|Geffrye Museum Gardens||Hackney|
The Geffrye Museum is the former Geffrye's Almshouse of the Ironmongers' Company built 1712-14 under the will of Sir Robert Geffrye. The range of 14 houses accommodated up to 56 pensioners, and was fronted by a garden, with to the north the small Ironmongers' Graveyard. After the Company sold the site it was taken over in c.1910 by the LCC, mainly to preserve the garden as public open space, which opened in 1912. In 1914 the building opened as a museum, later an innovative schools programme. Since 1991 it has been run by an independent Trust. Recent improvements include development of the rear gardens with a Herb Garden opened in 1992 and a series of Period Garden Rooms laid out from 1998, showing the changing nature of English town gardens over the last 400 years.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/07/2009
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Photo: Gavin Gardiner
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The Geffrye Museum is set in the former Geffrye's Almshouse of the Ironmongers' Company, and are the gardens of the last remaining almshouse establishment in Old Shoreditch. It was once flanked on one side by Drapers Almshouses and on the other by Framework Knitters Almshouses. In the C18th the area was largely rural with market gardens supplying produce to Londoners. Built between 1712-14, the Geffrye Almshouses were, and remained so until the late C19th, one of the largest charitable foundations for the aged in London, and were built as directed by the will of Sir Robert Geffrye, Lord Mayor of London in 1685/6 and twice Master of the Ironmongers' Company. It consisted of fourteen houses each with four rooms, providing accommodation for up to 56 pensioners, and with a garden. The ground was levelled from 1712/13, and sown with grass seed in the spring of 1718/19. In the autumn of the same year, the gardener Mr Longstaffe planted ninety limes in the front garden all of which were specified to be 'four foot high at the least and in girth or thickness about the bigness of Mr Longstaffe's leg in the small part thereof'. Later the same year Mr Crapp planted twenty-two limes at the back of the almshouse, probably along the ditch that formed the boundary on that side. The earliest known print dates from the late C18th and shows the grass plats in the front, but does not show the trees. A view prepared by the chaplain in 1805 shows the gates, railings, walls, lawns, trees and flower beds as they were then; the front lawns were sometimes grazed by sheep or cultivated for crops of potatoes.
By 1860 the garden had been redesigned and the old limes were replaced by London planes, most of which are still present. To the north of the garden is the small Ironmongers' Graveyard where lie the remains of Sir Robert and Lady Geffrye, removed from the chapel of St Dionis Backchurch in Lime Street when that was demolished in 1878. The burial ground also contains a chest tomb for Thomas Bethon (d.1721) a benefactor and member of the Ironmongers' Company; a tomb for Mrs Maria Chapman (d.1848) 'many years respected matron of the Almshouses', as well as various memorials set into the wall.
By the early C20th the Shoreditch area was the focus of London's furniture and clothing industries, with the workforce notoriously ill-treated and badly paid, leading to deterioration of the locality, severe overcrowding, poverty and crime. As a result the Ironmongers' Company decided to sell the almshouses, taking the view that it was no longer safe for the pensioners. The site was sold to the Peabody Trust, and subsequently to Shoreditch Metropolitan Council, with financial assistance from the City Corporation and the MPGA, purchasing additional houses in Geffrye Street (formerly Maria Street). In 1900/01 the garden was laid out by Fanny Wilkinson, the MPGA's landscape gardener. The London County Council took over the site in c.1910, mainly in order to preserve the garden as much-needed public open space and the gardens were again re-ordered. The central part was paved and a small pool was formed in front of the chapel. A bust of Sir William Cremer, MP, who campaigned vigorously for the retention of the gardens when they were threatened with destruction, was placed west of the pool. The timber gallery at the back of the chapel in Geffrye Street was built by the LCC in 1914; the Maria Gardens were converted into a dry playground and children's gymnasia, and there was also a bandstand. The gardens opened to the public in 1912, and in 1914 the almshouse building opened as a museum, largely as a result of persuasion by leading members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, with the purpose of providing a reference collection of furniture and woodwork to educate and inspire the local workforce.
By the1930s the local furniture industry had moved from the area and the museum refocused on an innovative schools programme, managed by the Education Committee of the LCC, with the collections reorganised into a series of period rooms. In 1965 the Greater London Council replaced the LCC and by the 1980s the Museum was the responsibility of the Inner London Education Authority. After the abolition of the GLC and ILEA, the museum then transferred to a new independent Trust that was formed in 1991, since which time a programme of improvements has been carried out, including a new extension opened in 1998, new galleries, a Design Centre, more educational facilities as well as development of the gardens behind the almshouses.
The Herb Garden was opened in 1992 on a derelict site north of the building and is laid out formally with four square beds set within brick walls. A sculptural fountain in the centre is by ceramicist Kate Malone, who is based in Hackney. There are over 170 different herbs and plants associated with herb gardens including those for household, medicinal, culinary, aromatic and dye plants. The planting was partly funded by the MPGA, who chose the herb garden for its 1992 'London Spade' Award, which acknowledges excellence in the development and use of green open spaces in London. Adjacent to the Herb Garden behind the almshouses a series of Period Garden Rooms - middle-class town gardens - were laid out in 1998 and continue to be developed. To date they include a mid C16th Knot Garden, a Late Elizabethan town garden, a mid-late Georgian garden, a High Victorian garden and an Edwardian Garden influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and Gertrude Jekyll.
The garden in front of the Almshouses today retains many notable London planes, and the original layout of paths survives. An C18th brick boundary wall surmounted by a contemporary wrought iron palisade forms an imposing and characterful enclosure for the garden onto Kingsland Road. A granite drinking fountain of 1865 is recessed in the north end of the wall.
Neil Burton, The Geffrye Almshouses (London) 1979; Clive Berridge, the Almshouses of London (Southampton), 1987; Handbook to the Geffrye Museum, c.1931; Geffrye Museum Handbook, c.1968; David Dewing, The Geffrye Museum, A Brief Guide, (Geffrye Museum Trust) 1998; EH History Files; The Buildings of Hackney; Parks and Open Spaces in Hackney (London) 1980; 'The London County Council and what it does for London: London Parks and Open Spaces' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1924); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Museum guides for Herb Garden, Period Garden Rooms; Elizabeth Crawford, 'Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle' (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2nd ed. 2009)