Red Cross Garden

Open air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark!

May Festival

BOST is very proud of Red Cross Garden, it is the first park we have taken on community management of, it is kept immaculate and beautiful for you to enjoy by hard working volunteers and staff and it has a significant history of bringing nature to overcrowded city people.

Nature breathes in darkest Southwark’ wrote Octavia Hill in triumph of her achievement at opening this first Victorian community garden. We are delighted to say it is still breathing although Southwark is considerably less dark. Red Cross was Octavia Hill’s flagship project; here she demonstrated the importance of improving housing for the poor, of contact with nature for city children, and the need for meaningful occupation for poor workers. Her work here formed the roots of a century and a half of development of the housing management profession, occupational therapy, the cadets, community gardening, and access to nature. Octavia Hill went on to be a co-founder of the National Trust and we are delighted to be holding her legacy here.

Red Cross Garden was laid out in 1887 on the site of a burnt down paper factory and a derelict warehouse. Its meandering paths were designed to give a sense of space and a place to wander amongst the curved lawns and flower beds. An ornamental pond was made with a fountain to provide beauty and movement, offering a focus for contemplation. The bandstand provided for performances of music and poetry. Where the BOST information centre now stands, Octavia Hill had a covered play area for children so that they could be outside in sunshine or rain, and overhead a walkway for viewing the garden or choir performances. Colourful mosaics brought art and beauty to the working poor – The Sower mosaic still remains, but there was also a beautiful one called The Good Shepherd – unfortunately this seems to have been lost when the warehouse that bounded the garden on the north side was demolished. The garden was the venue for the annual Southwark Flower Show, and many fetes and celebrations.

The historic layout of Red Cross Garden was lost under municipal grass and tarmac by the late 1940s and became much underused. BOST secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Southwark Council and completed most of the ‘restoration in spirit’ of the garden, restoring many of its original features, but ensuring its relevance and sustainability for the local people of Southwark today. We now lease the garden from Southwark Council. The garden was officially opened by the Princess Royal on 1st June 2006. Since then we have built up a regular group of volunteers to help maintain the garden and develop tours of the key historic details of the scheme, along with regular after-school clubs, poetry readings, celebrations, and events.