The award-winning gardens, located on the south-east side of St Paul’s Cathedral, were laid out in the summer of 1951 by Sir Albert Richardson as the Corporation’s contribution to the Festival of Britain. Albert Richardson was a leading English architect, teacher and writer about architecture during the first half of the 20th century. He was commissioned for numerous post-war, bomb-damaged restoration works of Georgian buildings. Several of his designs, most notably, Bracken House in the City of London, was the first post-war London building to be listed and protected from redevelopment.
The Festival of Britain was a nationwide celebration of the recovery after WW2, which aimed to promote the British contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and arts. The Festival’s centrepiece was on the South Bank of the river Thames.
Festival Gardens was created on the former site of the street known as Old Change in an area which suffered considerable bomb damage during WW2. Old Change no longer exists. A playing field for St Paul's Cathedral School now occupies the site of the top end of the street with the surviving tower of St Augustine's Watling Street nearby.
Almost 70 years later, Festival Gardens still bear a message of recovery and hope. In the summer of this year, London in Bloom judges applauded a Square Mile ‘rainbow’ flower bed grown to honour key-workers fighting COVID-19. The tribute was planted by the Friends of City Gardens with the City of London Corporation. They said that the ‘Grow a Rainbow’ bed at Festival Gardens was ‘particularly pleasing’, helping the public to ‘enjoy coming out of the gloom and difficulty of lock down.’
The City Corporation won seven awards for its open spaces overall and was crowned the Gold winner in the Town category.
Let’s hope that the next project will not just deliver a message of optimism but also celebrate a full recovery and open towards a brighter future.