The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan - review by Gillian Tindall

Gillian Tindall

Green & Pleasant Patches

The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town

By

Yale University Press 304pp £30 order from our bookshop
 

This enormous and beautifully produced book, replete with paintings and photos and little-known planning schemes both visionary and horrendous, comes with a slightly daunting warning: ‘My book makes no claims to being a comprehensive survey of the London squares: the subject is too immense to cover in a single volume.’ Todd Longstaffe-Gowan should not worry. His labour of love and many years will give most readers, including historians of London, quite enough interesting material to be going on with. I shall not forget, next time I pass by St James’s Square (originally the site of a reservoir to supply the houses), that during the First World War it had an officers’ club briefly built among its plane trees, and that in the Second World War cabbages and potatoes were grown there as part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign.

Why and how did squares become such a distinctive part of London and not, to the same extent or in the same way, a feature of any Continental cities? Longstaffe-Gowan traces their origins to the desire to safeguard common spaces from private development, but agrees that other models that cultivate

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