This community park and allotments on Grays Inn Road is a legacy of campaigning to prevent an office block from being built here.
Since the 19th century, the site had been occupied by W Cubitt and Co, builders, for a large timber workshop. By the 1940s, the building was a refrigerator manufacturer and had a walkway linking to some houses that used to sit on the corner of the road, presumably being used for offices.
The factory and the corner houses were badly damaged during WW2, and the land cleared. Bought by the Lyon Group, of Lyons teas shops fame, it was planned to have a large office development on the site. However they pulled out after they had put the office foundations on site, so Camden acquired the land. In 1980 they prepared to sell the land for offices, based on the previous planning permission.
A campaign was set up to stop the office development, and in June 1983, the council agreed to fund the conversion of the empty building site into a community garden, and it was opened in September 1984.
That history then explains the otherwise peculiar deep valleys in the front of the pocket park – for they are the former basements of the houses that used to run along here, and have never been filled in.
The entry bridge leaps over these deep basement valleys, with a small stream running through the middle. The ceramic tiled benches were added in 1989, provided by local women’s groups. A number of wandering paths lead to the back of the park, where a load of plants are being sold, and food is grown for cooking in the park’s cafe.
As a park, it has a mixed air of being allotments, a nature reserve and a community cafe. To have it in the middle of busy London is a remarkable testament to the people who fought so hard to stop it becoming just more offices.
The garden sits next to the former Royal Free Hospital Building, which was until recently used by the Eastman Dental Hospital, but is now being converted into a dementia and neurology research centre.