Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: The Garden Museum

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having passed Lambeth Palace, on the south bank of the Thames, arrives at the Church of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth. The first church on his site was built in 1062, by Goda (or Godgyfu), the sister of King Edward the Confessor, but nothing is preserved of her construction, which was probably made of wood. The current church (now deconsecrated) dates, substantially, to the Fourteenth Century, but was substantially repaired and altered in the Nineteenth Century, and again after bomb damage during the Second World War. The Medieval Church was closely associated with Lambeth Palace, and, in the course of recent works a number of coffins were discovered in the crypt, including those of five Archbishops of Canterbury, dating to the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries.

The Church of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth. Photo: Reading Tom (licensed under CCA).

The tomb of the Tradescants. Image: National Portrait Gallery (image is in the Public Domain).

Among those buried in the churchyard are John Tradescant the Elder (1570s-1638), and his son, John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662), Head Gardeners, in succession, to King Charles I. Both traveled extensively during the course of their lives: John the Elder in Arctic Russia, the Levant, and North Africa; John the Younger in North America; collecting both botanical specimens and ethnographic artefacts. John the Younger was responsible for the introduction to Britain of a number of plant species, including the magnolia; tulip tree; bald cypress; and asters.

John Tradescant the Elder, portrait attributed to Cornelius de Neve. Image: Ashmolean Museum (Public Domain).

John Tradescant the Younger, portrait by Tomas de Cruz. Image: National Portrait Gallery (Public Domain).

The ethnographic artefacts collected by the Tradescants formed the basis of a collection known as Tradescant's Ark, or Musaeum Tradescantianum, in their home nearby (since demolished): this was one of the first "cabinets of curiosity" in England, and was open to the public. John the Younger bequeathed his collection to his neighbour, Elias Ashmole, who, in turn, bequeathed it to the University of Oxford, establishing the Ashmolean Museum.

The "mantle" of the Native American chieftain, Powhatan, probably acquired by John Tradescant the Elder from his friend, the Virginia colonist, John Smith. Photo: Gtstg (licensed under CCA).

The Church of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth today houses both a museum of garden history and, courtesy of loans from the Ashmolean Museum, a reconstruction of part of Tradescant's Ark.

The Garden Museum. Photo: Nicolaprice (licensed under CCA).

The Garden Museum. Photo: Nicolaprice (licensed under CCA).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Powhatan's mantle! Remarkable. What a wonderful collection.