Profile of a London Garden Square
As featured in the November 2018 Newsletter
London’s squares were built for people to live in and are unique because of this. The Georgian and Victorian layout created a spacious arrangement of leafy open spaces and streets which has made an enduring contribution to the quality of London life.
Squares originally evolved from fields surrounding the old City walls of London and then converted, first for public recreation and then for housing. During the Reformation, Henry VIII had confiscated monastery land and given it to his supporters. The courtier’s ancestors included the Lords Bedford, Southampton and Portman, who were the main developers of the square in Stuart and Georgian London.
Today, London's squares remain a vital part of the city's fabric: a focus for local communities, attractive to tourists, and pleasant places for Londoners in which to live and work. They can also be a haven for wildlife, green chains linking the city's parks and back gardens, and occasional oases in built-up areas.
Lincoln's Inn Fields
Is one the largest squares in London and the oldest in Camden. Up to the 17th century, cattle grazed in the fields. Turnstiles were placed around the square to enable pedestrians to enter without the animals escaping. Shops and other businesses developed along these footpaths and some of these alleys still exist – the Great and Little Turnstile.
In 1618 the Society of Lincoln's Inn commenced a plan to preserve the common land beside the Inn. The Fields had long been used for recreation, and even public executions. Cricket and other sports are thought to have been played around this period. Houses were built around three sides of the Fields over a period of 20 years, and the central space was laid out with gravel walks and areas of grass surrounded by a low wooden fence.
The Lincoln Inn Fields was most fashionable during the 17th century when Inigo Jones was said to have laid out the square. It was enclosed in 1735 under an Act of Parliament. At one period it was popular for duellists but is more noted for the minor speaker's corner to which aspiring advocates used to practice for their future careers. By the 18th century the Fields were surrounded by a new set of residents but still had a dangerous edge. The Square encompassed a spectrum of London life from the rich and poor; to drama, art and science. Lincoln Inn Fields was known as the ‘beggar’s haunt’ which wasrife in Georgian London.
As the century progressed, Lincoln Inn Fields continued to attract the wealthy and the downtrodden. The gardens were railed
specifically, to prevent and deter vagrants. Even today Lincolns Inn Fields is one of the main locations for feeding the homeless after dark.
During WW2 - The Fields were used as a camp by the Royal Canadian Air Force a fact marked by one of the many monuments to be found in the square.
Lincoln Inn fields Gardens
Who owns the garden?
Lincoln Inn Fields was acquired by London County Council and managed by the London Borough of Camden which also manages nearly 70 other parks and open spaces. They range from small neighbourhood playgrounds to grand city squares; historic graveyards to allotments. Lincoln's Inn Fields takes its name from the adjacent Lincoln's Inn, of which the private gardens are separated from the Fields by a perimeter wall and a large gatehouse.
The gardens were previously used for corporate events, which are no longer permitted. Lincoln’s Inn Fields is staffed by a gardener and an attendant who manage the gardens on a daily basis.
When did it cease to be a private garden?
In 1895 the grounds, ceased to be private property, when they were acquired by London County Council
Who took the decision?
It was laid out formally in the 17th century and enclosed in 1735 .
Does it belong to the local authority?
Is it crime free and can young families use it?
There is little evidence of its chequered past.While there are no actual playground facilities for young children there is however a pizza restaurant. People relax on the lawns and benches at lunchtimes, while the more energetic play tennis or netball. The grassed area in the centre of the Fields contains a court for tennis and netball and a bandstand.
What are its opening hours?
The square opens from 7.30am until dusk. This allows for those wishing to play tennis. The tennis court opens from 8am until the last hour before the park closes at dusk. There are three hard tennis courts with a facility to convert to netball courts. Thankfully there are No floodlights to disturb the surrounding area and any possible resident wildlife. The courts are a popular facility, charged by the hour and available to the public including senior citizens and children.
How is it financed?
“The said sum of twelve thousand pounds shall be paid by the Trustees of Lincoln Inn Fields into the Court “ …. (https://friendsoflincolnsinnfields.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/1894-act-part2.jpg)
The London County Council Improvements ACT, 1894
“Said act to raise levy and to collect the rates and duties authorised to be accessed and levied under the Act shall cease and the expenses of maintaining, managing and preserving the said Garden shall be paid by the Council” (https://friendsoflincolnsinnfields.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/1894-act-part2.jpg)
Lincoln’s Inn Fields has a wealth of marvellous trees, which include a couple of unusual ones listed below.
The Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides): Southern American origin which flourishes in the north as well. It is grown as an ornamental tree and bears showy white trumpet flowers with yellow spots inside.
Mimosa or Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata): Native to New South Wales and Tasmania. An evergreen conifer with fine leaves made up of tiny blue-green leaflets. In early spring it has beautiful ‘fuzzy’ spherical clusters of yellow flowers which are highly fragrant.
Unfortunately, when I visited these lovely gardens recently it seemed devoid of birdlife. No birdsong or twittering of birds, save the squawks of the Crows above. When I spoke to the gardener in attendance, he commented that the resident bird life consisted of large nests of crows (which he kindly pointed out) and feral pigeons which feed on the leftover food deposits from overflowing bins.
I was told crows attack and eat smaller birds that try to nest here, hence the lack of biodiversity in the squares. I could not see any evidence of bees, bats and butterflies either. However, I do hope that the London and Camden Conservation Service will include the Fields in their five-year action plan for wildlife and its habitats across the Borough. This plan was developed by a partnership of over 21 landowners and local community groups coming together to prioritise action. Their objective is to increase and improve habitats for wildlife through park management, improvement works and involvement in planning applications and proposed developments. There are regular opportunities available for local people and children to participate in both practical conservation work through a programme of wildlife events across the parks and open spaces.
It has become increasingly important for us to be aware of the pressures which face our London Squares. A thorough appreciation of the beauty and positive effects these squares make toward London’s quality of life is most needed. Without their welcoming and calming health benefits, our city may become a much harsher and more crowded place. Therefore it is vital that we continue to reinforce the London’s Squares Act of 1931 in order to maintain our valuable garden squares across London for future generations to enjoy.
Georgian London - Into the Streets
by Lucy Inglis
BHO – British History Online – Old and New London Vol. 3London Parks and Gardens Trust - A Short History of London's Garden Squares 1600 to 1650
Self Guided Tree Walks in Bloomsbury, Camden
Wikipedia – Lincoln Inn Fields
Online - A Guide to Camden’s Parks and Open Spaces