Words by Sam Mould
Linking Heritage to Gardens and Transport in London
Gardens and growing plants have always been a part of life in London and other cities in the UK. The oldest trace of a historically-attested garden in England is buried beneath Cannon Street Railway Station, central London. It was part of the Praetorium, which was the Roman governor’s palace. Cities including Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham and Newcastle all have heritage connections to gardens and allotments in urban areas dating back to the 1730’s.
Before London became the sprawling mass of urban density that it is today, there were many orchards, gardens for medicinal plants, agricultural lands, formal gardens with avenues, pleasure gardens with fountains, and parks for hunting deer on the outskirts of the city. As London grew and the population rose, there was a greater demand for housing, for food and for outdoor spaces to socialise. Allotments actually date back to the Saxon era where people used small-holdings to grow food and keep animals.
The industrial revolution brought railways and made travel easier.
London’s rapid urbanisation continued and began redefining the economic, cultural, social and environmental character of Britain. The designation of public urban green space became important as land was privatised and access to common land reduced. Urban parks and gardens became nature’s representation in the city.
Georgian and Victorian housing layouts introduced the garden square. These social spaces full of greenery acted as havens within the city. The London river network was forced to become subterranean as the sewerage system established itself; at this time, some city farms still remained. The Royal Parks protected the larger green spaces in London and started to open them up for the growing public from 1845 onwards.
The Land Enclosure Act, the Great War and Dig For Victory Campaign
The land enclosure act led to more Victorian allotments as people moved to cities and needed space to grow food. The Great War came with food shortages that increased the demand for allotments. The land owned by railway companies was suitable for this and often allotted to railway workers for home-growing. The Dig For Victory campaign was one of the strongest elements contributing to the success of the war. We are a nation of gardeners and this is why historically we often see allotments and gardens by railway lines.
The Public Parks Movement
The triumph of the public parks movement in the mid 20th Century established access rights for everyone to open spaces, and helped to identify the need for green space to support our wellbeing. Community gardens are also connected to health through hospitals and asylums having gardens where the patients could exercise, grow produce and find peace and distraction from their ailments.
Today, allotments and gardens are valued by individuals and the collective community for social, community and health benefit reasons. Community gardens are ecological assets that can benefit many people. The aesthetics of flowers and trees and the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables bring beauty to spaces and crops to harvest and food to share. They are a haven for wildlife and help link green spaces as chains for wildlife corridors in the city, supporting biodiversity in the process. They absorb run-off rain-water from storms to prevent flooding. They contribute to reducing air pollution, cool urban temperatures and reduce wind speed. They help reduce our public health crisis and psychological detachment from the natural world.
Energy Garden’s role
Energy Garden is a new part of the contemporary history around gardens in cities and is helping to create much needed sustainable greenery in the city where people can come together, learn, grow plants and vegetables and sustain the costs through clean energy. By creating a network of Energy Gardens we can share knowledge, support our community, reduce our carbon footprint and be part of something that helps support the environment for the future.
About the author: Sam is currently reading MSc. Sustainable Heritage at UCL. She has a background in physiotherapy and well-being management. In addition to this, she is an artist, writer, educator and a keen champion for celebrating, protecting and connecting to outdoor spaces.
As part of our commitment to London’s great history of gardens and transport, we are taking part in London Transport Museum‘s Love Your Line series of events which celebrates the 100 and 150 year anniversaries of the District, Victoria, Jubilee and Overground lines.
You can find tickets here: https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends