We travel south of the Thames this week to Red Cross Garden in Southwark. Located not far from Borough Market, the garden has a rich history, having first been laid out in 1887 by the social reformer, philanthropist and National Trust co-founder Octavia Hill.
Described as Hill’s “flagship project”, it was here, after being granted use of the land by the Ecclesiastical Commission, that she demonstrated the role gardens and open spaces play in improving the lives of the poor living in 19th century Southwark (in the picture you can see in the background the hall and cottages which were also part of the project – Hill had these constructed between 1888-89, the hall being for community activities and the cottages homes for the “working poor”. Both were designed by Elijah Hoole).
The garden in Redcross Way was created on the site of a derelict paper factory and a hop warehouse and originally contained meandering paths, an ornamental pond with fountain, a bandstand and a covered play area for children as well as an elevated walkway for viewing the garden – described by Hill as an “open air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark”. There were a number of colourful mosaics – one called The Sower is still in situ but another known as The Good Shepherd was apparently lost.
The original layout of garden, which were used as the venue for the annual Southwark Flower Show as well as other events, had been lost by the late 1940s and it was only in much more recent years that it was restored by the Bankside Open Spaces Trust (with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Southwark Council). They were officially reopened in 2006 by Princess Anne.
The award-winning garden is now managed by BOST which leases the space from Southwark Council and relies on the work of volunteers (any donations are always welcome!). The latest addition has been the Victorian bandstand which, constructed in a style true to the original, was unveiled late last year.
WHERE: Red Cross Garden, Redcross Way, Southwark (nearest Tube stations are Borough and London Bridge); WHEN: 9am to dusk, daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bost.org.uk/open-places/red-cross-garden/.