London Tree Walks by Paul Wood – A Pimlico Circular – Part One

St George’s Church, Pimlico

Dear Readers, all I really knew about Pimlico prior to this walk was the route from the tube station to Tate Britain, so this walk was a real revelation. Pimlico has been the centre of wave after wave of utopian housing developments for the past two hundred years, and the range of architectural styles that I passed was astonishing. Plus, trees have been part of these plantings during the whole of this period, and it’s fascinating to see the different species that have made their homes in the Capital.

First off, we walk along Bessborough Street towards the St George’s Church. St George’s Square is open to the public, which makes it unusual. On side there are the  impressive stucco houses that I expected to find in Pimlico.

But in the square itself there are towering London Plane trees, some of the tallest that I’ve seen. The trees were probably planted at the same time as the houses, so between 1839 and 1843, making the trees about 180 years old. Given good conditions, they could easily live for another 180 years. How enormous will they be by then, I wonder?

At the north-west corner of St George’s Square was the site of the brutalist landmark the Pimlico Academy, described as a resembling a battleship. It was finally demolished in 2010, and its destruction was described as ‘arguably the most philistine architectural destruction since the demolition of the Euston Arch’ in The Guardian.

Photo One from

The original Pimlico Academy (Photo One)

These days it’s rather more prosaic, though I do like the climbing wall on the outside. I note that it was recently the scene of protests by students about racism at the school, followed by the resignation of the Headteacher.

Pimlico Academy and the climbing wall

Pimlico Academy stands on Chichester Street, opposite Dolphin Square, which contains no less than 1,250 flats. These have been home to various politicians and grandees who needed a pied-a-terre, and Harold Wilson, David Steel and William Hague have all lived here, along with such notables as Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies of Profumo fame. Apparently the flats have a bucolic garden in the centre, but it’s private, so, as directed by Wood, I spent some time looking at the street trees instead. On the Pimlico Academy side of the road there are some small-leaved limes, who fell out of favour as a street tree because of the aphids that feed on the tree and secrete honeydew all over the cars below.

Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata)

On the other side of the road, there’s a mixture of Chanticleer pear trees and ‘Beech Hill’ Pear trees. There’s lots of fruit on them too.

At the end of Chichester Street we turn into Claverton Street, which is a tale of two halves. On one side we have another stuccoed terrace, but on the other side we have a low-rise block, built during the 1970s. There are more pears alongside the older houses, but the new side of the road is planted with Italian Alders. I saw these before opposite St Pauls and they seem to have become a favourite, probably because, as Wood points out, they can survive in poor, rubble-rich soil.

An Italian Alder on Claverton Street

Then, it’s into the Churchill Gardens estate, which seems to go on forever, and does in fact cover 32 acres. The entrance includes some ‘Crimson King’ Norway Maples, which Wood tells me are the second most frequent London street tree after, you guessed it, the London Plane.

‘Crimson King’ Norway Maple

But who would have guessed that this estate of high-rises would feature such spectacular trees? First up is a Red Oak.

Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Leaves of Red Oak

Behind it is a splendid Tree of Heaven, which is considered something of a pest tree these days. It’s still very magnificent though.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Then I manage to get a bit lost (as usual). What an interesting estate this is! The first five blocks were completed in 1951, and received the Festival of Britain Merit Award.

A lady sitting on a wall asks me (very fairly in my opinion) what I’m finding interesting enough to take photos of. When I’ve bent her ear for five minutes about how amazing the trees are, her worries are calmed. And then this tree catches my eye.

What on earth is it? I can smell a sweet, creamy scent from across the road. It reminds me of something….

and it turns out that this is a Chinese Tree Privet (Ligustrum lucidum). We’ll meet some more of these trees later in the walk, but for now I was happy to just watch the bees making themselves drunk on the nectar.

Then I am distracted by this.

This is the Accumulator Tower, that was once used to provide communal heating to the estate. Originally, waste heat from Battersea Power Station was used for this purpose, but nowadays it’s been converted to using gas. It’s still said to be much more efficient because the flats don’t need their own gas boilers, and the Pump House holds the biggest thermal store in the UK.

I retrace my steps past the Grade II listed bin store….

Grade 2 listed!

and look to see if I can find a Varnish Tree (or Chinese Lacquer tree) that Wood mentions. I think I’ve missed it – it looks rather more like an ash than I expected. Oh well.

I didn’t miss the Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignoniodes) though. I always associate these trees with the Deep South of the USA. The tree has flowers that look like orchids, but not at this time of year.

Southern catalpa

Next to the catalpa is a Sycamore, but not as we normally see them – this is a purple-leaved ‘Spaethii’ variety

And then, I go off piste (as usual) and find something really delightful.

Tucked away behind one of the low-rise blocks is a tiny park with two meadows, one annual and one perennial.

There is not a soul around, although the people in the surrounding flats must have a lovely view.

The annual meadow is full of all sorts – I can imagine some people being sniffy about the flowers because they aren’t native, but there were plenty of bees. It was started with a grant from the London Wildlife Trust, and local children and residents are involved in its upkeep.

I thought it was lovely, and such a surprise.

I was pleased to see that there’s some dead wood left about as well.

I think this must be a really lovely spot to sit and enjoy the sunshine. I know that I did.

And finally, I head to Johnson’s Place. described by Wood as ‘a fine example of a mid-century civic open space’. And so it is. Churchill Gardens really is softened by the planting of trees and gardens and the availability of spaces to enjoy nature. I saw a good mixture of people walking their dogs, chatting, taking their children to and from the primary school in the middle of the estate. There’s a good range of shops on Lupus Road which skirts the estate too. I imagine there are plenty worse places to live in London.

Johnson’s Place

Johnson’s Place

So, after leaving Churchill Gardens I head off and find some most unusual things. But to find out what, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.


9 thoughts on “London Tree Walks by Paul Wood – A Pimlico Circular – Part One

  1. Anne

    This has been a fascinating walk filled with interesting information along with magnificent trees. Given your teaser, I shall certainly join you tomorrow.

  2. islawight

    I have that book, but have yet to do a walk from it! Pimlico is the most interesting area demographically – so central, but so mixed and full of what I call normal people (as opposed to just those who have more money than they know what to do with sensibly).

  3. Claire

    These trees are so beautiful. Can’t wait to try some of these walks when it will be easier to go to London!!


Leave a Reply