The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 1 Introduction

Small gardens in the City of London

Previous - Next

All the smaller householders, even in the crowded parts, continued to enjoy their little gardens for many centuries. Even after the spoliation of the monasteries, the houses rebuilt on their sites had their little enclosures; and large houses such as Sir William Pawlet's, on the ground of the Augustine monastery, or later on Sir Christopher Hatton's on Ely Place, had their gardens around them. Even now, in the heart of London, a small row of shabby old houses survives, each with a small garden attached to it. These are called Nevill Court, from the site having been within the precincts owned by Ralph Nevill, Bishop of Chichester, Chancellor in the time of Henry III., who built a great palace near here. One of the row belongs to the Moravian Mission, or United Brothers, a sect who trace their origin to John Huss. They settled in this house in 1737. This old-world corner opens out of Fetter Lane. A small wooden paling separates the minute strips of blackened garden from a narrow paved pathway. There were many such gardens in this locality less than a century ago. Charles Lamb, when aged six, went to school to a Mr. Bird in Bond Stables, off Fetter Lane, now vanished; and, returning to the spot in 1825, he recalled the early associations: "The school-room stands where it did, looking into a discoloured, dingy garden.... Oh, how I remember... the truant looks side-long to the garden, which seemed a mockery of our imprisonment." Would that some antiquarian millionaire-if such a combination exists!-might take into his head to preserve Nevill Court, to restore the houses and renovate the gardens, and preserve this relic of Old London, to give future generations some idea of what the smaller dwelling-houses in the old city were like. In most districts these little gardens were the usual appendage to dwelling-houses. Pepys, living in Seething Lane, often mentions his garden. It was there he sat with his wife and taught her maid to sing; it was there he watched the flames spreading over the town at the time of the Great Fire; and in it his money was buried during the scare of the Dutch invasion. So carelessly, indeed, was the money hidden that 100 gold pieces were lost, but eventually most of them recovered by sweeping the grass and sifting the soil. The natural way in which Pepys mentions how other people-Sir W. Batten and Mrs. Turner-during the Fire buried in their city gardens their wine and other goods they could not send to the country, that is, Bethnal Green, only shows how general these little plots were.