Bringing historic themes together: Jubilee Gardens and the Beaufoy Institute

The Southbank of the river Thames was much slower to develop than the north bank. The first Roman settlements were north of the river, where the sun shone directly onto the homes facing the river. Apart from Lambeth palace where the Archbishops lived, and Kennington palace where the Black Prince had a manor, the southern reaches were marsh lands and commons, criss-crossed by lonely roads.

Being outside the jurisdiction of the city, the Southbank became an area where theatres, stew pots (brothels) and gardens developed, loosely linked to the themes of entertainment, culture and fun that the Southbank currently reflects.
In the 17th century Cuper Gardens were planted, at what is now the south end of Waterloo Bridge; renowned as one of the pleasure gardens, south of the river, where orchestras played, fireworks were let off and lovers strolled and stole kisses. For a hundred years the Southbank was a garden space of recreation for people who wanted to escape the bustle of the city. Returning Jubilee Gardens as a place to stroll, will harness another historic theme.

Whether it was because of the loose morals on display in Cuper’s Gardens (also known as Cupid’s Gardens), or if it was just the pressure of a city expanding, in the 1750’s the Gardens were closed and the area began to rapidly develop. First Westminster Bridge was built, then Blackfriars and finally Waterloo Bridge, by which time the Southbank was dominated by light industry, one of whose factories belonged to the Beaufoy family. They made their fortune from wine and vinegar and being next to the river could easily transport their goods to the north bank, or further afield. There were many other light businesses, potteries, wharehouses, brewers, boat repairers, merchants, people working in the service industries. Another famous name Doulton, set up its headquarters nearby, making  pipes and bowls for urban life, and shipping ceramics around the world. For almost two hundred years, light industry jostled with basic housing in the Southbank.

Another rarely mentioned theme of the Southbank area is its tradition of concern for the welfare of women. In 1758 the Asylum for Female Orphans was established just off Westminster Bridge Road, beginning this feminine Southbank tradition.  They had an agenda of seeking to prevent young orphan girls from sinking into sex work, by training them to work as servants. In 1767 The General Lying-in Hospital was completed, one of the earliest maternity refuges for single mothers. In 1769 the Magdalen Hospital relocated to premises in North Lambeth, to support the reform of young women drawn into the sex industry. It was a religious and tough regime of publicly displayed penitence – harsh grey uniforms and training in housework – to get women selling sex off the streets. Then the Royal Hospital for Children and Women was opened in 1828.  The Women’s University Settlement was started in 1887 and this still continues as the Blackfriars Settlement. The buildings of The General Lying-in Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Women and Children also still stand, although used for other purposes. Theses institutions were partly set up on the Southbank, because they dealt with problems the City of London wanted at a distance; ie. they were put on the margins. It’s symbolic that the area is now at the heart of London, its most central point and our culture is still stuggling for women’s equality.

Gradually, with the building of County Hall, then destruction wrecked by the second world war, a population of 80,000 people was reduced to fewer than 5,000 in 1970, and among the few local residents left, there was a cry for some land to be returned to public leisure, instead of everywhere being built on with car parks and buildings that strangely resembled car parks.

So these are the key historic themes that we have an opportunity to bring together with the good news that Jubilee Gardens will, at last, be transformed into a pleasureable space for people to rest and stroll: 1) a garden, 2) artisan craft and 3) the lives of women.

Remember the Beaufoy family who made their fortune on the Southbank. They built an Institute in Black Prince Road, dedicated as a trust to educate poor people. The Institute was given to the local authority in 1990, but unfortunately has been closed for the best part of 20 years and is at risk of being sold off for development. Southbank Mosaics are proposing to re-open the Institute, returning it to public use specifically for what it was entrusted.

Southbank Mosaics will work with other key local partners to deliver accredited qualifications in artisan crafts to offenders, unemployed people and sex workers (i.e. poor people).

Those people who attend the new Beaufoy Institute will also have a practical task: to look after Jubilee Gardens. This will root the delivery of accredited qualifications with a daily maintenance and development of the new Jubilee Gardens, civilising and decorating the gardens.

Southbank Mosaics has also distilled a theme for the decoration of Jubilee Gardens. The main development of the garden has been given to a Dutch company, West 8, who will do a splendid job, with the infrastructure, but they need additional support with a unifying theme. This comes, Southbank Mosaics suggest, from the Jubilee the gardens are named for: the sixtieth Jubilee of the Queen’s reign. Then linking the Queen with the women of Britain, celebrating the role of women in writing, science, politics, health, art, culture and society – creating Britain’s first public record of womens’ achievements. Portraits of up to one hundred women to decorate the alcoves, curves and walls of the garden. These will take longer than June 2012, when the Jubilee will be celebrated, but the theme can be started with a brilliant mosaic portrait of the queen, which Tessa Hunkin (one of the world’s great mosaic artists) has already confirmed she would be delighted to help with.

The result: a beautiful garden at Britain’s most visited place, a memorable Jubilee that the Queen can be significantly proud of, utilising the artisan crafts that have been a tradition of the Southbank and a celebration of the achievements of women around the world.

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