A Secret Garden in Southwark | Red Cross Garden

Sometimes you stumble upon a place in London and you just don’t want to share it. That’s how I felt about Red Cross Garden when I first encountered this Southwark gem on a sunny day a few years ago.

However, as a London Guide it feels a bit mean to not share my find with you intrepid explorers so I encourage you to seek out Red Cross Gardens, just don’t tell anyone else, ok?!

Red Cross Garden

History of Red Cross Garden

Red Cross Garden started life as an idea from the Society of Friends (Quakers). In 1762 they took out a lease on the West side of Red Cross Street (today’s Red Cross Way) in Southwark in order to build a meeting house on some land they already owned and used as a burial ground.

The ground was closed for burials in 1794 and the meeting house was enlarged in 1799 and was in use until 1860, when it was sold to the Metropolitan Board of Works.

Red Cross Garden

In 1887 part of the gardens were bought by Julie, Countess of Dulcie on the advice of Octavia Hill.

Octavia Hill

Octavia Hill was one of the founding members of the National Trust and a social reformer. She was a firm believer in quality housing for the the working poor and Red Cross Garden was one of her flagship projects, providing an open space for the overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions of Southwark locals.

As well as the garden she also commissioned Elijah Hoole to design 6 cottages overlooking Red Cross Gardens. They date from 1887.

Red Cross Garden

The cottages were model dwellings (a group of private companies that aimed to provide the ‘worthy’ poor with housing) and were attached to a community centre. The garden was intended by Hill as an ‘open air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark’.

They embody her idea of wholesome housing and their gabled fronts and bay windows have a strong Arts and Craft influence.

Red Cross Garden
Red Cross Garden

Door to the community centre with the red cross of Saint George. 

Redevelopment

Most of the garden was paved over after the 1940s, but in 2005 Red Cross Garden were restored to their original Victorian layout. In 2006 they enjoyed a Royal opening ceremony with Anne, Princess Royal officially opening the renovated gardens.

Red Cross Garden

So today, even thought its overlooked by London’s tallest building, passersby and locals can enjoy the lake, grasses and winding paths as Octavia intended.

Red Cross Garden

One last details I spotted was this stenciled artwork by ‘ANNA’

Red Cross Garden

I haven’t been able to find much more about its subject , but I wondered if the scene was related to a tragic fire at nearby Union Street?

On 24 April 1885, an oil and paint dealership at 194 Union Street caught fire. Above the shop lived the owners, Henry and Mary Ann Chandler as well as their 4 children (aged between 6 and 3) and Mary Ann’s younger sister; Alice Ayres.

Alice’s courage garnered a lot of media attention and she is one of the dozens of names remembered in the City of London’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park.

Alice’s courage garnered a lot of media attention and she is one of the dozens of names remembered in the City of London’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park.

Red Cross Garden

For more information on that park and memorial (as well as other hidden gardens) click on the picture below.

Wood Street Tree

Find Red Cross Garden

Just off Redcross way, the closest tube stations are Borough or London Bridge. There’s a map showing its location below.

More London Inspiration

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