The History of London Westminster’s Four Most Famous Gardens
Planning to spend some time with us in Victoria? We’re excited for your arrival! Our little historical neighbourhood is home to some of England’s most treasured historical locations, making it the perfect home base for first-time visitors and history buffs.
The Melita is close to both the Thames and the famous Tate Britain art gallery, is surrounded by delightful restaurants and pubs, and is just steps away from a long list of unique historical locations that will inspire your adventurous heart. While we very much recommend seeing these, sometimes what our guests desire most is a bit of time spent in the great outdoors.
Fortunately, The Melita’s amazing location places us just steps away from four of Westminster’s best gardens, three of which reside in Westminster Abbey itself, and most of which have been in place for decades, if not centuries.
Not sure where to stop first? We’ve highlighted a few of the best options and dug up a bit of their history to tempt your imagination and draw you in. The perks of a staying at a hotel near Westminster Abbey.
Eccleston Square Gardens
Though you’d never guess today, Eccleston Square Gardens was originally the location of little more than a large swamp. This small but beautiful gardens was originally owned by the Dukes of Westminster, and was drained and then developed into a garden by Thomas Cubitt over the course of 1838.
Eccleston Square Gardens sits in a particularly advantageous location in much the same way as all of Westminster; it’s technically situated on floodplains from the Thames, making it especially fertile. This is just one of the reasons it was originally used as a market garden in the 1800s. Before it was developed, this beautiful garden provided both food and willow shoots for basket making to all of the local Westminster area.
When Thomas Cubitt began developing the area into a more habitable social gathering point, his original goal was to bring the charm of the English countryside into the city. Not everyone was in agreement to this, however; the farmers who were originally using the land objected to its removal and reconfiguration and protested for a time. A compromise was eventually reached: the farmers were moved to Lincolnshire, and barricades were erected around all of Eccleston Square to keep out undesirables while the work was completed.
Today, Eccleston Square Gardens belongs, for all intents and purposes, to the community that surrounds it. This wasn’t always the case; over the years, it came under threat several times, first after damage in the Great Storm of 1987, and then again when it was purchased out by a local real estate company with the intention of creating a car park. The current ownership, an organisation titled Eccleston Square Garden Ltd, was created solely to purchase and protect the land for years to come.
Because Eccleston Square is a private communal garden, you cannot enter without being accompanied by a member. However, the gardens do hold a number of public events throughout the year. For more information about access and tours, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Westminster Abbey Gardens
Considered to be some of England’s oldest gardens, Westminster Abbey Gardens isn’t just one garden, but three individual gardens in total. These include the College Garden, the Garth, and Little Cloisters, each intimately connected in history, development, and cultivation.
A quick note: The Abbey gardens are best seen on a tour, as not all areas are accessible to the general public, but booking a tour is fairly easy and highly recommended anyway. The history of Westminster Abbey itself is fascinating and detailed, making it an excellent adjunct to any English garden lover’s itinerary.
The College Gardens
The College Garden is thought to be the oldest of all three, and is believed to date back approximately 900 years. Most historians agree that it is the oldest garden still in cultivation throughout England, and to a less specific degree, most of the British Isles. It was originally used by the Benedictine monks to grow healing herbs and plants, many of which were used not only to minister to the monks, but also to Britain’s citizenship.
The College Garden is unique in many ways, the least of which is the fact that the majority of infirmary gardens have long since been removed. It was also home to the monk’s cemetery and paid homage to the cycle of life and death itself. An orchard planted directly beside the original cemetery drew attention to new life from death, while plants like Lady’s Bedstraw were said to honour the Virgin Mary herself.
The College Gardens still retain many historic elements, some of which date back hundreds of years. The somewhat crumbling stone precinct wall itself is the oldest of these, dating back to the late 1300s. Each of the four saint statues in the centre of the gardens was carved in 1686 by sculptor Arnold Quellin, and while they aren’t in the best of shape today, they still inspire and call out to the soul. Most of the other features, including the fountain and bronze statue that sits at one end of the garden, are newer, having been installed within the last 20 years.
Just a few steps away from the College Garden lies The Garth. This garden, too, was originally owned by the Benedictine monastery, and was important in the daily lives of the monks who sometimes lived out their entire lives there. It was considered the primary place for monks to go to rest their eyes and escape the intrusion of everyday life.
Situated in the centre of the Abbey itself, and entirely closed off from the outside world by its four gothic walls, the Garth’s beauty isn’t in its plants, but in its surroundings. By itself, it’s little more than a well-kept square of green grass, albeit a very well-kept square indeed.
Though it is closed off to the public, members of the Abbey and those on tour can catch a glimpse of it in person. Unfortunately, no pictures are permitted inside Westminster Abbey, so the only thing you can take away is sweet memories.
The third and final garden in Westminster Abbey, Little Cloisters, originally served as a restful garden for sick and infirm monks. Services were often held here for monks who weren’t well enough to attend the Abbey’s services, or for those who were aged and in their last years. It was considered a place of restorative rest, but was accessible to any monk at the Abbey who desired peace.
This small but beautiful garden shaded monks from the sun, protected them from the wind, and was easily accessed by any one of the surrounding cloisters. Strolling the pathways here slowly, it’s easy to see how this type of lifestyle could become more attractive than living on the outside.
Along its Eastern side remains the Chapel of Saint Catherine, one of England’s most famous religious meeting spaces prior to the 15th Century. It is also the site of several historically relevant events and decisions, including Henry III’s sworn pledge of allegiance to uphold the Magna Carta in 1176. The chapel itself, built in the 12th Century, consisted of little more than a congregation section surrounded by two aisles.
Out of the three main gardens in the Abbey, this is in many ways the most charming and the most popular, perhaps because it is the only one of the three to be open to the public all year round. Ancient walls imprinted by the erosion of time stand dramatically aside the gardens, draped with beautiful green ivy during the summer months. The centre fountain, while not an original installation, deserves respect for its age, too: it dates back as far as 1871.
The gardens are carefully cultivated and planned out to burst forth with colour during the growing season, but don’t count out Little Cloisters in the winter; there’s something truly charming about watching the snow fall down over the fountain at Christmas, too.
If you want to book a hotel near Westminster Abbey choose Melita and spend unforgettable time in London.