- Chiswick Mall and 7 Hammersmith Terrace
When I was aged around eight and nine, we spent two summer holidays in the south Cornwall town of Fowey, staying in a block of holiday flats with a balcony overlooking the Fowey River. There was constant activity on the river: tankers laden with china clay heading out to sea and deep sea fishing boats coming in the opposite direction, as well as the foot ferry plying back and forth to Polruan on the opposite bank of the river. Here is my grandmother, Annie Austin (née O’Leary), known to her family as Nano and to my sister and myself as Granny Austin, photographed in about 1967, enjoying the view from the balcony.
There was a garden attached to the flats. I say attached, in fact it was across the road which led from the centre of town to the small cove called Readymoney Beach where we played and paddled most days. I can remember thinking it was a huge novelty to be separated from your garden by a road.
I was reminded of this configuration of dwelling and garden when I walked along Chiswick Mall recently. The houses and blocks of flats are to the north of the street, their riverside gardens to the south. One gets tantalising glimpses of the gardens, through gateways and railings, enough to reveal an orchard style garden with beehives, another brimming with roses. Beyond clumps of poppies and Amsonia the River Thames flows swiftly, the south bank of the river obscured from view by the wooded Chiswick Eyot, giving the impression of a rather more rural setting than is in fact the case. Sadly I missed the annual opening of some of these gardens for the National Gardens Scheme last weekend.
I was in that part of town a week earlier, walking west towards Barnes Bridge beyond Dukes Meadows, having visited Emery Walker’s House at 7 Hammersmith Terrace. Sometimes called the most authentic Arts and Crafts home in Britain, the Georgian terraced house remains as decorated by Walker, using wallpaper and textiles made by his friend William Morris’s firm, Morris & Co. The blue plaque on the plain frontage of the property describes Emery Walker (1851-1933) as a ‘typographer and antiquary’, to which occupations can be added printer, engraver and photographer. William Morris lived nearby at Kelmscott House (now home to The William Morris Society). The interior’s preservation is due to the efforts of Walker’s daughter Dorothy (1878-1963) and her companion Elizabeth de Haas (1918-99). Elizabeth de Haas left the house and its contents to a charity she created, The Emery Walker Trust, thanks to whom the house is opened for guided tours.
Walker set up the Doves Press at 1 Hammersmith Terrace in 1900 where with his partner TJ Cobden-Sanderson he created an elegant typeface, Doves Type, based on a C15 Venetian type. Our excellent guide on the tour of the house told us the extraordinary story of a falling out between the partners, leading to Cobden-Sanderson’s throwing almost a ton of metal type into the Thames from nearby Hammersmith Bridge over the course of several nights in 1916. Almost 100 years later graphic artist Robert Green recovered three pieces of type from the foreshore and 147 more were found by professional divers. Using these and the books published by the Doves Press using the type, Green recreated the Doves Type font after three years’ painstaking work.
I was particularly interested in the house’s link with printing as my maternal great grandfather Edward ‘Ned’ O’Leary (father of my grandmother pictured above) was a printer for Easons in Dublin in the early C20.
Unlike Chiswick Mall, the Hammersmith Terrace gardens adjoin the houses. That at No.7 is maintained by a team of volunteers and is accessed through a conservatory at raised ground floor level, from which steps lead down to the garden. The old grapevine growing in the conservatory is said to have been taken from a cutting from William Hogarth’s house in Chiswick. The garden is laid out in a series of straight terracotta lined paths around quite narrow flower beds. A raised walkway which once separated the properties on Hammersmith Terrace from the river, now forms a terrace at the rear of the garden. The guidebook reports that Dorothy Walker was an ‘enthusiastic gardener’ and kept a notebook recording her planting. I’ve seen a reference to a plant having been named after Dorothy but have been unable to trace what this might have been. The garden is certainly awash with roses so perhaps there’s a Dorothy Walker rose? Amidst the roses are cottagey style perennials such as a maroon and white Centaurea montana.
Of course William Morris’s wallpaper and textile designs were invariably based on flowers and animals, and it was such a treat to see so much of it at 7 Hammersmith Terrace. For example the woollen hangings in the dining room feature Morris’s ‘Bird’ design, reproduced on the cover of the house’s guidebook. There are many tapestries and embroideries on display, several of them worked by May Morris, William’s daughter. The finale of our tour was the guide revealing what lay beneath a plain sheet over the bed in the main bedroom: a woollen bedcover embroidered by May Morris with daisies, poppies, forget-me-nots and daffodils.
2. St Just in Roseland Church and Gardens
When I was in Cornwall in April, I explored another waterside garden: at St Just in Roseland Church. Located beside the Fal River, a couple of miles south of the King Harry Ferry which I talked about in my post about NT Trelissick Gardens, the square-towered church sits close to the water’s edge at the foot of a sloping site which is both churchyard and sub-tropical garden. As well as the sombre yew trees you’d expect to see in a churchyard, here are palm trees and tall pines as well as a grove of Gunnera manicata. I was lucky enough to see the loose, fragrant clusters of starry flowers of the tree commonly called winter’s bark, Drimys winteri. This tree, which originates from Chile and Argentina, is a clue to the unusual history of the garden surrounding the C13 church.
In 1897, after many years living in Australia where he built a nursery business and designed parks and gardens, John Garland Treseder returned to his native Cornwall and established a nursery for sub-tropical plants on a site adjoining the original churchyard of St Just in Roseland. He imported many Australasian plants, including the tree fern, Dicksonia Antarctica, Cordyline, Phormium and Eucalyptus. After the 2WW the church took over the nursery land as a burial ground. Thanks to a restoration project in 1984, the horticultural heritage of the site was secured with paths laid through the planting to enable visitors to enjoy the rare species.
A short walk around the creek, past a covered spring built by JG Treseder, leads away from the sub-tropical plants towards a winding wooded path lined with native wild flowers and ferns. I identified red campion, bluebells, wild garlic, lords-and-ladies, navelwort, dead nettle and hart’s tongue fern. Through the trees, which had yet to come into full leaf, I could just spy the granite church in its exotic setting. The church’s website refers to the writer HV Morton having fallen under the spell of St Just in Roseland in the 1920s when he met a clergyman tending the garden. An account of his impressions of the place and this encounter appear in ‘In Search of England’ published in 1927.
I have blundered into a Garden of Eden that cannot be described in pen or paint. There is a degree of beauty that flies so high that no net of words or no snare of colour can hope to capture it, and of this order is the beauty of St Just in Roseland…. I would like to know if there is in the whole of England a churchyard more beautiful than this.’
3. 65-73 Kew Green
I shall round off my post about the riverside gardens I’ve seen these last few months with a mention of the five wonderful Kew Green gardens which open for two Sundays each May under the National Gardens Scheme. I returned one evening about three weeks ago, having enjoyed seeing them so much last year. They didn’t disappoint, and you can read my impressions of them in a post I wrote in 2022, From River to Green.
In my next blog post, I’ll take you to Luton Hoo Walled Garden in Bedfordshire.
Kew, Surrey 17 June 2023