Welcome to the first in our new Wednesday series, looking at some of central London’s small historic gardens which, while not secret in the strictest sense of the word, may tend to get overlooked. Each of the gardens we’re looking at is accessible to the public and has a link to the city’s history as well as providing a peaceful oasis out of the hustle and bustle…
First up, it’s the Goldsmiths’ Garden, located on the site of the former medieval church of St John Zachary at the corner of Gresham and Noble Streets in the City.
The church, which dates back to at least the late 12th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and not rebuilt (its parish was united with that of St Anne and St Agnes) although its ruins apparently remained until the 19th century. The church’s layout can be seen in the sunken area of the current garden.
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths had acquired land in the area in medieval times and built their first hall here in 1339 on the site of the current hall (which lies across the road from the garden and dates from the early 19th century).
The first garden was constructed on the site of the former church in 1941 by fire watchers after the area suffered in the Blitz and it apparently won a Gardener’s Company award for “Best Garden on a Blitzed Site” in 1950.
The garden has since been altered and refurbished several times since, including in around 1960 by landscape architect Sir Peter Shepheard and in the 1990s by landscape architect Anne Jennings.
Features today include the iron entrance archway (top) which was commissioned by the Blacksmiths Company during the 1990s renovation. It features the leopard’s head hallmark of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office, used to verify the purity of silver since the early 14th century.
As well as the central fountain installed in the 1990s (and donated by the Constructors’ Company), the garden also features a two metre high, 2.5 tonne Portland stone monument called the Three Printers (pictured right).
The work of Wilfred Dudeney, it was commissioned by the Westminster Press Group in the late 1950s for their new headquarters in New Street Square, off Fleet Street, and depicts a newsboy, editor and printer. It was placed in a demolition yard in Watford when the group moved headquarters before taking its current position in 2009.
WHERE: Goldsmiths’ Garden, corner of Gresham and Noble Streets, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Bank and Barbican); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/goldsmiths’-hall/.
For more on London’s parks and gardens, check out Jill Billington’s London’s Parks and Gardens.