Whitfield Gardens and Alfred Place: History
Whitfield Gardens and Alfred Place Gardens form part of West End Project, Camden Council’s largest public realm and transport scheme designed to address traffic congestion, safety, air quality and the lack of availability of quality public space in this part of the borough.
Whitfield Gardens is a cherished community space directly opposite Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road. It has a long and varied history, from burial ground notorious for body snatching to the site of the last V2 rocket strike to hit central London in 1945. It had come to no longer feel safe for many because of anti-social behaviour. Overgrown planting contributed to an air of neglect and lighting was mostly borrowed from adjacent streets. To restore the space and make it more welcoming, the shady corners had to go.
Cross over Tottenham Court Road, and you will quickly arrive at Alfred Place, a once under-used, commonplace central Bloomsbury back street, running parallel to Tottenham Court Road, and between Chenies Street and Store Street to the south. With narrow pavements and nowhere to sit, Alfred Place was somewhere to hurry through, more service road and car park than anything else.
Whitfield Gardens - London's outdoor living room
Spaces like Whitfield Gardens are vital in bringing people into contact with nature even in the busiest parts of London.
The Gardens now provide an open, inviting space for people to come together to socialise, have lunch or even just sit and have a moment of quiet reflection. It has been described as London’s outdoor living room.
The design aims to meet the needs of people living and working close by, as well as providing a quality space for visitors. It celebrates what makes the place special, such as the fantastic mature London Plane trees at its heart. The Fitzrovia Mural, faithfully restored by Global Street Art, once again provides a colourful and wry look at life in Fitzrovia in the 1980s.
A warm lighting design by Michael Grubb Studio makes the space feel comfortable and welcoming as it transitions into the evening, with integrated lighting along the new linear timber seating. Decorative lighting turns off at 11pm to conserve energy and preserve darkness to protect ecology and wildlife.
A biodiverse planting scheme has been selected to thrive under the existing trees, and there is improved accessibility as the Gardens now allow visitors to cross easily between Tottenham Court Road and Whitfield Street/Tottenham Street. The new square provides a flexible space for future events, seating can be moved and clustered and there is a long, inclusive dining table which is now much used.
Alfred Place Gardens – a softening of the city
Alfred Place has been transformed into an inviting linear park, a calming, green oasis in one of the busiest parts of the capital. Now renamed Alfred Place Gardens, it is Camden Council’s first new park in the area for 25 years. Road space has been turned into high-quality green space, whilst essential access for services and emergency vehicles has been maintained.
A series of outdoor rooms provide woodland and play glades, lounging lawns and a flexible community events space. Mature London Plane trees have been retained and are joined by a line of Amelanchier and Birch, providing dappled shade. There’s lots here for pollinators, with flowering cherry and herbaceous perennials. Planting has been selected to withstand hot, dry summers. Biodegradable moisture retention gels in the soil provide back up.
The park is also designed to tolerate sudden deluges. Permeable resin paths include 30% recycled content, with absorbed rainwater quenching the borders. Combined with the significant areas of new planting, this delivers a substantial water catchment area. A safe cycle and pedestrian connection and new bike stands support active travel.
Elegant, curved timber seating along a meandering path is designed to encourage sociability, providing the ideal lunchtime spot in an area woefully short of outdoor places to sit. The first visitors took immediate ownership, stretching out on the seating to read in the sunshine. New play spaces encourage families to spend time here.
Alfred Place Gardens is a radical shift in how people can expect streets to function. It is an example of a slower, greener, healthier place that feels rewarding. It has been shaped through engagement with the people that matter most: local residents, workers, business owners and interest groups.