|Golden Square Garden||Westminster|
Shortly after the pleasure gardens were laid out in Soho Square in 1680/1, the developers of Golden Square established their own garden here, probably completed by 1688. An ornamental garden with perimeter wooden palisade, its layout and planting were identical to Leicester Fields. In 1750s this was replaced with a new octagonal design, iron railings and a statue of King James at its centre. In the 1820s, following neglect, the garden was restored, at which time it presumably reverted to its earlier square shape, and paths, trees and shrubs were laid out. In 1952 the garden was somewhat controversially re-designed to its current configuration of a large raised stone terrace and three geometrical beds.
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Sir Christopher Wren's 'model' or plan of 1673, which formed part of the royal licence to build Gelding Close (later Golden Square), did not provide for a central garden enclosure. However, a lease assignment of 1684 indicates that a householder was obliged 'to pay his share towards railing in the said Quadrangle...when thereunto requested'. The rails and posts were specified to be made of good oak 'as large as the rail of the Quadrangle in Leicester fields'. A similar covenant was engrossed the following year, where a lessee bound himself `to pay the rates and proportions with others interested in any other building fronting the place, for all charges in posts, rayls and other ornaments or materials fixes, or employed...for dividing, distinguishing and adorning the same'. The garden may have been completed by 1688 when one Mathew Capell in No. 25 paid one pound `towards Gravelling the Square'.
The original layout of the square is reproduced in an engraved view of c.1727 and shows the middle area bisected by gravel paths and cast into five grass plots. Four large rectangular plots, bounded by hedges and interspersed with small trees, encompassed a small turfed area at the centre of the square. The layout and planting of the garden, and its perimeter wooden palisade, were identical to Leicester Fields. In 1720 Strype described the square as `a very handsome place railed round and gravelled with many good houses inhabited by gentry on all sides'. When Golden Square received its private square Act in 1750, its formal garden layout of the late C17th that incorporated a leafy grove of semi-mature trees, was swept away in favour of a new design. An engraved view of 1754 portrayed the 'inside' of the 'small but neat' octagonal square. The garden was described in 1768 as `adorned with Grass Plots and Gravel Walks' and surrounded by a 'handsome Iron' railing, which replaced the former 'woodden Rails', and possessing a statue of King James at its centre. The statue of George II (1720) by Jan Van Nost was erected in 1753, one of only two public statues in London of this monarch. Horwood's map (1799) shows an enclosed hexagon, edged with shrubberies and with a path around the perimeter.
In 1783 the garden had become 'more neglected than usual in these places of ornament', and by the 1820s more money was needed for further improvement. A second Act was accordingly passed in 1827, by which the trustees acquired additional powers for such matters as watering and macadamising the roadway. It was presumably at this time that the garden reverted to its earlier square shape, and the paths, trees and shrubs were laid out. Charles Dickens, in a passage of Nicholas Nickleby (1839), described the central garden as 'a little wilderness of shrubs' looked over by a 'mournful statue'. During WWII an air raid shelter was dug under the garden and the enclosing iron fence was taken for salvage. In this unfenced and derelict state the gardens were taken over by Westminster City Council on lease from the trustees of the square.
WCC refurbished the garden in 1952 at a cost of £5,500. The redesign was radical and controversial: the former secluded and umbrageous quality of the space was banished as mature planes were felled and replaced with sycamore and hornbeam whips, and the central area was cleared to form a large raised stone terrace with three geometrical beds. The statue of George II was replaced at the centre of the composition, and by 1960 new railings had been erected. This reconstruction was at the time widely criticised as barren, dreary and desolate, with `simpering' flower beds and clumsy teak flower chests. In 1984 a consignment of 2000 roses was presented by Sofia Bulgaria and the gardens underwent a major refurbishment in 1985 to mark the quarter centenary year of the City of Westminster. A gardener's bothy was erected at the north side of the garden. There are bedding displays in the garden and occasional sculpture installations.
John Stow, 'A Survey of the cities of London and Westminster . . .' Corrected, improved and enlarged by John Strype, 1720; E Beresford Chancellor, 'The History of the Squares of London', London, 1907; Miscellaneous clippings, Westminster City Archives; F H W Shephard, ed., Survey of London, The Parish of St James Westminster, part 2, vol. xxxi, London 1963; Royal National Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital deeds, 28 October 1685; The Architect and Building News, 22 January 1953, p. 104; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Westminster Cathedral, deed of 21 April 1684. WCC, Soho & Chinatown Conservation Area Audit, 2006