More fun and Games at Spas in London: 2 of many

As we move through London we also find Clerkenwell.

Clerkenwell was donated to the public in 1673 by the 3rd Earl of Northampton who owned the land on which the well was situated. He intended it for the use of the poor of the parish.

Mentioned by Fitzstephen as early as 1174, the Clerk’s Well was the scene of medieval miracle plays performed by the Parish Clerks of London, and this gave its name to the district of Clerkenwell. Until the reformation, the well was located in the boundary wall of St Mary’s Nunnery.

After the dissolution of the nunnery and the destruction of its boundary wall, the well was located in the basement of a building in Ray Street (now Farringdon Lane) which is now  the Islington Local History Centre..

In 1800 a pump was placed at pavement level to facilitate public use but by the middle of the 19th century the well had been closed.

In 1897 the remains of the well was found under the floor of 18 Faringdon Road which was formerly the Parish Watch House. But this site was lost to records again until rediscovered in 1924, during building work in Farringdon Lane. After renovation in 1984, the Clerk’s Well now has an accompanying exhibition outlining the history of the well and its environment in the basement of Well Court. Note that Clerkenwell Close was part of the old nunnery.

St Agnes a Clere’s well

At the entrance to Hoxton is the spa well known as Saint or Dame Agnes a Clere, apparently named after a rich widow, who having been made bankrupt by a lover, drowned herself in it in the 13th or 14yth century – it has been claimed by some sources. Another explanation for the name is that the a Clere stands for La Clair then corrupted to Anisseed Clear!, as being very clear water.

Whilst  Chassereau’s Map of 1745 shows the well on the south side of Old Street at the junction of that thoroughfare with Willow Walk, there was a chequered legal history of exactly where it was situated and who owned the land on which it was situated during the  16th and 17th century. By 1650 the situation was more settled and the Crown claimed the land. They leased it out as it was claimed to help rheumatic or nervous cases.

Of the well Stowe writes in 1603

“Somewhat north from Holy-Well is one other well, curbed square with stone and is called Dame Annis the Clear and not far from it, but somewhat west is also another clear water called Perilous Pond.”

By the time of Rocques Map in 1746 the name Dame Annis the Clear had changed to St Agnes Le Clare as evidenced by the name that later became associated with the Old Street roundabout. The indication from Stowe’s description suggests that the well was located towards the eastern end of Old Street and the name St Agnes Le Clare (on Rocques Map) indicates the approximate position of the well.

In 1731 baths opened based n the well water and by 1834 there were more than 12 rooms operating with some 10,000 gallons of water passing through every 24 hours. As the water was a constant temperature all year round it was very popular.

Unfortunately, in 1845 a fire destroyed much of the building and the spa was not rebuilt.

Holy Well Aldwych

This ‘holy well’ is at present located in the basement of Australia House in the Aldwych, Strand, and can only be accessed via a manhole cover.

The first known mention of the well was by William FitzStephen (ca 1174/1183) a medieval monk who wrote:

“There are also in the northern suburbs of London springs of high quality, with water that is sweet, wholesome, clear, and “whose runnels ripple amid pebbles bright”. Among which Holywell, Clerkenwell and St. Clement’s Well have a particular reputation; they receive throngs of visitors and are especially frequented by students and young men of the city, who head out on summer evenings to take the [country?] air. Truly, a good city – if it has a good lord.”


Holy Wells – Fun and Games in London Post 1:

In Elizabethan time, London was dotted with wells all over to provide (safe) drinking water. Some of the  more notable such wells were the holy wells by St Bride and St Clement, and the Clerk’s well by St John of Jerusalem.

Mentioned by Fitzstephen as early as 1174, the Clerk’s Well was the scene of medieval miracle plays performed by the Parish Clerks of London, and gave its name to the district of Clerkenwell.

Until the reformation, the well was located in the boundary wall of St Mary’s Nunnery. After the dissolution of the nunnery and the destruction of its boundary wall, the well was located in the basement of a building in Ray Street (now Farringdon Lane).

