Geffrye-Garden

We’ve mentioned the Geffrye Museum gardens before but they’re well worth a more detailed mention.

There are two distinct gardens at the Geffrye – the first are the public gardens located just off Kingsland Road which were originally laid out when the almshouses in which the museum is now based were constructed while the second is the walled herb garden and series of period garden ‘rooms’ which are much more recent additions.

While origins of the former date back to when the almshouses – 14 homes of four rooms each with a central chapel – were built in 1712-14 by the Ironmonger’s Company under instructions in the will of Sir Robert Geffrye (for more on him, see our earlier Famous Londoners entry here), they weren’t opened to the public until 1912 when the London County Council took over the site (for more on the history of the almshouses, see our earlier entries here and here).

These gardens originally featured a series of lime trees and by the early 19th century, an image shows lawns surrounded by railings with some flower beds and trees. The front lawns were apparently grazed by sheep or employed for growing crops of potatoes.

By the mid-1800s, the lime trees had been replaced by London plane trees, most of which are still standing. The gardens were again laid out in 1900-01 and again after the LCC took over in 1910 when a small pool was added in front of the chapel and a bandstand and playground elsewhere in the gardens.

The grounds also include a small graveyard – that of the Ironmongers’ – and among those buried here are Geffrye and his wife, their remains brought here from the chapel of St Dionis Backchurch in Lime Street when it was demolished in 1878.

The walled herb garden and period garden ‘rooms’, meanwhile, were added in the 1990s. The herb garden opened in 1992 on a what had been a derelict site to the north of the building – it features four square beds containing more than 170 different herbs and plants.

The period garden ‘rooms’, meanwhile, were laid out in 1998 to showcase middle class town gardens from different eras. They currently include a Tudor “knot garden”, a Georgian garden, a Victorian garden and an Edwardian garden.

Each of these gardens has been carefully constructed using evidence gathered from drawings and prints, maps and garden plans along with plant lists, diaries and literature.

WHERE: Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch (nearest tube station is Old Street; nearest Overground station is Hoxton); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday (front gardens are open all year round by period and herb gardens are only open until 1st November and reopen on 28th March; COST: Entry is free; WEBSITE: www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/explore-the-geffrye/explore-gardens/.

The-Knot-Garden

He lends his name to one of London’s best small museums but who was the person behind the name the Geffrye Museum?

Sir-Robert-GeffryeDetails about his life are somewhat scant but it is generally believed Sir Robert Geffrye (among a number of variants of the spelling of his name) was born around 1613 in the village of Landrake near Saltash in Cornwall.

Moving to London while still just in his teens, he is believed to have undertaken a seven year apprenticeship, eventually admitted as a member of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers and freeman of the City of London.

It’s been suggested he was an ironmonger in name only but it seems to be the case that his new status gave him the opportunity to launch his career as a merchant and he apparently made a fortune from investing in African and East Indian trade.

Geffrye – who married Priscilla Cropley, a lawyer’s daughter, at the chapel in the Mercer’s Hall in Cheapside in 1651 and lived in Lime Street – was twice Master of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers (first in 1667 and then again in 1685).

He was knighted by King Charles II in 1673 (his coat-of-arms can still be seen in the Ironmonger’s Hall) and in 1674, he was appointed a sheriff of London before being elected Lord Mayor in 1685 (his wife Priscilla had died in 1676).

In 1688, Geffrye became president of Bridewell and Bethlehem Hospitals – a role which he held for two years and which apparently saw him attending Bridewell every Friday to judge and sentence prisoners.

He died in February 1704 and was buried in the now long-gone St Dionis Backchurch, where his wife had been buried earlier. Their remains were transferred to the almshouses grounds after the church was demolished in 1878.

Geffrye left behind a substantial fortune and, along with bequests to family, friends and charities, he made a sizeable bequest which funded the building of 14 almshouses in Shoreditch (now home to the Geffrye Museum which this year celebrates its tercentenary) (for more on the museum and alms houses, see our earlier posts here and here).

A replica of an original 1723 statue of Sir Robert still adorns the almshouses which bear his name (pictured above).

For more on the people that made London, see Boris Johnson’s Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World.