When James Weller Ladbroke decided to develop the agricultural land that constituted his estate, he employed Thomas Allason, a prominent London architect, to draw up a master plan. Allason produced his plan in 1823. It included a huge circus over 500 metres across, centred on the hill on which St John’s Church now stands, with a road running north-south through the middle. Each half of the circus featured a large open garden with houses all around it. As the gardens would be entirely enclosed by the houses, they would be private to the residents.
Work started shortly after on the houses on the southernmost part of the estate, along what is now Holland Park Avenue. But construction was brought to an abrupt halt by a financial crisis in 1825, and Allason’s grand plan for communal gardens further up the hill remained unimplemented. Much of the undeveloped land was finally let to a speculator who opened a race-course in 1837. But it was not a great success, and after various crises the race-course closed down in 1842. By this time the building market was reviving, and a new master-plan was drawn up by another architect, James Thomson. Although he radically overhauled the original, he shared Allason’s love of landscaping. His plan retained a central north-south road (Ladbroke Grove) and the main feature of shared gardens with crescents around the hill, albeit in a modified form. What he designed is essentially what we have inherited today, with 16 gardens or garden squares rather than the two enormous semi-circular ones envisaged by Allason. English Heritage has given the ensemble of gardens on the Ladbroke estate a Grade II listing on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens (click on
http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1000242 for the full English Heritage description).
In most of the gardens, the houses backing onto the garden have their own private garden as well, usually separated from the communal garden by a railing with a gate in it. Most gardens also have an entrance on the street for access by contractors etc.
Governance of the gardens
From the beginning, the gardens (originally known as “pleasure grounds” or sometimes “paddocks”) were available only to residents of the houses adjoining them, and the residents were required to contribute to the upkeep. Originally the 19th century developer of the houses round the garden kept ownership of the garden and inserted into the leases of the houses an obligation to pay £2.2s (two guineas) annually to him. Most developers seem, however, to have become fed up with collecting these small amounts and organising the maintenance of the garden, and most of the gardens were conveyed to trustees who decided on an appropriate yearly rent. The trustees did not necessarily have an easy task, especially when it came to the collection of the rents. Fortunately, legislation was passed in 1851 and 1863 which allowed the individual gardens to place themselves within a legislative framework that enabled the Council to collect the rents on their behalf. Today most gardens rely on the Council to collect contributions through a levy or precept that must be paid along with the Council tax by all the households with access to the gardens (which includes those living in flats in blocks adjoining the garden). But all still have committees drawn from the residents that must decide on the levy; on the rules and regulations applying in the garden; and on such matters as planting policy.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE LADBROKE ASSOCIATION HAS NO DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN THE RUNNING OF THE GARDENS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT ACCESS ETC. SHOULD BE ADDRESSED TO THE RELEVANT GARDEN COMMITTEE.
Legislation covering the gardens
Different gardens are covered by different legislation. In 1851, the Borough obtained a private Act, the Kensington Improvement Act 1851, which provides that, for the gardens to which it applies:
- those liable to pay Council Tax (originally rates) in respect of any dwelling surrounding the square or garden and who have been resident for at least a year, are members of the garden committee;
- the garden committee can appoint a sub-committee;
- the garden committee or sub-committee is exclusively responsible for the care, management and regulation of the garden;
- certain procedures should be followed for the calling and conduct of meetings of the garden committee and sub-committee;
- the garden committee must elect a chairman who has a casting vote;
- the garden committee and any sub-committee have the power to make byelaws for the proper management of the garden;
- at an annual meeting, the garden committee may determine the amount of money, to be raised via an annual levy as part of the Council Tax, which is necessary to maintain and keep the garden in order; accounts of the previous year’s expenditure must be produced at this meeting;
- the residents of the houses round the square or garden have the right to use it.
The Town Gardens Protection Act 1863 is an alternative that can also be used by garden committees. More information here. It provides that:
- the residents of the dwellings surrounding the garden elect a garden committee annually;
- the garden committee must consist of not more than nine nor fewer than three of the inhabitants of the dwellings surrounding the square who are liable to pay Council Tax;
- the garden committee may, at an annual meeting, determine the amount required for the maintenance or management of the garden to be raised via an annual levy as part of the Council Tax;
- the garden committee has the power to make byelaws for the management and protection of the garden.
There is much further useful information on the Garden Squares section of the RBKC website – see
The London Squares Preservation Act 1931 also gives protection to the gardens of the Ladbroke estate. Section 3 of the Act lays down that their use shall be restricted to ‘ornamental pleasure grounds or grounds for play, rest and recreation’, and the only buildings and structures allowed are those which are ‘necessary or convenient for, and in connection with, the use and maintenance of such squares’. It puts a duty on the Council to enforce this provision. The Act also contains a number of detailed provisions on works affecting the gardens and related matters. Full text of Act here.
The Act was used recently by the Council to prevent encroachment into a communal garden in the Courtfield Gardens area. The owner of a property that gives onto Courtfield Gardens West wanted to dig a 3.5 metres deep lightwell projecting into the garden. A deed was in existence, made in the 1960s, that gave the owner of that property a legal right to carry out the excavation, and the owner made a successful application for planning permission in 2012. The applicant was however warned that consent might also be needed under the 1931 Act, a consent which it is also for the Council to give. The developers went ahead without seeking such consent. The Council warned them the development was in breach of the Act. The developers then put in an application for the requisite consent. The Council refused to give consent on the grounds that, whereas the Act specifically provides for Council to authorise underground works, there is nothing in the Act that allowed them to give consent to the construction of an open lightwell.
The developers sought judicial review of the Council’s decision and the High Court delivered its judgement in February 2015 [R (Eliterank) v the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea  EWHC 220 (Admin)]. The Court found for the Council. It made clear that the term “underground” in the Act means completely underground (underground car-parks have for instance been authorised under some garden squares); and that Councils have no powers to authorise works that are not completely underground, which remain illegal under the Act.
This is an important case, as it is thought to be the first one taken under the 1931 Act. The High Court decision effectively confirmed that this somewhat obscure piece of legislation is still valid and that Councils can take enforcement action against people who encroach onto garden squares in breach of the Act.
Grade II status of the Gardens and planning regime
In 1987, English Heritage (now Historic England) registered the sixteen gardens of the Ladbroke estate as Grade II on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. There is information about the Register on the Historic England website at
The inclusion of a historic park or garden on the Register in itself brings no additional statutory controls. However, local authorities are required by central government to make provision for the protection of the historic environment in their policies and in the allocation of resources. The fact that a garden has been registered is also a “material planning consideration”, so when deciding planning applications affecting a communal garden the Council should take into account the historic interest of the site. They must also consult the Garden History Society (see www.gardenhistorysociety.org) on all applications affecting registered sites. In London, the Garden History Society delegates its role in relation to planning applications to the London Parks and Gardens Trust (see http://www.londongardenstrust.org).
Quite a few of the Council’s stated planning policies are also relevant to the communal gardens and to the buildings in them or backing onto them.
Many of the houses backing onto the gardens are listed, or subject to Article 4 Directions meaning that planning permission is needed for any alterations to the backs of the houses and/or the walls, railings and fences facing the communal gardens. See under the individual gardens below for details.