On the 9th November 1889, a new public garden was opened just to the south of Oxford Street as part of the clearance of slums and their replacement with social housing for the working classes.
I say garden — according to The Times, it was laid out with grass and asphalt paths surrounded by railings with a limited amount of planting around the edge and some seats.
A photo of the original garden is here
The garden as it was then didn’t last very long though, as little more than a decade after it opened, the land was taken over by a building needed for that new-fangled electricity service that the middle-classes were starting to enjoy.
The owner of the land though, the Duke of Westminster decreed that having only just laid out the garden, he wasn’t minded to deprive the locals of it, so the electricity firm had to build another garden — on top of their new building.
So what was a fairly generic street level garden became an elevated space raised up on Baroque style building made from Portland Stone with tall entry gates at either end.
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That garden is still there — known as Brown Hart Gardens, and is still open to the public as the early Duke decreed. Not that the Duke’s wishes were always carried out as the roof top garden was closed in the 1980s and didn’t open again until 2007 following refurbishment. However, even then it was noted that the refurbishment was fairly basic.
It’s a very strictly ornamental space, with regular paving, regular boxes and even regular planting within the boxes.
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You probably don’t want to take a relaxing rest on one of the seats though — the backs hold a waterfall that pours down to a dip at the back of the seat. The rest are conventional benches for conventional use.
A new cafe has been erected at one end, which both spoils the symmetrical effect that used to exist between both ends of the gardens, but does tend to fit with the new contemporary design. It was added to generate revenue to cover the long term costs of maintaining the garden.
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The seating is sparse, so likely to be very busy on a summers lunchtime, but was delightfully empty on a late Saturday afternoon. It’s a place to seek out (map link) for a rest from Christmas shopping.
On my visit, two van from the electricity company that still manages the electricity sub-station were parked next to the entrance. I couldn’t get inside there though.
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