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Waterloo at home #2: Flux Soup ‘Fanatical Botanicals’

Over the course of a series of features and blogposts, Flux Soup are presenting Waterloo at Home; a sensory journey through a Waterloo micro World. We kicked off with call out 📢 and now we're moving on to cocktails (watch out for recipes soon)!

William Curtis' Botanical Garden in Lambeth

Inspired by a cocktail

When Flux Soup invited Jack Adair Bevan, an award-winning food and drink writer, and co-author of The Ethicurean Cookbook, to design a cocktail for Waterloo Festival, they were not expecting it lead to a podcast and a walk.

During his research, to create a unique recipe including ingredients that could be foraged in Waterloo, Jack unearthed William Curtis (portrait on the left) and his London Botanic Garden once situated where Ufford Street Gardens are now.

Further investigations dug up other local botanically connected figures the Tradescants, Sowerby, Blake and Bligh all covered in the eight stops on the Fanatical Botanicals walk (see factsheet below).

Flux Soup Fanantical Botanicals - Walk F
Download • 257KB

You can download the factsheet here or follow the information below!

  1. Ufford Street Gardens - approximate site of William Curtis’s London Botanic Garden.

  2. Waterloo Millennium Green.

  3. Blake Tunnels - World’s largest collection of art inspired by William Blake’s illustrations and paintings.

  4. Archbishops Park - originally part of Lambeth Palace Gardens.

  5. St Mary’s Garden - next to St Mary at Lambeth now the Garden Museum former site of The Tradescants home, garden and museum, ‘The Ark’.

  6. Hercules Road, opposite Centaur Street - Blue Plaque showing site of William and Catherine Blake’s home and garden.

  7. Wellington Mills, Westminster Bridge Road - former site of James Sowerby’s home and museum.

  8. Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park - opposite 100 Lambeth Road, former home of Captain Bligh and his wife Betsy, look for the fox on the roof and the tree with a face.

What follows is a potted history of Lambeth Marsh and six men fanatical about botanicals.

Lambeth Marsh

It is one of the oldest settlements on the South Bank of the river Thames in London. Until the early 19th century much of north Lambeth (now known as the South Bank) was mostly marsh. The settlement of Lambeth Marsh was built on a raised through road over the marsh lands, potentially dating back to Roman times. The land was owned by the Church of England. Records and maps show it was a separate village until the early 19th Century when the church sold off the land in small pockets, leading to random development of individual houses rather than the grander redevelopments occurring north of the river. Drained in the 18th century and remembered in the Lower Marsh street name; some time after Waterloo station opened in 1848, it became known as Waterloo.

Early records

At a very early date, probably dating to the original Roman settlements, banks of earth were erected along the south side of the Thames in order to keep out the tidal waters and to hold them in check. One of them near the river was called Narrow Wall whilst another binding the marsh to the east was called Broad Wall (now a street name near the Oxo Tower), an ancient raised road which followed the line of Lambeth Marsh.

As the Horwood Map of 1799 shows, by the end of the 18th century Lambeth Marsh was still a predominantly rural area, with people maintaining market gardens providing produce for the City of London. Until the beginning of the 19th Century Lambeth Marsh was surrounded by open fields with a windmill in The Cut.

Our Six Fanatical Botanicals

The Tradescants and St Mary at Lambeth Church

John Tradescant c.1570 – 1638

Probably born in Suffolk, he had a prolific career as a gardener and travelled the World collecting plants.

  • Head gardener to Robert Cecil 1st Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House.

  • William Cecil at Salisbury House in London.

  • Designed gardens for Edward Lord Wooton 1615 – 23.

  • Gardener to George Villiers 1st Duke of Buckingham.

  • Engaged by Charles 1 to be keeper of his Majesty’s Gardens, Vines and Silkworms at Oatlands Palace near Weybridge Surrey.

  • Travelled to the Low Countries to bring back fruit trees 1610 – 1611 and then to the Russian Artic, Levant and Algiers.

Tradescant’s Ark and Botanical Garden

On all his trips he collected seeds and bulbs everywhere and assembled a collection of curiosities of natural history and ethnography which he housed in a large house, "The Ark", in Lambeth, London.

Musaeum Tradescantianum (1827)

The Ark was the prototypical Cabinet of Curiosity, a collection of rare and strange objects that became the first museum open to the public in England, the Musaeum Tradescantianum. He also gathered specimens through American colonists, including his personal friend John Smith, who bequeathed Tradescant a quarter of his library. From their botanical garden in Lambeth, on the south bank of the Thames, he and his son, John, introduced many plants into English gardens that have become part of the modern gardener's repertory. He was buried in the churchyard of St-Mary-at-Lambeth, as was his son.

John Tradescant the Younger c.1608 – 1662

John Tradescant the Younger (1652)

Son of John Tradescant the Elder, he was born in Meopham, Kent, and educated at The King's School, Canterbury. Like his father, he undertook collecting expeditions, travelling to Virginia between 1628 and 1637. Among the seeds he brought back, to introduce to English gardens were great American trees, including magnolias, bald cypress and tulip tree, and garden plants such as phlox and asters.

John Tradescant the Younger added his American acquisitions to the family's cabinet of curiosities, known as The Ark. These included the ceremonial cloak of Chief Powhatan, an important Native American relic.

South Lambeth Road in Vauxhall was one of the boundaries of the Tradescant estate, where the collection was kept and Tradescant Road was laid out after the estate was built on in the late 1800s and named after the family.

When his father died, he succeeded as head gardener to Charles I and Henrietta Maria of France, making gardens at the Queen's House, Greenwich, designed by Inigo Jones, from 1638 to 1642, when the Queen fled the Civil War. He published the contents of his father's celebrated collection as ‘Musaeum Tradescantianum’ - books, coins, weapons, costumes, taxidermy, and other curiosities, dedicating the first edition to the Royal College of Physicians (with whom he was negotiating for the transfer of his botanic garden), and the second edition to the recently restored Charles II.

Tradescant and the Ashmolean Museum

Tradescant bequeathed his library and museum to (or some say it was swindled

from him by) Elias Ashmole (1617–1692), whose name it bears as the core of

the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford where the Tradescant collections remain largely


St Mary at Lambeth Church

St Mary at Lambeth

The first church was built before the Norman Conquest and was integral to the religious centre established by the Archbishops of Canterbury in the twelfth century. It is the oldest structure Lambeth, except for the crypt of Lambeth Palace. Its burials and monuments are a record of 950 years of community history including the Tradescants and Bligh.

In 1976 Rosemary and John Nicholson visit to see the tomb of John Tradescant and are horrified to discover the de-consecrated church boarded-up ready for demolition. They establish the Tradescant Trust, are awarded a 99-year lease from the Diocese of Southwark, rescue and repair the church and convert it into the world’s first Museum of Garden History.

William Curtis c. 1746 – 1799

Born in Hampshire to a Quaker family, he was apprenticed to an Apothecary in Bishopsgate and inherited his business when he died. He sold the business to open the London Botanic Garden in Bermondsey and then moved to a larger site in 1779. The new site in Lambeth was where Ufford Street Gardens now stands. By the time he left ten years later, it contained 6000 plant species all labelled using the Linnean system, of which he was the first systematic user in the country.

Members could pay one guinea a year subscription for which they were able to bring a friend, use the library and walk in the garden which was open Tues to Friday between 6 & 8. For two guineas, you could bring two friends and take seeds and cuttings. He left because of smoke and soot pollution, moving to a new, even larger garden in Brompton.

Curtis also helped develop Chelsea Physic Garden and in 1787 he started ‘Curtis’s Botanical magazine’ illustrated by artists including James Sowerby from Lambeth. Re-named Kew Magazine in 1984, it reverted back to its original title in 1995 and is

the longest running botanical magazine in the World.

His primary interest was British native flora. Over twenty years he produced ‘Flora Londinensis’ a guide to plants within a ten mile radius of London with illustrations again by Sowerby, who also painted the only known image of the London Botanic Garden.

