A local community garden recently took over a plot of land next to Shadwell station that appears to have never been built on in its entire life.
The railway arrived in 1876, with the original Shadwell station a street north of its current location and an open-air cutting in the ground for the railway where the station is today. The pocket park occupies a gap that existed between the railway and what was a row of terraced houses – now a block of flats, and shows up in Goad’s Insurance Maps of 1887 as a “stone yard” next to the open-air railway.
The current station entrance, which sits next to the pocket park was built in 1983, using the empty plot as a building site, but then leaving it empty again. It was used as a community garden for at least a few decades by the local residents but it turns out that the land had somehow ended up being owned by Tower Hamlets council, who sold it to Transport for London (TfL) in 2011 following rebuilding works to the station.
There’s a clause in the sale preventing the plot of land from being used for anything other than station works, otherwise TfL would have to pay more for the land to reflect its increased value.
There were plans in 2013 to reuse the site for a street market, with 12 market stalls to be called the Shadwell Bazaar, which would have made for a very cramped market. Unsurprisingly, the council rejected the application.
A later plan from the same developer, which was approved, was to put two large shipping containers on the empty land with shop fronts facing north towards the other shops. This was approved and was built, with a cafe occupying the shipping container, which was a breach of the planning approval, which had explicitly blocked the use for the sale of food and drink. The shipping container was removed around late 2018 to early 2019, leaving the plot of land once again empty.
Finally, in early 2022, residents, with support from members of E1CG and the council, negotiated an arrangement to restore a garden on the site, and will be managed by local residents.
Now, finally, it’s a community garden again.
Thanks to previous works to replace a 1960s lawn with paved land to park vehicles on, it’s now about a third patio, and the rest has had the hardcore removed to reopen it for planting. A project, supported by the City of London and Butterfly Conservation will also support the creation of a wildflower meadow on the site.
It’s still early days for the pocket park, but it shows the result of years of dogged persistence to reclaim what was taken away and now, finally restore it back to something the locals can appreciate on their way to/from Shadwell’s Overground station.