This is a formal garden in Haggerston surrounded by Victorian houses, with a drinking fountain in the middle, and seemingly created out of an undeveloped plot of land.
The square was laid out in 1849/50 by Islip Odell, with an unfinished plot of land in the middle, and Albion Hall on the western side.
The grand looking hall was initially a hall for talks and debates, but in the 1860s, it was turned into public baths. It was demolished in 1944 after being damaged during WWII. So the two fine detached houses that stand on the western side of the gardens and look traditionally Victorian are in fact 1980s developments. You can see the corner of the derelict land as it was in 1978 here.
The garden square though seems to have been left empty by the developer, possibly to add homes to at a later date, but that never happened.
There had been attempts to improve the square from 1893, but it was to take a number of years to persuade the landlord, the Trustees of Lady De Saumarez to give up the land to the local vestry, which they finally agreed to in July 1898.
Described at the time as having been “an ugly waste“, it was turned into a public garden in 1899 by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, who paid for the works, on the understanding that the vestry would then look after it.
There was a bit of a fuss when the opening ceremony was planned by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association without consulting the local vestry, and it seems that noses were put out of joint by that.
The vestry was invited, and turned up.
The gardens were formally opened on Wednesday 12th July 1899, and was the 100th opened by the Association.
The garden hasn’t changed too much in terms of layout, with a long central walkway lined with bedding plants and in the centre, a circular area with four tall London Plane trees, and plenty of seating benches around the trees.
Something else was added later though, as in 1910, the gardens gained a drinking fountain. The fountain was funded by the political and social reformer and anti-slavery campaigner, John Passmore Edwards as part of his philanthropy to provide drinking water in places that would benefit the poor.
The Albion Square fountain is his 12th fountain, erected when he was 87 years old, and is one of only 3 to survive.
It was recently restored by the Heritage of London Trust.
There’s an inscription on the side, which reads:
“This garden was laid out in 1899 for public enjoyment by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, 83 Lancaster Gate and in 1910 the same association through the generosity of J. Passmore Edwards Esq. was enabled to complete its work by erecting therein this drinking fountain for free public use which the Metropolitan Borough Council of Hackney has kindly agreed to maintain.”
For several decades, the gardens were surrounded with a chicken-wire fence, but that’s been replaced with more suitable iron railings.
The old shed at the western end built for the park keeper remains in use, with a comfortable looking wicker chair inside. The garden shed has a couple of small plaques, one to commemorate David New, who was the gardener and died in October 2001, and, presumably thanks to his work, the winning of a garden competition in 1999.
It’s quite faded, but there’s a useful tree identification map on a notice board, should you be wondering what species a specific tree happens to be. That’s not something I see that often and is quite a nice idea, and something to apply to bedding plants as well.
There’s also a long list of rules about using the pocket park, so no riding of horses through it, nor may you hold military practice drills there. And don’t try to land an aircraft there, otherwise you could be fined £20.
So that told you.