Drawings by William Curtis

James Sowerby c. 1757 – 1822

James Sowerby

He lived on Mead Place, now Mead Row and part of Wellington Mills estate. He was born in Lambeth, and studied art at the Royal Academy. Having decided to become a painter of flowers his first illustrating job was with William Curtis’s ‘Flora Londinensis’.

In 1790, Sowerby began the first of several huge projects: a 36-volume work, ‘English Botany’ which was published over the next 23 years, contained 2,592 hand-coloured engravings and became known as Sowerby's Botany. An enormous number of plants were to receive their first formal publication within this work.

By publishing attractive and more affordable works, Sowerby intended to excite people’s curiosity for gardening and the natural world. He even incorporated a museum into house and when he died his sons continued his work, much like John Tradescant.

Drawings by James Sowebry

William Blake c. 1757 – 1827

William Blake (c. 1821)

13 Hercules Buildings, now the Blake estate on Hercules Road, has a Blue Plaque denoting the approximate location of William and Catherine Blake’s home demolished 1918. They moved here in 1790 as their accommodation in Soho was too small and in Lambeth they could have a whole house and garden and stayed for ten years. By 1800, Lambeth had become too industrialised and polluted, so the Blakes moved to Felpham (near Bognor Regis, the cottage is still there).

Whilst living in Lambeth Blake produced some of his most important works, including Songs of Experience first published in 1794. This collection includes some of his most famous poems London, The Tyger, A Poison Tree and The Sick Rose.

Introduction William Blake's 'Songs of Experience'

He illustrated his poems and often used images of trees, plants & flowers like roses, vines (the Blakes’ had a vine in their back garden). In the poem Infant Joy, Blake’s illustration shows a family depicted inside a flower. It is as if the stamen and pistil have taken human form. By trade, Blake was an engraver and produced botanical illustrations for among others Eramsus Darwin’s (Charles Darwin’s Grandfather) publication The Botanic Garden.

William Bligh c. 1754 – 1817

Bligh lived at 100 Lambeth Road with his wife Betsy. He was a very successful sailor who rose to vice admiral, served under Captain Cook in 1776 on his third voyage to the Pacific Ocean during which Cook was killed. Bligh went on to serve under Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801, after the battle, Nelson personally praised Bligh for his contribution to the victory.

In 1787, Bligh, took command of The Bounty. In order to win a premium offered by the Royal Society, he sailed to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees, then set course east across the South Pacific for South America round Cape Horn and eventually to the Caribbean Sea, where breadfruit was wanted to see if it could be a cheap food crop for African Slaves on British plantations in the West Indies.

William Bligh (c. 1775)

The Bounty never reached the Caribbean, as mutiny broke out on board shortly after the ship left Tahiti. Fletcher Christian, a close friend, set him and twenty of the crew adrift and incredibly they managed to navigate 3,880nm to Timor and all survived. When he returned to England he was exonerated and continued his sailing career. In 1793 he succeeded in transporting breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies, however, most slaves refused to eat the new food. During this voyage, Bligh collected samples of the ackee fruit of Jamaica, introducing it on his return to the Royal Society. The ackee's scientific name is ‘Blighia sapida’ in honour of Bligh.


As the marsh, meadows and gardens changed to mills and factories, the pollution was a defining factor in the Blake’s moving to Sussex and Curtis moving his garden north of the Thames. By 1800 Lambeth Marsh was undergoing rapid change and by 1824 most of the cultivated land had been built on. The building of Waterloo Station in 1848 made the area a very important business and travel hub. Between 1801 and 1831, the population of the Borough of Lambeth trebled, and in the ten years from 1831 to 1841 the population increased from 87,856 to 105.883. Lambeth Marsh had become another casualty in the relentless process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing.

Here’s where we found a lot of our information

Blake Society,The Garden Museum, JSTOR, London Parks and Gardens Trust, Vauxhall Society and Wikipedia (of course).


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