Five Hidden London Spaces
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.
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
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
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.