Fen Court has been a churchyard and burial ground since 1331, so it’s fitting that this diminutive garden was so quiet when I chanced upon it one dreary Sunday afternoon.
The site was once the graveyard for St Gabriel Fenchurch, which was lost in the Great Fire of London, and is now a garden dedicated not only to the people buried here but also to the abolition of the slave trade.
Settled next to the fading graves that are dotted around the space, you’ll find 17 “sugar cane” sculptures that rise up to create a slave auctioneer’s pulpit. Opened by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008, the sculpture (named Gilt of Cain) was designed by Michael Visocchi to commemorate the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807.
Like many of the green spaces in the City, the unassuming Fen Court is surrounded by ostentatious office blocks; come here during the week and you’ll meet many of their inhabitants on their lunch breaks.
Venture here during the weekend, though, and those same office blocks will shelter you from the hustle and bustle of a London day, leaving you with only the past for company.
The first thing you need to know about Streatham Cemetery is that it’s beautiful, especially on a sunny day. The second thing you need to know is, it’s not actually in Streatham…
I was lucky enough to visit this lovely place on a walking tour of Tooting, led by Sy from Living London. Sy explained that there are plans to re-imagine the cemetery as a relaxing green space, but to my mind it’s pretty great as it is.
It was so peaceful and there were so many bits to explore, but my favourite had to be the two chapels; they mirror each other perfectly, which provides the cemetery’s magnificent centrepiece.
Streatham Cemetery is on a par with others in the Magnificent Seven such as Brompton Cemetery; I can’t wait to visit when it’s been transformed!
Opening times: Daily: 8am-4pm (open until 6pm April to October)
There’s no better way to fill a sunny day in winter than with a walk in one of London’s best green spaces. This year, to continue the tradition after last year’s Boxing Day walk in Epping Forest, we took ourselves off for a walk in sunny Lesnes Abbey.
The Abbey was founded in 1178 by Richard de Luci, Henry II’s Chief Justiciar, supposedly in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. De Luci retired (aged 90) and died here; he was buried in the Chapter House, to be joined later by the heart of his great granddaughter, which was also buried here to speed her passage through purgatory.
Since then, Lesnes played bit parts in English history. Edward I stayed here for three days in 1300 and in 1381 a mob linked to the Peasants Revolt burst into the Abbey and forced the abbot to swear an oath of support, before leaving to join Wat Tyler’s main band in London.
But, like many monasteries from the time, Lesnes Abbey was destined to be lost to Tudor dissolutions. It didn’t last as long as other London monastries such as Christchurch Greyfriars, though. Already in neglect due to financial difficulties, Lesnes was one of the first monasteries to be dissolved in Cardinal Wolsey’s suppression of those with fewer than seven inmates in 1525.
This suppression was undertaken to fund the new Cardinal’s College at Oxford and was one of the first jobs that Thomas Cromwell did in Wolsey’s service. Cromwell would go on to administrate the infamous dissolution of the monasteries in his service as Henry VIII’s right-hand man during the 1530s.
In 1534, Lesnes was granted to Sir William Brereton; all of the Abbey’s buildings, apart from the Abbot’s Lodgings, were destroyed during this time. After Brereton’s execution as part of Anne Boleyn’s downfall just two years later, the site was acquired by Henry Cooke, who converted the Abbot’s Lodging into a mansion.
From here, Lesnes passed to Sir John Hippersley who used some of the Abbey’s remains for building materials. The Abbot’s Lodgings lasted until 1845, when they too were destroyed.
Today, the ruins of Lesnes Abbey sit quietly on south-east London’s landscape. The plan of the original buildings is clearly visible and the signs dotted around important sections help you to picture the busy hub of life that it would have been in the 1100s.
There’s even a surviving serving hatch that passes from the kitchens to the refectory and the remains of the pulpit that would have been used to give sermons during meals. It’s these details that give Lesnes the edge over many green spaces in south-east London and, in my humble opinion, a place as one of the capital’s best heritage spots.
It’s fitting that the Tibetan Peace Garden sits in the shadow of the Imperial War Museum, since the garden’s design represents the importance of understanding between different cultures.
And you’d be forgiven for missing it; it’s pretty quiet here (like its name suggests) and there’s not so much as a note on the map to guide you to it.
