The fruity and flowery history of Elephant and Castle

28 Nov 2019

Elephant and Castle hasn’t always looked the way it does today. In the 18th century, Newington Causeway and Newington Butts (then simply Newington) and the area to the west of Walworth Road were low-lying and marshy – perfect conditions for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers.

These gardens and orchards supplied the City of London with fresh produce, including luxury fruit. John Cary’s 1787 New Map of London shows a peach garden located just north of the New Kent Road and, over time, the Newington Peach became a firm favourite of London. Notable 18th century gardeners, James Maddock and John Abercrombie, set up their nursery businesses in Walworth and Newington because of the area’s proximity to the city and both published books detailing the rapid advances in horticulture that were taking place in England.

Maddock, famous for growing single and double varieties of Narcissus Tenuior for the first time in England, published The Florists’ Directory; or Treatise on the Culture of Flowers, and Abercrombie wrote a work that included an account of the newly introduced chrysanthemum.

Maps of the 1780s depict the whole area as a pleasant country neighbourhood, with newly formed roads stretching across the gardens and fields.

This rich heritage is detailed on a hoarding currently shielding restoration work being carried out at Walworth’s old Town Hall. Created by artist Kerry Lemon, the artwork includes images of the peaches, apples and grapes that once grew in abundance in the area’s gardens and orchards. It’s not hard to see why Newington and Walworth became regarded as an integral part of the ‘larder of London’.