The Lambeth Palace Garden in the Archives

Whilst it would be misguided in 2020 to talk of the joys of spring, given the sad impact of the coronavirus, the time of year is nevertheless traditionally an exciting one for the Lambeth Palace garden. The garden is a unique green space in the heart of London with a long and interesting history documented within the Library’s collections.

The garden at Lambeth Palace
The Lambeth Palace garden, with Lambeth Palace in the background

The garden is one of the largest private gardens in London, and has a good claim to being the oldest continuously cultivated garden in the city. The earliest court roll for the archiepiscopal manor of Lambeth from 1236/7 (Reference: ED 1193) refers to the “…garden and orchards, with pears and other fruit sold at the garden gate, a ‘New herbarium’ with turfs coming from archbishop’s lands at Norwood, flax and hemp sown in gardens and a ‘great ditch’ surrounding the whole site”. An account roll from the time of Archbishop Reynolds in 1322 (Ref: ED 545) refers to the wall around the ‘great garden’ being newly built and thatched with reeds and a rabbit garden nearby. The roll lists various seeds which were bought and their cost, and provides an introduction to the garden’s staffing. Gardener Roger had a labourer for eight days to dig the garden, a boy to help dig out flowering plants for three days at 1d per day, and a spade which was worth 6d.

Early map of London
Printed map of London coloured by hand, taken from a copy of Georgius Braun and Franz Hogenberg, ‘Civitates orbis terrarum’, (LPL, MS 3392)

The Library’s earliest pictorial representation of the garden is a hand coloured print of London from 1560 by Georgius Braun and Franz Hogenberg (MS 3392) which probably shows the garden as it was laid out in the time of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The household ordinances of Archbishop Matthew Parker (MS 1072), give a detailed description of the gardener’s duties in the 16th century, including keeping the grass ‘lowe with the sythe’, and that he ‘delve and manure the grounds to the best comodity of the owner’.

Plan of garden
An exact Plann and Description of Lambeth Pallace with the Courtyards, Gardens, Orchard, Woodyard, Parke, and Walkes Lying and being within the County of Surry Parcell of the Possessions of Thomas Scott Esq. and Mr. Matthew Hardy (LPL, TD 216)

The first detailed plan of the garden dates from the Civil War period (TD 216), when in 1648 commissioners were appointed by Chancery to carry out a survey with a view to the sale of much of the site. The plan is accompanied by a survey giving the size, value and character of the land, which includes the garden (COMM XIIa/23, f.62). The household accounts of Archbishop William Sancroft tell us how much the gardener was paid in 1679 (TG 1, f.63) and a bill in Archbishop John Potter’s accounts for 1736 illustrates the variety of seeds which were bought (TG 5, f.10). By the mid-18th century the number of plans of the garden grows. For example the landscaping work which took place under Archbishop John Moore between 1783-4 is reflected in plans from before (TD 217) and after (TD 218). The granting of a large part of the garden on a lease to London County Council in 1900 by Archbishop Frederick Temple is recorded in the collections in reasonable detail.

Plan of the palace gardens and adjoining land
Lambeth Palace, plan of the gardens and lands adjoining the palace. (LPL TD217)
Plan of the Palace and gardens
Lambeth Palace, plan of the palace and gardens as intended (LPL TD 218)

The 19th and 20th centuries have seen the involvement of several Archbishops’ wives in garden renovations. A print of 1883 (Print 034/075) conveys a sense of the landscaping and planting work carried out by Mary Howley, wife of Archbishop William, in the 1830s. Archbishop Randall Davidson’s wife Edith was responsible for the planting of yellow antirrhinum, scarlet salvias, heliotrope and verbenas.

Print depicting the gardens at the end of the 19th century
The Gardens of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace (LPL, Prints 034/075)

Rosamund Fisher wrote a diary which she donated to the Library (MS 1726, ff. 64-78), and which provides valuable insights into the garden soon after the end of World War Two: “when we arrived the garden was still occupied by an RAF balloon and its crew… Wright, the gardener, had inadequate help, but did wonders in restocking the herbaceous borders and the kitchen garden. Seeds cost little and we made successful experiments with many plants hitherto supposed not to grow in Lambeth soil”. The tradition of wives working on garden renovations has continued into the recent past, with Rosalind Runcie leading a project to restore the garden in preparation for the 1988 Lambeth Conference, and further work taking place under Eileen Carey.

Further reading

For further detail on the history of the Lambeth Palace garden see:
Watton, M (2017). ‘Seven Hundred Years since a Spade Cost Sixpence, Records of the Lambeth Palace Garden’, Archives, LII (135), 3-15.


Dr Richard Palmer reports that during August and September the Project focused on the librarianship of Samuel Wayland Kershaw from 1868 to the beginning of 1910. Kershaw owed his appointment to the limited funding available for the Librarian’s salary which made it impossible to appoint a more qualified person. He endured throughout his librarianship the assistance, or perhaps supervision, of a succession of Honorary Curators and Honorary Librarians who were intended to make up for  his supposed deficiencies or lack of standing. Nevertheless Kershaw proved to be a diligent Librarian who enhanced and extended the role of the Library during the primacies of the five Archbishops of Canterbury whom he served.

Archbishop Longley (MS 1680 f 23)


The project has catalogued the extensive records which he generated through his work. Kershaw took forward the intention of Archbishop Longley, who appointed him, to make the Library more widely available for public use. Initially Kershaw attended the Library on only three days a week, with long breaks at Christmas and Easter and in the Autumn, but from 1880 the Library’s opening hours were extended and the result may be seen in the registers of readers which Kershaw maintained. He also opened the Library extensively to visiting groups, as well as to royal and other distinguished visitors, and installed an exhibition case in the Great Hall to display treasures of the Library, many of which he also publicised through his Art Treasures of the Lambeth Library (London, 1873). Correspondence on the loan of manuscripts for publication or transcription, each requiring the Archbishop’s approval, show another aspect of his work. He also introduced regular loans of printed books to readers and enlisted public support to form special collections on the local history of Kent and on monasteries in England and Wales.

Kershaw was also responsible for a new catalogue of printed books, based on an interleaved copy of the Bodleian Library catalogue, and compiled additional catalogues of ‘modern books’ and of pamphlets, including an extensive collection of pamphlets given by Archbishop Howley. The project has also catalogued a large number of indexes which he compiled to manuscript and archives in the Library. It also fell to Kershaw to oversee a major programme of conservation, resulting from an exceptional grant made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1869, which is recorded in his bookbinding accounts.

Despite these achievements, which were set against a background of acute financial stringency, Kershaw does not seem to have won appreciation. His long reign as Librarian (his ‘amusing despotism’ as one reader put it) was finally terminated at the beginning of 1910 when Archbishop Davidson winkled him out of office. Davidson’s draft letter to Kershaw which brought this about is a masterpiece of tact and persuasion.