On Thursday 9th May 2013, exactly seventy-five years to the day, the Roof Gardens (Formerly the Derry Gardens) celebrated reaching their three-quarter-century mark.
To celebrate this achievement, David Lewis, Head Gardener for the Roof Gardens (Virgin Limited Edition), hosted an afternoon Garden Party for invited guests.
On arrival, guests were greeted with delicious themed cocktails based on the gardens themselves. One of the drinks was served in a small stainless steel garden pail.
The other, had delicate, tiny flower petals floating on its surface. Themed canapés were also served to guests in the Spanish Garden. And, with the help of a little ray of spring sun, one could almost be in the Alhambra.
Later, guests were ushered in to what was the old Tea Pavilion, now the Private Members Club where, appropriately, afternoon tea was served, and a five piece band played and sung a medley of tuneful songs.
The cake was divine!
The afternoon finished with the giving of Roof Garden Gift Bags to all guests. Included within each bag was a potted herb, some sweeties, a cake pop, a wonderful Roof Garden themed rubber duck and the local Kensington Magazine, which featured several articles about the Roof Gardens and Ralph Hancock.
We were introduced, by David to two very special guests, Mrs Erica Bargman and Mr John Nailard. For us, they made the afternoon's celebrations complete.
Mr Nailard, aged 13 in 1946, arrived at what was then, Derry and Toms. Allowed to leave school before his 14th birthday, he was employed, at first, as the junior member of the maintenance team. He told us that he soon became a skilled tea maker for the much older workmen! When he left, 22 years later in 1968, he was in-charge of the entire maintenance function.
He told us some wonderful stories of his time at Derry and Toms. Of the Friday evening staff dances in the Rainbow Room, of the various sporting clubs which were organised by the department store management. And, of course, the gardens themselves. He admitted that the gardens had changed little since he had left Derry's in the 1960's. But seeing them again had reminded him of all the good times. His fondest memory were of those dances. Growing up during the war, with little in the way of luxury, he recalled how thrilled he was to discover tables full of long-since-seen jelly and cream cakes. It was like being in heaven, he recalled.
In future, we hope to bring more of Mr Nailard's memories to ralphhancock.com.
Mrs Bargman also had memories of the gardens. This time through her late Father, John Burley (J Burley & Son). At the time the gardens were constructed, the firm of J Burley and Son were already well-known civil engineers and as exhibitors of fine gardens at the Pre-war Daily Mail Ideal Homes Exhibition. She recalled that her father and his firm were responsible for the physical construction of the structures within the roof gardens. Burley's specialised in cast-concrete as well as landscaping.
She wasn't sure how her father became involved in the project. But, it is quite likely that both John Burley and Ralph Hancock met at the Ideal Home Exhibition in the mid 1930's. Whatever the story of their meeting, they obviously clicked.
As with Mr Nailard, we hope to learn more of Mrs Bargman's stories of the Gardens in the near future.
(Left) The Bridge over which visitors can see the Green Plaque, unveiled on 29 January 2012, which commemorates the designer and builder of the Roof Gardens, Ralph Hancock.
(Below left ) In the Woodland Garden you can see Bill and Ben and Splosh and Pecks, the Roof Gardens very own resident Flamingoes. The gardens can also boast a wide variety of other birds, including ducks, who have made the gardens their own. (below right) The Spanish Garden in all its colourful glory. The now long-closed Barkers of Kensington can be spotted over the salmon pink wall.
The photographs used on this page are reproduced with the kind permission of Emma Harris.