More London Surprises

Brown Hart Gardens

Brown Hart Gardens

It never does to assume that I can’t be surprised by London, or that I won’t see things I’ve never discovered before, even if I’m not looking for them.  There are the constant changing redevelopments, demolitions and rebuilding that generates those but what used to be there? conversations, which are to be expected, but then there are also the places that have always been there, it’s just that I’ve never noticed them.

On Wednesday evening I was killing time in the West End of London and I decided to walk from Green Park to Marylebone, through Mayfair, specifically on roads that I don’t usually use.  You know how it is, you get used to going particular ways, for example, on my way to the Curzon cinema from Piccadilly I will usually walk up Clarges Street, but on the way back prefer to come back down Half Moon.  There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just habit.  So this week, instead, I followed my nose, which led me a slightly crooked path, as few of the roads run straight, but I did I end up walking up South Audley Street.  Waiting to cross the road at one point, out of the corner of my eye I spotted what looked like park gates.

Now I never knew Mount Street Garden existed.  But, according to the information board, they’ve been there since the Victorian period.  Tucked in an irregular triangular gap in the middle of red brick mansion blocks, it apparently affords a warm micro climate permitting the growth  of a couple of palm trees not usually found so far north.  All the paths are lined with wooden benches dedicated to those who have enjoyed the park in the past.  They were sparsely occupied at 6 on a Wednesday evening, but I can imagine there must be standing room only on a warm lunchtime.

Farm Street Church occupies one end of the gardens.  A Jesuit church built in the 1840s its painted Gothic style interior was quiet and quite a surprise. Half a dozen or so people were sitting spread out around the nave, and I sat for a few moments looking at the elaborate altar which was evidently designed by Pugin, the man responsible for much of the interior design of the Palace of Westminster.  All the decoration and the extreme heat made the place feel very claustrophobic, but I’m pleased I paused to look inside.

I worked for many years in the area just north of the west end of Oxford Street and devised a number of ways to walk without ever having to go along the pedestrian hell of Oxford Street itself.  I frequently walked past a building at the end of a scrubby raised area; the building looked like something out of Belle Epoque Paris.  I didn’t know what it was, and in a pre internet age, I didn’t’ do the legwork to research what it was.

On Wednesday I finally found out.  It was by chance more than design that I walked past it.  It was very exciting to see that the gates that used to do nothing but stop the accumulated rubbish that had been thrown over from spilling into the street, were open, so of course I climbed the steps.  It’s a garden.  The Brown Hart Gardens, recently refurbished and opened to the public after years of closure and neglect.

When, at the turn of the twentieth century, an electricity sub station (my imagined Parisian folly) was built in what had previously been a public open space, the landlord insisted that a park be created.  It was open until some time in the 1960s when it was closed, to be reopened, extensively refurbished, only recently.

It’s not a question that’s been keeping me awake at night, but it was very satisfying to both have the mystery of what it was solved, and to see it put back into proper public use.

Do you have favourite hidden nooks and crannies around London?

Leave a comment


  1. Hi Rowena,

    Thank you very much for letting us know Brown Hart Gardens has finally been re-opened. I can’t wait to visit it soon and see what they’ve done with the refurbishment.

    Did you manage to spy the mock-Tudor building on Farm Street, on the opposite site of the Punch Bowl? Gloria Swanson used to live there for two years!


    • Hello Yannick. Thank you for taking the time to comment. It was so satisfying to finally see the garden after wondering what it was for so long. On a Wednesday evening it was a tranquil place.

      I didn’t notice the mock Tudor building, but will keep my eyes open when I’m in that area next. Thanks!


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