In 1800 a pump was placed at pavement level to facilitate public use but by the middle of the 19th century the well had been closed. The exact location of this important site was uncertain but was rediscovered in 1924, during building work in Farringdon Lane.

Holy Well Clerkenwell as seen today at museum

Bagnigge Well, aka Reddewell or Reedwell, belonged to the Benedictine Nunnery of St Mary’s Clerkenwell. It got its name Bagnigge from the valley which followed the route of the Hloebourne between Clerkenwell and Battle Bridge – which was Bagnigge Vale. Battle Bridge was so named after a an ancient bridge over The Fleet where Boudica‘s army is said to have fought an important battle against the Romans.  Battle Bridge is now Kings Cross Station. There is also a small brook called Bagnigge Wash. This area was frequently flooded as it was originally a swamp! The Holebourne and the Fleet were navigable up to this point well into the 1700s and Bagnigge House was thought to be the country residence of Nell Gwynne.

The wells at Bagnigge consisted of 2 different types of water – one of which was noted for being a purgative. And it is interesting how many holy wells and spa wells had this type of effect and that this made them very popular – presumably because of the lack of regular vegetables in the common diet.bagniggewells

As in my previous post, these spa or holy wells had many entertainments for the gentry and the masses developed alongside, much in the way you would develop a seaside, at Bagnigge there were skittles, bowls and tea house. If you can spot it, the wells are noted in a tablet between 61-63 Kings Cross road where Bagnigge House originally stood.

Further down from Battle Bridge on Gray’s Inn Road was a mineral spring dedicated to St Chad. This well also had gardens and recreational activities associated with it in the 1700s. This water was also claimed to be purgative, diuretic and a mild tonic – all at the same time! To find it you will need to look for St Chad’s Place and then the Met Line which has built over it.

The old parish church of St Pancras also had a spa and a well with extensive gardens and avenues of trees. Difficult to believe now as all you can see are pavements and buildings.. These waters were according to Mr Edward Martin, the proprietor in 1697:St Pancras Holywell

“ a powerful antidote against rising of the vapous, also against stone and gravel and as a general and sovereign help to nature.”

Sadler’s Well was thought to be used by the monks of St John’s Priory.

From “The Political State of the British Empire” by John Adolphus, 1818

“As the water was found to be ferruginous [by Mr. SADLER], though not so much impregnated with iron as those of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, they were immediately recommended as useful in removing obstructions in the system, and purifying the blood.

Sadler’s Wells was inclosed within a wall of considerable extent, with several fine trees within”

From “The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction” by Reuben Percy, John Timbs, 1839

“ Henry VIII., in 1538, dissolved the priory and its revenues; when the well, to which superstitious uses were ascribed, was covered over: and as no water was in any way known to be derivable from it, time, which obliterates all things, annulled, even in the memory of man, all cognizance or remembrance of it for nearly a century and a half.

The dissolute manners prevalent in the reign of Charles II., gave encouragement to a variety of music-houses in and about the metropolis, but none of them attained the popularity or celebrity of that erected on the north side of the New River Head, on the site of the present theatre, by a person named SADLER; who, being made surveyor of the highways, and having good gravel in his own ground, the garden attached to the music-house, employed two men to dig there, and in digging, the pickaxe struck upon a broad flat stone, which being raised, was found to have been supported by four oaken posts, and under it a large well, encircled by stone, arched over, and curiously sculptured. SADLER, impelled by its singularity, conceived it had some medicinal quality, and as such, had been used in former times: his conjecture was confirmed on reference to a physician.

He at first sold the water in bottles, then in roundlets, till at last Dr. MORTON advised his patients to drink the water as a restorative; and its salubrity induced Sadler’s Well to be visited, in 1684, by from five to six hundred persons every morning.”

Spas and Wells in London and around

It is not very well known that within the boundaries of what is now Greater London, lay a number of spas where the water was indicated to be of healing quality and thus frequented by many people in the past.

