Easy to overlook on a visit to the Cathedral, but there’s a small garden that is laid out to match the site of the medieval cathedral’s Chapter House and Cloister.
As you walk around you’ll notice the grass lawn is raised up on a bed surrounded by a strange-looking stone wall, and this replicates the inner wall of the Cloister that ran around the outside of a square lawn. So as you walk around on the paving, you’re walking the same path trod by medieval monks for centuries before the cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Inside the garden is a half-hexagon with stone spurs jutting out, and this is the footprint of the Chapter House, so you would walk into the centre, and the spurs are the old buttresses that would have run around the outside.
The remains of the Chapter House still, well, remain, buried under the ground, but it does mean that they were able to be certain of how it was laid out and what size it was when planning this pocket park. They were also able to use the same Purbeck stone for the garden walls as was used in the original Chapter House, with the stonework carried out by Stonewest.
A sign next to the garden shows off an image of the two buildings in 1658, based on a drawing by Wenceslaus Hollar.
It took three years, and £3.8 million to build the garden, but that’s mainly because it was linked to something else that was done at the same time, the addition of step-free access and a lift in the corner for visitors to the Cathedral.
Opened in June 2008, it replaced a patch of overgrown scrubland that sat hidden behind trees lining the pavement. The iron railings that are there today are originals that were brought out of storage.
The garden was designed by Martin Stancliffe, Surveyor to the Fabric, who said a the time that he “wanted to create an open space secluded from the traffic to form a welcoming access point for visitors to the cathedral that would also give them an insight into the site’s fascinating history.”
There are some benches to sit on, although facing a busy road may make them a little less pleasant as a quiet spot for lunch, and a spiral text in the ground marks the City of London’s contribution to the project.
The garden was part of the works to mark the 300th anniversary of the completion of the Cathedral by the laying of the final stone on the Dome’s lantern in 1708.
A bit further around towards the front of the cathedral is a scale diagram of the medieval cathedral cast into the stone, including the Chapter House.