The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 13 Private Gardens

Lawns, bedding and Mrs Elizabeth Montagu

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In most London gardens very little enterprise is shown. The old system of bedding out is adhered to. Of the large London houses standing by their own lawns, none have gardens of any horticultural interest. Montagu House is on the site of the extensive gardens of Whitehall, and the present lawn is where the bowling green, with its gay throng of players, lay in former years, and the terrace keeps up the tradition of the wide terraces that descended from the palace to the green. The turf is still fair and green, and is brightened in summer by lines of geraniums, white daisies, and calceolarias. Devonshire House garden, on the site of the famous one belonging to Berkeley House that covered all the present Square, is in the same way merely planted with the usual summer bedding plants. Lord Portman's house, 22 Portman Square, is where Mrs. Montagu, the Queen of the Blue-Stockings, held her court. The present garden, with spacious lawn, has no horticultural peculiarity, but its historical interest lies in the fact that it was here that Mrs. Montagu entertained the chimney-sweeps, every year on the 1st of May. She is said to have done so, to give these poor children "one happy day in the year," and when the horrors and tragedies attending the lives and often deaths of these cruelly treated little creatures is realised, it is not to be wondered at that one lady was humane enough to befriend them. A quaint pathetic poem by Allan Cunningham, written in 1824, records in characteristically stilted language an incident supposed to have occurred to Mrs. Montagu. A sad boy, whose life was spent in climbing flues, is pictured, and one lady he supplicates turns away-"And lo! another lady came," and spoke kindly to him, asked him why he thus spent his life, listened to his tale of how he was an orphan and "sold to this cruel trade." "She stroked the sooty locks and smiled, While o'er the dusky boy, As streams the sunbeam through a cloud, There came a flash of joy. She took him from his cruel trade, And soon the milk-white hue Came to his neck; he with the muse Sings, 'Bless the Montagu.'" Her kindness is recorded in other poems, and in her lifetime took the practical shape of a sumptuous spread of beef and plum-pudding on the lawn of her house in Portman Square.