I live close by one in Kilburn – more of which later in this post – so I decided to investigate just what I could find out about other such spas within London and what they were renowned for, and when.

There is a fabulous text written in 1910 by Alfred Stanley Ford which attempts to cover all the spas in London that he could discover and this book I am going to abridge and quote from as appropriate. Other references are to be found at the bottom of the text.

Springs, Streams and Spas of London

Alfred Stanley Foord


[Extracted from:}

Outside the City of London, in the western suburbs there are 3 good sized brooks: the Hole-Bourne; the Ty-Bourne; and the West-Bourne. All arise in the higher lands of Highgate and Hampstead.

The Hole-Bourne – means the burn on the hollow or ravine – and these hollows are to be found in Hockley-in-the-Hole (an area of Clerkenwell in central London, roughly where Ray Street Bridge stands near Farringdon Road) and Black Mary’s Hole (aka Bagnigge Wells), also in Clerkenwell.

Black Mary’s Hole or Well, was a small hamlet on the bank of the Fleet River and Black Mary’s Field was nearby. The iron impregnated water of the well was supposedly good for sore eyes.

This area was noted not only for the well and the waters but also for highway robbery in the 1730s and perhaps more unusually, as a gay cruising ground in the early 1700s.

Although well known also as Bagnigge Wells because the River Bagnigg passed through it, the land was leased at one point to a Mary, who kept a black cow in the field, and who mixed her milk with the water to enhance the drink. But there are other stories according to the Dabbler about the origin of the name and it may actually have belonged to a free black woman, possibly one Mary Woolaston who looked after the well at one point. The well is of course, no longer visible from the street level.

It is also worth noting that many of these streams were altered or covered when the railways were built, and indeed the Hole-Bourne’s stream bed is used near Farringdon by the Met Line.

Further down the Hole-Bourne (see Holborn) runs into the Fleet River which was navigable up to this point as was evident by the street names such as  (Old)Seacole/Seacoal Lane. Fleet is the Anglo-Saxon word meaning tidal inlet and probably held the oldest tidal mill in the world (Roman in origin it is thought). So many wells were built along the Fleet that in the 13th century it was known as the River of Wells.

The main source of the Fleet comes from Hampstead Heath, down Flask Walk, by Willow Road (once a steep ditch) to South End Green and Kentish Town Fields. From the East a small stream near the current railway line joined it, and still further east was the Ken (Caen) Wood Springs.

The Ty-Bourne which was originally named the Teo-burna, which most likely means the two arms forming a delta around Thorney Island (Thorney Street) on which Westminster Abbey was built.

Like the other 2 burns it rises in Southern Hampstead in the Shepherds (Conduit) Fields. These fields separated Hampstead from Belsize Park and Kilburn and contained the Shepherd’s Well which later became neglected and thus a swamp of brackish water and then drained by railway construction. The fields could be exited by College Lane. Apparently the water never froze and was thus in great demand even though there was a well nearby at Kilburn.

The Tyburn went down Fitzjohn’s Ave to Belsize and thence to Regent’s Park. It crossed Marylebone Lane twice and then Oxford Street.

Some ancient maps identify the Tyburn as the Aye or Eye brook taken from the name of the ancient estate of Eia. It has also been known as the Mariburne brook. So we see that it is often difficult to trace the route of a river or stream from maps and texts as at different times not only did they flow in different places/directions but were also called by different names according to local estates and so on.

The West-Bourne was a larger stream and rose close by the Tyburn and was the source of a small pond on the South Western Heath and thence to the Frognall Estate where there was an arch over it. As it flowed towards the Great North Road the Kilburn joined it.

The Kilburn came from a small nunnery and crossed Edgware Road under a 13th century into a low lying meadow and was then joined by another small brook coming from Willesden Lane.

Kilburn may take its name from the Saxon for ‘cattle stream’ or someone called Cylla (a C was pronounced then as a K). The stream has been called Cuneburna, Kelebourne, or Cyebourne.

