No park like this in New York City

MOUNT STREET GARDENS in London’s Mayfair was formerly the burial ground of St George’s Church in Hanover Square. Its name derives from Mount Field, where there had been some fortifications during the English Civil War. The burial ground was closed in 1854 for reasons of protecting public health. St George’s Church moved its burials to a location on Bayswater Road, St Georges Fields, which is described in my book “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London”. In 1889-90, part of the land in which the former burial garden was located became developed as the slender park known as Mount Street Gardens (‘MSG’- not to be confused with a certain food additive). Small as it is and almost entirely enclosed by nearby buildings, it is a lovely, peaceful open space with plenty of trees and other plants.

The garden is literally filled with wooden benches. Unlike in other London parks where there is often plenty of space between neighbouring benches, there are no gaps more than a few inches between the neighbouring benches in MSG. The ends of neighbouring benches almost touch each other. The result is that MSG contains an enormous number of benches given its small area. And they are much appreciated by the people who come into the park and rest upon them.

Each bench bears a memorial plaque. Many of these memorials commemorate people from the USA, who have enjoyed experiencing the MSG. And most of these having touching messages written on them. Here are just a few examples: “For my children Philippa and Richard, young Americans who may one day come to know this place. Richard L Feigen. 8th August 1987”; “Seymour Augenbraun – a New Yorker and artist for whom this spot in London is his oasis of beauty. From his wife Arlene and family on July 15th 1986”; “To honour a dear brother and sister Ira and Nancy Koger of Jacksonville Florida”; “This seat was given by Leonora Hornblow, an American, who loves this quiet garden”; “In memory of Frances Reiley Bochroch, a Philadelphia lady who found these gardens a pleasant pace”; and “In loving memory of Joe Bleich (1910-1990). An American who could not find a park like this in New York City,”

There are plenty of other similar memorials to Americans on the benches. All of them interested me, but one of them particularly stood out: “To commemorate Alfred Clark, pioneer of the development of the gramophone. A friend of Britain, who lived in Mount Street”. Clark (1873-1950) was a pioneer in both cinematography and sound recording. Eventually, he became Chairman of EMI. A keen collector of antique ceramics, he donated some of his pieces to London’s British Museum.

Not all of the benches are memorials to Americans. There are others to Brits and people from other countries, but the Americans outnumber the rest. Had it not been for the extraordinarily large number of benches in this tiny gem of a park, I doubt that my eye would have been drawn to the commemorative plaques, but having seen the one in memory of Joe Bleich, who was unable to find a park like it in NYC, I was drawn to examine many of the others.

A lady from Lichtenstein

FUNCHAL IN MADEIRA is famed for its glorious gardens, which can be visited by members of the public. Actually, the whole city is filled with so many flowering plants and trees that it is almost like a huge garden. Nevertheless, we decided to see one of the gardens  for which the city is known. We chose the Palheiro Gardens, which are located about 500 metres above sea level.

To reach the gardens, we took local bus number 37 from the Pingo, a square near the  Mercatos Lavradores. While waiting for the bus to depart, we began chatting with another passenger, a lady who spoke English with a Germanic accent, who last visited the Palheiro 18 years ago. It turned out that she is from Lichtenstein. As far as I can recall, she is the first person from that tiny country next to Switzerland with whom I have ever spoken.

The bus trip up to the Palheiro is spectacular. The road winds ever upwards along the edges of deep ravines. As the road ascends, there are many dramatic views of Funchal and its bay.

The gardens are well-tended and are laid out in a seemingly informal way, in the English garden style. The gardens flourish on slopes overlooking the city far below and a golf course nearby. I do not know enough about trees and flowers, but suffice it to say that the place provides a colourful feast for the eyes.

The Palheiro gardens are laid out in the former estate of the wealthy Count of Carvalhal. The place was purchased in 1885 by the Blandys, a family of British entrepreneurs, bankers, makers of Madeira wine, and merchants who have been important in the development of Madeira’s economy. Part of the gardens retain features laid out by the Count in the 18th century, but much of the rest of the grounds have been developed since then.

Being at about 500 metres,  the garden is noticeably cooler than in the centre of Funchal.  In fact, during our visit, we were close to the clouds and occasionally felt the moisture contained within them. I am pleased that we visited the Palheiro, but feel that given the profusion of lovely plants all around Funchal, I wonder whether visiting gardens like this one is a ‘must do’ activity unless you have a special interest in gardens and gardening.

