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Tuesday 27th October 2015

This blog is one which for one reason or the other I missed posting in 2015.

Only four of us met up today as it was half term and we made our way from Waterloo along the Embankment to Lambeth Bridge and the Garden Museum situated next to Lambeth Palace.

We had planned to have lunch in their cafe before the talk at 2 pm but it had been closed as the whole museum was closing in a few days to have a £7 million rebuild and refurbishment and this was our last chance to see it in its present form until it reopens in 2017.

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On recommendation from the Museum staff we walked a few streets away to the old Doulton factory where next to it was Southbank Centre where in the basement is an Italian restaurant where we managed to get seats and enjoy a delicious lunch served in a very jovial style by the Italian owners.

After lunch we admired the exterior of the Doulton building which was the factory, showroom and offices of the Royal Doulton Potteries and had been decorated with tiles and also over the original doorway beneath the ornate turret was a figure of a lady painting with a cat hiding beneath her stool.  It was made by George Tinworth a Doulton Potter who has other works nearby.

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We went back to the Garden Museum and with some other people met our guide Kay who was giving her last talk to us after many years at the Museum.

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Kay told us the history of the Parish church of St Mary in which the Garden Museum is now situated. The original church dates from 1062 and the tower from 1337 but the interior is mostly Victorian.  In 1972 the church was deconsecrated as it was derelict and gardens overgrown and it was destined to be a coach park for Waterloo station.  Rosemary Nicholson found the tomb of the Tradescant family in the gardens and this inspired her to form the Tradescant Trust in 1977 to save the church and grounds for the creation of a Garden Museum.  She received help from her husband, Church commissioners and also Royal support as Prince Charles who became a Patron.   The Queen Mother who was very interested in the project and officially opened the Garden in 1983.

gmThe Tradescant family lived nearby in the 17th century and John the Elder was keeper of the Royal Gardens and formed a nurseryman business to supply plants etc and it became a very profitable business.  John was also an avid collector of curiosities and he turned his house into a museum for the paying public.  It was nicknamed the ‘Ark’ and it was a very large diverse collection of objects supplied to him by many merchants and help of Royal Navy.  When he died in 1638 his son John the Younger took over his position as Royal Gardener and also ran the ‘Ark’ with his wife Hester and son John. In 1650 Elias Ashmole, a lawyer, moved in with the family and was obsessed with the ‘Ark’ and although he helped catalogue the items and pay for some upkeep when their son died at 18 and there was no-one to inherit the collection, he made it his plan to acquire it by getting John and Hester to sign a deed of gift to him on their deaths. Within eight years with both dead Ashmole took all the ‘Ark’ to his house and shut it to the public.  He took the collection to Oxford University but would only give it to them on the condition they housed it in a new building under his name and thus the Ashmolean Museum came about.

The five Tradescants are buried in an ornate family tomb in the grounds of St Mary and Ashmole is also there buried in the church.

gm 2Also buried in the churchyard is Captain Bligh who was a plant collector for Kew before the mutiny in 1789. He died in 1817 and his tomb is made of Codestone the artificial stone made in Lambeth from a secret recipe partly of clay. The lion at Westminster Bridge is also made from the same material.


The new Garden Museum when it opens in 2017 will be an extended version with bigger first floor galleries and an extension taking part of the garden away. The garden at present has a beautiful collection of trees, shrubs and plants including a knot garden and was created in the 1980’s. Kay wasn’t able to say how much of the garden would be saved but thought some of the trees including a medlar tree would be kept.  The rarer plants including the vodoo lily, dragon lily and the tradescantia (named after John the Elder) were being taken up and preserved to be replanted after the building work. It was a good afternoon visit and we look forward to returning to see the new Museum in 2017.