Members of the Thorney Island Society have been blessed with many splendid visits this year but none was looked forward to more than our trip to the gardens of Buckingham Palace.  We were particularly fortunate to be shown around by Mark Lane, the Head Gardener, who freely shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of gardens assisted by his deputy, Clare.

As the tour began, we learned we were standing on what was once part of the four acres of mulberry garden that James I had planted in the early 1600s as part of his plan to create a new silk industry in Britain. Sadly, he chose the wrong sort of mulberry not eaten by silkworms and what could have been a major new industry bit the dust. 

But the gardens still have a strong connection with this wonderful tree as the National Mulberry Collection is housed here in the gardens with 40 different taxa. None of them are direct survivors of James I’s efforts except one has been grown from a cutting of the famous heritage mulberry at Charlton House which is believed to have been planted at the behest of James I. 

Mr Lane then walked us by the 156 metre long herbaceous border bristling with colourful plants and shrubs punctuated by an occasional banana plant and leading to 100 plane trees. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert planted two of these trees, though no-one knows which was which.

Among other highlights were an avenue of Indian chestnut trees which flower a month later than the Horse Chestnut and a lovingly tendered rose garden beyond a subtly camouflaged camomile lawn. There is a fine sundial nearby which was moved after a television programme in which David Attenborough pointed out to The Queen that its position then was too much in the shade.

The gardens used to have a hundred elms which were all lost when Dutch elm disease destroyed them - but a new disease-free variety is now being planted. 

Past the lovely lake with two islands much loved by dragonflies, damselflies and insects.  Pollen producing flowers are encouraged to thrive in the garden to provide a source of nectar for bees living in the garden’s hives. Almost 200 jars of honey have already been produced this year.   There is also a tennis court where Fred Perry played against the Duke of York, later George VI (who also played in the doubles at Wimbledon).

We had a very pleasant tea afterwards on the long terrace of the Palace itself which is open for visitors during the Summer Opening of the Palace.

Our deepest thanks to Her Majesty The Queen for granting permission, and to Mr Lane and his team for organising such a delightful afternoon.


Tour of Buckingham Palace Gardens - August 2019

Anthony Davis, a Westminster guide and fellow of the Society of Antiquaries treated fellow TI members to a fascinating walk around the western hinterland of Thorney Island, when the threatened torrential rain mercifully held off. 

Starting from St James’s Park station we soon learned about the complicated history of a house at the end of Queen Anne’s Gate which was owned by Jeremy Bentham and housed the family of John Stuart Mill. It looks out onto the back of what was John Milton‘s house and garden, the entrance to which was in Petty France.

After an interesting description of the wonderful houses in Queen Anne’s Gate we walked down to 55 Broadway where he spent some time extolling the magnificence of this very special building with sculptures by Epstein and Henry Moore embedded into the stonework.

Among other highlights were details of the history of Caxton Hall and the sculptural heads on a frieze above the door which hardly any of us had noticed before.  These included one of Shakespeare which served as a fitting introduction to the stunning courtyard garden at the back of the St James's Court Hotel which includes a wonderful - and very long - frieze in terracotta of key scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. It is presumed that it must have been made at the fabled Royal Doulton works in Lambeth but the company has no record of it. 

We ended our walk in Cardinal Place, once the site of the original Watneys Stag Brewery until the early 60's.

It is not easy to tell Thorney Island members about their own territory but Anthony succeeded again and again, giving us lots of new information. Our sincere thanks to him for a very successful walk.


From Beer to the Bard - A Victoria Walk by Anthony Davis - July 2019



St John's Smith Square, Grade I listed and an historic and integral part of our neighbourhood, relies entirely on ticket sales and is at serious risk of closing as a concert hall.

Local residents have organised a drinks reception and concert which will be free of charge but hope you make a donation or set up a meaningful monthly or annual standing order.

Please contact Jeanine Zirps at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to book your place and make donations to the following bank accout:

A/C: 00022823  Sort Code: 40-52-40

St John's Smith Square Charitable Trust - Reg. No. 1045390   


Fundraising Evening Concert at St John's Smith Square - 7pm Monday 30th September

The highlight of our visit to Westminster Abbey was access to the Jerusalem Chamber which is part of the Dean’s private quarters and rarely open to anyone. This actual room, still much as it was, where Henry lV died and which Shakespeare conjured up in Henry lV Part ll. 

