Just off Islington’s busy Essex Road is a long linear rock garden that’s the legacy of a company that brought fresh water to the City.

The firm in question is the New River Company, which was set up in 1613 to manage a 42-mile artificial aqueduct that brought clean water from Hertford to London. Much of the New River still exists, and still brings water to London.

However, the southern end of the New River, where this park lays was covered over in the 1890s, but then the land was left empty and unused. Attempts to acquire the vacant land took place in 1902 but it wasn’t until 1913 that the local council was able to agree on terms with the Metropolitan Water Board and buy the land in order to lay it out as a public space.

A map from around the time shows that there were two lavatory blocks built at the southern end of the rock garden, and considering that it was directly above the freshwater mains, it’s to be hoped that the plumbing from the latrines was very good.

The rock garden was added later, as part of a wider scheme to revamp the area. The old water pipes were removed and a new playground to the north was created and the rock garden was laid out afterwards at a cost of £5,498, which was approved in January 1955, with the garden opening in June 1955. The work was carried out by Vanstone’s of Much Hadham.

A picture of it in 1956, long before the trees and bushes had grown up is here.

The rock garden was re-landscaped in 1998 and again in 2003.

The park is mainly a path surrounded by planting, and the very obvious large stones that have been dotted along the path. The garden is a lot more sculptural than when it opened, with a substantial elevation of soil on one side and a rough path that’s just about walkable if you want to have a bit of an adventure.

There is some interesting planting in places, but mostly, this is a rock garden and is dominated by the large stones that run along the path that winds its way along the linear park.

A few stones are in the middle of the path, looking more like discarded glacial erratic dropped here by a retreating glacier from when the north of London was covered in ice at the end of the last ice age.

At the moment, the rock garden is more rock than garden, but that’s winter for you.

The amazing thing is that you could easily walk along the Essex Road for years without noticing that just a few yards to one side is this long rock garden.


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  1. John Usher says:

    Yes, I remember the lavatories!

    They represented the point at which the original New River (started 1609 – and not by Hugh Myddleton… – completed in 1613) had it’s only original culvert (all other crossings of roads and rivers being above and around), near what is now South Library (also built 1913, but not opened as a library until post WW1) and under Essex Road (formerly Lower Street – cf. Upper Street – and other things) to re-emerge in Duncan Terrace on it’s way to the New River Head.

    The Southern Section of the New River was covered from the pumping station (now the climbing centre) in Stoke Newington – there are several parts which are allotments, linear green space or linear water features from that point along the route to the New River Head.

  2. Terry Jones says:

    My husband and I could never decide if they were really rocks, or just concrete!

  3. mooseandhobbes says:

    The rocks in this park are made from Pulhamite, which is an artificial rock patented in the 19th century by James Pulham.

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