Wednesday 11 May 2016

Hidden London, Kensington

In this occasional series, I write about lesser-known parts of London. This is part of my genteel flaneurist project; genteel that is in comparison with the more gritty stuff of Messrs. Sinclair, Self et al. No traipsing around railway arches and disused public toilets looking for the spot that semi-famous bloke, name drop, name drop, once told me something vaguely interesting, thanks. 

This time: Holland Park and the Leighton House Museum, a few minutes’ walk apart between Holland Park Road and Kensington High Street.

Holland Park is a super place for a walk any time of the year with its patches of woodland and wilderness (blue bells everywhere),  and formal landscaping, such as the rose garden , but especially in spring when the Japanese garden within the garden is at its best.

The Kyoto garden is a smallish pond and stream stroll garden and at the time of my visit was in full bloom with single and double cherries, the acers in fresh leaf of gold, and red.

Run off from falling water:
wood grains for ghost carp
to hide in and scare their prey.

The garden was decorated with huge fish kites billowing open-mouthed, the stones were shiny from that morning’s watering and the snow lanterns shaded from the season. For a good twenty minutes a grey heron eyed up carp much beyond its abilities, giving visitors another free photo opportunity.

There are few Japanese gardens in the UK, and even fewer in London, so for someone like me, who has made her own attempt at such a creation on a tiny plot in Shepherd’s Bush, this was well worth the trip, for additional plant listing purposes and a few precious moments of repose. 

You’d hardly know you were in the city with all the birdsong around, including a demonstrative peacock intent on making himself heard.

The Leighton House Museum, a short walk downhill from the park, was the home of Fredrick, Lord Leighton:  Victorian painter, sculptor and Pre-Raphaelite. It’s famous for its fabulous interiors, the most wonderful of which if the Arab hall, complete with rich blue and turquoise tiles and indoor fountain, its song sadly barely audible over the holiday conversation of the volunteer guides.

The peacock followed me onto the tiling and as an extravagant piece of taxidermy, positioned at the curve of the bannisters, and in various places tail feathers appeared in jars. Clearly my superstitions about these things indoors are not shared by the house’s curators.

Currently on show is a great collection of Pre-Raphaelite works on paper from all the usual suspects. I wondered about the wisdom of ruining a turkey carpet by hanging a portrait on it. More charmingly a class from a girl’s junior school was doing some well-behaved drawing in the theatre.

The garden is huge for this part of town and sports one of Leighton’s snake fighting sculptures. You may know the one in the RA.

Ten pounds well spent, I’d say, and there is nothing tacky in the gift shop, but if you are looking for afternoon tea and cakes, bad luck, you’ll have to wander onto the high street for those. 

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