As Watling Street crossed the brook, a small community of nuns – Augustinian – was founded in 1134 – when Belsize Road meets the High Road. It was dissolved by Henry 8th and nothing is now left but the Red Lion pub may have been the convent’s guest house originally. In 1714 a chalybeate (iron impregnated) spring was enclosed and was considered a cure for stomach ailments. However, it is suggested that Belsize House may have also been of as much importance as the spring it stood alongside, as this was where bare knuckle and dog fighting took place – common entertainments of the time at ale houses. This area was also well known for highway robbery it seems.

Kilburn Wells, near Paddington.—The waters are now in the utmost perfection; the gardens enlarged and greatly improved; the house and offices re-painted and beautified in the most elegant manner. The whole is now open for the reception of the public, the great room being particularly adapted to the use and amusement of the politest companies. Fit either for music, dancing, or entertainments. This happy spot is equally celebrated for its rural situation, extensive prospects, and the acknowledged efficacy of its waters; is most delightfully situated on the site of the once famous Abbey of Kilburn, on the Edgware Road, at an easy distance, being but a morning’s walk, from the metropolis, two miles from Oxford Street; the footway from the Mary-bone across the fields still nearer. A plentiful larder is always provided, together with the best of wines and other liquors. Breakfasting and hot loaves. A printed account of the waters, as drawn up by an eminent physician, is given gratis at the Wells. [The Public Advertiser, July 17, 1773.]kilburn-wells-hampstead-london-c1820

Although the well declined in the 19th century there was still water sold in 1841. The Bell pub was known then as the Kilburn Wells and was regarded as a nice tea garden now rather than a place of rough entertainment. The pub was rebuilt in 1863.

I will write more of other wells and spas in later posts. Most well known wells were also spas and had grand gardens and entertainment to ensure visitors spent their money on the site and were there quite some time. They were also almost the only places where such entertainments could be found.

Willesdune or Wellesdone or Wilsdon

The name of Willesden derives from the Anglo-Saxon Willesdune, meaning the Hill of the Spring, and a settlement bearing this name dates back to 939 AD at least as far as we can tell.

The Domesday Book of 1086 records it the settlement as being Wellesdone. However, in later 19th century maps of the town (see the Ordnance Survey First Series), the town is shown as Wilsdon.

So we can safely say that there was sufficient water and enough height for it to be settled early in recorded history although there is little evidence of this water now – except in people’s gardens! Several gardens in the Mapesbury area need sump pumps to drain their gardens, evidence of the springs and possibly ponds – again see Ordnance Survey Maps – which are either dew ponds created by farmers or natural spring ponds.

From the 14th to 16th centuries, the town was a place of pilgrimage due to the presence of two ancient statues of the Virgin Mary at the Church of St Mary (Neasden Lane) built in 938 when it was founded by King Athelstan as the original Parish Church of Willesden. It is the oldest parish church in North-West London.

The church and its graveyard are al that remain of the original village – the rest has been marys

In 937 King Athelstan defeated the Danes at the battle of Brunanburh, and as a thank offering gave the Royal Manors of Willesden-cum-Neasden to the Dean and Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. (Subsequently many of the vicars of Willesden have also been Canons of Saint Paul’s). A church was built, possibly replacing an earlier wooden one. The earliest part of the church as it stands today dates from the thirteenth century with fifteenth and sixteenth century additions and is built of ragstone rubble and flint with freestone dressings . The two Victorian restorations added a north aisle and a new south porch. Two notable fittings are the Purbeck marble font, dating from 1150 and the fourteenth century inner door to the south porch.

There is a fine 14th-century door in the south porch, a piscina in the chancel, an Easter sepulchre in the south-east chapel, and an Elizabethan communion table. Brasses, which were rescued after they had been thrown onto a rubbish heap in the course of the Victorian restoration, include these of Bartholomew Willesden and his wife (1494), the vicar William Lichfield (1517), Margaret wife of Thomas Roberts (1505), Edmund Roberts with his two wives and nine children (1585), Jane Barne and her daughters (1609), and a mid-16th century unidentified woman with six children.

There is a sculptured monument to Richard Paine and his wife (1606) and monuments, mostly in black marble, to John Barne (1615), Richard Franklin (1615), John Franklin (1647), Francis Roberts (1631), his wife Mary (1623), Sir William Roberts, Bt. (1688), his wife Sarah (1682), Sir William Roberts (1698), William Roberts (1700), and Elizabeth wife of Francis Brende (1667).

Willesden had two bells in 1297 and four in 1552.  All had been replaced or recast by 1717 when there were five bells, including three dated 1661, 1694, and 1704.

One of the two famous statues is thought to be a Black Madonna  – A Visitation report of 1249 mentions the presence of two statues of Our Lady, one of which must have been the ‘Black Madonna’ (This was described in the C16th by Richard Mores as ‘robed in sarcenet, and with stones, with a vale withal of lace embroidered with pearles and other precious jewelles and golde and silver’ surrounded by a metal grille, and a canopy with hangings). This statue was insulted by the Lollards and taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house and burnt in 1538 on a large bonfire of “notable images” including those of Walsingham, Worcester and Ipswich. There is also a “holy well” or water which was thought to possess miraculous qualities, particularly for blindness and other eye disorders, this comes from the Willesden stream flowing under the church and which can still be accessed and people can partake of it.

Thousands of people visited the sanctuary in the heart of leafy Middlesex.  It reached its height at the turn of the sixteenth century, when the shrine was frequented by royalty (Queen Elizabeth of York) and future martyrs (St Thomas More), who confidently petitioned the Blessed Virgin under her title of ‘Our Lady of Willesden’.  According to a contemporary document, Our Lady appeared to a priest devotee of the shrine, a certain Dr Crewkehorne, in 1537 and said that she wished to be honoured at Willesden. William Gladstone worshipped here between 1882 and 1894.

Our Lady of Willesden’s greatest day came during the Marian Year of 1954, when her statue was crowned by Cardinal Griffin at Wembley Stadium, in front of 94,000 people.  According to the Encyclical Letter, Fulgens Corona (1953), Pope Pius XII said that every diocese had a special shrine at which the Virgin Mary received fuller homage.  Willesden was made the centre of Westminster’s celebrations for the Marian Year and throughout 1954 some 60,000 pilgrims visited the shrine. Another pilgrim from the 1950s was St Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei, who came to the shrine several times (he re-consecrated Opus Dei to the Name of Mary here on 15 August 1958)

The new statue – carved in 1972 – is paraded through the streets every year in May.

Many well-known local families have been buried at St Mary’s including that of Sir Henry Holland whose family vault is here. The novelist and playwright Charles Reade, famous for ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’, was buried here in 1884, next to his lady friend Laura Seymour (d.1879) who left her whole estate to Reade, part of which he made over to the Charity commissioners to be distributed to ‘fatherless children and widows in Willesden’.

George Furness, owner of Roundwood House, a church warden here and first Chairman of the Willesden Board in 1857 was buried here in 1900, as was his son George James Furness (d.1936), who was MP for Willesden West in 1922/23.

Other local families with tombs in the churchyard include the Kilbys, many of them bellringers in the C19th and C20th. A tomb with a broken mast and anchor on a coil of rope commemorates Captain Brook (d.1893). There is also the grave of F A Wood (d.1904) and his wife Mary (d.1898); Wood was a well known local politician, JP and Willesden historian.

Near the south-east exit of the churchyard is a War Memorial in remembrance of workers from the British Thomas Houston Factory in Neasden Lane who died in the two world wars.

Local folklore has it that the cemetery is haunted by a monk in white.



Where Willesden began:

Once upon a time there was a small hill or two with some water which was cleared of all the trees surrounding it,  and a hamlet grew up.

Perhaps this hamlet was based on a Neolithic site, or there had been a hill-top fort here, or an Iron Age track had passed nearby, but the evidence is not clear and we cannot be certain that this happened.

What we do know is the Roman Watling Street passed through this area and by Anglo-Saxon times the hill-top hamlet was in existence.

There was a brook at Kilburn and the River Brent passing nearby. The Brent is one of London’s longest rivers at over 16 miles. It starts at  the junction of Dollis Brook and Mutton Brook  in Hendon and joins the Thames at Brentford. A Roman Road forded the Brent near Brentford Bridge.

The name Brent is Old English, from Celtic words meaning “sacred waters”. The River Brent divides Willesden and Wembley.

Sir John Betjeman knew the area well and wrote:

Gentle Brent, I used to know you
Wandering Wembley-wards at will,
Now what change your waters show you
In the meadowlands you fill!
Recollect the elm-trees misty
And the footpaths climbing twisty
Under cedar-shaded palings,
Low laburnum-leaned-on railings
Out of Northolt on and upward to the heights of Harrow Hill.

The area of Willesden remained leafy and sylvan for hundreds of years.

The far end of Willesden High Road links to Church End and from there the Church began to acquire the land around, and by the year 1000 St Paul’s Cathedral owned a very large chunk of this part of what is now known as the Borough of Brent.

For those not familiar with this area, I am adding a map: map1

GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Willesden, in Brent and Middlesex | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Willesden like this:

WILLESDEN, or Wilsdon, a village, a parish, and a sub-district, in Hendon district, Middlesex.

The village stands 1½ mile N by W of Willesden-Junction r. station, and 7½ WNW of St. Paul’s, London; and has a post-office‡ under London NW, a police station, and fairs on Holy Thursday and St. James’ day.

The parish includes W.-Green, Dollis-Hill, Sherrick-Green Neasdon, and Harlesden hamlets, Brondesbury domain, and parts of Kilburn and Kensal-Green villages. Acres, 4,190. …

Real property, £28,401.

Pop. in 1851, 2,939; in 1861, 3,879. Houses, 642.

Pop. in 1869, about 15,000.

The property is much subdivided.

The manor was given by King Athelstan to St. Paul’s, London; and was known, at Domesday, as Willesdone. W. House, Brondesbury Park, Neasdon House, Dollis Hill, Harlesden House, Heathfield, Mapesbury House, Bramshill Lodge, Glyn-field House, and the Rookery are chief residences. T

he living is a vicarage in the diocese of London. Value, £320.* Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s. The church is later English.

The rectory of Brandesbury and two p. curacies of Kilburn are separate benefices. There are an Independent chapel, a national school, and charities £27.—The sub-district consists of W. parish and Twyford-Abbey extra-parochial tract.

But long before we see these details we begin see a few farms dotting the area around but until the 19th century the area remained fertile, furrowed and field.

Urban Plots and mini plants?

I have adapted an article from a good website on growing vegetables and plants as we are looking to create a new garden at the side of our house  [Gardening Know How –] with the hope it will give us some good suggestions. I have to look up UK suppliers of course and so I shall be adding the English names and varieties to this article and who supplies them.

We have started with 2 items we have purchased – mock rock-wall stratums plaques which we bought earlier this year with sedum growing on them. 20150930_170911

We are planning to then create a further set of hanging pots with racks we have cut from pallets which we will also nail into the walls. We shall need some long and tough nails and a brick drill but very doable. 20150930_171133

What should we then plant? Well this is where this article comes into play. Obviously we could plant trailing flowers as shown with the lobelia, but we also have the choice – if the plants will get enough sun, to plant mini-veggies and micro-garden.

What Is Micro Gardening?

By Amy Grant

In a burgeoning world of people with ever-decreasing space, micro container gardening has found a rapidly growing niche. Good things come in small packages as the saying goes, and urban micro gardening is no exception. So what is micro gardening and what are some useful micro gardening tips to get you started?

What is Micro Gardening?

Urban micro container gardening is the practice of cultivating vegetables, herbs, roots and tubers in small spaces. These gardening spaces might be balconies [1], patios [2], or rooftops [3] which make use of containers – anything from plastic-lined wooden crates, old car tires, plastic buckets [4], trash cans, and wooden pallets to purchased “nourishmats” and polypropylene bags. In our case the area is the side walls of our flat! So hanging micro gardens.

Small scale hydroponic systems [5] are another option as well as aeroponics [6], growing plants in hanging containers with little to no soil, or aquaponics [7], which is growing plants directly in water.

What are the benefits of urban micro container gardens? They combine a technique of horticultural production with environmentally friendly technology suited for city dwellers. These include rainwater harvesting [8] and household waste management.  As we already harvest just about all our rainwater I doubt if we shall use any more than we already do but it would be nice to grow some herbs for our use again and I love the idea that maybe a mini veg might just fit one pot – doubt it though, mini leaves are feasible though.

Micro Container Gardening Tips

Micro gardening can work for just about anyone with a small space and be as simple and inexpensive as you wish. Research by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization shows that a well-tended 11-square foot micro garden can produce as much as 200 tomatoes [9] a year, 36 heads of lettuce [10] every 60 days, 10 cabbages [11] every 90 days and a whopping 100 onions [12] every 120 days! 11 foot sq is not very micro!

More costly irrigation drip systems can be installed amongst a micro garden, or rainwater can be channeled through a system of gutters and pipes into a cistern or directly off the eaves of the roof.

The internet is rife with both DIY micro garden plans as well as a host of products available for purchase that can help get your own micro garden going. Remember, your tiny Eden doesn’t have to cost a lot. Think outside the box and look for salvageable items that can be repurposed. Many industrial districts have free pallets, yours for the asking. We didn’t have to ask – they were left with us due to some deliveries we had had – and actually they are often better scavenged from builders than bought as I have been offered them at £10 in the past! Think also about the very large soil bags or sand etc that are often used for building – scavenge one of those for a metre square garden.These make wonderful “walls” of herbs that double as miniature edible gardens as well as colourful, sweet smelling partitions or privacy screens on a tiny balcony.

Many different types of vegetable can be grown in an urban micro garden, although some vegetables are admittedly a bit large for very small spaces, but you can certainly grow many dwarf size veggies [14]. Some of these include:

  • Dwarf bok choi – Nicky’s Seeds have Pak Choi
  • Romeo baby carrots – Nicky’s Seeds have several varieties
  • Fino Verde basil – Try Greek Basil or Holy Basil as these have small leaves
  • Jing Bell peppers – Suttons seeds have Snackbite peppers. and Thomson and Morgan have Mini Bell
  • Fairy Tale aubergine – Marshalls Seeds have Ophelia; Nicky’s Seeds have several varieties
  • Red Robin tomatoes – again try Nicky’s Seeds for more varieties
  • Rocky cucumbers –  again try Nicky’s Seeds for varieties

Also, look into the extensive selection of microgreens [15] such as baby spinach, chard and lettuces that are perfect in an outdoor or indoor micro garden.

Think about growing up to maximize space too. For instance, many squash plants can be trained to grow up [16] rather than out. Use trellises, lines, tepees made from bamboo or even rebar or PVC pipe, old gates…whatever you can think of that will act as a support and can be anchored sturdily. We utilise the bamboo canes we cut from our Black Bamboo plants when we thin them each year.

Article adapted from Gardening Know How:

URL to a rticle:

URLs in this post:

[1] balconies:

[2] patios:

[3] rooftops:

[4] plastic buckets:

[5] hydroponic systems:



[8] rainwater harvesting:





[14] dwarf size veggies:


[16] squash plants can be trained to grow up:

Painting the Lines

Out of sequence of the history of Willesden, I am going to write about a famous painter who has painted the railway lines in Willesden Junction and at Willesden Green, many times – Leon Kossoff.

I had not heard about Kossoff until the weekend I went to the Literary festival in Kew and heard him mentioned by Iain Sinclair who I heard talk about his new book on his Over Ground railway walk.[London Overground: A Day’s Walk Around the Ginger Line].

