This sunken 1960s style garden exists thanks in part to the diligence of German bombers, but also a Tudor wedding.
The area was once fields and a few large mansion houses next to the river for easy travel to Westminster, and one such occupant was Sir Thomas More, who later lost his head in a dispute with Henry VIII. Before that though, he gave the land around here to his daughter Margaret and William Roper as a marriage gift in 1521.
Hence, Ropers Gardens
It seems to have remained relatively untouched until the 1740s, by which time the area was starting to develop with a few streets shown on maps, but the area was still largely dominated by orchards and mansion house gardens.
By the 19th century, the area was fully built up, with a pub and post office fronting a row of houses facing the Chelsea Embankment, which itself was much wider than it is today.
Then in April 1941, a parachute mine destroyed the buildings fronting the embankment, and the site was largely untouched unto the 1960s, when it was cleared, and the basement space retained to create the sunken garden we have today.
The foundation stone for the new garden was laid by Cllr Lady Heath in 1964, and it was designed by Bridgwater Shepherd and Epstein. What’s here is a large sunken space surrounded by the dark bricks and terraces popular in the 1960s, and two large plots of raised grass.
Which would be bland, if not for the sculptures.
Off to one side is an unfinished relief by Jacob Epstein, who had a studio near the gardens (when the gardens were houses), and the area was called Sir Thomas More’s Orchard. The sculpture was added in 1972, according to a notice on the back.
Right in the middle of the garden, is a bronze statue of a naked lady, which under the heavily painted plinth is revealed to be Awakening by Gilbert Ledward, who was a prolific artist and won a number of commissions including war memorials.
A nice touch though is the dog’s lavatory, which is for well, doggy doings — but nice to have a dedicated space away from the grass.