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

Variegated Chinese Privet on Alderney Street in Pimlico

Dear Readers, after my meander around the Churchill Gardens Estate I was in need of a coffee, a sit-down and a loo (though not in that order). I found the Brewhouse cafe, which had all three, including some seats outside. Highly recommended in an area that’s actually fairly devoid of hostelries. 

Onwards! I have fallen in love with these Chinese Tree Privets (Lugustrum lucidum var Excelsum superbum) and this variegated variety was particularly impressive. I could smell the perfume of the flowers from twenty feet away, and it was abuzz with bees.

On the other side of the road are two Chestnut-leaved Oaks (Quercus castaneifolia) – these trees come from Iran, but they seem to love it here. A tree planted in Kew Gardens is the largest in their Arboretum, measuring 37 metres tall and 8 metres in girth. These trees are rather smaller (at the moment).

Chestnut-leaved oaks (Quercus castaneifolia)

On Denbigh Street there’s a statue of Thomas Cubitt, who was the builder of much of Belgravia and Bloomsbury. His vision was to convert the area of marshy ground close to the river to a grid of stuccoed terraces and garden squares, and this he largely achieved. He is shaded by an Indian Horse Chestnut (Aesculus indica) – I met one of these trees in East Finchley Cemetery a few months ago. It is increasingly favoured by street arborists because the tree doesn’t attract the leaf-miners that ‘ordinary’ horse chestnut does.

Thomas Cubitt

The leaves of the Indian Horse Chestnut

I noted that the lions are locked up in these parts, though you’d need some muscles to run off with this chap.

And you can tell you’re in Westminster when the wheelie bins are decorated.

Onwards! Here is a very lovely mimosa, which Wood remarks has already become a local landmark, and I can see why.

Mimosa (Acacia dealbata)

Just around the corner, on Moreton Street, are some of the most unusual street trees in Pimlico. Can you guess what they are?

Yep, these are Australian Bottlebrush Trees (Callistemon citrinus). But why are they planted here?

Because Billy Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, was born at No. 7 Moreton Street! I must pop back to see the trees when they’re in flower, they will look amazing.

Photo One by Zeynel Cebeci, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bottlebrush in flower (Photo One)

From here, I cross Vauxhall Bridge Road to find another London Plane-lined square, Vincent Square. This is private land (it forms the playing fields for Westminster School) and the trees are slightly younger than the ones that we saw on St George’s Square yesterday. There are splendid views through the square towards the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, or there would be if it wasn’t for the vans and street furniture.

London Plane trees along the edge of Vincent Square

Then I head off to another square via Elverton Street, which has been recently planted with Chinese Red Birches (Betula albosinensis). Look at this lovely bark!

And then it’s along Horseferry Road. Things are certainly changing on the taxi front. This lot are all plugged in to fast charging points. The drivers grab a quick coffee and their vehicles are recharged within 30 minutes.

The day has gotten a lot hotter by now, and I’m beginning to regret my raincoat and scarf, so it’s a real pleasure to walk into St John’s Gardens. This is yet another place that I’ve never visited before. The notion of a park being like a cathedral is a bit of a cliché, but these trees are so tall, and the interior is so cool and tranquil that nothing else seems quite as good as a simile.

Then I take a wrong turning, which is always fun. I end up outside the new Home Office building. Considering how brutal a department this can be,  the building is light-hearted and colourful. The sun is shining through panels of coloured glass on its roof and throwing Mondrian patterns on the pavement.

And finally, when I get back on the official route, I find the Millbank Estate, 32 blocks that were built at the turn of the twentieth century. The plane trees were planted at the same time. I’ve often walked along one of the main roads after the trees were pollarded, and thought how ugly they looked, as if they had their fists raised to the sky in protest. But today they are in full leaf, and they lower the temperature of this broad expanse of concrete.

Someone has built a whole container garden at the entrance to one of the blocks.

The Millbank Estate was built at the turn of the twentieth century on the site of the old Millbank Prison, which covered not only the area of the current estate but also the land now occupied by Tate Britain. The red bricks of the estate were taken from the prison. Prisoners from all over Great Britain were held in the prison prior to deportation, and some of the features of the prison remain, like this moat, which once formed its boundary.

This walk around Pimlico has shown the interesting ways that built communities have evolved in this part of London, and the ways that green spaces and trees have been incorporated over the years. From stuccoed terraces to the Arts and Crafts-influenced Millbank Estate to the modernism of Churchill Gardens, it’s shown how ideas of social housing have changed, but also how many houses were built during this period. There seems to have been a consistent idea that it was important to house people properly, right in the centre of London.  What a reflection on the lack of vision and imagination around housing today.

4 thoughts on “London Tree Walks by Paul Wood – A Pimlico Circular – Part Two

  1. Anne

    The other consistent aspect of the developments you have passed through is the emphasis on planting trees and creating some open spaces. You rightly point out how cool it is under the shade of those many trees – an important bonus of trees, apart from their attractiveness and provision of respite for birds and many smaller creatures.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Yes, both the Millbank and the Churchill Gardens Estates had some fabulous trees, and the shade was wonderful. What a shame developers are so intent on cramming as many rabbit-hutch flats as possible into the smallest of areas without so much as a bit of green space for the kids to play on….

  2. islawight

    Oh this one has made me cry remembering more normal times. My route to work was via the Millbank Estate, working in fact for a certain govt dept. I loved those huge plane trees and the fantastic pots of flowers in the courtyard – hydrangea heaven I’d call one of them. And did you see the lovely garden in one of the prison boundary ditches – think is where Erasmus Street kinks round into Cureton Street?

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Oh sorry Isla….I find all sorts of things reduce me to tears these days. I didn’t see the Erasmus Street garden but I will definitely have a look next time I’m at the Tate. I must say the Home Office building looks like a big improvement on the old one at Queen Anne’s Gate, but I’m not sure what either of them were like to actually work in…


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