Fountains and Trees our wearied Pride do please, Even in the midst of Gilded Palaces; And in our Towns, that Prospect gives Delight, Which opens round the Country to our Sight.
-Lines in a Letter from SPRAT to SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN on the Translation of Horace.
NOTHING is more essentially characteristic of London than its squares. They have no exact counterpart in any foreign city. The iron railings, the enclosure of dusty bushes and lofty trees, with wood-pigeons and twittering sparrows, have little in common with, say for instance, the Place Vendome in Paris, or the Grand Place in Brussels, or Madison Square, New York. The vicissitudes of some of the London Squares would fill a volume, but most of them have had much the same origin. They have been built with residential houses surrounding them, and though some have changed to shops, and in others the houses are dilapidated and forsaken by the wealthier classes, nearly every one has had its day of popularity.
In some of those now deserted by the world of fashion, the gardens have been opened to the public, but by far the greater number of squares are maintained by the residents in their neighbourhood, who have keys to the gardens. But even though they are kept outside the railings the rest of the public receive a benefit from these air spaces and oxygen-exhaling trees. Sometimes the public get more direct advantage, as in such cases as Eaton Square, where seats are placed down the centre on the pavement under the shade of the trees inside the rails, and are much frequented in hot weather; or in Lower Grosvenor Gardens, which are open for six weeks in the autumn, when most of the residents in the houses are absent.