After M@'s tribute to one of London's largest patches of green space on Monday, it's time to pay homage to a tiny, undistinguished garden.
Rennie Garden nestles in a scrap of land not much larger than a squash court, sandwiched between Blackfriars Road, the old Daily Express building (the "Grey Lubyanka" of Private Eye fame) and the steps that connect the southern end of Blackfriars bridge with the South Bank. All it consists of is two flower beds, a few trees, and couple of benches. On most days it is utterly unregarded - people cut through it to get to the South Bank, and sometimes an office worker sits on one of the benches to eat their sandwiches if the sun is shining. Once in a while a lager-sampling gentleman of leisure will have a nap on the benches. The din of traffic on the adjacent road is constant. It is mostly filled with people in a hurry to be somewhere else. Next to the garden is a fruit and veg stall, flogging apples, oranges and the occasional kiwi fruit to the desk bandits who stream across the bridge in the morning to work at IPC in King's Reach Tower, the business publisher that now occupies the Lubyanka, and the other houses of commerce on Stamford Street and the Blackfriars Road.
The garden is no secret, nor does it offer shade or rest. But this tiny scrap of rus in urbe is, however, a blessed plot, rich in history and interest, as we hope you'll agree after the jump.
In the later part of the 18th century, the site now occupied by Rennie Garden was the Albion Mill, which ground corn to feed the growing city. The Albion Mill used steam power and was the first building of its type in the world - meaning that Rennie Garden was a crucible of the industrial revolution.
A young man called Henry Aston Barker used the roof of the Albion Mill in 1790 to draw a remarkable 360 degree image of the skyline of London, and he coined a new word to describe it - Rennie Garden is the birthplace of the word "panorama".
The machinery of the Albion Mill was designed by John Rennie. Rennie's work on canals, docks and other structures litters this country, but his chief impact on London was on the river. He designed and oversaw the construction of the original Waterloo and Southwark bridges; he also designed the old London Bridge, but died before it was built. That London Bridge now crosses a lake in Arizona. Rennie Garden is a monument to the London's great bridge-builder. Rennie lived on Stamford Street, near where his memorial now stands. He died there in 1821.
The benches in Rennie Garden have City Of London carved into them - on one, a poetic soul has added a heart. Despite the meticulous care the garden receives, this piece of grafitti has not been removed in three years - plainly the sentiment is worth keeping. But ... the City? Not Southwark? South of the river? True! Rennie Garden is part of the City of London, a tiny bridgehead on the South Bank. And it has been for about 200 years.
In 1862 the Corporation of London declared the area should be maintained as open space, and it has. Its polite floral displays are not exactly the wildness of untamed nature, but this Londonista for one love Rennie Garden, and loves the fact that someone takes such care of this unregarded space. True, it's not Hampstead Heath, but it doesn't cost the public anything - a trust fund pays for it. These tiny patches of interest are the wealth of the capital. And it's nice to think that John Rennie, who helped build our city and transform our country, would have liked it as a memorial.