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Cleary Gardens

Space where you can sit and reflect, away from the noise and commotion of the City can be hard to find. One such little oasis is Cleary Gardens, nestling between the busy Queen Victoria Street an Upper Thames Street.

The development of the garden into what we see today dates from the 1980’s when it was landscaped and took the name Cleary Gardens. It was renamed after Chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, Fred Cleary. Cleary had championed the planting of trees and the creation of new garden spaces in the City, which got him the nickname ‘Flowering Fred’.

So what was here prior to the garden? It’s probably a good idea to focus on why the gardens came into existence first. Like with a number of open spaces within the City the reason is usually bomb damage sustained during World War Two. This is the case with Cleary Gardens.

Firstly, looking at a modern map, next to an OS map of the area just after the war we can see the layout of the streets that existed then. The last map is the damaged sustained during the war. Blue denotes Damaged beyond repair, while the red and orange denote Badly damaged but repairable. Note the disappearance of Bread Street Hill and Bromley Buildings on the modern map.

This map of 1948 shows the area. The hatched areas are listed on the maps symbols as Ruins. This remained the case until the early 1960s when redevelopment took place. However, the site of todays Cleary Gardens following the war became what was known locally as Joe’s Garden.

One of London’s multitude of commuters, a man called Joseph Brandis who travelled into the City every working day took it upon himself to turn this particular bomb site into a garden. During his lunch break he would take mud from the River Thames at Queenhithe and deposit it within the ruins. Once satisfied with the landscaping he then brought soil and plants from his own garden in Walthamstow. So successful was the project, that in 1949, Joe and his garden were rewarded by a visit from Queen Elizabeth (the current Queen’s mother).

So there has been a garden on the site for around 75 years, but what about the pre war site?

Looking at a street directory for 1940 the area has a mixture of businesses.

At the northern end of Cleary Gardens which abuts Queen Victoria Street stood an amalgam of buildings which all seem to have been classed as number 73 Queen Victoria Street. The business which stood on the junction with Huggins Hill was a refreshment room owned by Mrs Mary Morris. The adjoining buildings housed Aylott & Lilly, paper merchants, Crampton & Co, electrical engineers and finally Edward G Davis, Grocer.

The eastern side of todays gardens were home to E H Witham & Son, J T Sapsed and W Bains & Son, the later being an oil and paint merchant, which must have accelerated the fires that raged during the bombing.

The location of Bromley Buildings, which forms the southern boundary of the gardens housed the business of Joseph Brandis who was a boot maker.

Travel back in time some 50 years from the beginning of World War Two and the directories of the 1890s show light industry taking place in the premises based on the footprint of todays gardens. However, one twist is that Mrs Morris’ refreshment room is then the offices of Richard Batchelor who was an Artesian Well engineer.

I wonder if he ever had the slightest idea that his office was sat on top of a Roman bath house, which was excavated during the 1960s redevelopment.

The bath house was cut into the hillside on terraces, which is mirrored by the way Cleary Gardens was laid out some fifteen hundred years later.

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