International Brigades War Memorial

The International Brigades were military units, made up of volunteers from different countries, who travelled to Spain to fight for the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil war 1936 – 1939.

The number of combatant volunteers has been estimated at between 32,000 – 35,000 though no more than about 20,000 were active at any one time

They came from a claimed “53 nations” to fight against the Spanish Falangist forces led by General Francisco Franco, who was assisted by German and Italian forces.

An estimated 300 people from Wales enlisted in the International Brigades, fighting Franco in Spain from 1936–39. Of the battalion’s 170 Welsh volunteers:

  • 116 were miners
  • One in five was married
  • And the average age was over 30.

The South Wales miners provided the largest regional group in the British battalion.

August–September 1936 – a number of British volunteers arrived in Spain during and formed the Tom Mann Centuria – a rifle company in the German-speaking Thälmann Column.

December 1936 – 145 British volunteers formed No. 1 Company of the French-speaking Marseillaise Battalion.

During January 1937 – they fought on the Cordoba and on the Madrid fronts. Heavy fighting on 15 January at Las Rozas reduced the active ranks to 67.

At the end of January 1937– the survivors of No.1 Company joined with 450 new British, Irish, and Dominion volunteers. They were formed into an English-speaking battalion, with three infantry companies and a machine-gun company. The battalion was numbered the 16th battalion of the International Brigades. It was formally named after Shapurji Saklatvala, the former Communist MP for Battersea. However, this name never caught on and they were known as the “British Battalion”.

In February 1937 – the battalion fought at the Battle of Jarama. In a single day’s bloody fighting on 12 February against Franco’s Army of Africa, the British Battalion suffered 275 casualties leaving 125-rifleman fit for duty.

At the Battle of Brunete in July 1937, reinforced by new recruits and strengthened by returnees from hospital, the British Battalion mustered 331. After the battle only 42 members of the battalion were left fit for service.

On 21 September 1938 – Juan Negrin announced to the League of Nations that the Republican government would disband the International Brigades. The British battalion was withdrawn into reserve at the end of September 1938, and on 17 October, the battalion took part in the International Brigades’ farewell parade through Barcelona.

On disbandment, 305 British volunteers left Spain. They arrived at Victoria Station on 7 December, to be met by a crowd of supporters including Clement Atlee, Stafford Cripps, Willie Gallacher, and Will Lawther.

Veterans and historians to preserve and catalog the history of the British Battalion established the International Brigade Memorial Trust.

They have compiled a Roll of Honour, listing the members of the British battalion who fell in Spain. The list is assembled primarily from documents held in the International Brigade Archive in the Marx Memorial Library, London and the International Brigade Archive in the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Recent Historical Documents, Moscow.

The Memorial commemorates the 526 killed in Spanish Civil War who went to Spain from Britain and Ireland it stands 4.5 metres high and consists of a bronze sculpture of four figures supporting a fifth wounded and kneeling figure on top of a marble plinth.

Ian Walters, a renowned sculptor who designed many monuments around the UK, most often of high profile political figures, sculpted it; including a bust of Nelson Mandela sited at the Royal Festival Hall, London and a statue of Harold Wilson located in Huddersfield.

The initial appeal for funding the construction of the International Brigade memorial began in 1984, with contributions coming from:

  • Various trade unions,
  • Democratic bodies,
  • Members of the public
  • And from the Greater London Authority, who also offered the site on which the memorial is located here on the South Bank, London.

The memorial was unveiled on 5th October 1985 by Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Party.

In April 2012, a grant of £937 was offered through the Small Grants Scheme for repairs to the memorial.

These works included cleaning of the memorial using non-metallic bristle brushes and de-ionised water, then careful isolated cleaning of the corroded areas of the bronze sculpture was undertaken using wire wool, soft wire brushes and metal picks in order to fully remove all signs of active corrosion. Following this, selective re-patination was undertaken to the areas of the figures where the patina had been damaged then the entire bronze statue was coated in a protective microcrystalline wax and lightly buffed to re-new its finish. The damaged and cracked areas of the marble plinth were repaired using a colour matched resin then the lettering was re-gilded where required and the failed joints were re-filled, also using resin filler. Finally, Smart water was applied to the bronze figures.

