This is a large garden square near South Kensington’s museums but hidden away behind rows of houses so only the locals know about it.
Prince’s Gardens (the apostrophe varies) was laid out by the property developer, Sir Charles James Freake between 1858075, who was actually an untrained English architect and yet is also responsible for many famous 19th-century façades in London.
He famously only allowed straight chimneys in his buildings after he learned about soot wart — a form of cancer prevalent in children cleaning the chimneys. Straight chimneys allowed brushes to be used for the entire chimney and that decision probably saved many Victorian working-class children from a painful and premature death.
Prince’s Gardens was one of his major property developments in the style he popularised, of large houses with stuccoed facades and columned porches. The houses lacked gardens of their own, hence the garden square that they surround.
Although designed for grand families, it wasn’t that many years before some of the houses were chopped up into flats, and in the 1950s Imperial College began an expansion project that saw it propose a redevelopment of three sides of the gardens for student accommodation.
In the end, only the eastern and southern sides of the square were redeveloped, replacing the Victorian buildings with modern structures. In recent years these have in turn been demolished and a row of modern and more subtle students flats now line the square.
During the summer, when the students are away, you can also stay in the student blocks, for very reasonable prices for this part of London.
As part of the redevelopment, the garden square was also restored somewhat to its earlier design.
Iron railings that had been removed during WW2 were restored to a design contemporary with the originals, and some post-war shrubbs were removed to make the garden more open from the outside. There are 21 mature London plane trees in the garden square, and some newer semi-mature trees were planted a decade ago around the edges where some original planes are thought to have been lost from.
A series of new sweeping paths have replaced the old diagonal layout that had been inherited from the cancelled post-war plans for the buildings around the square, with each of the paths leading to buildings that were never built. There had also been a decorative urn in the middle of the square, but it was covered up with shrubs and is now visible once again.
The plane trees were also thinned out a bit to allow more light down, and new benches line the paths.
The square is technically private, being owned by Imperial College, but is open to all to enjoy peacefully as it is still surrounded by residential flats. Although only one row of houses away from the busy Exhibition Road thronging with tourists, it’s a remarkably peaceful space.