Old maps, hands and ghost gardens…


Or fingertips anyway…

This is me joining the marvellous Vegplotting’s Show of Hands for the Chelsea Fringe, and a chance to show you a corner of the ghost gardens that I’ve been researching for my Lost Gardens of the Strand walk.


See how wonderful they are. And you can see from this map too how they would go right down to the Thames before the Embankment was built, so you would come by boat and walk straight into the garden. Magic.

lost gardens

And the joy of working with someone like the Old Map Man is that he points out the little traces that are still there. How many times have I walked past the York Watergate (above) in the Embankment gardens, for example, and not noticed it?


But now every time I go to Charing Cross, I try to spend a couple of minutes imagining what it would once have been like when the Thames was king and the Strand was full of beautiful gardens. So as I walk back, fighting the crowds in Villiers Street, I’m actually getting off a barge and walking straight into a fruit orchard in my mind.

Especially when I see this picture…


Here’s an extract from the Spectator of 1885:

FOREIGNERS may say what they like of London and its vast unwieldy size, and may contrast it with the slim elegance of Paris ; but those who love their London as Charles Lamb, for instance, loved it, know where to find its chief beauties, and would never barter the ” silver streaming Themmes ” for any other river. The great artery of the heart of England, with its ebb and flow, its daily freight of barges and lighters passing slowly from bridge to bridge, its mazy windings, outlined at night by countless twinkling lamps, is no longer the thoroughfare of the citizens as it was in good old days, when cabs and omnibuses were not, and steam still sputtered, bubbling and unnoticed, in the kettle. Mr. Secretary Pepys went as naturally by water from his house in Seething Lane to Whitehall or Westminster, as his successor would journey to his office by cab or underground- railway. Charles II. went in the royal barge to dine with the Lieutenant of the Tower, or sallied forth in his pleasure-boat ” above bridge,” or took a particular friend out in his new ” gundaloe.”

7 thoughts on “Old maps, hands and ghost gardens…

  1. Oh this is marvellous – I love maps. As a child I used to lie in bed reading an atlas until the wee small hours, looking at all the wonderful and weird place names and imagining what they would be like.

    In the Victoria Museum in Bath they have some pictures similar to the ones you’ve found for London which show what the gardens bordering the River Avon were like.

    My MIL was a local historian in Darlington and was always noodling around old maps – she gave us an ancient map of Durham county as a gift one Christmas and another of Durham itself ๐Ÿ™‚

    And your picture of fingertips is absolutely perfect, thank you!

  2. Until recently I’ve not enjoyed London at all – I had to go quite often for work and was only too glad to come home again. But over the past few years, my attitude’s changed. I love the walk along the Embankment and the buzz around Southbank (and the roof garden)! We were in London for our 30th wedding anniversary earlier this year and discovered (and loved) the Spitalfields area for the first time.

    I shall have a look at that book – looks like it’ll be amazing, thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

    I see your Fringe event went very well, such a shame that London is so far away, otherwise I would have loved to come.

    Would you mind if I use your fingertips picture? I’m putting together a summary slideshow to celebrate Shows of Hands. It’s been such a fun project to do and there’s been an amazing variety of responses which I want to show off and say ‘thank you’ for ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Great Shows of Hands post Sarah. I love old maps and the incredible detail they have. And what a great way at looking at the history of London from a garden perspective. London used to be surrounded by market gardens too – I suspect there is lots of garden maps & history out there to be explored.

    Your post also reminds me of some recent 18th/19th century maps of Sheffield city centre, complete with many gardens. I found it gave a much more interesting perspective on that time in history of a city I only recently moved too.

    Digging (!) out maps can help us learn more about garden history ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks a lot, and yes, it has been fascinating to see that very built up bit of London through the maps. And it’s not just the actual gardens but the gardeners too – I’ve become hooked on the Royal Society (which was nearby) and the coffee houses they would have frequented after the meetings. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be able to eavesdropped on some of those garden-based conversations!

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