The memorial was moved to this site and on 5th July 2012 following completion of the work a rededication ceremony took place, coinciding with the International Brigade’s annual commemoration service.

The honour of unveiling the newly renovated memorial was given to International Brigade British Battalion veteran David Lomon, who was 93 years old.


St Mary Aldermanbury

The church and churchyard site was acquired by the City of London in 1970 and laid out as a public garden.

The site contains the footings of the 1437 church of St Mary Aldermanbury, A church existed here since the 12 th century at the time this belonged to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s.

Then in 1331 it became a hospital, and remained so until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The church was partially rebuilt in the early 15th century. Come 1666 and St. Mary Aldermanbury was destroyed by the Great Fire of London – It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.  Then in 1940 during WW2 the church was bombed leaving only the walls.

In 1966 the remains of the church were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA, where the restored church now stands. The reason for this was Nine months after Churchill failed to be re-elected as Britain’s Prime Minister, Churchill travelled by train with President Harry Truman to make a speech. On March 5, 1946, at the request of Westminster College in the small Missouri town of Fulton (population of 7,000), Churchill gave his now famous “Iron Curtain” speech to a crowd of 40,000. In addition to accepting an honorary degree from the college, Churchill made one of his most famous post- war speeches. In this speech, Churchill gave the very descriptive phrase that surprised the United States and Britain, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”  Before this speech, the U.S. and Britain had been concerned with their own post-war economies and had remained extremely grateful for the Soviet Union’s proactive role in ending WW11

It was Churchill’s speech, which he titled “The Sinews of Peace,” that changed the way the democratic West viewed the Communist East. Though many people believe that Churchill coined the phrase “the iron curtain” during this speech, the term had actually been used for decades (including in several earlier letters from Churchill to Truman). Churchill’s use of the phrase gave it wider circulation and made the phrase popularly recognized as the division of Europe into East and West. Many people consider Churchill’s “iron curtain speech” the beginning of the Cold War.

There is also the plaque showing the site of Aldermanbury Conduit here from 1471 to the 18th century providing free water.

Among those buried here in 1693 was Judge Jeffreys ‘often boasted that he had hanged more men than all the judges of England since the time of William the Conqueror’

The garden includes a bust of Shakespeare by Charles Allen This was ‘given to the nation’ in 1896 in memory of John Heminge and Henry Condell, who were fellow actors of Shakespeare and who lived & died in the parish of St Mary’s Aldermanbury. It is due to them that Shakespeare’s works were handed down; after his death in 1616 they collected his works and published them in 1623 at their own personal expense.

photo By H. R. Allenson –, Public Domain,

H.S.B.C. Lions

Various headquarters and branch buildings of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and the HSBC Group, into which the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation has evolved, feature a pair of lion sculptures. The lions have become distinctive landmarks in their own right in Hong Kong and Shanghai respectively, with a further pair to be found in London.

The first set of lion sculptures were commissioned for the rebuilt HSBC building in Shanghai that opened in 1923. The inspiration for the decision to order the lions came from the imposing lions outside the Venetian Arsenal

Cast by J W Singer & Sons in the English town of Frome, to a design by Henry Poole RA, these lions had quickly become part of the Shanghai scene, and passers-by would affectionately stroke the lions in the belief that power and money would rub off on them. They became known as Stephen and Stitt: an in-joke. Stephen was named for A G Stephen, formerly Manager Shanghai, and in 1923 the Chief Manager of HSBC, and G H Stitt, the then Manager Shanghai. Stephen is depicted roaring; Stitt quiescent, and again insiders said that this represented the characters of these two famous bankers.

When HSBC decided to build another HQ at 1 Queen’s Road Central in Hong Kong, opened in 1935, it commissioned two bronze lions from Shanghai-based British sculptor W.W Wagstaff. This commission was inspired by the earlier lions commissioned for the Shanghai office, and the Hong Kong lions were modelled on, but are not identical to, the Shanghai lions.

Wagstaff worked with “Shanghai Arts and Crafts” foreman Chou Yin Hsiang who in an interview with John Loch of HSBC’s house magazine “Group News” in June 1977 recalled that when he first joined Arts and Crafts he worked with Wagstaff for two years to make the lions, without having to learn a word of English: Wagstaff spoke perfect Shanghai dialect. Hunch-backed, Wagstaff was nicknamed “Lao Doo Pei”, meaning “Old Hunchback”. His son, inevitably, was called “Sau Doo Pei” – “Young Hunchback.” Wagstaff had two sons – Don, killed in naval service during the war, and Alex, killed while interned in Shanghai by the Japanese. Chou Yin Hsiang himself came to Hong Kong in 1935, and by 1977 was the proprietor of Jeh Hsing Metal Works – and still casting bronze for HSBC.

Like the Shanghai lions, the Hong Kong lions became objects of veneration, and focus of the Bank’s perceived excellent feng shui. Young couples still bring their toddlers to stroke the paws and noses of the statues hoping for luck and prosperity.

When the 1935 building closed its doors for the last time in 1981 the lions had been moved to the annexe on 19 June. The lions were temporarily moved on 4 June 1982 to Statue Square, opposite the main entrance. As a mark of the respect the lions were held in, the move to Statue Square and the move back in 1985, were accompanied by the chairman Sir Michael Sandberg and senior management of the Bank and the placement of the lions both temporarily and in their current locations was made only after extensive consultations with feng shui practitioners.

Their 4-year sojourn in the annexe and Statue Square aside, the lions have only left their positions as guardians of the Des Voeux Road entrance of the Bank once: they were confiscated by the Japanese and sent to Japan to be melted down. Luckily the war ended before this could happen, and the lions were recognised by an American sailor in a dockyard in Osaka in 1945. They were returned a few months later and restored to their original positions in October 1946.

The Hong Kong lions are also called Stephen and Stitt, and the Hong Kong Stephen has bullet or shrapnel scars in its left hind-quarters dating from the fighting in the Battle of Hong Kong.

After the re-organisation of the HSBC business into the present-day HSBC Group, the Group’s headquarters were placed in London. The new headquarters building opened in 2002. A pair of lions was again commissioned for the new headquarters. This pair was a close replica of the Hong Kong lions, even including the signature of W.W. Wagstaff on the sculpture. The casting was completed at Bronze Age Foundry in nearby Limehouse, directed by Zambian-born New Zealand sculptor Mark Kennedy. However, Kennedy was asked not to reproduce the “war wounds” of the Hong Kong lions in the copies: they had to earn their own battle scars.

In 2010 a further pair of lions, again copies of the Hong Kong originals, were commissioned for the Group’s new China headquarters, located in the Shanghai IFC building, in Shanghai’s newly developed Lujiazui area, across the river from the old Shanghai headquarters.


Crossrail Place Roof Garden

Across London pockets of development are in place, building for the upcoming arrival of Crossrail, which should be in operation from 2018 and which will cut across London offering a high-speed connection from Reading to Abbey Wood and Shenfield via the centre of London. Meaning that from the Barbican we will be able to get to Canary Wharf in 6 minutes, Paddington 10 minutes and Heathrow 35 minutes. One of the Crossrail stations will be in Canary Wharf and its hub is now open and features various shops and eateries (including a third branch of The Big Easy) along with this roof garden.

Visible from Canary Wharf DLR station and only a few minutes’ walk away, is Crossrail Place. It looks like a seven storey space age structure familiar in science fiction films from the 1970s or 1980s. That first impression isn’t helped by the walkway up to it, which looks like it could have come straight out of Star Wars. But once you ascend an escalator you find yourself in a little oasis below the glass towers of Canary Wharf.

Unlike the Sky Garden, the garden at Crossrail Place is actually a garden, rather than a border. Paths wind through the space and benches are dotted here there and everywhere. As there’s no need to pre-book several days in advance and it’s free, it means that the Roof Garden is actually being used as a truly public space with people in suits tapping away on phones and laptops and young families enjoying the tranquillity.

Located within five minutes’ walk of both Canary Wharf and West India Quay stations, the roof garden draws on the heritage of the surrounding area: Crossrail Place sits on the Meridian Line, and the plants here have been chosen to reflect an East/West theme that references not only the upcoming Crossrail line arranged but depending on which hemisphere they come from with Asian plants such as bamboos to the east, and plants such as ferns from the Americas to the west. Information boards are placed throughout the Roof Garden explaining in more detail about the plants within it. Many of the plants in the garden are native to countries visited by ships of the West India Dock Company who unloaded here in the 1800s.

The contrast between these exotic plants and the architecture is wonderful, especially when the sun is shining through the glass and while the sun sets over east London’s horizon. Like many roof gardens in London, this one is super-hidden and known only to a few who wander down its peaceful avenues and escape the busy streets below

Nestled within the Roof Garden, a 60 seater performance space ignites the imaginations of children and adults alike. In summer, the Canary Wharf Group, in partnership with the Space Theatre, delivers a programme of theatre and music. With no private lets!

Designed by Foster and Partners, the lattice roof bears the hallmark of many of their other designs. It’s more natural than other city designs and is partially open to the elements, which allows for rain to water the garden and also for it to not feel too much like a greenhouse.

The roof garden, was landscaped by London-based studio Gillespies, is located directly beneath a 310-metre-long transparent hood. Triangular air-filled cushions made from ETFE – a type of plastic used for its resistance to corrosion – are set into the timber-latticed awning.

“Like Crossrail, one of the aims of the new roof garden is to connect London from east to west,” said Norman Foster in a statement. ”

“It provides a welcoming public space between the residential neighbourhood of Poplar and the business district of Canary Wharf, demonstrating the role of infrastructure as the ‘urban glue’ that binds a city together,” he added.

“The design of the garden responds to the architectural language of the roof in the creation of a unique and sheltered planting environment,” said Gillespies partner Stephen Richards. “It will offer visitors a totally new vantage point from which to look out across the water and the surrounding area.”


SJG-B May 2017


Museum of London Docklands

Tells the history of London’s River Thames and the growth of Docklands. The museum is part of the Museum of London jointly funded by the City of London Corporation and the Greater London Authority.

The West India Dock, where the museum is situated, was built in 1802 and paid for by sugar merchants, plantation owners and slave traders. Dockland museum opened in 2003 in a grade I listed early-19th century Georgian warehouses

Lots of the museum’s collection is from the museum and archives of the Port of London Authority, which became part of the port and river collections of the Museum of London in the 1970s.

The museum houses a large collection of historical artefacts’, models, and pictures in 12 galleries and there is also a children’s gallery called the Mudlarks.

The displays are in chronological order The periods covered range from the first port on the Thames in Roman times to the closure of the central London docks in the 1970s and subsequent transformation of the area with commercial and residential developments. The Museum of London Docklands hosts talks and events connected with the docks.

In 2007, the museum celebrated the bicentenary of the British abolition of slavery by opening a £14 million Heritage Lottery Funded exhibition

This was London’s first permanent exhibition about the transatlantic slave trade.

Its the story of ‘London, Sugar and Slavery’, its literally in the very bricks and mortar of this four storey museum, a former sugar warehouse built to store produce from the Caribbean.

The gallery, was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (£506,500) and Renaissance in the Regions (£230,000.

The exhibits takes in 140 objects, art, film, a sound and light installation, traditional exhibition panels and interactive screens the visitor is left in no doubt of the economic importance of sugar and the slave trade to London, once the fourth largest slaving port in the world.

The exhibition opens with an understated black and white chart. The column headings are self-explanatory: name of ship, tons, captain, principal owner, cleared port of London, embarked African slaves, number of enslaved Africans, destination.

This simple list speaks volumes: the ships listed from a single decade fill the wall, giving the visitor an immediate sense of the scale of the trade.

In the ‘number of enslaved Africans’ column, 960 is recorded for one ship.

Ships sailed from London to West Africa, where they bought enslaved Africans, travelled onto the Caribbean to sell them and buy sugar before returning to London.

On display are delicate abolitionist sugar bowls, glass trading beads made in Hammersmith and clay tobacco pipes in the form of African heads sit alongside maps, timelines and highly crafted 1,000-year-old West African artefacts.

Bit by bit, the seemingly incomprehensible crime against humanity is laid out and is not easy reading.

Until the 1600s sugar was regarded as a luxury commodity only available to the wealthy. After 1700 drinking coffee became increasingly popular in England and the demand for sugar increased.

Imports to Britain expanded by 800 per cent and merchants quickly realised that fantastic profits could be made from sugar production. But it required a mass supply of cheap labour.

