There are several roof gardens in London. The most stunning is probably in Kensington on the top of what was once the Derry & Toms department store which opened in 1936. I was lucky enough to visit it when it was still free to do so, but in 2018 it closed. According to a real estate website, Kensington Roof Gardens has now been sold to a private members club with the aim of reopening the venue later this year. Refurbishments to the 1.5 acre rooftop garden are also set to take place under the wing of the new buyer. That’s good news, but whether it will be open to the public or even free is another matter.
The highest is undoubtedly the Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie building in Fenchurch Street. It’s got great views over the City and it is free to visit, and the garden is well, full of plants, but a garden in the traditional sense, hmmmm.
However, with demise of the Kensington garden my favourite has to be what is probably the lowest roof garden in the country. Brown Hart Gardens sits just off Duke Street in Mayfair and is probably no more than 10-15 feet above street level. About halfway between Grosvenor Square and the bustle of Oxford Street, it’s a great little oasis on a sunny day.
The garden which sits on top of an electrical substation that was built in 1905. The substation replaced an earlier public garden that had been on the same site. These earlier gardens had a reputation for attracting “disorderly boys” and “verminous women“. Residents were furious about the loss of this public space and mounted a campaign. Their protests were heard by the authorities and the new garden opened in 1906, however this came at a price in terms of the rules regarding the use of the roof garden. While it’s officially a Westminster Park, the space falls within the Grosvenor Estate that was laid out 300 years ago and thus has a unique and woefully outdated set of bylaws specific to that estate.
“No idle or disorderly person or person in an intoxicated unclean or verminous condition is allowed in the garden.” I think we can all agree on this being a good rule for the benefit of others. “Games” are not allowed, as are “shouting” and “singing“, which I suppose could be termed as slightly antisocial. But there are two more that are a bit niche. “Quarrelling” is forbidden, but there is no mention as to if this is on a sliding scale from mild disagreement to full blown fisticuffs! My favourite has to be the practicing of “gymnastics.” To right, bloody Gymnasts spoiling everyone’s peace and quiet, ban ’em that’s what I say. It does make you wonder what ensued a hundred years ago to make them bring in such a rule.