The journey between Funchal and Palheiro and my first meeting with a person from Lichtenstein enhanced my trip to the gardens.

A fantastic floral feast

IT IS THAT TIME of year again, maybe a little earlier than usual because of the changing meteorological conditions, which are of great concern these days. Located in the southwest part of Richmond Park is one of London’s floral miracles: The Isabella Plantation (see: https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/05/21/a-floral-fireworks-display/, for a shorth history). It is at its colourful best at the end of April and in early May. During this period, the camellia, azalea, and rhododendron bushes explode into flower alongside many other flowering plants.

During our visit in the last week of April 2022, we were fortunate to have arrived at the right time to see vast carpets of bluebells in full bloom. Fantastic as this is to see, they pale into relative insignificance in comparison with the flowering bushes, which have been skilfully planted so as to provide the viewer with three-dimensional multi-coloured natural works of art. On our recent walk around the Plantation, the morning sun was shining brightly, enhancing the vividness of the flowers’ colours. Filtering through the trees, the sunlight created splashes of light on the flowers, producing an interestingly dappled effect. One visitor, with whom we spoke said that the best time of day to see the flowers is in the afternoon. She might be right, but I would strongly recommend seeing them at about 1030 am, which is when we were there.

There are three ponds in the Plantation. The largest is Peg’s Pond, in which we were fortunate to see a duck with her flock of tiny ducklings swimming around her. Next largest and at a higher altitude is Thomsons Pond, which is surrounded by a few flowering bushes. The most magnificent pond is the smallest of the three. It is the Still Pond. It is almost completely surrounded by azalea and rhododendron bushes. When they are in flower, their incredibly exuberant blooms are reflected in the mirror-like water of the Still Pond. This amazing effect must be seen to be believed (if you are unable to visit at the right time of the year, look at my video: https://youtu.be/WLipU0kdoLM).

We parked in the (currently free) Broomfield car park, which is a short, pleasant walk away from the Plantation. On our way, we were lucky enough to spot several stags and deer resting in the shade of a tree not far from the footpath. Seeing these and the resplendent display of colour in the Plantation provided a pleasant distraction from the many disturbing things that are happening  places all over this planet.

A curious sundial

Standing on the central stone at noon, the person’s shadow is cast on the stone marked ‘XII’

AN INTERESTING SUNDIAL in the gardens of Blickling Hall, Norfolk consists of numbered stones laid out around a larger central stone. When someone stands on the central stone, his or her shadow will fall on the stone bearing the hour of the day.. This is an example of an ‘anellematic’ sundial.

A marvellous modern mosque

KINGS COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE has a superb perpendicular gothic chapel, whose construction commenced in about 1446 and took almost 100 years to complete. Its fabulously intricate fan-vaulting makes it one of the finest buildings in Cambridge, if not in all of England. Until recently, it was the one and only building in Cambridge that visitors to the city needed to see, even if they did not have time to see anything else. Although this continues to be the case, there is another building, which visitors should make time to see in addition to the chapel. Unlike the college edifice, this is not in the historic academic part of the city but in Mill Road, not far from the main railway station. Near the eastern end of this thoroughfare, which is rapidly becoming a ‘trendy’ part of Cambridge, you will come across a wonderful modern building set back from the road and separated from it by a pleasant, small garden. This structure is The Cambridge Central Mosque.

The mosque was completed in 2019 and designed by Marks Barfield Architects (London) in conjunction with Professor Keith Critchlow (1933-2020), who was Professor of Islamic Art at London’s Royal College of Art, and the garden designer Emma Clark. The designers of the mosque aimed (in the words of Abdal Hakim Murad, chairman of the Cambridge Mosque Trust) to create:

“…a brand new sacred space … to bring together something that’s very ancient and timeless with the very latest technologies.” (https://cambridgecentralmosque.org/design/)

This has been achieved very successfully. The visually spectacular deep portico, reached after walking through a pleasant garden, is supported by clusters of curved timbers, which immediately bring to mind thoughts of the masonry fan-vaulting in Kings College Chapel. These clusters continue through the entire building, creating a sense of continuity of the exterior and interior spaces. The vaulting that reminds us of the mosque’s gothic relative at Kings College also evokes purely Islamic architecture such as one finds at the Alhambra in Spain. The outside of the building is covered with brickwork in two colours, the bricks being arranged to produce patterns which are contemporary versions of a traditional Islamic design. The centre of the mosque is topped by a single dome made in matt-gold coloured metal.

