Common ground: horticulture and the cultivation of open space in the East End of London, 1840-1900

Matheson, Julia (2010). Common ground: horticulture and the cultivation of open space in the East End of London, 1840-1900. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis re-examines the characterisation of the East End of London as an area associated with poverty and urban degradation. It uses a wide range of sources to show that there was more open space and a greater interest in horticulture within the population than has hitherto been recognised.

Local newspapers, gardening journals and maps have been used to demonstrate that among East Enders were both amateur and professional gardeners. Amateurs gardened in backyards and window boxes, but horticultural expert Shirley Hibberd compared their flower shows favourably with those of the Royal Horticultural Society. There was a wide range of nurserymen and market gardeners supplying local individuals and the London markets. These industries have not featured in any discussion of East End employment. There were also open spaces which served many functions for the district. Victoria Park, the largest landscaped open space in the East End, provided both an example of horticultural excellence and also a site for recreation; cemeteries, in their early days, had ambitions to provide pleasantly landscaped surroundings in which mourners could find peace, though these ambitions did not survive the pressure of numerous burials; the small parks and gardens provided by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association were an example of what could be achieved by the efforts of philanthropists who were anxious to help the poor at the end of the century.

This thesis argues that gardening should be recognised in historical debate as a pastime that was popular with all classes, not just the elite. It also suggests that most studies of the East End have underestimated the presence and importance of open space even in such an overcrowded and poverty-stricken area.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions