Tag: Homelessness

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.  www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.

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

Google earth view here


Sticks in the Smoke 46: St James’s Park, London


Ice and fireworks (Wednesday 18 January 2017)

I push my hands deeper into my pockets as I leave Queen Anne’s Gate and cross Birdcage Walk. Brr! Feels like the coldest day! The air is crisp and glistening above these 57­ acres of frosted grass, rolling out northwards to the The Mall, which cuts, as straight as a march, from Buckingham Palace to Admiralty Arch. The sun is melting stripes of green between the shadows of random clumps of trees.
St James’s Park is the oldest Royal Park in London. It takes its name from a women’s leper hospital, which was built in the 12th century and dedicated to St James the Less. The views southwest from here, where the park lies today, were across marshy meadowland on the banks of the River Tyburn, grazed by cattle and wallowed by pigs. And further, towards the towers of the original Westminster Abbey against the watery gleam from the Thames beyond. In the 1530s, Henry VIII acquired all this land. He had the hospital demolished and built the redbrick St James’s Palace  as his hunting lodge retreat from the stress of Whitehall 046acourt life. He had the meadows drained and fenced as a deer park. This provided him with an almost unbroken 2 mile gallop of royal hunting grounds, from here, westwards through what is now Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
I make my way towards the lake’s Blue Bridge  (the lake was originally spanned by an ornate Chinese inspired structure, built for national celebrations of victory against Napoleon in 1814. It had a tall pagoda rising from the middle but this was destroyed in a blaze during the firework festivities. It was replaced by an elegant iron suspension bridge in 1857, which itself was replaced by this one in 1957. It looks incongruous here, better suited to link a multi storey car park with a shopping centre). The lake courses the whole length of the park. On a map it looks like a giant claw, clutching at the seat of government in Whitehall. Today the middle part of the lake is frozen in a great sheet. Two confused coots are tottering tentatively and gulls appear frozen to the surface, but a pair of swans are determinedly breaking a winding channel through the ice. Tourists and park visitors line the bridge, fascinated and clicking pictures. As the swans push ahead, the ice flexes for a moment with an eerie doink doink sound until it shatters. 046bThe dull and waxy lustre of willow ginger in the ice suddenly replaced by sharp reflections of sunlit gold.
In the early 17th century, the park was landscaped and the drainage improved. The deer made way for the royal menagerie, which included camels, crocodiles and an elephant. Also a row of aviaries which housed the royal collection of exotic birds (hence Birdcage Walk). The Tyburn wound through the park at the foot of a vineyard, to the eastern end where pools and reedy islands lured ducks which were shot for the royal table. In 1660, Charles II celebrated the return of the monarchy with a bold redesign of St James’s Park in the formal French style, under the direction of Andre Mollet, the French landscape gardener. Avenues of chestnut trees and limes with a central feature of a straight ‘canal’ half a mile long. It would freeze hard in those little ice age winters and Londoners would flock here with their skates. In the summer, visitors could take a boat along the Canal (there were even a pair of gondolas from Venice, given by the Doge). Or promenade and maybe even meet the King (sometimes accompanied by his favourite mistress, Nell Gwynne). In the evenings, though, the park gained a reputation as a place for moonlit trysts, especially at the western end, 046caround a small lake called Rosamond’s Pond (thought to be named after the tragic and romantic heroine, Rosamond Clifford).
I follow the lakeside path with the sun warm on my left cheek and the chill from the lake on my right. The banks are bustling with all kinds of water birds trumpeting, screeching, piping and calling. Then, as I walk, there’s the thud thud of a marching band pulsing the chill air. As I get closer, try as I might, I can’t stop myself stepping in time to the drumbeat. I arrive to watch as, with Buckingham Palace in the background, the bearskinned and grey- coated Foot Guards bandsmen stride as one trumpeting, piping, umpahing and thumping body round Spur Road and into their home in Wellington Barracks.
From here the path drops down to the sunken area below the balustrade of the Queen Victoria Memorial Garden. The waters of the Tyburn are gushing from an ornamental outflow to feed the lake, which keeps this end ice free. I unpack my things to draw the view down the lake (see drawing at top). The West Island hangs just there, a magical fragment of wilderness with a weeping willow draping like a golden string curtain towards the water. At the far end, the towers and domes of Whitehall twinkle like a Disney fairytale palace. The Ice Queen’s?
. .046f
In the 1820s, George IV commissioned the renowned landscape architect John Nash to remodel the park. Nash cast aside formality and straight lines to transform St James’s to pretty well its current, more pastoral appearance, with naturalistic lake, undulating lawns, winding paths and informal shrubberies and trees, which mingle up towards more formal tree lines at the edges of the park
046dAs I finish my drawing, a rat purposefully scurries through the bank side undergrowth. Probably kept fat by the thousands of handfuls of bird seed thrown every day. A woman in a parka walks past, pigeons clinging to her shoulders and one on her hat. I think they know her. She probably comes every day with a Tupperware box of bird food.
It’s so very cold. I walk the lake path. A mass of waterbirds. And there in the quivering blue violet ripples, overlooked by the curvilinear and turf- roofed ‘Inn the Park’ cafe, is a host of coots, like a cluster of clergymen shivering in the water. I buy a steaming coffee and grip it tightly to defrost my drawing hand. My eye is caught by the sparkling spray of the Swire Fountain (installed in 2007, the jets reach over 4.5 metres high, helping to oxygenate the water), with the bright backdrop of Horse Guards Parade and WhitehallReedbeds fringe the banks at this end, fostering wildlife. And just across is Duck Island, a wild reserve for waterfowl, including a colony of pelicans (first introduced when a 046epair were donated by a Russian ambassador in 1664), which are publicly fed every day between 2 and 3pm. It’s also home to the London Parks & Gardens Trust charity.
I meander across the hard ground, my shadow stretching long, up towards The Mall. A glimpsed band of bleached white elegance between the trees. But here, at a junction in the path, stands a cherry tree, abundant with early pink blossom, ignited by sunlight. I set up my easel and start to draw (see below). On a nearby bench, a man in a khaki jacket and close cropped hair is holding a can of Special Brew. And more in a plastic bag. He calls over “excuse me my friend, what are you doing?” I tell him I’m drawing. “When did you start doing that?” I say about half an hour ago “no I mean when did you start doing art?” I tell him about a century ago. He comes over and joins me and introduces himself: “Paddy”. His face has lived and there’s a scar under his left eye. Tells me he came down from Leicester. He’d lost his mother and sister in the past 6 months and things not going too well for him up there. He came down to London to “be somewhere that no-one knows me”. Been sleeping rough; slept last night under a bush in Vauxhall. He wants to talk. Needs to tell his stories. As we chat I keep drawing the cherry blossom. It’s a burst of fireworks. Or neurons sparking in a busy mind.
The long shadows grow longer. We share my sandwiches and he tells me that last time he was in London was in the 80s, bricklaying at Canary Wharf and he earned a packet “and I mean a packet, Nick!” And he tells me how at the age of 7 he watched his drunk Dad attack his mother with a hammer. He had to call an ambulance.
As the sun sinks the earth chill rises through the soles of my shoes. I give Paddy money for a cup of tea. He picks up his cans and rucksack and says he knows where he can go and ask for a room “I mean they’ve got about 50 bedrooms, they can spare one for the night!” and weaves off in the direction of Buckingham Palace. 

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.  www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.


St James’s Park, London. SW1A 2BJ
Unrestricted opening
Google earth view here