By the late 1600s London’s slave trade activity on the west coast of Africa was organised by the Royal Africa Company and after 1750 by the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa.

Over 3,100 ships departed from London to carry nearly a million Africans into slavery.

The story may be about sugar, but sugar-coated it is not.

Manacles and graphic images of torture produced by the abolitionist movement are on display.

It is estimated that as many as one in four slave ships experienced a revolt. Regrettably slavery carried on for more years that it should have done.

wiki & Museum website 


Plantation Lane

The City of London is full of sharp turns, dark corners and narrow alleyways, many of which have been there since the Medieval times and longer most of which we have walked! However the City of London has a new addition to its ancient alleys Plantation Lane that creates a unique pathway through one of the oldest part of the City. It runs between two buildings: Plantation Place and Plantation Place South from the Grade 1 listed St Margaret Patterns to Mincing Lane. The dig for the site unearthed artefacts dating as far back as Boadicea including a hoard of 2nd century gold coins – a reminder of the area’s distinctive history.

The idea was to bridge the gap between present and past, one vision to celebrate time and place. It was designed to be both functional and emotional – a tranquil place for people to escape from the nearby hustle and bustle of the city.

The owners, Arup Associates, instead of commissioning art at the end of the project, worked with artists and designers from the very start and used Simon Patterson, the 1996 Turner Prize nominee, as a partner. His interest in combining visual and text references formed the basis of designs where – light; art, architecture and language all merge seamlessly.

The central point of the design is a glass screen, 41 metres long and six metres high. An image of the moon covers the whole wall, with LED lights changing the background colour over time. The moon was chosen as a connection between the many generations of traders in London’.

Beneath the screen, a collection of texts are laser cut into the stone pavement. and strip ground lights follow the banding. Each curve represents various timelines through London’s history, past and present. The texts refer to various guilds, churches and people relevant to the timeline and the local area charting events and miscellanea, from the great plague to the hierarchy of the Freemasons.

You can follow a time-line from start to finish, or dip into the stream of words for a taster of the area’s history.

Some might say the contrast and tension between the old St. Margaret Patten’s and new Time and Tide is too great, especially when LED lights are set to hot pink.

But it could be said that this artwork suggests that even with natural and man-made change and evolution there are constants that help us keep perspective with ourselves and our surroundings.

SJG-B May2017

Watermen’s Hall

The home of The Company of Watermen and Lightermen the present hall dates back to 1780, but the first hall was built in Upper Thames Street in the 16th century. The Company dates back to 1514, which seems quite late given that there were watermen working on the Thames from very early times, ferrying passengers up and down and across the river. (Watermen do passengers; Lightermen do cargo). They were nominally under the control of the City Corporation and were supposed to charge fixed fares, but they were a pretty unruly bunch and eventually, in 1514, there was an Act of Parliament, mainly to suppress extortionate prices. Then in 1555 a more important Act was passed that gave the City the power to appoint eight watermen as overseers. It also stipulated that watermen had to serve apprenticeships and be licensed, and in fact brought about the formation of the Watermen’s Company, the only City guild to be formed by Act of Parliament. They are NOT a Livery Company although the outside of the hall shows many similar characteristics to them. In 1700 the Lightermen (carriers of goods/cargo) joined the Watermen’s Company.

As mentioned, the first Hall was in Upper Thames Street, so it was right on the bank of the Thames. It was burnt down in the Great Fire and rebuilt in 1670, then rebuilt again in 1721. But in 1780 the company moved to St Mary-at-Hill to a new building, and this is basically what remains today; the only original Georgian hall in the City of London!

The hall was designed by William Blackburn, who was actually the leading prison architect of the Georgian era – he designed a number of prisons around the country, though none in London. He was also the surveyor for St Thomas’s Hospital and Guy’s Hospital; he was born in Southwark and is buried at Bunhill Fields.

The hall is described on the Watermen’s website as “a perfect example of 18th-century domestic architecture, with Parlour and Court Room”. The building has a stone frontage with Ionic pilasters and a large Palladian window. The hall was damaged in the Second World War, but was repaired and improved in 1951 and 1961. In 1983 it was extended to include a larger dining and meeting facility called the Freemen’s Room.

