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A Short History of London's Garden Squares

1950 to 2000

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The 1931 Act did not apply to the ground beneath squares, and the development of underground car parks posed a serious threat, particularly to those in central London. The first car park was built beneath Finsbury Square in 1957, while most of the trees in Cavendish Square were removed to make way for an underground car park in 1971.

Unsympathetic architectural development in the 1960s was followed by neglect in the 1970s and 80s, when many squares suffered from vandalism, dereliction and decaying housing. Railings removed during the war were often replaced with chain link fencing or chicken wire, further spoiling the look of squares. Lincoln's Inn Fields became a 'cardboard city', colonised by the homeless

In some places, squares enjoyed a renaissance. Islington's highly varied collection of squares, with its characterful architecture, led to their renewed popularity in the 1960s and 70s. Squares could also be a focus for community action, like Albion Square, where residents' action in the 1960s saved the square and its 1898 garden from demolition. 

The Civic Amenities Act introduced the concept of conservation areas in 1967, which covered squares and other open green spaces, as well as buildings. 

The old leasehold system, with its regular charges to residents, had ensured the maintenance of squares and their gardens. Changes in the ownership and management of some squares led to funding problems, which affected the condition of gardens. In many of the older squares, overgrown plants and broken surfacing needed serious attention. 

Concern over the run-down state of some squares led the London Parks & Gardens Trust (LPGT) to stage a conference in 1995, which generated new commitment to the preservation and restoration of squares. English Heritage compiled an up-to-date record of London squares and the LPGT held a further conference to help people with making bids for heritage funding. In 1998 the LPGT and English Heritage organised the first London Garden Squares Open Day, now Open Garden Squares Weekend.

Open Garden Squares Weekend

Open Garden Squares Weekend, which takes place in June each year, gives public access to normally private squares and other hidden gardens, highlighting the important contribution they make to London's environment. Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage has enabled Open Garden Squares Weekend to expand across Greater London. For further information, please see www.opensquares.org.



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