Thornhill Gardens can be found at the junction of Richmond Avenue and Thornhill Road, bordered to the North by Malvern Terrace, opposite the Albion pub.  Until the 1890s this area of land was a nursery.  Then it was sold for £2,000 by the freeholder, Mr Thornhill, to the Islington Vestry who laid it out as a public garden, opened in 1890.  For further details see the London Garden Trust website, from which the following extract is copied:

Malvern Terrace had been built in 1836 as part of the Thornhill Estate, laid out by Joseph Kay, the estate surveyor. The Terrace and Malvern Cottages were built alongside the former north boundary of extensive nursery grounds belonging to Jacob Harvey, JP (d.1770). This survived in small pockets of land in different ownership, including an area owned by George and John Smith. Although much of the nursery grounds were built over by Richmond Crescent in 1852, part remained and in 1889 was taken over by the Vestry for a small public garden, named Thornhill Gardens and protected from building by the London Squares and Enclosures Act of 1906.The central space is crossed by a path and has low stone wall and seating; various rose beds are set within the lawns and a perimeter path runs around the garden.

 

The following images show the gardens in 1871, 1896 and 2019, respectively.

Thornhill Gardens Map 1871Thornhill Gardens Map 1896Thornhill Gardens Map 2019

 

Update:  here's yet another map ("OS 1940s-1960s") which shows a shelter backing on to Richmond Crescent.  There used to be a drinking fountain in the centre of the park, and "St James's Vicarage" is identified next to the South-West corner - marked as "St Thomas's Vicarage" in the 1896 map.  St James church is in Prebend Street and St Thomas used to be at the junction of hemingford Road and Copenhagen Street.  Note also that there were additional paths across the West lawn in 1896 which have now been grassed over.

Map 1940 60 PNG

 

 

Jenny has found several newspaper cuttings describing the grand opening of the gardens and other relevant goings on at the time - click to download here.  Here's my favourite:

The Islington Gazette May 15 1890

Ding-a-ring-dong – Tomorrow the new open space at the corner of Thornhill Road, euphoniously called “Thornhill Gardens”, will be opened to the public by the Rev. W H Barlow, in the presence of all the giddy aristocracy of the Vestry and their friends. From a recent observation of the spot it promises to be a very pretty break in the monotony of life in Richmond Road, and it is not treated like Islington Green – jealously locked up from the people by iron railings. When the parochial mind trained by Lord Meath is able to believe in the possibility of the people being trusted to take care of a pretty garden, somebody may propose to pull down the inner railings on the Green.  The “Merrie” Villager

 

Here's a 1976 painting by David Higginbottom of the gardens with Malvern Terrace in the background.  For more paintings by this artist, including one of Holy Trinity Church and several Regents Canal scenes, see here.

David Higginbottom 1952

 © the artist's estate. Photo credit: Islington Local History Centre and Museum

War Memorial

In the South East corner of the garden there is a war memorial dedicated to the men from Holy Trinity parish who died in the First World War - their names are recorded on a plaque in the church, as we reported previously, here.  This plaque started life as a wooden "shrine" or "roll of honour" in the gardens and the photo below shows this being dedicated in front of a huge crowd with Malvern Terrace in the background. It was later transported to the church in a torchlit procession.

War Memorial 2

Thornhill Gardens War Shrine s l1600

 

 

The Friends of Thornhill Garden Volunteers

Our local counciller, the admirable Rowena Champion, has now set up the "Friends of Thornhill Gardens" group to help maintain and improve the gardens through gardening and other activities, as reported in this newsletterWe meet in the gardens on the last Sunday of each month from 10.00 to 2.00.  Come along - it's great fun!  

Here below is a group photo of some of the volunteers who turned up last Sunday, September 25.  You can find more photos in the gallery, here.

IMG 0906 Group

 

Dirk Meerstadt is our fundraiser-in-chief and a tireless volunteer.  At the last count he had raised about £1,000 to be spent on vital items such as manure, sand and tools.  He has also obtained a commitment from some famous past neighbours whose children used to play in the gardens - none other than Tony and Cherie Blair, who of course lived at the time in No 1 Richmond Crescent, next door!

In times gone by there used to be a public conveniences at the entrance to the gardens - it is marked as "urinals" in the 1896 map above, or "lavs" in 1940 - and it has a dark past!  Dirk claims that about 30 years ago a severed human head was found there.  Others say this is an urban myth.  Can anyone provide evidence?  Do please click on "Add comment" below if you can!

Update.  It's true!  Stuart has confirmed the severed head story - you can read all about it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2133790.stm

The head belonged to Billy Moseley. In 1974 his headless body was found in the Thames, and Reg Dudley and Bob Maynard were convicted of his murder together with that of his friend Micky Cornwall AKA "the Laughing Bank Robber". Three years later in 1977 Moseley's slowly defrosting head was found in the Thornhill Gardens urinals, while Dudley and Maynard were behind bars. Eventually, after 25 years, they were acquitted - it had been a gross miscarriage of justice, apparently hatched up by Commander Bert Wickstead of the Yard, AKA "The Old Grey Fox"!

So who murdered Moseley and kept his head in the freezer? We may never know!

 

Stop Press!  Fame at last - Thornhill Gardens features in a BBC programme called Easy Way to Live Well, featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (see about 2/3 of the way through).  Here's a screenshot below.  He must live locally - another potential volunteer?

Fearnley Whittingstall

 

 

Forking and Sanding.  The lawns in the park have been aerated in a massive forking exercise and four tons of sand have been spread to improve the quality of the soil.  Here is a photo to commemorate the moment when this mammoth task was completed (before social distancing rules, obviously!)

2020.3.5 Victory sanding finished 4 tons

 

Coronavirus Update!  After an initial false alarm we're delighted to report that Rowena says it's OK to keep on digging (thanks Rowena!):

"I have just got advice that gardening is exercise so as long as we follow the other rules e.g. no more than two in a group (who are 6 feet apart) we can garden.

Our efforts are going to be more important than ever given Greenspace resources. They are supporting street cleansing and waste and are unable to do the usual garden work."

Hooray!  But just to remind you of those all important rules, here's two photos of Dirk's handiwork which Jenny has provided:

social distancing2

social distancing1 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 ... and by popular demand - sparrows in Jenny's garden who are clearly flaunting the social distancing guidelines (but aren't they sweet!) :-).

DSCN2960crop Sparrows

 

Was this picture what inspired Dirk's smart new birdtable?

Bird Table

 

.. and still on the bird theme, here are some thrush fledglings snapped by William:

DSC01472 3 Thrush Chicks 2

 

 

Know Your Trees

Here below is a map identifying the trees in Thornhill Gardens.  As explained elsewhere in the website, there is a wonderful site called London Street Trees which identifies individual trees on London's streets and parks.  As you can see, Thornhill sports planes, limes, three ashes, a hawthorn and a whitebeam.  Disappointingly, the seven trees marked by a dark brown dots as "other" along the Northern boundary are nothing exotic - just humble hollies.  There is one tree missing - in the South-west corner is a rare elm (most elms in London were wiped out by dutch elm disease).  Given that it doesn't appear on the official map, and that it appears to be quite young, maybe this one is self-seeded, which is encouraging!

 

Thornhill Trees

 

More Photos

Thanks to the work of the volunteers, as we move into summer (2020) the garden is looking increasingly magnificent - you should come and see it!  Here's some more photos to whet your appetite.

Poppies IMG 4419 3

 Poppies planted by the memorial, appropriately enough.

 

Stumpery DSCN3135 Cropped

 Dirk's "Stumpery", artfully planted with ferns.  Behind is a nature trail for children, through the bushes on the North side.

 

Vanishing Notice

Annita gave us this photo of a "vanishing notice" on the london plane tree just to the right as you enter from Richmond Avenue.  It originally said "Keep off the Grass Please" but over the years the tree has almost completely grown over it.

Comments  

#1 Nick Collin 2019-10-27 15:35
It's true! This morning whilst on gardening duty at the gardens, Jenny and I met Stuart who confirmed the severed head story - you can read all about it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2133790.stm

The head belonged to Billy Moseley. In 1974 his headless body was found in the Thames, and Reg Dudley and Bob Maynard were convicted of his murder together with that of his friend Micky Cornwall AKA "the Laughing Bank Robber". Three years later in 1977 Moseley's slowly defrosting head was found in the Thornhill Gardens urinals, while Dudley and Maynard were behind bars. Eventually, after 25 years, they were acquitted - it had been a gross miscarriage of justice, apparently hatched up by Commander Bert Wickstead of the Yard, AKA "The Old Grey Fox"!

So who murdered Moseley and kept his head in the freezer? We may never know!
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