The silent garden

“When my sister and I were young, just old enough to go down to the High Street  on our own without alarming anyone we saw a woman on a side street make her exit through a door we hadn’t noticed before and forget to lock it behind her. We could hear the sound of church bells. Without thinking we slipped through the open door and climbed the steps to the silent garden.

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The path over the bridge seemed harmless and inviting. The air was warm and heavy behind the high walls.

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The undergrowth was thick beside the sloping path. It felt as if we were on the edge of a small wood. All I could hear was the hum of insects.

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We were faced with two entrances to the Plaza of Forgotten Dreams. I began to worry that the door would be locked by the time we got back to it.

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Within the Plaza there was too much open space. I felt as if we were being watched from above by something like a crow or a raven or a shrike like the one we had seen in the wood behind Aunt Louise’s house.

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But it was worse under the arches. I didn’t want to be so close to the Court of the Fountain. My sister wanted to rest on one of the stone benches but I was worried we might fall asleep. It would have been terrible to wake and find ourselves still alone in the garden at dusk.

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We tried to make our way back the way we had come but there seemed to be more arches behind us than I remembered.

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I thought I saw a gardener, or possibly two but now I was afraid that we might be caught and treated as trespassers.

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At last we came to the Pavilion of the Sun. I heard voices inside. Creeping close to the window and shading my eyes I could make out some activity. I thought I saw a group of women having their photograph taken. The photographer was shrouded in a black sheet. We couldn’t find a way in and after a short while I was glad about that. We stepped back quietly and followed the path around the Pavilion.

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A sudden shaft of light seemed to show the way to a door in the distance.

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Now we were near the edge of the garden I believed we were watched all the way to the wall and the dark staircase. When we got back to the noisy street the bells of the church were still striking midday. My sister drew some pictures of the garden later, remarkably detailed and accurate. But our mother refused to believe we had ever seen the silent garden.”


Regular readers will know  that I occasionally allow myself flights of fancy instead of proper history.  The anonymous Kensington resident and his sister are a useful device when a set of pictures doesn’t need too much in the way of factual commentary. These pictures convey an unusual sense of solitude, being of a place which was usually full of visitors. Like all empty places the garden looks a little sinister. Why not try making up your own narrative to go with them? Although there’s probably no likeness I was thinking of Arthur Machen’s story The Great God Pan while I was writing.

The photographs are by Lawrence S F Jeffcoate from an album called “A few impressions of the Derry Gardens” donated to the Library by the Trevor Bowen Estate. We don’t have a date for the pictures.

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