Doing the Lambeth Walk
BONNINGTON SQUARE and the THE PLEASURE GARDEN
The square hidden away within a short distance of Vauxhall Station is yet another example of how London can be full of unexpected treasures, stories and places that provide so much intrigue and interest for visitors.
The houses in Bonnington Square were built for railway workers in the 1870s yet 100 years later were threatened with demolition. The Council saw the opportunity to clear the area and build a new school. The derelict and unloved terrace houses were in a sorry state of disrepair but a determined group of people resisted the Council and rescued the houses. So They squatted, moving into the properties which had no gas, electricity or running water and set about turning them into homes fit for habitation, allbeit in a very basic way.
It became one of London’s most celebrated squats and the Council eventually dropped their plans to clear the site and allowed the squatters to stay. Thirty years later most of the original squatters have moved on and the houses are now being bought and sold for over £500,000.
Around Bonnington Square and Vauxhall Grove are tree-lined streets. The centre-piece is The Pleasure Garden, a community garden in the middle of the square. Again, it was the efforts of local people that came to the rescue when a small strip of land with swings and seats became overgrown with stinging nettles and dog mess. A local builder then approached the Council to use this ‘idle land’ as storage space but this alerted local people to the value of the land if it could be restored. The Bonnington Square Garden Association was formed and money was raised to transform the site into what it is today..
The Pleasure Garden is also a tribute to an important era of local history. Just a short distance away is Spring Gardens, again a green space that has been saved, which for almost three centuries was one of London’s leading Pleasure Gardens. Thousands were attracted every day during the Summer months to the displays, concerts, events, fairground fun and even ballooning. People went to be seen – and see others. It was a popular family day out for Londoners which appealed to rich and poor alike and even appealed to the aristocracy and royalty. Its origins were in the early 17th century but by the 1880s their life was over.
Today the Pleasure Garden in Bonnington Square shares the same spirit of fun and enjoyment as the old Pleasure Gardens of previous centuries. People are touched by the closeness of nature. There is harmony between the greenery of trees, plants, shrubs, flowers and inner city living.
Everyone is welcome to explore this unique square. Above the entrance is a large outside model of an open hand, symbolising the spirit of the people who came together to save an area that was once destined to be bulldozed to the ground. People power saved the houses and created the Pleasure Garden – and London is richer for their efforts.
LONDON FOOTSTEPS May 2019