Britain is famous for its gardens with fresh green lawn and beautiful roses. Often, these gardens belong to big mansions and they are places of peace and silence. Gardens in general have a long tradition in the United Kingdom. The first gardens were planted by the Romans. Throughout the Middle Ages to Victorian times and to our modern times, the garden designs constantly changed. Which plants were put into the gardens varied, too. Parts of British garden history – from 1600 to our times – can be explored in the Garden Museum in Lambeth. The museum is located inside an old church which makes the whole atmosphere even more special.
A museum inside an old church?
The Garden Museum is located in Lambeth, close to Lambeth Palace and inside an old church. “St Mary of Lambeth” looks back to a long history. Since 1062 the church has been at this location. For many years it was a place of worship and faith; the church was extended and after WWII the damages of the war were repaired. However, in 1972 the church was made redundant and soon after, it was ready for demolition. The area had become underpopulated and not enough people used the church as an active place for their faith.
The rescue of St Mary of Lambeth
Luckily, Rosemary Nicholson visited the church in 1977 to see the tomb of John Tradescant (1570-1638). Tradescant was the first gardener and collector of plants in British history.
Nicholson was shocked by the desolate state of the church. She established the Tradescant Trust which was able to save the church and to transform it into the Garden Museum.
The Garden Museum
In 2015 a huge development project started which took 18 months to transform the museum into a bigger and brighter space. In May 2017 the doors opened once again. Now there are new galleries, a redesigned garden and – as a highlight – a medieval tower which is open to the public for the first time ever.
The museum displays the history and evolution of British gardens starting in the 1600s. There is old garden equipment, paintings and some beautiful craft work.
One of my favourite exhibits are the pony boots. They were worn by the pony when it was pulling a mowing machine. This prevented damage to the grass.
Climb up the medieval tower for a stunning view
One of the highlights in the museum is for sure the medieval tower. It was opened to the public for the first time ever when the museum re-opened in May 2017. Visitors can climb up the 131 narrow and steep steps to be rewarded with the stunning view onto Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye and Lambeth Palace. I strongly recommend to visit the tower!
Entrance to the tower is charged separately and the number of people who can go up is limited to 7 in each slot. So it might be best to get your ticket immediately when you buy the general ticket for the museum.
Sensational find in the vault
I became curious in the museum when I read about the discovery of a vault underneath the chancel. This was found by chance during the final phase of the construction works. In an unknown room 30 coffins have been buried. Some of them can even be linked to Archbishops of Canterbury. On one of the coffins a golden mitre was found. A sensational find!
The entrance and the vault itself have been secured and at the end of 2017 further investigations will be made. I am so excited on what the team will find and can’t wait to visit that part of the church/museum myself. If you are now as fascinated by the story as I am, the video “the lost archbishops” is very interesting to watch.
Useful stuff to know about the Garden Museum
Interesting in visiting the Garden Museum yourself? Here is what you need to know:
- Address: Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB
- How to get there: Take the tube to Vauxhall, Waterloo or Victoria. It’s a 10 minutes walk from each stations
- Opening times: daily from 10.30 – 17.00, Saturdays until 16.00. The museum will be closed on each first monday per month and on most holidays.
- Entrance costs: £10 for the museum, £3 to visit the tower
- Latest info about events can be found on the homepage of the museum.
- There is a café and seatings outside in the garden
- The shop sells useful stuff for your own garden and souvenirs.
Interested in visiting more unususal museum? Then check out the post about “10 unusual museums in London“.
This post is also available in: Deutsch