This is a busy pocket park that sits just to the north of the Barbican, with wide-open space, a children’s space, and a coffee shop. This is also a park that exists thanks to an act of war, as it sits on the edge of the devastation that flatted most of the Barbican area.
After the war, while most of the area was rebuilt, an opportunity was taken to create a rarity for the formerly heavily built-up area – a public park.
The park is named after Fortune Street to the north, although in pre-war times that road was known as Playhouse Yard instead – the new name is however relevant, as the playhouse in question was the Fortune Playhouse, which was built in 1600 by Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe as a competitor to The Globe.
The original burnt down in 1621, was rebuilt in brick, but it struggled to regain its early popularity. In an echo of modern times, the theatre was closed for over a year in 1636/7 due to plague, imperilling its finances. It limped on, but was forced to close in 1642 due to puritans clamping down on bawdy behaviour — and the building was torn down seven years later.
With the theatre long gone, the site was slowly filled with warehouses and offices, with an alley, George Yard, running through the middle.
Apart from some changes to the buildings over time, little changed about the layout of the block – until WW2. The whole area was lain waste, although as the park was right on the edge of the devastation, remarkably, a row of Victorian buildings on the eastern edge survived and are still there today.
In 2002 refurbishment works were undertaken, which included landscaping, provision of additional seating and re-siting of play equipment. Meanwhile, a large wall covered in mosaics was added by local school children.
The former gardener’s shed is now Giddy Up Coffee, while the park can be said to be laid out in two zones – a large open grass area, and a set of bedding planting that creates walkways and a wall for the children’s playground.
It’s quite well worn as a park, but not in a neglected way, but because it’s so well used by the local residents, and being well worn through love is a good thing.
Intriguingly, the park may be expanded, taking over the road it is now named after as part of a plan to avoid the road becoming a motorist’s rat-run thanks to the closure of the main road running under the nearby Barbican estate.