After falling ill whilst praying at the shrine of Edward the Confessor in the Abbey, Henry was taken unconscious to lie by the fire. He was en-route for Jerusalem where he was going to atone for his sins.  When he recovered consciousness, he asked where he was and being told "The Jerusalem Chamber", he realised that he was about to end his life according to a prophecy in the Holinshed Chronicles that he would die in Jerusalem.

Shakespeare says:

"It hath been prophesied to me many years,
I should not die but in Jerusalem,
Which vainly I suppos’d the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber, there I’ll lie,
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die."

The Jerusalem Chamber was also where the committee met regularly, who overlooked the creation of the beautifully written King James Bible - one of the most influential books ever written and where many celebrated people such as Isaac Newton were laid out before being buried in the Abbey.  

Our excellent guides, Patricia Braithwaite and Avril Gardener weaved us through throngs of visitors, highlighting the story behind the grave of the Unknown Soldier and the spaces reserved for scientific and literary figures irrespective of whether they were religious or not - including a recent arrival, Stephen Hawking.  Other new additions were the David Hockney stained glass window which includes a hawthorn bush in flower.  This is a resonant historical reference as hawthorn bushes almost certainly formed the brambles which gave Thorney Island its name.  At the end of the tour, some members enjoyed the fantasic views from the Triforium and fine exhibits in the Galleries.  Our huge thanks to the Dean and all those who made this tour so special.

Special Tour of Westminster Abbey - July 2019



Our visits and events are open to all unless specified and we hope non-members will enjoy our programme and consider joining the Society.  To book please go to our Eventbrite page   CLICK HERE.

If you do not wish to book online, please contact us and we will be happy to make your booking (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by post to 10 Old Pye Street, London SW1P 2DG) 


Monday 7th October, 11am             SORRY, SOLD OUT!  Visit & Tour to the Palace of Westminster and The Jewel Tower, London SW1A 0AA - £15pp (Members Only)

With thanks to the office of Rt Hon Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster for sponsoring this Democratic Access Tour for our Members.  Our tour guide will describe how the business and traditions of both Houses contribute to the day to day workings of the UK Parliament. Some of the history of the Palace of Westminster will also be highlighted.  When the Houses are sitting, the full tour route may not always be available and can be subject to last minute changes or cancellation due to parliamentary business.  We will meet at the top of the ramp at the Cromwell Green entrance and pass through security as a group then meet our guide in Westminster Hall at 11.20am.  The tour will last approx 75mins and afterwards you may like to visit the Jubilee Gift Shop and Café which are both accessed from Westminster Hall.  We will then make our way across the road, for a free visit, thanks to English Heritage, to the Palace of Westminster's other surviving Medieval building - The Jewel Tower.

Sunday 27th October, 2pm                          Tour of Methodist Central Hall including Organ Recital, Storey’s Gate, London SW1H 9NH - £15pp/£20          (Rescheduled from 16th June)

The tour will explain how and why the Methodist Church came to be here, the amazing story of how the money was raised, what was on the site previously and some of the important events that have taken place in the last 106 years. Between 3pm-4pm we will attend the monthly organ recital and have a chance to hear one of the best organs in the country, played by Mr Peter Stevens, the Assistant Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral. After the recital, light refreshments will be available, then at 4.30pm those members and guests that wish to (and are physically fit enough !) may climb the 166 steps to reach the viewing platform at the top of the dome which provides unrivalled 360 degree stunning views of London. If members and guests wish to have lunch in the café before the start of the formal tour at 2pm, a Sunday roast is around £9.50 a head and there is no need to book. The Thorney Island Society will be making a donation to the ongoing work and mission of the Methodist Church in this part of Westminster but there is also a voluntary retiring collection on leaving the recital.

Tuesday 12th November, 6.30pm            The Society’s 33rd AGM and Talk, Grange Rochester Hotel, Vincent Square (entrance in Vane Street) London SW1P 2PA


Tuesday 10th December, 6.30pm             Christmas Party & Raffle Draw, Grange Rochester Hotel, Vincent Square (entrance in Vane Street) London SW1P 2PA - £14pp



  • All bookings must be paid for in advance, either via Eventbrite, cheque or BACS
  • Visits & events are non-refundable unless cancelled by TTIS
  • The Society reserves the right to cancel a visit or event due to unforeseen circumstances
  • The Society and its officers cannot be held responsible for death or injury to members or their guests, or loss or damage to property at any time and however caused
  • If you have concerns about the accessibility of the venue, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to TTIS, 10 Old Pye Street, SW1P 2DG
  • In the interests of others, please be punctual and respect the dress code of the places that we visit