Among paintings in the hall is a portrait of John Taylor, a 17th-century Freeman of the Company who called himself “the Water Poet”. There is also a painting by the 18th-century marine painter Peter Monamy of a winner of the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race – it is traditionally held to be the first winner, but it may have been a later one. The painting usually hangs in the Court Room in the hall, but at times is loaned to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

Today the hall is used for functions and conferences, but also for the Company’s business. Most of its powers have now passed to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, but it is still a working guild, organising an apprenticeship scheme, acting as trustee for various charities and taking part in traditional activities such as the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race, which is competed for by Watermen apprentices, though the race is organised by the Fishmongers’ Company.

The Queen’s Royal Barge-master is a Freeman of the Watermen’s Company, along with several other Royal Watermen. They take part in the Swan-Upping in July each year, and they attend when the Queen is involved in ceremonies on the Thames.

Cordwainer Statue

This Cordwainer statue was chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of the Ward Club.

It was funded by the City of London Corporation, the Ward Club plus members of the Club and also some businesses associated with the Cordwainers.

This bronze statue, is the work of Alma Boyes, and was unveiled in 2002 originally set up in a temporary location in Bow Churchyard. But subsequently relocated to its permanent home here in Watling Street

A reminder for you all that Watling Street is an ancient trackway for Britons and is the original Roman Road in England & Wales.

Going back to 1272 the first ordinances of the Cordwainers’ Company were drawn up, establishing the rules that governed the trade of shoemaking here in the City of London.

In 1350 The Statute of Labourers attempts to fix the price of goods. A pair of ‘cordwan’ shoes sold for 6d.

1493 The Cordwainers acquire their first hall in the shadow of old St Paul’s Cathedral on Maiden Lane

1666 Great Fire of London destroys Cordwainer Hall. The Clerk rescued many valuables, which were subsequently sold to pay the Company debts.

1828 Cordwainer William Marsden founds the Royal Free Hospital

Historically, there was a distinction between a cordwainer, who made luxury shoes and boots out of the finest leathers, and a cobbler, who repaired them. This distinction gradually weakened, particularly during the twentieth century, when there was a predominance of shoe retailers who neither made nor repaired shoes.

Until 2000, a Cordwainers’ Technical College existed in London. For over a hundred years, the College had been recognised as one of the world’s leading establishments for training shoemakers and leather workers.

It produced some of the leading fashion designers, including Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox. In 2000, Cordwainers’ College was absorbed into the London College of Fashion, the shoe-design and accessories departments of which are now called “Cordwainer’s at London College of Fashion

Cordwainers were among those who sailed to Virginia in 1610 to settle in Jamestown. By 1616, the secretary of Virginia reported that the leather and shoe trades were flourishing. Christopher Nelme, of England, was the earliest shoemaker in America whose name has been recorded; he sailed to Virginia from Bristol, in 1619.

In 1620, the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Nine years later, in 1629, the first shoemakers arrived, bringing their skills with them.


Highgate Wood

Is a 28 hectare (70 acre) area of ancient woodland in North London, lying between East Finchley, Highgate Village, and Muswell Hill. It was originally part of the ancient Forest of Middlesex, which covered much of London, Hertfordshire and Essex and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It lies in the London Borough of Haringey, but is owned and managed by the City of London Corporation.

The London Borough of Haringey contains four ancient woods. These are Highgate Wood, Queen’s Wood, Coldfall Wood and Bluebell Wood. Highgate Wood is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of Middlesex in 1886 more or less in its present formation, but known by the less salubrious name “Gravelpit Wood”.

The flora and fauna in the wood have been managed to varying degrees by humans through the ages.

Predominantly an oak, hornbeam and holly wood, Highgate Wood is also home to more than 50 other tree and shrub species which have self-seeded there. The Wild Service Tree, a rare deciduous tree with brown berries, can be found in Highgate Wood. Presence of the Wild Service Tree is commonly taken as an indicator of ancient woodland.

71 different species of bird have been recorded, alongside foxes, grey squirrels, at least four (Pipistrelle, Natterer’s Bat, Common Noctule and the rare Leisler’s Bat) and as many as seven species of bat, 180 species of moth, 12 species of butterfly and 80 species of spider.

Prehistoric flints have been found in the wood. Excavations on the ridge at the northern end of the wood established that Romano-Britons were producing pottery from local materials between AD 50-100.

