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St George's Fields Westminster

Summary

St George's Fields gardens are on the site of the former burial ground of St George Hanover Square, established in 1763 and closed in 1852. Following closure, while remaining Church property, the headstones were placed around the walls and the land was used for various purposes, including allotments in WWI and later sports. In 1964 the land was deconsecrated by Act of Parliament and the site was cleared by the Parish of St George. It was sold in 1967 to the Utopian Housing Society who built 7 blocks, housing 300 flats and maisonettes, completed in 1973. Many of the site's mature trees, including a plane c250 years old and a red oak, were retained; the main buildings were separated with garden areas around them and each flat had an open view of the gardens. It was set up as a community ownership development but passed into private tenant ownership in 1982 and continues to be self-managed. There is a fine collection of trees, areas of lawn and shrubberies, ornamental ponds and a collection of ferns, a woodland garden and herb garden. In 2008 a woodland garden was created, and there is a herb garden and fishponds.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
Burial Ground of St George, Hanover Square

Site location:
Albion Street, Marble Arch

Postcode:
W2 2YE ( Google Map)

Type of site:
Housing/Estate Landscaping

Date(s):
1763; 1970s onwards

Designer(s):
1967-73: Design 5 Ltd

Listed structures:
None

Borough:
Westminster

Site ownership:
St George's Fields board of residents

Site management:
Gardener employed by Board

Open to public?
Occasionally

Opening times:
Has opened for OGSW. Otherwise, private for residents use.
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 10 times, most recently in 2014.

Special conditions:

Facilities:

Events:

Public transport:
Tube: Marble Arch (Central), Paddington (District, Circle, Bakerloo, Hammersmith & City) Bus: 12, 6, 7, 15, 16, 23, 36, 98, 148, 274, 390

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/11/2007
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.stgeorgesfields.org.uk

Further Information

Grid ref:
TQ273810

Size in hectares:
2.025

Green Flag:
No

On EH National Register :
No

EH grade:
None

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
No

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
No

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
No

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:
No

In Conservation Area:
Yes

Conservation Area name:
Bayswater

Tree Preservation Order:
Yes?

Nature Conservation Area:
No

Green Belt:
No

Metropolitan Open Land:
No

Special Policy Area:

Other LA designation:
None

St George's Fields

St George's Fields - Photo: Sarah Jackson

Click photo to enlarge.

Album

Fuller information

It is possible that among those buried in the Burial Ground of St George, Hanover Square were those who died on the gallows at Tyburn, now the site of Marble Arch (q.v.). The Tyburn Gallows Tree was used from the C12th until 1783, a 12-ft high triangular structure capable of hanging 8 people on each of its sides. The Rev. Laurence Stern (1713-1768), the popular author of novels such as 'The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy' died of pleurisy and was buried at the burial ground of St George Hanover Square. His body was snatched from its tomb and sold to the Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge who, recognising his friend, returned it to St George's. Others buried here include the artist Paul Sandby (1721-1809) who reputedly introduced the aquatint to England; and Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823) author of a popular Gothic romance, 'The Mysteries of Udolpho'. The graveyard had two six-foot high walls 3 feet apart, possibly as a deterrent to body-snatchers although the outer wall may have been added to mark the actual boundary.

Following its closure as a cemetery, while remaining the property of the church, the land was used for various purposes. In WWI, the land was used for allotments, the headstones having been placed around the walls, and it was later used for sports including tennis until the 1960s. At one time the Royal Toxophilitic Society cleared a portion for archery practice. The burial ground's Chapel of Ascension, which was 'dedicated to rest and reflection' and had paintings by Frederick Shields, was destroyed in WWII. In 1964 the land was deconsecrated by Act of Parliament and the site was cleared by the Parish of St George, the majority of the lead coffins taken to Hertfordshire for reburial, although many bones remained in the soil. At that time Stern's remains were removed to Yorkshire, initially proving complicated when his coffin was found to contain one body and two heads.

The land was sold in 1967 to the Utopian Housing Society who gained planning permission for 7 blocks housing 300 flats and maisonettes. The scheme was designed by Design 5 Ltd architects and was completed in 1973. This estate has been described as one of the more successful 1960s housing schemes that were designed to provide 'an ideal environment for modern urban living', inspired by the ideas of the Italian futurist architect Antonio Sant' Elie's 'Nuova Citta' (1914). The harshness of the architecture is considerably softened here by the emphasis on the landscaping. Many of the site's mature trees, including a plane c.250 years old and a red oak, were retained during construction and the development was planned to ensure that the main buildings were separated, with garden areas woven around them, and that each flat had an open view of the gardens. Flats in the stepped, ziggurat-style blocks were provided with spacious balconies with deep plant troughs and planting was encouraged, and the original plans described the estate as 'the new hanging gardens of Bayswater'. It was set up as a community ownership development but passed into private tenant ownership following the Conservative Government's Housing Bill in 1982.

The estate continues to be self-managed, and is run by an elected board of directors drawn from among the residents, employing a small team of staff including gardeners. The estate has a fine collection of trees, which is being added to, areas of lawn and shrubberies, ornamental ponds and a collection of ferns. The Church retained a strip of land in the north originally for use as a service road when pedestrianisation of Connaught Street was planned, but this is now leased to the Hyde Park Nursery School. A new woodland garden has been created incorporating many trees and plants that were previously on the estate in pots and planters, and there is also a herb garden for residents' use.

Sources consulted:

Booklet produced by board of residents 'St George's Fields Marble Arch W2, A Garden Estate in Central London' (n.d., c.2000)

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