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Museum Gardens * Tower Hamlets


* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

Museum Gardens were once part of Bethnal Green Poor's Lands, an area of former manorial waste that under a trust deed of 1690 was administered to benefit the local poor. The Poor's Lands were divided in 1825 when a site was purchased to build St John's Church. In 1872 a parcel of land in the northern section was purchased to erect the Bethnal Green Museum, with the proviso that land not needed for building would become a public recreation ground. As a result the land south of the museum was laid out and opened as ornamental public gardens in 1875, originally known as Bethnal Green Museum Garden. The garden contains mature trees and continues to have formal displays, including a raised mound of carpet bedding.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
Bethnal Green; Bethnal Green Poor's Land

Site location:
Cambridge Heath Road/Victoria Park Square

E2 ( Google Map)

Type of site:
Public Gardens



Listed structures:
LBI: St John's Church. LBII*: Bethnal Green Museum, 18 and 21 Victoria Park Gardens. LBII: 4 lamp standards in Museum Passage

Tower Hamlets

Site ownership:
LB Tower Hamlets

Site management:
Leisure Services, Parks and Open Spaces

Open to public?

Opening times:
8am - dusk

Special conditions:
No dogs, ball games, cycling.



Public transport:
Tube: Bethnal Green (Central). Bus: D3, 253, 106

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/09/2011
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Further Information

Grid ref:

Size in hectares:

Green Flag:

On EH National Register :

EH grade:
Grade II

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:

Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:

In Conservation Area:

Conservation Area name:
Bethnal Green Gardens

Tree Preservation Order:
Not known

Nature Conservation Area:

Green Belt:

Metropolitan Open Land:

Special Policy Area:

Other LA designation:

Museum Gardens *

Drinking Fountain, Museum Gardens, June 2009. Photo: S Williams

Click photo to enlarge.

Fuller information

Bethnal Green Gardens: Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see

The c.3.65 ha. of public gardens that now constitute Museum Gardens, the V&A Museum of Childhood Garden and Bethnal Green Gardens (q.q.v.) are the remains of Bethnal Green Poor's Lands, a c.6.27 ha. estate, itself originally part of the extensive commonable waste lands of the Manor of Stebonheath or Stepney. In 1667 this piece of land was purchased for £200 by a group of people from the then Lady of the Manor, Lady Philadelphia Wentworth, in order to prevent it from being built over. Including the cost of enclosure and other necessary expenses, the sum raised amounted to £332 2s 10d. As not all the purchasers were resident at Bethnal Green, the land was made subject of a trust deed on 13 December 1690 and conveyed to 27 local trustees, who were charged with administering the estate and distributing its proceeds, for example the profits from leasing lands, for charitable purposes to the local poor. The estate was named the Bethnal Green Poor’s Lands. A clause in the trust deed expressed the original wish of the purchasers that the land should not be built over and in the C19th enabled the residue of the Poor’s Lands to be laid out as public gardens. Among the expenses that were payable out of the profits from leasing lands were not only those of distributing coals and money to the poor, but also those for maintaining paths, gates and stiles on the enclosed land.

In 1825 part of the Poor's Lands was purchased for St John’s Church and Vicarage, which essentially divided the Green into two parts, north and south of the church, which was built in 1826-8 to designs of Sir John Soane. In 1868 c.1.82 hectares of the northern part of the Poor's Lands was sold by the Trustees as the site for the new Bethnal Green Museum with the proviso that what was not built on should become public recreation ground. The museum opened in 1872 and in 1875 the area now known as Museum Gardens was laid out as public gardens to designs of the Superintendent of Victoria Park (q.v.). This garden, then called Bethnal Green Museum Garden, was initially maintained by the Government; in 1887 it became the responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works under the 1887 London Parks and Works Act, subsequently that of the LCC, then the GLC and now LB Tower Hamlets. Museum Passage is the route of an old path across Bethnal Green, which is shown in the Horwood map of 1813. In 1872 it was planted with the present London plane trees to form a division between the public gardens and the Museum. There are also notable plane trees in the gardens, especially along the east and west sides, as well as a good variety of other mature and more recently planted trees. The gardens are laid out with winding paths, areas of lawn, and ornamental planting in island beds and a raised mound of carpet bedding, planted and fenced off. In the west side is a length of trellis planted with climbing roses and other plants. A drinking fountain stands near the south-west entrance gate, erected as a memorial to ‘Alice Maud Denman & Peter Regelous who lost their lives in attempting to save others at a fire at 423 Hackney Road on 20 April 1902 erected by public subscription’. On the south, the garden abuts St John’s Church. Museum Gardens won an award for its horticultural excellence from the MPGA in 2000.

Sources consulted:

Harold Clunn, the Face of London (c1950); Survey of London; Bancroft Library, Clippings. Lieut. Col J J Sexby, The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Space of London (their History and Associations, Elliott Stock (London) 1895 (1905 edition); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); LB Tower Hamlets 'Bethnal Green Gardens Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Guidelines' adopted 2009

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