Opened by the Dalai Lama in 1999, the garden is repleat in significance. The garden’s four structures — placed on a north, south, east, west axis — represent the four elements and the central Mandala (cast for the first time in bronze) is associated with world peace.
At the entrance sits the language pillar, which holds a message for the millennium from the Dalai Lama.
As you might have guessed looking at these photos, my trip to the Tibetan Peace Garden was a very autumnal one. The sun was setting behind the Imperial War Museum on an early Sunday evening and it was lovely to sit here for a while, with only the leaves, the background noise and my camera for company.
Follow your trip to the garden with a reminder of why it was created at the Imperial War Museum, walk towards the river to the Florence Nightingale Museum or further out to Kennington Park. I can’t wait to explore more of what Southwark and Lambeth has to offer, and the Tibetan Peace Garden was the perfect introduction.
What does one do when faced with the hottest day of the year (so far) and a whole week as a lady of leisure before starting a new job? Why, visit one of the coolest historic houses in London, of course. And that’s exactly what I did when I visited Chiswick House and Gardens for the first time.
And when I say ‘coolest’, I’m not just talking about the fact that Chiswick House is on every nerd’s trip wishlist. It’s also ‘cool’ regarding its temperature; I stepped from 32-degree heat into a glamorous gold-plated human cool bag that was once used to entertain London’s high society.
The house is surrounded by acres of gardens, which stretch for what seems like miles and could easily fill a day’s exploring; they include the Italian gardens, conservatory, temple and the magnificent lake that stretches across the grounds.
Walk up to the front of the Chiswick House itself to be greeted by two magnificent sphinxes and a dozen statues; the mix of regal elegance in some and mischievous grins in others are enough to make you question what sort of house you’re entering…
Another sphinx awaits you inside on the far right-hand corridor of the building: this one was moved inside due to decay, but it’s interesting to see how well-intentioned restoration work was done with bricks and cement to help keep the shape of this magnificent but time-weary structure.
Your first sight of Brompton Cemetery’s Great Circle of chapel and colonnades will take your breath away.
Enter via the Fulham Road entrance for the biggest impact: wild corners and shadowy walkways of a classic Victorian cemetery give way to a dramatic centrepiece that was designed as an ‘open air basilica’ in the style of the Piazza at St Peter’s in Rome.
The main attraction – the chapel – is flanked by colonnades, a vast network of catacombs, and a tree-lined central avenue that defines Brompton Cemetery and sets it apart from the other six cemeteries in London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’.
200 years of history
Brompton Cemetery is one of London’s historic garden cemeteries (along with Nunhead, Highgate, Abney Park, Kensal Green, Tower Hamlets and West Norwood, all built between the Georgian and Victorian eras) and one of the oldest garden cemeteries in Britain.
It was opened in 1840 as both a burial ground and public space by Stephen Geary, chairman of The West of London and Westminster Cemetery Company, who also created Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries.
Like other cemeteries in the Magnificent Seven, Brompton was built to relieve the demand placed on older graveyards; London’s population had increased from one million people to 2.6 million between 1800 and 1850, and this combined with inadequate sanitary conditions meant that death from disease was rife.
Parliament’s answer was a range of seven new garden cemeteries, built ‘as much for the enjoyment of the living as the repose of the dead’. Stephen Geary was commissioned to create Brompton’s addition, however, Geary’s own designs were rejected by the ‘Committee of Taste’ that was appointed to lead the design and Benjamin Baud’s (who worked on Windsor Castle) design was chosen instead.
To help Brompton’s rather uninspiring site compete with the other more scenic cemeteries within the group, plans were drawn up for a dramatic cathedral layout that included a central aisle, a ‘high altar’ (the chapel), and a ‘nave’ (the colonnades). Original plans also included two ‘transepts’ in the form of two temples on either side of the colonnades and two matching bell towers on each entrance to the catacombs (only one of these bell towers was built).
Brompton Cemetery today
Today, Brompton Cemetery’s 39 acres contain 35,000 monuments for over 205,000 people that have been buried here. Its Grade I-listed status and Victorian charm belies the fact that it’s still a working cemetery; more modern burial plots lie on the outskirts of the largely overgrown plots dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Brompton also maintains its original purpose for ‘enjoyment of the living’ as a garden cemetery: original signs on the entrances still remain, informing the public that, ‘The public are permitted to walk in the Cemetery daily’.
