My London Your London

A cultural guide

Category: Quiet Corners

A central London escape: the Phoenix Garden

By Natalie Bennett

Sometimes Soho and Covent Garden can all be just a bit much – the crowded pavements, the jostling crowds, the cars bullying their way through the scrum, the lines of buses. You might love it, but also need a five minute breather for it.

And you can get it, in an astonishing quiet and peaceful little corner of community-preserved peace: The Phoenix Garden, just off the bustle of Shaftesbury Road.

It is not a public park, but a little oasis of maintained by a volunteer trust and open from 8.30am to dusk 365 days of the year. As you might expect on workday lunchtimes even it can get a bit hectic, but most of the rest of the time you’ll be sure to be able to rest your legs as you sprawl on a comfy bench, watching the bees buzz and the birds flock.

Even today, in the midst of December’s cold and rain, it boasted a flock of 20 or so remarkably contented-looking sparrows, and I’m told that notable other regulars are a pair of kestrels who drop in regularly, and a woodpecker who last year nested in one of the old trees.

It even boasts what are described as “the West End’s only frogs”, in a peace pool.

Should you not want rest, but a bit of exercise, every second Sunday there’s a community workday, to which anyway is welcome to contribute their efforts. I’ll definitely be going along, even if it isn’t until the weather gets just a touch warmer.

With reason to rhyme: a Shakespearean sonnet walk in London

by Jemima Condotti

‘That sounds like a nice thing to do on a Saturday’.
‘What does?’ asked my friend in polite disinterest.
‘Doing a walk with soneteers to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday’
‘Sonnet what?’ she said.
‘What the hell’s that?’
‘People reciting sonnets’
‘Yeah, like that sounds really interesting’ she muttered in sarcastic tone. ‘Pass that nail varnish will you?’

Obviously a far more interesting subject for her. ‘Well, actually I think it does sound interesting’ I retorted and three clicks later I was booked in for the East Walk. Couldn’t do the West Walk because it was full and as I had absolutely no idea of the difference between the West Walk and the East Walk ( apart from geography) I was happy with my East Walk.

I contacted a friend who agreed that it was an excellent way to spend Saturday morning and my enthusiasm confirmed, we were all set. Apart from the Northern Line. How can a country girl deal with engineering works at Old Street? What you mean you can’t get any Tube there? No, none.

I couldn’t do buses so queued for a taxi and had a lovely conversation with the driver extolling the benefits of the National Garden Scheme. ‘Wasn’t that keen myself ’til the wife said we should go. But, to be honest love, there was some lovely gardens. Some bloke had a swimming pool and offered us a swim. Huge mansion it was, down at Leigh on Sea. But I tell yuo what, we did have a lovely big piece of applie pie and cream at one garden and it was only £1.50. £1.50, I mean that was a good deal. And, to make things even better, we had a lovely piece of Victoria Sandwich at the next house. Marvellous, Doing it again next year. Right we’re here love, St Leonard’s Church.

Continue reading

A stroll along the Regent’s Canal

One of the pleasures of London is the ability to plunge suddenly from the frantic hussle and bustle into a surprising quiet corner, where you might be in another century, or another world. Stand outside the London Zoo in Regent’s Park on a busy Sunday, and you’re in the midst of mobs of children and hassled parents. Walk a few yards, down a short ramp, and you’re suddenly in a tranquil water world,with a shield of trees between you and the city. You are on the Regent’s Canal, built from 1812 to 1820.

The sheltered position was not designed for the pleasure of canal-users – for they were mere working-class bargemen, carrying goods from the Paddington Canal down to the Thames – but to protect the wealthy residents of the fine villas already built by John Nash along the northern border of Regent’s Park.

The depth of that cutting – 25 feet at its deepest – was to prove vital in 1874, when London experienced what could have been one of its worst-ever industrial accidents. A chain of barges carrying five tonnes of gunpowder, plus petroleum, sugar and other goods, exploded in the early hours of the morning. Only three were killed. Had the explosion occurred a mile or so down-canal, in the Islington Tunnel, the death toll could have been enormous.

Continue reading

A Quiet Corner: The Animals in War Memorial

Every Australian grows up knowing the story of Simpson and his donkey. He was a First World War stretcher-bearer who, landed in Gallipoli, in 24 days was credited with saving the lives of hundreds of troops, before being mortally wounded himself. The donkey he was using on this day survived, and carried the wounded man on its back to safety.

It’s final fate, however, is unknown. I thought of it standing beside the Animals in War Memorial. It has two bronze mules – carrying a dismantled cannon and heavy boxes of ammunition, trudging through a narrow gap in the Portland stone wall on which are recorded some of the many beasts – from elephants to carrier pigeons – that humans have chosen to use, and abuse, in their attempts to kill other members of their own species.
Continue reading