Eccleston Square, City of Westminster, a garden square dating to the 1830s, an integral part of Pimlico's planned design initiative by Thomas Cubitt.
Reasons for Designation
Eccleston Square, City of Westminster, is Registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Design: as an early C19 square, part of the original design for London's Pimlico;
* Designer: as an integral part of the overall design for Pimlico by Thomas Cubitt, one of the principal and most influential designers and developers responsible in the first half of the C19 for fashionable London's expansion, where squares and open spaces were integral;
* Survival: the square survives relatively little altered;
* Group value: as an integral part of this part of Pimlico, and a key setting for many listed buildings.
Much of the Pimlico area was used for market gardening from the early C17 and was known as the Neat House gardens after the nearby sub-manor of Neat. Owned by the Grosvenor family from 1677 it remained in use for market gardening until the 1820s when Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) leased the land for development. His patron was Robert Grosvenor, later first Marquess of Westminster, whose major building initiative of Grosvenor Estate in Belgravia and Pimlico had a profound effect on the future development of London.
The development of Pimlico was due to Cubitt, who, following his successful developments in Belgravia, and together with three other major landowners, put together a very large estate which he called South Belgravia but which was nicknamed ‘Mr Cubitt's District’ and later became known as Pimlico.
Cubitt was one of the most respected and influential builders in London in the first half of the C19. He was approached by Prince Albert to work on Osborne House, in the Isle of Wight, a scheme on which Cubitt collaborated with the prince. He not only built the mansion but also the considerable Italianate gardens and terraces which surround it, and he was given the government contract to build the extensions to Buckingham Palace. He also restored the grounds at his house Denbies near Dorking (Surrey) where Prince Albert visited him to plant a symbolic tree, and Cubitt was instrumental in persuading Prince Albert to become patron of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Cubitt was an astute and enterprising builder who was attuned to the aesthetic and practical benefits of inserting garden squares into new developments. He took a great interest in the layout and the planted character of squares and he also supplied gardens with trees and shrubs from his own nursery. He built three squares within the new district of Pimlico: Eccleston from March 1828 and Warwick in 1842, and St George’s Square was an afterthought laid out in 1844. Eccleston Square was named after the Duke of Westminster’s estate at Eccleston, Cheshire.
Eccleston Square appears on Greenwood’s map of London of 1830 as ‘New Square’ with no evidence of design at that stage, merely a green rectangle. It is thought that the garden dates to 1836 when the first few houses were completed (Hobhouse 1971, 216) and Beresford Chancellor in his 1907 'History of the Squares of London' gives a date of 1835. After the 1987 storm, the tree rings on one of the fallen London plane trees appeared to suggest a date for the tree of around 1834.
Cubitt himself built many of the houses around Eccleston Square but the development was still not completed when he died in 1855. Cubitt's map, dated to 1863, shows Pimlico with the square garden laid out with perimeter paths and central linking paths but by the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1875, the design had changed a little to become almost identical to that of today.
In 1927 a Royal Commission on London Squares was appointed to enquire and report on the squares and similar open spaces existing in the area of the Administrative County of London. The recommendations published by the Royal Commission mentioned Eccleston as dating to the early C19 and described as 'a long rectangular area surrounded by thick shrubberies and laid out as an ornamental garden with some well-grown trees' which was maintained by lessees and occupiers of surrounding houses, and controlled by a committee of residents.
The Royal Commission was followed in 1931 by the London Squares Preservation Act which listed 461 squares to be protected; Eccleston Square is listed in both reports.
The square has been subjected to changes over the years: during the Second World War the railings were removed and the garden used as vegetable plots; the railings have now been replaced with iron railings of a similar style. In the great storm of 1987, seven of the original London plane trees were lost. Two years later the garden was threatened by plans to build a car park underneath it, as a consequence of which the Society for the Protection of London Squares was formed.
The garden committee and the residents consequently bought the freehold and the garden is owned and managed by a company with a board of directors.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Eccleston Square is situated c 250m to the south of Victoria station, c 1km north-west of Vauxhall Bridge, and 200m north-west of Warwick Square (registered Grade II). The c 1.2 ha rectangle is bounded by the road, Eccleston Square, which forms the long sides to the north-west and south-east, and the short side to the south-west, and by Belgrave Road to the north-east. The terraces of C19 houses are separated from the garden by the roads and the site’s enclosing iron railings.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The site is accessed by gates in the north-west, south-east and south-west sides; the gate on the north-east side shown on the OS map of 1875 has now gone. The gates lead to the main gravel paths which travel around the perimeter of the site.
The majority of the stucco terrace houses (mostly listed Grade II) for which the garden was made were built by Thomas Cubitt in the 1830s and 1840s, as an integral part of Pimlico’s planned layout. The houses of Eccleston Square overlook the private garden provided for the use of residents.
The layout shown on the OS map of 1875, while differing from the Cubitt map of 1863, remains remarkably unchanged today except for the addition of some minor paths. A perimeter path with a wide outer shrub border is connected from side to side in the central area in an hour-glass formation, divided by a central path which has a circular bed at its centre. Several of the original London plane trees survive: ten trees noted on the 2014 tree survey have an estimated date from the girth of the tree of the late C19 or early C20; eight have estimated dates of early-mid C19 and may be original plantings.
The railed rectangular site is enclosed by a wide outer shrub border containing a variety of shrubs and trees, surrounding a gravel perimeter path which encloses a central lawn. A wide gravel path runs across the central lawn to the gate on the south-east side. This path is flanked by four triangular beds bordered by further linking paths. Some of the glazed ropework terracotta edging survives around most of the main paths and beds, although in places brick and stone setts edge the beds, probably placed there in the mid C20.
The four triangular beds were converted to shrub beds in the 1980s and are now filled with a wide variety of plants. Both the central beds and perimeter borders contain mature trees including London planes, acacia, Horse Chestnut, lime, and numerous smaller trees and flowering shrubs including holly, laburnum, laurustinus, lilac, flowering cherry, maples, fatsia, bamboo, mulberry, smokebush, magnolia, wych hazel, mimosa, as well as rarities such as Davidia involucrata, Catalpa bignonioides, Ginkgo biloba, Liquidambar styraciflua, Liriodendron tulipifera, Paulownia tomentosa and many others. There are notable collections of climbing tea roses, camellias and New Zealand exotics. In 2006 a Wollemi pine was donated, a species thought to be extinct until it was discovered in Australia. It was the fourth to be planted in the UK. The garden also holds the National Collection of Ceanothus awarded by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens.
A raised brick circular bed containing a tulip tree marks the centre of the central path. Continuing in an anti-clockwise direction around the garden: to the south-west of the entrance is a children’s play area and, adjoining it, a raised brick patio has been laid in different brick patterns with seats and potted plants. The south-west corner is planted as a ‘cottage garden’. The south-west entrance to the garden leads under a wrought-iron arbour erected in the 1980s which supports wisteria. Views across the lawn are enhanced by the numerous mature trees. A garden shed and a rose arbour with brick paths are situated in the south-east corner and a more recent brick platform for a barbecue area has been placed in the centre of the lawn.
On the south-east side of the garden is a greenhouse and an area planted with tree peonies and other shrubs. At the north-east end of the garden a well-screened tennis court, which replaced an earlier croquet lawn in c 1936, and a tennis shed are situated. Nearby is a compost area and a more recent Himalayan birch grove. On the north-east side of the tennis court a box-hedged area has been planted with herbaceous perennials, and on the north-west side of the tennis court, a fern garden has been planted.
The garden has won several prizes from 2008-2011 awarded by the London Gardens Society.