- Heritage Category:
- Park and Garden
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Roper's Garden, Danvers Street, Petyt Place, Old Church Street and Chelsea Embankment, London, SW3
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- Statutory Address:
- Roper's Garden, Danvers Street, Petyt Place, Old Church Street and Chelsea Embankment, London, SW3
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Kensington and Chelsea (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
A public garden designed in 1960 and completed in March 1964 by Peter Shepheard of Bridgwater, Shepheard & Epstein.
Reasons for Designation
Roper’s Garden, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Landscape type: as a particularly good example of an urban communal garden of the post-war period. The utilisation of the basements to the bomb-destroyed terrace gives both a tangible link to the site’s history and screens the garden from the busy Chelsea Embankment.
* Designer: as an important example of the restrained, contextual and carefully-composed garden designs of Peter Shepheard, a leading practitioner of the period who combined architecture, planning and landscape design over the course of a long and successful career.
* the garden survives particularly well, with all key structural elements designed by Shepheard remaining intact. There have been new features introduced, including the Jacob Epstein relief sculpture, however, the later additions have been thoughtfully integrated and make their own contribution to the interest of the garden.
* the garden is particularly effective in bringing together and offering views out to the Chelsea Old Church or Church of All Saints to the east (listed Grade I; List entry number 1189649) and Crosby Hall (Grade II*; 1358160) to the west. The centrepiece of the garden, Gilbert Ledward’s ‘Awakening’ sculpture, has been recommended for listing at Grade II (1468320). To the south-east, along Chelsea Embankment, is a listed lamp standard of 1874 (Grade II; 1080713).
The Roper’s Garden (or Cheyne Walk Garden) site is at the heart of the old village of Chelsea immediately west of the old parish Church of All Saints. It formed part of the orchard of Sir Thomas More, which he gave to his daughter Margaret on her marriage to William Roper in 1521. In the C19 the area became heavily built up, becoming one of London’s most densely populated boroughs. Chelsea Embankment, which runs along the southern side of the site, was laid out in the early 1870s, opening in 1874. Between 1909 and 1914 Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) had a studio on the site, as commemorated by his sculpture on the east side of the garden (installed June 1972).
During the Second World War the area suffered severe bomb damage. Early in the morning of 17 April 1941, a parachute mine destroyed all the buildings on the site and most of the Church of All Saints opposite, as is commemorated by a recent plaque in the garden to Yvonne Green, a local auxiliary firefighter. Local residents led by the Chelsea Society argued to keep the land as open space following the war, and planted it themselves. In 1960, Peter Shepheard produced a professional design for the gardens, exploiting the basements of the previous buildings to create a sunken garden with walls to keep out some of the traffic noise. The garden was opened on 11 March 1964 by Lady Heath, mayor of Chelsea and remains little altered.
Peter Shepheard (1913-2002) believed in the unity of the professions of architecture, landscape architecture and town planning, which found expression in his work as a practitioner and teacher over the course of a successful and prolific career. He was born in Oxton on the Wirral where his father was an architect; though his practice was very modest, Tom Shepheard was well connected, and Peter’s godfather was Patrick Abercrombie, Britain’s leading planner from the 1920s into the 1950s. Shepheard junior studied architecture and town planning at Liverpool and came to prominence as one of Abercrombie’s assistants on the Greater London Plan, producing the first perspectives for a new town proposed at Ongar. He worked for the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and Stevenage Development Corporation on the early plans for Britain’s first new town before forming a partnership with Derek Bridgwater, an older Liverpool graduate who had married the daughter of their professor, Sir Charles Reilly – a connection that brought them some housing work in the 1940s. They were later joined by Gabriel Epstein and Peter Hunter.
In architecture the practice was deliberately modest, showing that low-rise brick housing could be built at high densities without the loss of urban character found when tower blocks were set on draughty open spaces. Shepheard believed in the virtues of ‘background’ architecture, an analogy with Georgian terraces first promoted by Reilly and Abercrombie, and well demonstrated in a large development off Royal College Street, Camden, where he achieved high densities with a series of four-storey blocks laid out in traditional squares. The practice’s most significant building was the University of Lancaster, designed in 1963, a dense complex of linked brick buildings cut through by pedestrian covered ways, akin to Shepheard’s early schemes for Stevenage town centre.
In the post-war years, Shepheard turned increasingly to landscape design. A colleague at the wartime Ministry of Town and Country Planning was Hugh Casson, who commissioned him to produce the landscape for the downstream section of the South Bank site of the Festival of Britain. This was both playful and practical, with rocky outcrops, changes of level, and a strategically placed moat around the outdoor seating of the Homes and Gardens Café that prevented customers from escaping without paying. He followed up this success with Modern Gardens, a book published in 1953 that features many small, simple paved gardens from around the world. His own public landscapes included the remodelling of Russell Square (since redesigned), Bunhill Fields, Goldsmith’s Garden, commissioned in 1957, and Bessborough Gardens. He also redesigned the garden at Charleston Farmhouse when it was opened to the public. He combined this increasing speciality with teaching, making annual visits to the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked with Louis Kahn and also carried out several important landscape schemes. Although he suffered a stroke in 1994 which confined him to a wheelchair, he remained an advisor to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and served on many committees. He was a popular committee man, and he was President of the Architectural Association 1954-1955, President of the Institute of Landscape Architects, 1965-1966, and Master of the Art Workers Guild in its centenary year, 1984, in addition to serving on the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Countryside Commission and many other bodies. He was knighted for his services to architecture in 1980 and awarded the Landscape Institute Gold Medal in 1994.