Sinclair mentioned in passing a painter who had painted Willesden Junction  many times, and also the ‘under’ the railways activity – the area we do not see when we look out of the window of the train. That which is under the railway and the train – and which uses their buildings – the Arches or the bridges or the waste areas by the side of the railways.

Under the Arches in London are many spaces which have been inhabited for years – since existence – by many industries or for other purposes including leisure: now railway arches have been converted into cinemas, climbing walls, bakeries and boxing clubs and skate parks and artists’ spaces and galleries too. Sinclair looks at them when he walks and Kossoff painted them.

RefurbishedArches skate park under the arches


Like Sinclair, Kossoff too looked out of the train window and also his studio window and painted what he saw. Sinclair filmed what he saw.

Kossoff was born in Islington in 1926 and is now therefore 88/9 and now finds it too taxing to paint.

He has spent his whole life in London apart from his time as an evacuee and during his military service. His home territory when growing up was the East End – Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Hackney as was typical of the Jewish emigrants from the Ukraine. He had 6 siblings and his father was a baker.  Art was unknown in his family but he found his way to the National Gallery when 10 years old and started to ‘translate’ what he saw into his own versions.

Evacuated in 1939 to Kings Lynn he stayed with a family who encouraged his art and which led to him returning to London in 1943 to study art at St Martin’s and Toynbee Hall. After military service he also studied at Borough Polytechnic under David Bomberg and met Frank Auerbach there. These 3 together formed what is loosely called the London School. They were joined by Lucien Freud, Keith Critchlow, and Francis Bacon.

Between 1963 and 1968 he had a studio in Willesden, near Willesden Junction and painted what he saw :

“Something happens when you see Willesden Junction stretching out in front of you. What else can you do but draw it?”

He also painted Kilburn Station for many years and painted what he saw in the swimming pool at Willesden where he took his son.

Willesden Junction, Morning in October 1971 Leon Kossoff born 1926 Lent from a private collection 2006
Willesden Junction, Morning in October 1971 Leon Kossoff born 1926 Lent from a private collection 2006

At the bottom of the garden of the family house in Willesden Green are railway lines – the Chiltern and the Jubilee and the Met lines pass by – from which, in the 1980s and 1990s, he drew the trains as they went past. Train lines, he says, “open out the landscape, somehow”. A recent subject has been a cherry tree in his garden, one of its lolling branches steadied with struts. Once, before the suburban houses were built, there was an orchard here. [And I shall write more about the landscape in Mapesbury and what was before in a later post]. cherry tree

Many of the landscapes in his drawings and paintings are now gone, which is why to look at them is to look through Kossoff’s eyes but also to travel into his past with him. Even the trains at the bottom of the garden look different now, trees have grown up to obscure the view and the area is considered a protected wildlife corridor for the urban wildlife to travel safely up and down the rail lines.

It’s a smutty place, Kossoff’s London, congested, seething, murky, messy, relentlessly itself, and usually rendered in a mixture of charcoal and pastel.

The colours were most often sombre – greys edging off to black. He has always loved architectural decrepitude, often seen from a fairly high view point: gantries; a gasometer ; the demolition site; conventionally unlovely industrial locations; places between places; grubby edgelands like Iain Sinclair talked about – the passed by, the unloved, the areas where our transient population can linger and not be noticed.

These are the interesting places that are changing as London finding itself short of spaces looks for more, and finds them crowded up against the railway lines (see the new flats at West Hampstead) or underneath and even attempts (I remember it well – the Tesco store over the railway line at Gerrard’s Cross, as I was living near there then, that collapsed initially, but has since been rebuilt and opened in 2010) to build over the railways. The railways change the scenery of London constantly and are the driver of change in many ways. Here we can celebrate an artist who has captured the railways as they were before London’s need for space transformed them. kossoff photo

I have taken as my sources a number of articles about Kossoff:

  1. Wikipedia and Leon Kossoff
  2. Independent article on Kossoff
  3. Guardian article on Kossoff
  4. Studio Independent article on Kossoff
  5. Plus pictures taken from the articles and the Tate Gallery.