Visit on any given day to find Londoners relaxing in the colonnades, eating lunch between the gravestones, and cycling down the grand central avenue. It’s a timeless and personal reminder of London’s history and the lives that have contributed to that history.
28 monuments on the site are also Grade I and II-listed, including the Chapel, the colonnades, the Chelsea Pensioners’ Monument, the Guards’ Memorial, the chest tomb of the ship builder, and two vintage K2 telephone kiosks just outside the gates.
The fact that the cemetery has remained largely unchanged over the past 200 years means it holds a second career as a film set: it’s been featured in Sherlock Holmes, GoldenEye,Johnny English, The Wings of the Dove with Helena Bonham Carter, and Stormbreaker with Damien Lewis.
Brompton’s stories: the people buried at Brompton Cemetery
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)
Suffragette leader who obtained property rights for married women, recruited women to the war effort, and helped bring about the introduction of full and equal suffrage for men and women. Emmeline and her daughter are buried in a grave close to the West Brompton entrance to the cemetery.
Dr John Snow (1813-1858)
He of Broad Street pump fame; Snow tracked an outbreak of cholera to the pump in Soho and discovered that the cause of the infection was passed through contaminated water rather than the air. He helped to save countless lives and was the only anaesthetist who Queen Victoria trusted to administer chloroform to her during the birth of her two youngest children.
Percy Pilcher (1867-1899)
Pioneering engineer who patented the world’s first practical powered aeroplane, seven years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. He built his aeroplane but when it came to showing it off to investors, its engine failed. He died the same day while demonstrating a glider to compensate for the engine failure.
Charles Collins (1828-1873)
Pre-Raphelite painter and son-in-law to Charles Dickens.
Admiral Robert Fitzroy (1805-1865)
Captain of Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle and winner of the Royal Geographical Society’s Gold Medal.
Percy Lambert (1881-1913)
The first man to cover 100 miles in an hour, killed while attempting another record in south-west London.
Cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, singer, and biographer of French artist Gustave Doré.
This tiny grave for a two-year-old known only as “Tom” lies at the Fulham Broadway entrance to the cemetery. Its wooden monument and surround have yet to even start decaying, despite being over 100 years old and underneath a huge tree.
How you can help bring Brompton Cemetery back to life
Brompton Cemetery is a time capsule of London’s history and a unique place of beauty in the heart of our capital. But with time comes decay. So Brompton needs your help in helping to restore its crumbling architecture and to create a fantastic new visitor centre to tell its story.
The Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund has pledged nearly £4.5 million to the restoration project, but £500,000 needs to be raised in order to unlock this funding. Can you help?
Grace Enright, from The Royal Parks Foundation, said the project has been embraced by the local community: “It’s been fantastic watching the local community get behind Brompton Cemetery. People love this garden cemetery for lots of different reasons, but everyone has come together to look after it.
“We’ve raised half of the funds needed to unlock the Heritage Lottery Fund donation, and we’re hopeful that those who love Brompton are going to help us reach our target so we can restore this magnificent cemetery to its former glory.”
Peace and quiet are not things you’d expect to find on top of the Crossrail development at Canary Wharf right now, but Crossrail Place Roof Garden has them in droves.
Located within five minutes’ walk of Canary Wharf and West India Quay stations, the roof garden draws on the heritage of the surrounding area: Crossrail Place sits on the Meridian Line, and the plants here are arranged depending on which hemisphere they come from. Many of the plants in the garden are native to countries visited by ships of the West India Dock Company who unloaded here in the 1800s.
The contrast between these exotic plants and the architecture is stunning, especially when the sun is shining through the grass and while the sun sets over east London’s horizon. Like many roof gardens in London, this one is super-hidden and known only to a few who wander down its peaceful avenues and escape the busy streets below.
And, unlike at the hectic Sky Garden, there’s no need to book for this free urban paradise; it earns a place as one of the best roof gardens in London and also one of the quietest.
They also have a great schedule of community events held in the performance space, showing off the talents of London’s schools and community projects. I first discovered the roof garden at a performance by up-and-coming star Trevor Kanswaren in aid of the Central London branch of Samaritans. Keep an eye on the Bloom project site for details of upcoming gigs.
And, if the British summer lets you down, you’ll find plenty of space to stay safe and dry underneath the dramatic glass roof that partially covers the garden while also giving it space and water to grow.
Nearest Tube: Canary Wharf / West India Quay
Opening times: Daily until 9pm (or sunset in summer)