A public garden for the Borough of Chelsea (since 1965 the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea), designed in 1960 and completed in March 1964 by Peter Shepheard of Bridgwater, Shepheard & Epstein.
The site is on the north side of Chelsea Embankment, between Albert and Battersea bridges. The dominant features are – to the east – Chelsea Old Church or Church of All Saints (listed Grade I; List entry number 1189649), C13-C17 and much restored by Walter Godfrey in 1949-1958; and to the west is Crosby Hall (Grade II*; 1358160), a C15 great hall from the City re-erected here in 1908-1910 by Walter Godfrey and Patrick Geddes with a Portland stone façade and extended to the south in the 1950s by Carden, Godfrey & Macfadyen. On Chelsea Embankment, to the south-east of the garden, is a listed lamp standard of 1874 (Grade II; 1080713).
AREAS AND BOUNDARIES
The boundaries are Danvers Street to the west, Chelsea Embankment to the south, Old Church Street to the east and Petyt Place to the north. The gardens are 0.37 acres (0.15 hectares) in extent.
The main garden is at the level of the basements formerly on the site, with limited imported soil for the grass and small beds. Steps lead to a pergola and border at street level on the north side.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The garden is entered via steps at either end of the long facing wall to Chelsea Embankment. There is also more concealed access on the park’s north side, by means of a ramp from Petyt Place (with later handrails added) and by a longer path leading from Danvers Street via a set of steps.
There are views out of the garden on all sides. The garden is angled to the east on Chelsea Old Church and to the west on Crosby Hall.
SCULPTURES AND COMMEMORATIVE PLAQUES
Roper’s Garden has as its central feature a bronze sculpture entitled ‘Awakening’ by Gilbert Ledward (1888-1960), modelled in 1915 and exhibited in 1916 as ‘Regeneration’, but cast from the plaster only in 1922-1923 (recommended for listing at Grade II). The pedestal is made of cement.
To the east is an unfinished stone panel by Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), depicting a headless nude figure, from 1950. The piece was installed in June 1972 in this position by Stephen Gardiner, a local architect, and unveiled by Admiral Sir Caspar John, son of Augustus (as captioned on the rear of the pedestal).
A plaque at the south-east entrance to Roper’s Garden commemorates its opening by Lady Heath, on 11 March 1964. It reads: METROPOLITAN BOROUGH OF CHELSEA/ THE WORSHIPFUL THE MAYOR/ COUNCILLOR LADY HEATH LAID THIS STONE/ ON 11TH MARCH 1964 TO COMMORATE/ THE CONSTRUCTION OF ROPER’S GARDEN/ ON THE SITE OF BUILDINGS DESTROYED/ BY PARACHUTE MINE ON 17TH APRIL 1941./ THE SITE OF THIS GARDEN FORMED PART/ OF THE MARRIAGE GIFT OF THOMAS MORE/ TO WILLIAM AND MARGARET ROPER IN 1521./ ARCHITECTS BRIDGWATER SHEPHEARD & EPSTEIN; CONTRACTORS MARSHALL-ANDREW & CO.’
Roper’s Garden is a sunken rectangular garden enclosed by stock brick walls with Portland stone cappings. The garden is lined with fixed wooden benches on all sides which are set between the brick piers of the walls. It is divided into two main raised beds of lawn, between which the Ledward sculpture occupies the central position in its own square bed with shrubs. The beds are edged with brick paviours (preferred to cobbles seen in early sketches) and the rest of the area is paved in York stone, forming a grid into which are sunk eight small square beds for trees and roses at the east end, their pattern disrupted where the Epstein figure has been inserted. A cherry tree planted on the east lawn in 1965 commemorates Gunji Koizumi (1885-1965), described as the father of British judo. There is a walnut tree and a magnolia, and the south side benefits from the line of trees on the roadside, which shield the garden from Chelsea Embankment.
The high rear wall to the main garden supports a change in level and conceals an electricity sub-station. It is planted with climbing vines, clematis montana and ivies, repeated on the higher wall to the ramp behind. Shepheard set concrete bird boxes in these walls which would eventually be concealed by the climbing plants. A broad central flight of eight steps rises to a pergola, divided by brick piers into three sections and set with more seats, the timber roof of which was renewed (repeating the original form) in February 2019. To the west, the footpath to Danvers Street is flanked by a broad bed of shrubs, with flowering cherry trees.
Books and journals
Downs, Annabel, Peter Shepheard, (2004), 116-119
Moriarty, C, The Sculpture of Gilbert Ledward, (2003), 103
London Parks and Gardens Trust, London Gardens Online: Roper's Garden, accessed 8 January 2020 from http://www.londongardensonline.org.uk/gardens-online-record.php?ID=KAC121
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing