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A Lost Botanic World In Aldgate

May 11, 2018
by the gentle author

Last year, I joined a group of intrepid plant hunters descending into the depths of the last remaining bomb site in the City of London. We climbed all the way down into the hole until we reached the level of the platforms of what was formerly part of Aldgate East Station, until a V2 bomb dropped nearby in the Second World War.

Consequently, the plant life that flourished in this rare haven of nature remained untouched in all these years because the proximity of the tube line precluded any redevelopment until now, and so the project was to record this lost world of botanic richness at the eleventh hour. The plant species collected included many that were once commonplace throughout the City and the East End yet which no longer thrive here.

Artist Liz Davis has mounted the specimens which are to be exhibited in Spitalfields next week and then added to the collection in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum which preserves the work of plant collectors, including former local resident Nicholas Culpeper.

Wild City is at Townhouse, 7 Fournier St, E1 6QE, from Thursday 17th May until Sunday 17th June

The hole descends to the former platform of Aldgate East

Sarah Hudson (Chair of Friends of City Gardens) & Liz Davis (Artist & Plant Hunter)

At platform level

Solanum Dulcamara (Bittersweet)

Medicago Lupulina (Black Medick)

Platanus Hispanica (London Plane)

Lapsana Communis (Common Nipplewort)

Cymbalaria Muralis (Ivy-leaved Toadflax)

Merculiaris Annua (Annual Mercury)

Cardamine Flexuosa (Wavy Bittercress)

Senacio Vulgaris (Groundsel)

Pteridium Aquillinum (Bracken)

Picris Hieraciodes (Hawkweed Oxtongue)

Cirsium Arvense (Thistle)

Artemisia Vulgaris (Mugwort)

Whitechapel High St entrance to Aldgate East Station destroyed by a V2 bomb

You may also like to take a look at

In Search Of Nicholas Culpeper’s Spitalfields

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Saba permalink
    May 11, 2018

    I write about history, do botanical illustration, and work in a museum so my dreams come true with this post.

    But, one tiny bit of criticism of the Natural History Museum. Future generations will be grateful if the museum insists that those who write specimen labels have neat, legible handwriting.

  2. Peter Arney permalink
    May 11, 2018

    And, ideally, that they can spell Whitechapel!

  3. May 11, 2018

    Completely inspiring, thanks!

  4. Leana Pooley permalink
    May 11, 2018

    This is such a rare, interesting place that it seems mad that we’re about to get rid of it.

  5. Roger Tiller permalink
    May 11, 2018

    Be careful of lost electric cables in the over grown ground.
    Good luck

  6. sarah permalink
    May 11, 2018

    In the 1970s I was told by a lady who was then in her late 60s that that she and her sister both worked in the City after the end of the war, and in their lunch breaks they used to throw ‘seed bombs’ containing many varieties of hardy annuals into bomb craters. I wonder if there were any traces of their interventions at Aldgate East?

  7. Richard Smith permalink
    May 11, 2018

    Wow, a fascinating post. Fascinating because of the plants but also the chance to explore. I think the destruction may not have been caused by a V2 as I believe the first impact of a V2 was 8th September 1944 in Chiswick, West London. Thank you for the post.

  8. Paul Loften permalink
    May 11, 2018

    So from this terrible destruction arose a place of natural beauty! At least something good. My family was living in Victoria Park Road in 1943 and my father was on leave from the army and he heard the V1 motor cut out and my dad grabbed my sister who was just born and slid under the heavy wooden kitchen table. The rocket hit over the road and took many lives but the roof of the house came down . The table was so solid it saved their lives without a scratch. My dear sister , Ros ,is still alive to tell that tale

  9. Marcia Howard permalink
    May 11, 2018

    What a pity this treasure of plants arising out of destruction is now due to be ‘developed’. A piece of history that perhaps was worth saving as a reminder of what had been. It is amazing how neglected areas revert to nature so easily. I grew up for the first 11 years of my life in Chelsea, and although the area was left relatively unscathed from bombing, there were one or two bombs sites I recall playing around with my older siblings, with big drops into the open cellars. We were forbidden to go near them of course, but that just made them even more of a temptation.

  10. Christina Mitchell permalink
    May 12, 2018

    Loved this post! Beautifully presented.Thank you.

  11. May 13, 2018

    beautiful specimens… they remind me of old blueprint plant specimens, like anna atkins’ seaweed images

  12. May 13, 2018

    The drawings are super. I can read the notes and the spelling isn’t a big issue. What a grand project.

  13. May 13, 2018

    I wish I’d climbed down into that hole! A Nazi bomb, followed by seed bombs and graffiti artists. Love it. No doubt the site will be covered with luxury flats that the majority of us won’t be able to afford.

  14. Jane Hill permalink
    May 24, 2018

    I love this post gentle author; thank you, it’s right up my street. You may be interested to know that ‘cockney weeds’ are to be found on Hampstead Heath.

    ‘Sandpits had again appeared on the Heath in 1939. One great quarry was at the south end of the Upper Fairground, just above the Vale of Health, and another on the Sandy Road, just below the Spaniards road, at the back of the Paddock. These were wide and about twenty feet deep. They were filled up at the end of the War with rubble from bombed London, which brought a colourful crop of Cockney weeds and are the only place on the Heath where they can be seen today.’

    I shall be going in search of them shortly.

  15. Vicky Stewart permalink
    August 31, 2023

    A month or two after this bomb site was explored and recorded by Friends of City Gardens the excavators moved in and not long after that this building was appeared, 24 stories of student accommodation

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