They epitomise the usual diversity of landscapes to be discovered across London: private communal enclaves like Barons Court Garden Triangle in Hammersmith & Fulham and Gloucester Square Residents' Gardens in Bethnal Green; community gardens like the new Jam Yesterday Jam Tomorrow Model Market Garden in Marble Hill Park and Abbey Gardens flourishing among the ruins of a twelfth-century abbey in West Ham; as well as the urban farms that I'd like to share here.
Freightliners Farm in Islington, Surrey Docks Farm on the riverside in Rotherhithe and Mudchute Farm on the Isle of Dogs are among London's City Farms that began to appear from the 1970s. The educational value of what are often working farms is turned to good account, and they represent a wonderful asset, particularly for city children who may have never before seen the 'real' countryside. Although relatively recent in themselves, these city farms generally sit on land that is steeped in London's historical past.
Freightliners Farm was originally established in 1973 on waste ground near King's Cross station, getting its name from the goods vans that were used to house the animals. In 1978 the farm moved to its present site, where purpose-built buildings were erected in 1988. Surrounded by residential streets, coming across the farm is a special experience. A registered charity, it is run by a volunteer Management Committee, the only city farm with a non-slaughtering policy and many of the animals are rare breeds. In addition to its farm activities, Freightliners has an ornamental garden as well as a vegetable and kitchen garden, and a recently planted orchard, all maintained with assistance from the gardening club.
Surrey Docks Farm started life in 1975, originally as a community initiative on a derelict site at Greenland Dock, which was part of the old Surrey Commercial Docks that had shut down by 1970. Soon there were goats, hens, bees, rabbits, donkeys and ducks, as well as dogs and cats, and the lock- keeper's office became a milking parlour and dairy among other things. Relocation became necessary as the area began to be developed, and, when the farm relocated to South Wharf in 1986, the animals were ceremoniously led along streets and riverside to their new home.
The site has a fascinating story, now publicly accessible in a history trail around the farm: a major shipyard in the eighteenth century, it became a timber wharf in the nineteenth century, from 1883 was used as a River Ambulance Receiving Station, and in World War II and beyond it was a station for the Auxiliary Fire Service.
The largest of the three farms described here is Mudchute on the Isle of Dogs, whose sheep now graze in the shadow of Canary Wharf. It was established on a piece of derelict land created from the spoil from dredging Millwall Dock in the 1860s, and was saved from housing development through a public campaign by local people keen to preserve it for open space. The outcome is the hugely popular Mudchute Park and Farm, run by the Mudchute Association, a charity founded in 1977. In World War II the site housed anti-aircraft guns used to defend the docks, and in 2012 an Ack-Ack gun was re- introduced to one of the gun sites that remain on the farm - the others provide houses for pigs and other livestock.
Among London's other urban farms I've not mentioned is one very close to home, almost on my doorstep so that I may hear the cock crowing: the wonderful Spitalfields City Farm, set up by volunteers in 1978 on a former railway goods depot... Watch this space!