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.

Goldsmiths2The 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.

Goldsmiths3Features 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:’-hall/.

For more on London’s parks and gardens, check out Jill Billington’s London’s Parks and Gardens.


Where is it? #21

March 16, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Congrats to Jameson Tucker who correctly placed this in the gardens which now occupy the site of the former church of St John Zachary which lie, as Mike Paterson correctly pointed out, near the Goldsmiths’ Hall.

In fact, the gardens, located at the corner of Gresham and Noble Streets in the City (opposite the Goldsmith’s Hall), are also known as the Goldsmith’s Garden and were laid out following bomb damage during the Blitz (the church of St John Zachary had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London and not rebuilt).

The gardens were redesigned in 1957 by landscape architect Sir Peter Shepheard and have been added to and amended over the years since (including by landscape architect Anne Jennings in the mid-Nineties).

The iron arch, which was commissioned by the Blacksmith’s Company and put here in 1994, features the leopard’s head which is the hallmark of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office, the premier hallmark in the UK (the term hallmark dates from the 15th century when London craftsmen were first required to bring their creations to the Goldsmiths’ Hall for verification and marking although the mark of the leopard’s head has been in use since the early 1300s).

For more on the Goldsmiths, see

This strangely named church has its origins at least as far back as the 12th century when it was under the jurisdiction of the Prior and Convent of Canterbury. 

The name St Vedast is in itself unusual – St Vedast (known as St Vaast elsewhere) is said to have been the Bishop of Arras in northern France during the late fifth and early sixth centuries. How his name came to be associated with a church in London remains a matter of speculation but one plausible explanation is that the church was founded in the twelfth century by a small group of French merchants who had emigrated from Arras.

The ‘alias Foster’ part of the name is perhaps easier to explain although it has led to considerable confusion over the years. While some have in the past suggested the name refers to a different obscure saint – that is, the church is dedicated to St Vedast and St Foster – Foster is actually just an corrupted Anglicised version of Vedast.

But back to the church’s history. The medieval building was apparently replaced at the beginning of the sixteenth century and in the early 1600s this was enlarged and “beautified”. It escaped total destruction during the Great Fire of London but was badly enough damaged to require restoration and this was carried out, albeit not very well, so that in the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren was asked to rebuild it.

Given the demands of Wren’s time elsewhere, it’s not known if he personally designed the resulting church (the spire is possibly the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor), but the church was rebuilt and stood until 194o when the body of the building was ruined in the Blitz. The spire, however, survived and the restoration of the remainder of the church was completed in 1962.

It was also after World War II that the city parishes were reorganised and St Vedast-alias-Foster was united with three other former parishes – St Alban Wood Street, St Anne & St Agnes, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Aldermanbury, St Michael-le-Querne, St Matthew Friday Street, St Peter Chepe, St Olave Silver Street, St Michael Wood Street, St Mary Staining, St Mary Magdalene Milk Street, St John Zachary, and St Michael Bassishaw, of which only the buildings of St Lawrence Jewry and St Anne and St Agnes remain along with the tower of St Alban Wood Street).

Although the bulk of the building of St Vedast-alias-Foster is modern, the church does retain its seventeenth century Great West Doors and the font also comes from that century, having been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons for the church of St Anne and St Agnes. The reredos which stands behind the altar, meanwhile, is inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and The Creed, and originally stood in St Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street. Other features to come from other churches include the seventeenth century pulpit (All Hallows, Bread Street) and swordrest (St Anne and St Agnes).

The church’s Fountain Courtyard features part of a Roman floor found under St Matthew Friday Street and a stone (actually baked brick) upon which is inscribed cuneiform writing. The latter, which comes from a Zigurrat in modern Iraq built in the 9th century BC, was presented to Canon Mortlock, rector of the church, marking his work with novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan and was found during his 1950-65 dig on the site. The lump of stone bears the name of Shalmaneser who reigned from 858 to 834 BC.

Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Thomas Rotherham, rector of the church from from 1463-48 and later Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.

WHERE: 4 Foster Lane (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 8am to 5.30pm weekdays/11am to 4pm Saturday (Mass is held between 12.15 and 12.45 weekdays and a sung Eucharist at 11am on Sundays) COST: Free but a donation of at least £1 per head is asked; WEBSITE: