SCG A brief History by Ailsa Sleigh

 

Stanley Crescent Garden is one fifteen large, communal gardens included in the speculative development of the Ladbroke Estate.

Until the early nineteenth century the area north of what is now Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park Avenue was pasture and hayfields, and the Rocque map of London of 1745 shows very few houses and gravel pits either side of the main road out of London.

In 1819 James Weller Ladbroke inherited the Ladbroke estate, around 300 acres north of the toll road; the area was still largely rural, but within reach of London which was gradually spreading westwards.  Ladbroke engaged Thomas Allason, an architect and landscape designer, to create a plan for the development of the estate.  Allason had visited Italy and published a book of picturesque views, and his plan for this hilly site, influenced by Nash’s plan for Regent’s Park, detailed substantial private villas around an enormous circus at the top of the hill.  It included large concentric crescents on the west side of Ladbroke Grove and a number of ‘paddocks’ or communal gardens to give the feeling of rural rather than urban living.

The original plan was never realised as Ladbroke could not raise the necessary credit during the financial crises of the early nineteenth century.  In 1837 John Whyte obtained a lease of 140 acres and a racecourse, known as the Hippodrome, was built around the summit of the hill, but this lasted only until 1841.  The soil was unsuitable for racing and there was a right of way through the course much used by the local population who lived in the nearby ‘Potteries and Piggeries’, an area of pottery kilns and pig farming notorious for the utter deprivation of its inhabitants. In any case, the returns from the racing were not good enough.

The Ladbrokes sold building agreements to speculators who further sold land on to others so the chances of a unified plan being developed vanished, and the area is characterised by a variety of architectural styles.  However one key figure was Pearson Thompson, a solicitor; he employed an architect named J. B. Papworth who had worked in Cheltenham and had been influenced by the hilly terraces, curving crescents and large gardens of Bath.  Thompson’s intentions included ornamental open spaces which realised Thomas Allason’s original ideas for shared private gardens.  Another significant developer was Charles Henry Blake who hired the architect and landscape designer Thomas Allom to plan the area around Stanley Crescent and Kensington Park Gardens.  Like Allason, Thomas Allom had also visited Italy and appreciated the value of open spaces between the terraces.

Building was largely completed by the late 1860s, and the area initially attracted the Victorian middle classes, many with their own servants who lived in the attic floors, and were not allowed in the gardens unless accompanying their employers’ children.  There is virtually no information on the original design and planting of the gardens, but it is widely believed that many have kept their original layout, with access from the backs of the surrounding houses, small private back areas and an area of planting between the private gardens and the perimeter paths.  Curving paths divide gardens like Stanley Crescent and sweep around some of the many trees, including planes, ashes and horse chestnuts, of such antiquity that they must have been part of the original planting.  The iron railings and gates, separating the private areas from the main garden survive and are maintained. The beds and paths were edged with rope-topped tiles, some of which can still be seen although others have been replaced more recently.

Most of the houses in the area remained as single dwellings until after the first world war when their upkeep became too expensive, and they were sold and converted for multiple occupancy. The personal memory of some residents suggests the gardens were largely uncared for and only the existing trees and extensive laurel planting survived.  Happily with the upturn in the fortunes of the area gardens like Rosmead are now managed by residents’ committees and the planting and maintenance are carefully supervised to provide a safe, communal space enjoyed by all the residents and true to the spirit in which Thomas Allason originally designed them.

Things of interest to look out for 

There is an armillary sphere designed as part of the Millenium celebrations by David Harber, beneath which a time capsule with contributions from many of the residents has been buried.  Many of the original trees survive, and the planting is lush and colourful.  There is also an urn which celebrates an award for the garden in 2012.

Current Ownership and Use:

The leases for the gardens are held in trust for the residents.  The gardens are managed by committee and enjoyed by the residents of the surrounding houses.

Sheet Prepared By: Ailsa Sleigh

Member of the LPGT Research Group                                                Date: May 2013

 

 

In May 2012, the London Parks & Garden’s Trust’s Inventory of Parks, Gardens, Square, Churchyards, Cemeteries and other Green Spaces of Local Historic Interest was launched online, at londongardensonline.org.uk. It includes information on many of the gardens opening for Open Garden Squares Weekend. All the sites listed must be at least 30 years old and have some element of formal layout or landscape design, or have important social history.

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