Kensington Roof Gardens
The Roof Gardens (formerly known as Derry and Toms Roof Gardens and Kensington Roof Gardens) is a roof garden covering 6,000 m² (1.5 acres) on top of the former Derry and Toms building on Kensington High Street, in central London, in The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. They have for a long time been the largest roof garden in Europe, but was surpassed by the roof garden on the shopping mall Emporia in 2012. Facilities include a restaurant and club.
The gardens are not visible from Kensington High Street; however, the property can be identified by the Virgin flags flying from the top of the building. The gardens are open to the public unless pre-booked by a private party. They are accessible from Derry Street, through a doorway marked "99 Kensington High Street". The nearest tube station is High Street Kensington.
Derry and Toms department store was opened in Kensington in 1933. The gardens were laid out between 1936 and 1938 by Ralph Hancock, a landscape architect, on the instructions of Trevor Bowen (then vice-president of Barkers, the department store giant that owned the site and constructed the building). They cost £25,000 to create and visitors were charged 1 shilling to enter. Money raised was donated to local hospitals and £120,000 was raised during the next 30 years.
The gardens were used as the set for the BBC music video of Roy Orbison singing his number one single, "Oh, Pretty Woman" in 1964 on Top of the Pops when Orbison could not make it in time to the television studios in Manchester.
The building housed the department store Derry and Toms until 1973, and then Biba until 1975.
The Gardens has been listed as a Grade II site by the English Heritage in 1978.
It is divided into three themed gardens:
- a Spanish garden, in a Moorish style based upon the Alhambra in Spain, with fountains, vine-covered walkways and Chusan palms;
- a Tudor style garden, characterised by its archways, secret corners and hanging wisteria. Roses, lilies and lavender contribute the rich summer scent to the garden;
- an English woodland garden, with over 100 species of trees, a stream, and a garden pond that is the home to pintail ducks and four flamingos called Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks. There are over 30 different species of trees in the woodland garden, including trees from the original planting over sixty years ago, despite having only a metre of soil in which to grow. Although they are on a rooftop, the trees were made the subject of tree preservation orders in 1976.
Restaurant and Clubhouse
The gardens surround a two storey Clubhouse which hosts private events such as conferences and parties and a private members club for up to 600 guests open on Friday and Saturday nights, and are situated 30 metres (100 ft) above street level (on the 6th floor of the building) with a panoramic view over west London through windows in the walled edge.
In 2001 Babylon Restaurant was built on the 7th floor of The Roof Gardens, which now operates as part of the property. Babylon is open Monday to Sunday for lunch and Monday to Saturday for dinner. Guests can see the English Woodland Garden from the terrace, and the flamingo pond from the private dining room. Babylon offers view west from Richmond Deer Park all the way round across South London to City Point in the east.
The Roof Gardens in fiction
The Derry and Toms Roof Gardens are a significant and recurrent location in the Jerry Cornelius stories written by Michael Moorcock. They are the setting for the opening scenes of the second Cornelius novel, A Cure for Cancer (1971), where Jerry encounters a helicopter firing on a party of tea-drinking old ladies in a satire on the (then contemporary) Vietnam war. The gardens also feature as the setting for a musical and dance extravaganza in Lorna Hill's "No castanets at the Wells". It is also the opening location in Moorcock's comic novel The Chinese Agent, featuring Jerry Cornell.
They are also a location in the 1964 film Ring of Spies, depicting their use as a location for Harry Houghton and Ethel Gee to hand over secret papers to Gordon Lonsdale as part of the Portland Spy Ring.
- About Us, The Roof Gardens website. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
- Ralph Hancock F.R.H.S. – Landscape Artist - Derry and Toms roof garden, Parks & Gardens UK. Retrieved 2011-11-29.
- The Roof Gardens (official website) (checked 6 September 2010)
- Google Maps aerial picture of the gardens (added 9 May 2006)
- Greenroofs.com - pictures of this and other roof gardens in London (checked 6 September 2010)
- Ralph Hancock website (checked 6 September 2010)
- Virgin Limited Edition website (checked 6 September 2010)
- Ralph Hancock Blog (checked 6 September 2010)