This pocket park is named after John Rennie, the engineer who built the original Waterloo Bridge, and designed the original Southwark Bridge, and the previous London Bridge.

Although it sits on the south side of the Thames, the Rennie Garden and the River Walk beside Blackfriars Bridge are owned by the Bridge House Estates, the trust fund that looks after the bridges across the Thames — although contrary to popular opinion, the park is not within the City of London boundary.

It owes its existence though, indirectly, to the arrival of Blackfriars Bridge.

Although this part of London was long filled with wharves and warehouses, it was cleared for the construction of the bridge.

When the bridge was built, the southern approach was a large open plaza known as Albion Place, but this was swiftly filled in by John Rennie with a corn mill, the Albion Mill, one of the most visible symbols of the industrialisation of London in the late 18th-century.

Barker’s Panorama of London from the Roof of Albion Mills was one of the earliest such drawings of its type.

Opened in 1786, it burnt down just a few years later in 1791, and although unproven, there were allegations of arson by smaller millers unable to compete with the industrial scale of the Albion Mill.

It’s thought that the poet William Blake, who lived nearby was inspired by the sight of the burnt-out shell of the building for his “dark satanic mills”, where England’s rural idyl is ruined by factories.

In 1862 the City of London declared the area should be maintained as open space and Rennie Garden was created as part of the construction of the Blackfriars Goods yard next to it. The riverside path didn’t exist at the time, but there was a steep set of steps down to the Thames for boats.

OS Map 1896

The railway goods yard closed in 1964 and the site next to the pocket park has been filled with offices ever since, the latest recently demolished for a new housing development.

Today, the park can be politely described as somewhat shabby, being next to a busy road, and looking in need of a bit of tender loving care. And it’s about to get some.

The former Daily Express building — nicknamed the Grey Lubyanka — has been torn down to be replaced with flats, and that will see the garden given a substantial makeover.

What is today a clearly defined small garden surrounded by walls will be opened up into a larger plaza that blends into the spaces for the new flats. It’ll lose it’s separate identity, although the plans show that the boundary between the pocket park and the housing development will be marked with the usual pavement studs you may have seen in pavements.

The biggest change though is that the currently narrow staircase from the garden down to the riverside will see the planting long the edges removed and the stairs significantly widened.

The narrow and often flooded riverside path will be opened up, removing a soggy pinch point.

Rennie Garden proposal (c) Townshend

It will be better. Most people will love the wider path and better steps. I will miss the oddity though, the inconvenience, the occasionally soggy shoes.


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  1. Greg says:

    I used to work just over Blackfriars Bridge on the north side, and would often head over the bridge from Waterloo. I always liked watching commuters trying to navigate the flooded riverside path – sometimes even climbing up onto the fence and shuffling along.

  2. It’s not that many years since the path under Blackfriars Bridge simply didn’t exist – you had to go up the steps, cross the road, and go back down again, which was a total pain when walking along the South Bank with a small child! I forget exactly when the pedestrian tunnel was (re-?)opened, but certainly within the last 30 or 40 years.

  3. JP says:

    Ah the joys of soggy shoes! A Thames-dweller’s dilemma.
    Well that and soaked socks and silted-up trousers when I dropped my phone off the houseboat deck or next door’s Siamese wrongfooted herself on the mooring ropes at our bend on the river. Thanks for the reminder.
    Yes, the (Sony) phone still worked, I still have the scars from the cat’s claws and ahem I don’t recall effusive thanks from my neighbour. But the cat lived on for years which is all that matters really.

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