The glass walls that separate the portico from the interior of the mosque reflect the mundane houses opposite the mosque (across Mill Road). I do not know whether the designers intended it, but I felt that these reflections were a way of giving the impression that the garden and the world beyond the mosque is merging with the building itself, that the religious structure was merging with its secular surroundings. Whether or not this was the designers’ intention, this mosque deserves a place in the highest echelon of great British architecture alongside Kings College Chapel. The beauty of the chapel and the mosque, separated by many hundreds of years in age, both have the effect of taking one’s breath away in amazement.

Shopping surprise in Suffolk

WE TRAVELLED TO HADLEIGH in Suffolk to see its church, its mediaeval guildhall, and its Deanery Tower. After viewing these buildings on a drizzly afternoon, we walked along the High Street, looking at some of the lovely old buildings along it. Several of them have coloured pargetting (decorative plasterwork).  Then, we spotted MW Partridge &Co on the corner of High Street and George Street. From the outside, there is nothing remarkable about this hardware store.

Stepping inside Partridges is like entering an enormous. well organised Aladdin’s cave. Apart from food and plants, there is almost nothing that cannot be found in the shop. One room leads to another, and then another, and yet another, each filled with everything that you might ever need to maintain your home and garden. Remarkable as this is, what is truly fascinating is that apart from one room built as an annexe in the 20th century, the rest of the shop is supported by old-fashioned timber beams and pillars.

According to the company’s history (www.partridgeshadleigh.co.uk/index.php?main_page=about_us), there has been an ironmongery business on the spot since 1823, if not before. In 1823, the ironmonger and iron founder Thomas Pritty acquired the business from a Charles Pretty (or ‘Pritty’). After passing through a couple of other owners, Maitland Walter Partridge and Daniel Partridge of Kersey bought the concern in 1929. This partnership did not last long, and in 1934 Maitland and his sister Edith registered the name M W Partridge & Co. Partridges have been in business ever since.

Amazing Grace was written here in this small hut

MANY PEOPLE KNOW, but I did not, that the words of the hymn “”Faith’s Review and Expectation”, now better known as “Amazing Grace”, were written by John Newton (1725-1807), an Anglican clergyman. What fewer people know is that John Newton had once been the captain of ships that transported slaves across the Atlantic, but also a slave himself. In 1745, having fallen out with the crew on the ship he was sailing, he left his ship in what is now Sierra Leone. He was captured and enslaved and became the property of a princess of the Sherbro People, who lived in that part of Africa. He remained enslaved until 1748, when he was rescued by a sea captain, whom his father had sent to rescue him. On the voyage back to England, he received his spiritual calling.

Cutting a long story short, Newton was ordained as a priest in 1764. Soon after, he became the curate of a church in the small town of Olney in the north of Buckinghamshire. He remained in Olney until about 1779. While living in Olney, Newton struck up a friendship with the poet William Cowper (1731-1800; pronounced ‘koo-per’), who moved to the town in 1767. They collaborated on several literary projects.

From 1779 until his death, Newton was Rector of St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London. In 1788, Newton published his “Thoughts upon the Slave Trade”, a pamphlet that described to horrors on board the slave ships crossing the Atlantic. It was also a confession of his error of having been involved in such an inhumane business. He became an ally of William Wilberforce in the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

Olney is a charming little town, which we visited recently. Close to the market square, there is a large building in which William Cowper lived between 1768 and 1786. It now houses a museum dedicated to commemorating both Cowper and Newton. Behind the house, there is an attractive garden, which leads to another equally lovely garden. In the further garden, there is a small hut with white plastered walls and a tiled roof. It is just large enough for one person to sit inside it. It was here that Cowper’s friend John Newton used to sit and write. It is said that one of the hymns he wrote here in this tiny edifice was the hymn, now known by the words of its first line, “Amazing Grace”. This hymn was probably written in 1773.

A recycled telephone kiosk

RURAL TELEPHONE BOXES (kiosks) are often used (re-purposed) to house AED defibrillators and small book libraries. Occasionally, they still contain coin-operated telephones. We were driving through rural Cornwall between Bodmin and Luxulyan, when we took a wrong turn and drove along a small lane. After making a three-point turn, I spotted an old telephone box partly covered with vegetation. Its original glazed door had been replaced by a wooden one that was quite out of keeping with the box’s elegant design. The present owner of the telephone box has been using this as the entrance to his or her garden. I was pleased to make find this quirky modification of an old telephone kiosk.