Tag: winter

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

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

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

Google earth view here