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The Potted History Of Ovington Square

Imagine the scene nearly 200 years ago: the little village of Brompton surrounded by green fields and bustling market gardens, filled with workers picking and planting to satisfy the burgeoning appetites of London, rapidly expanding to the east. Like the market gardens of Lennox, Onslow, Drayton and Collingham, Flounders Field, as it was known then, supplied the appetites of a city which, from 1714 to 1840 expanded from 630,000 to over two million, becoming the largest city in the world.

 

In 1844 the land was owned by Elizabeth, Baroness Von Zandt, who had inherited from her first husband, Sir Thomas Swinnerton Dyer. With the city of London lapping at Brompton’s door, Elizabeth decided to develop the square, calling in W.W. Pocock as her architect. Elizabeth, née Standerwick, was born in a graceful Queen Anne property in called Ovington House in Hampshire, and unsurprisingly the family decided to rename the unprepossessing ‘Flounders Field’ to ‘Ovington Square’.

 

Nos 1-33 Ovington Square were designed in the classical style by Pocock, a prolific Georgian architect whose ​work includes the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Elephant and Castle. No.35 was built in 1885 as part of the Cadogan Estate.

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Ovington Square did not escape the horror of The Blitz during World War II. Blocks 22-26 were bombed out, leaving stark ruins. As a (small) silver lining, this meant that eminent producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were able to take advantage of the garden and bombsite in 1943, filming The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The film, starring Deborah Kerr, describes the life and loves of an old solider, Major General ‘Sugar’ Candy.

The block was rebuilt in 1957 by the eminent architect and self-build proponent Walter Segal, and was famously described by the art historian Nikolaus Pevsner as reminiscent of “a Morris Traveller parked among grander saloons”. For younger readers – a Morris Traveller was an extraordinary half-timbered car much loved for its quaint Englishness.

 

Notable residents included Charles Dickens and Barratt Browning’s publisher Frederic Chapman, socialite and salonist Vera Lombardi, Jane Wilde and her son, a certain Oscar Wilde and the politician and campaigner Sir Wilfrid Lawson. Post-war the square was enlivened by the headquarters of the Beatles’ Apple Corps and Harrisongs, and was the home of the London Buddhist Vihara from 1955-1964.

 

The garden’s future was secured soon after development, protected under the 1851 Garden Square Act and maintained under the Kensington Improvement Act 1851, which allows for management and day-to-day maintenance by a garden committee of residents. Responsibility for the garden passed to Trustees following a settlement made by Sir John Swinnerton Dyer in 1912 – a great nephew of Elizabeth – and to this day the freehold of the square remains with the Paravacini family, who married into the Dyer family and took on the running of the Dyer Family Trust.

 

For more about the garden itself see here