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



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



With thanks to Royal Parks arboriculturist, Greg Packman, who shared his wealth of knowledge as we walked the smallest of the Royal Parks.

Due to Charles II getting caught picking flowers here for his mistress, his queen had all the flower beds removed and its current name was born.  At the time of our walk, various hawthorns were in flower and Greg reminded us that we were standing on what had been the banks and marshy swamps of the river Tyburn running towards the Thames and the 'thorney island'.  Suggesting these thorn bushes and trees were decendents of those in the ancient landscape. 

The current design of the park dates back to 1820 when the avenues of planes were planted because of their resistance to smoke and pollution.  Growing tall and straight and now in their prime, with high canopies creating a 'cathedral' effect down the avenues.  Dispite the planes popularity in London, it is actually the hornbeam that is the clay loving native tree of London.  We looked at a rare wild poplar, also native, that was commonly used as an area boundary marker and we learned how the female of the species was now endangered due to its drain-blocking fluffy flowers, being replaced in great numbers by hybrids.  In an enclosed area, the Royal Park's Mission Invertebrate is experimenting to see if by grazing rare breed sheep once a year, the insect and wild flower populations increase.

The Green Park has many different landscapes and moods, from the wooded hills and avenues to secluded thickets of thorns, open close-cropped grassland and wild flower meadows.

Greg described the challenges his team face, juggling the landscape with risk management to keep the park safe and useable for the 15 million visitors each year. 

 The Green Park Tree Walk - May 2019





Our member Colin Sheaf, Deputy Chairman of Bonhams, gave a fascinating tour of the Bond Street salerooms and we viewed the beautiful objects in the upcoming sale of Fine Chinese Art. 

Colin, an international authority on Chinese art, explained how the Chinese have been creating works of art for 7,000 years - Before the Egyptians!  The three categories are:  That made for export to the West (a colourful pair of C18th goose terrines), that of archaeological significance (Tang horses for example) and that made for the imperial Chinese market of which we saw examples of beautiful porcelain, jadite and jade (jade having a spiritual significance).  The animal carvings were chosen for their ancient symbolic meaning and the colours ranging from 'spinach' green to pure white, semi-opaque. 

The highlight of the auction will be 'An exceptionally rare and large blue and white 'immortals' double-gourd vase', about 3ft high.  Colin explained that with the rise in the Chinese economy over the last 20 years and the emergence of more Chinese collectors, prices are always on the up!  A bowl with a green dragon embossed into the porcelain was valued between £10,000 and £15,000 but could well reach £200,000.  A very special priviledge visit and many thanks to our expert guide.

 Visit to Bonhams Auctioneers - May 2019