On Sunday 29 January 2012, in the roof gardens that were created and opened in May 1938, members of the Hancock family, the Roof Gardens Gardening Club and The Roof Gardens Head Gardener, David Lewis, gathered to unveil a plaque commemorating the life and work of Clarence Henry Ralph Hancock, F.R.H.S.
The Green Plaque, similar to the English Heritage Blue Plaques, is of a simple design. A dark green background with white lettering and a white border. Made of aluminium, the plaque will act as a lasting memorial and tribute to the man who, not only created the Roof Gardens in Kensington. But, was also a multiple Gold Medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show; the designer and builder of elaborate roof gardens on the 11th floor roof of the Rockefeller Center in New York. As well as hundreds of beautiful gardens both here in the United Kingdom and across the pond in America.
Above all, Ralph Hancock was a loving husband to Muriel. A devoted father to Bramley, Denys and Sheila and a true gardening genius who lived his tempestuous life to the full.
During the dedication ceremony, which included talks from David Lewis and Hancock grandchildren, Simon Dure-Smith and Angela Buck, a message from Sir Richard Branson, in which he paid tribute to Ralph and his creation was read to those gathered: “Ralph Hancock was a true visionary. I’m sure his family will agree that he probably had no idea back in 1936 that he was about to create such an iconic garden and I’m sure if he was here today he’d be very proud to see it still standing strong and looking so beautiful.”
Simon read a few words from his mother, Sheila Dure-Smith (nee Hancock): "My husband Peter and I much appreciate this chance to be a part of the dedication of a plaque to the memory of my father Ralph Hancock, who designed and built these gardens in 1936 to '37. We are also glad to be able to thank The Roof Gardens and Richard Branson, along with David Lewis, for offering a permanent home for the plaque. As a byproduct of their making the gardens an established and familiar feature of Kensington, they have also created a showplace for my father's work.
If neglected a garden quickly crumbles and dies; these gardens are lovingly and skilfully tended.
My father's vision of using his professional knowledge to put gardens on city rooftops, providing green oases which lift the spirits of city dwellers, has even more signiﬁcance today with new concerns for the health of the environment. That he did so in two of the world's largest metropolises, London and New York, and met the challenges involved, is a measure of his talent and ingenuity.
I would like to say a little about my mother also. When she ﬁrst met Ralph he was a dashing young artillery ofﬁcer; she was strictly brought up but high-spirited, one of the ﬁrst group of educated young women to be employed by the Bank of England as wartime replacements for their young clerks. She eloped with him when she was 19, and steadfastly remained at the centre not only of their eventual family of ﬁve, but constantly as the focus of his sometimes tempestuous life.
We understand that some of my father's younger descendants will be here today to represent us all - we only hope the weather will defer to the occasion!
The plaque, supported by Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Limited Editions, David Lewis, and Sheila and Peter Dure-Smith (Ralph's daughter and son-in-law), sits in a quiet spot in the Woodland Garden on a wall of red brick. And is just a few feet away from the plaque featuring Trevor Bowen, the man who gave inspiration for the 'Garden in the Sky'.
The Hancock family: Ralph's grandchildren - Angela Buck (right centre); Miranda Rota (left centre) and Simon Dure-Smith (centre) and their children, Ralph's Great-grandchildren. Also in this photo are; Christine (Simon's wife) and Bob Priddle . Bob has been instrumental in raising the profile of Ralph Hancock.
David Lewis, Head Gardener, The Roof Gardens and Angela Buck, Ralph's Granddaughter and co-organiser of the unveiling of the plaque.