up at me, hops around and picks at the fallen leaves, looking for hidden invertebrates. Suddenly screams from across the field and the blackbird flits off. A white shirted team of schoolkids are celebrating a win, jumping and high- fiving!



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

Wandsworth Park, Putney Bridge Road, London SW18 1PP
Opening times: 8am – dusk

Google earth view here