An ancient earthwork runs across the wood. This may have formed part of an enclosure for deer during the Medieval period when the Bishop of London owned the wood. However it could also be a prehistoric boundary or defensive work.

During the Medieval period, the wood was part of the Bishop of London’s hunting estate. Between the 16th and 18th centuries the wood, known then as “Brewer’s Fell”, was leased to various tenants who managed it by “coppicing with standards”. This involved regularly cutting down areas of Hornbeams to a stump (“coppicing”) to encourage new growth which could be used for fuel or fencing, whilst allowing oak and other tree species to grow to maturity (“standards”). Remnants of wood banks dividing these areas can still be seen. Many of these oaks were then used by the Crown to construct ships and by the Church to construct buildings.

In the 1880s the last tenant gave up his lease. In 1886 the City of London Corporation acquired what was by then known as Gravelpit Wood (so named in 1863 on account of a gravel pit used to source gravel for roads in the district) from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at no charge on condition that it was “maintained in perpetuity for the benefit of Londoners”. It was renamed Highgate Wood and has been owned and managed by the Corporation ever since.

The City of London Corporation’s maintenance of the wood was not always sympathetic to its historical origins. On acquisition, asphalt paths were laid, ornamental trees were planted and dead wood was assiduously removed and burned. Highgate Wood was managed more as an urban park than ancient woodland. In 1968 the Conservation Committee of the London Natural History Society expressed its concern at the planting of exotic conifers as being inappropriate for ancient woodland. As a consequence of this protest the planting programme was halted and has not been continued.

More recently management practices have been much more sympathetic to the Wood’s indigenous flora and fauna. Certain areas have been fenced to allow the regeneration of the vegetation free of trampling, and dead wood is allowed to decay ‘’in situ’’ – to the great benefit of saprotrophic fungi and a wide range of invertebrates.


The Skip Garden

The Skip Garden is essentially a horticultural garden, but it has the unusual feature of being portable. It can be moved because it is built on spare land made available free by a property developer, Ardent. As the land becomes needed for development, the garden moves to its next location. It has moved four times so far.

The garden grows flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs. There are also beehives and chickens. Visitors can go to the Skip Garden Café and sample delicious food that has been grown in the garden and prepared in the Skip Garden Kitchen.

The Skip Garden site contains various constructions. There are the skips, converted into growing beds for flowers, herbs and vegetables. There is a poly-tunnel greenhouse and a hothouse. There are various communal spaces and an outside oven, as well as two beehives, an insect hotel and a hen coop with two hens currently in residence. There is The Hide – a Moroccan yurt with a wood burning stove. And of course there is the Skip Garden Café and the Skip Garden Kitchen.

It is built using recycled materials – which are mostly from the Kings Cross construction site. You can see the recycled components – notably the skips, which have been adapted to provide the growing beds. The hot house is constructed from recycled window frames.

The project has been supported by an educational charity called Global Generation, and developed and run by volunteer effort. Students from the Bartlett School of Architecture designed elements of the garden – the greenhouse, the hothouse and the insect hotel. Students from the University of the Arts of London (Central St Martins) work in the garden.

The Skip Garden project started around seven years ago and is currently based at the side of Lewis Cubitt Park. During that time, the Kings Cross area has seen other complementary initiatives such as the Pond Club. This was part of a temporary art installation and comprised a swimming pool able to accommodate 40 swimmers. The pool was cleaned entirely naturally by plants planted around its edge. There has also been a theatre in the vicinity, located where Google’s offices are going to be.

The Skip Garden is a community project. Young people from Camden, Islington and Southwark help in the garden and in the café. This promotes awareness of the natural world and enables the young people, termed the ‘generators’, to learn new skills not typical of urban life. The café offers work experience and employability programmes to those often marginalised by society, such as young people with special needs, the elderly and refugees. An aim is to combine activities such as supporting bees, carpentry, urban food growing, cooking, and eating together with dialogue, storytelling, creative writing, silence and stillness.

There is another Skip Garden at Canada Water. When the Kings Cross development reaches completion, it is hoped to make Canada Water the new permanent base for the Garden.

Most of the features of the Skip Garden can be seen as you walk along the roadway, but why not step inside, explore and enjoy their delicious food.