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Unlocking the Gate: Open Garden Squares Weekend

2011 May 11

Open Garden PhotoThe weekend of 11th-12th of June 2011 sees some of London’s most secluded gardens open to the public.  Taking place across London, the Open Garden Squares event encourages visitors to encounter green spaces in the capital they didn’t know existed.

Not only does this weekend satisfy curiosity and spark green-fingered adventures, it also offers the opportunity to delve into the area’s past.  This is particularly true of the private squares which dominate the landscape of Belgravia.  Belgrave, Cadogan, Chester and Eaton Squares will all be open to the public during the 11th-12th June, offering a unique insight into these private enclaves in the heart of the city.

By entering these usually secluded squares, it is possible to come closer to this exclusive area’s history.  Designed by Thomas Cubitt as part of the Grosvenor Estate development in the 1820s and located close to the newly constructed Buckingham Palace, the area was designed for the elite with high quality, large housing overlooking leafy garden squares.  The significance of the garden lay in the use of the space throughout the nineteenth century, however.  As the century progressed, Belgravia became synonymous with the London Season.  The Season was an annual phenomenon, which saw elite and powerful families in society descend on the West End between roughly April and July, from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, to participate in a daily round of social engagements and dances in the hope that debutantes and young men would make appropriate networks, ultimately leading to proposals of marriage.

Opulence was the expected social norm for those participating, and hence why Belgravia attracted the Victorian elite.  Not only was the area characterised by large houses, ideal for hosting balls and dinner parties, but it also boasted green spaces, squares within which debutantes could promenade and display their wealth and status.  Such was the desire to reside in a property which afforded access to these private meeting spaces, that rental values in Belgravia exceeded those in the traditionally aristocratic stronghold of Mayfair.

The open garden squares weekend allows us the opportunity to access these spaces in the twenty-first century, enabling us to image and understand why it was the prevalence of the private gardens

Advanced tickets can be purchased from the website until Monday 6th June.  One ticket covers entry to all the 214 gardens taking part in this year’s Open Weekend.

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