Seeking somewhere new to have a picnic lunch? Perhaps you’re an MP in need of an oasis of calm? Or a Vauxhall clubber who’s lost their way on the north bank?
St John’s Gardens provides the perfect place. A small but perfectly-formed garden in Millbank, its high trees, huge flowerbeds, formidable fountain and generous smattering of benches make it a lovely summer spot and only a hop and skip from Parliament or the river.
But what makes it different is the distinctive whiff of history about the place. It was once London’s cheapest burial ground, and so the corpses of dead prostitutes, tramps and other poor folk would often end up there. It became far too popular, and soon filled up to its capacity – the ‘cost per body’ was repeatedly raised to try to deter so many people dumping their bodies there, but this did not stem the gruesome tide.
So far, so Monty Python. (“Bring out your dead!”).
This all explains why today’s gardens are now a few feet higher than the area all around them. The lovely building next door is the former Westminster hospital, which we presume meant for an easy exit for patients that didn’t quite make it. The whole area between horseferry road and vauxhall bridge road was also the site of a huge prison that suffered an outbreak of scurvy (causing thirty deaths – wonder where they ended up?). When this finally closed in 1890 it only housed one sick female inmate and two wardens. We think it’s more successful now as Tate Britain.
So as you lay your rug, spread across the grass and nibble at your tuna sandwich there today, spare a thought for what you’re sat on, won’t you?
Rug image (not from St John’s, alas) taken from Looking Glass’ Flickr stream