Five Hidden London Spaces

London

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Southwood Garden

There’s a secret garden right behind Piccadilly Circus. For over 200 years, this plot to the West of St James’s Church was used as a burial ground for the parish. After the war of 1939–45 Viscount Southwood provided money for the ‘green’ churchyard to be made into a garden of remembrance ‘to commemorate the courage and fortitude of the people of London’.
It was opened in 1946 by Queen Mary and contains a memorial to Viscount Southwood (1873–1946) and his wife. There’s also a statue of Peace. The garden is open during the day but at night the church, one of the most, er, ‘commercially viable’ in London whores it out makes it available for private parties.

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The Cafe Royal’s Penthouse

Or should that be two penthouses, because the the hidden top floor of the Regent Street cafe is now a hotel and linked by a secret garden. Which means that now, unless you have £9,000 to shell out for a single night’s stay, you’ll never experience this gorgeous garden. I wonder if it was open to all in the Cafe Royal’s Victorian glory days?

The King’s Cross Meadow

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That’s Lewis Cubitt Park to you and I. Everyone knows Granary Square, but to the left and further back behind it is a new piece of rolling parkland with built-in hummocks, much quieter, and near to one of London’s smallest cinemas, the supremely luxurious 32-seater ‘Everyman On The Corner’. BTW, about Granary Square’s fountains, you’re supposed to be able to digitally control them from your phone but I’ve never been able to do it. And early in the morning they pump out steam that gives the square a mysterious aura.

The Ruined Abbey

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After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the area of Lesnes passed into the possession of Bishop Odo (not a character from Lord of the Rings). It’s mentioned in the Domesday Survey as Loisnes. Lesnes Abbey was founded in 1178 by Richard de Luci, the Chief Justiciar of England. Possibly in penance for being involved in the murder of Thomas Becket, de Luci was retired to the Abbey to die. No-one has ever dug down to see who else lies there, and the wooded ruins remain at the edge of a South-East London housing estate. I used to star-watch on the top of that arch at night as a kid.

The Invisible Tennis Match Park

Maryon Wilson Park in Charlton was once the ancient woodland called Hanging Wood.  But the word ‘hang’ also comes from the Old English ‘hangra’, a wooded slope, and the park feels like the whole thing is on a slope. It’s a melancholy, slightly disconcerting area. And it’s hard to realise that the above footage from the movie ‘Blow Up’, is almost 50 years old now (it looks eerily fresh). This is the ending, after hedonistic photographer David Hemmings has looked for figures in the park who showed up on his camera film who may have committed a murder, only to realise that you can see anything if you believe in it. The park is exactly as it was then.

 

 

9 comments on “Five Hidden London Spaces”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    I tried watching ‘Blow Up’ recently but couldn’t get through it. The ‘arts crowd’ just annoyed me.

  2. Brian Evans says:

    “Blow Up” must be one of the most irritating films ever made-and starring a particularly irritating actor.

  3. brooke says:

    Your hidden spaces, parks, fare so much better than the parks in our city. You are very fortunate.

  4. Vivienne says:

    I love ‘Blow Up’ it’s properly 60s. I went at the time to find the park. Have also been to Lesnes Abbey which I happened upon by chance on a walk. V interested about Piccadilly which seems properly hidden: will explore that soon. The Penthouse is probably out of my reach, alas..

  5. admin says:

    It’s odd that Blow Up – which I found unbearable closer to the time – now seems to be one of the few swinging London films to at least nail part of it. I think I posted my other choices on here, somewhere *rummages around, finds old comic books, tennis ball, Christmas decorations etc*

  6. Ian Mason says:

    Less public, but add the roof garden on the top of what used to be Derry and Tom’s, then Biba, now part of the Virgin empire.

    I once went to a party there. It’s somewhat surreal to sit on a London rooftop, next to a pond with flamingoes in a garden with mature trees. The half-floor below is given over entirely to soil for the tree roots.

  7. Vivienne says:

    Other real 60s film, I think, is The Knack.

  8. Chris Webb says:

    I have befriended the ducks which live in Southwood Garden. Like dogs, they have perfected the knack of staring mournfully at you if you are eating, thus making you feel guilty if you don’t offer them a few morcels.

    I went to Maryon Wilson Park a few weeks ago. I was a bit nervous about venturing South of the River, but in the illustrious footsteps of Professor Challenger I ventured forth. It actually reminded me of The Lost World, just an overgrown sandpit. Nothing like in the film. I obviously missed the bit where the film was made but it was cold and pouring with rain so I just went home.

    It’s a brilliant film, enigmatic, surreal and multi-layered, but not for anybody who likes everything laid out on a plate for them. You have to read between the lines and reach your own conclusions.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    The ones in Hamburg lakeside talk at you and mutter to each other, probably along the line of “I think these people are a dead loss but add a bit more mournfulness and see if that breaks out the goodies.”

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