Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Unusual Front Gardens #13: The Lawn

This sign at Paddington  - at the entrance to the cafe and and shopping area at the front of the station - always makes me smile as it's nothing like a lawn! A couple of trips to London this week served to remind me to find out more. Is there an historical reason for its name, or did someone who worked in the railway industry have a wry sense of humour when naming it? Let's see...

As you know, a lawn is still seen as a must-have for many of our our front gardens, though hardscaping is a common replacement nowadays due to our ever shrinking plots. I think something similar may have happened in the case of the station, though for cafes and shops rather than parking. Perhaps a previous use of the land before the station was built in the mid 19th century might have inspired the naming of The Lawn?

Step One: The Evidence

Paddington station has Grade I listed status and from its listing information I found the area known as the The Lawn dates back to the 1930s, when it was constructed as a passenger concourse during major station rebuilding works. These were designed to not only to improve the station's facilities, but to also alleviate the effects of unemployment at the time. Its shaping into a more coherent 'leisure destination', with its shopping, eating and other facilities is part of the programme of major refurbishment works completed more recently.

Delving further into Google, British History Online reveals the area around Praed Street (the closest street to The Lawn) was noted for its inns, tea houses and other watering holes in the 18th and early 19th centuries. One of these in nearby Westbourne Green was called the Three Jolly Gardeners.

Apparently taverns of the 18th and early 19th century often had pleasure gardens attached to them, and those of Bayswater (the area which is home to Paddington station) were the earliest and most fashionable found in London. This area was well-known for its freshwater springs, which is probably why so many kinds of drinking houses were found there*.

Pleasure gardens hosted of all kinds of popular entertainments of the time (e.g. theatre, music hall, dancing etc., often of a bawdy nature) so their presence in Bayswater doesn't necessarily link this area to the kind of gardens we know and visit today. However, at least one person - John Hill - was known to grow medicinal plants there in the early 18th century.

Step Two: My Conclusion

So with this slender evidence - an old tavern name, the growing of medicinal plants and the taking of tea in the more genteel places of those on offer - perhaps The Lawn has roots of a greener kind after all.

Unless Network Rail knows differently - watch this space...

Have you ever wondered how a place got it's unusual name?

* = this is the time before water sanitation and other public health improvements were made in Victorian times, so the only way most people could safely drink was by brewing alcohol or making drinks requiring boiled water, such as tea. This is why inns, taverns, gin palaces, tea houses etc were so popular and why so many of our ancestors were almost always inebriated!


  1. Wonderful, I do love to hear a bit about the history of places, and your research is fascinating. I do love the sound of pleasure gardens. In fact I could do with a few hours in one myself right now.

    1. It's been a lovely day here today CJ, so it's been lovely to go out into my garden :)

  2. What an interesting post! Flighty xx

  3. So beer gardens are not really a new concept after all VP :) Rarely venture to Paddington and when I do it's usually at breakneck speed but will try next time to make time to spot the sign. Enjoyed this post.

    1. Hi Anna - I spend far too long at Paddington station - waiting for when the cheaper train fares kick in ;)

  4. This is one of the things I love about google - you can think of an obscure question and actually find the answer without spending weeks ploughing through libraries and archives. Hmmm.. having said that it does take a bit of the mystery away, like guessing who the murderer is too early in a crime novel

    1. Now that is plain spooky! I took this picture on the way to out weekend in London to celebrate NAH's big birthday. We went to see 'The Mousetrap' and were totally rubbish at guessing who the murderer was.


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