Bethnal Green Nature Reserve

Project Category: OtherProject Tags: Art, Cultural Heritage, Education, Gardens, Mental Health, Parks and Sharing Economy

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  • Our Story

    The Bethnal Green Nature Reserve has just been awarded a Mishcon grant to develop a wetland habitat.

    A new series of interconnecting ponds will harbour a rich collection of indigenous and medicinal aquatic plants, providing a home for an existing toad and newt population.

    Bethnal Green Nature Reserve – site history

    Middleton Street, Bethnal Green, E2 9RR, London

    The area’s rural past is now invisible through most of the borough. The Bethnal Green Nature Reserve is a rare example of a place where it is still possible to have a sense of continued history.

    Records and old maps show that fields, market gardens and nursery gardens persisted here from mediaeval. In 1717 records describe the area as ’meadow and pastures’. When industrialisation arrived in the 19th Century it brought urban poverty with it and an end to rural Bethnal Green.

    In 1839 the Bishop of London called it ‘one of the most desolate parishes’. He undertook to build ten new churches and in 1842 the acreage was bought and work on St Jude’s began. The church took four years to build and finally opened its doors in 1846. It was a grand church, big enough to hold one thousand worshippers, and performed an active social functions with library, food kitchen, institute and school.

    In 1940, during the Second World War, it was bombed and totally destroyed. The ruins of the complex remained untouched for years gradually becoming wilder and wilder.

    Eventually a few local people – including a core group of mothers who were home-schooling their children – realised its value. Helped by the Environment Trust they started to clear the land.

    In the 1970s the Tower Hamlets Council decided to fence the site in and lock it up to protect the area from fly-tipping. In the late 1990s the local Teesdale and Hollybush Tenants and Residents Association became the site custodians and, with the support of Tower Hamlets Council, took responsibility for St Jude’s as it was still called locally. They have been caring for it devotedly ever since.

    Since St Jude is the patron saint of lost causes they changed its name to the more hopeful (and appropriate) Bethnal Green Nature Reserve. Plants grown today in the Nature Reserve as part of Phytology medicinal garden have a similarly long history. 

    Phytology – Medicinal Field 

    Over the past two years the Phytology team have been establishing a medicinal field in the heart of Bethnal Green, East London. The apothecary garden has been sown with thirty-two varieties of plants common to the streets of London and urban ecosystems across the country.

    IMG_9119The planting scheme includes Yarrow, White Dead-Nettle, Mallow, Ribwort Plantain, Dandelion, Red Clover and Common Nettle. The medicinal field is grown in pollution free soil to ensure the plants are safe and suitable for daily use. Visitors are invited to freely harvest from the medicinal field with the support and guidance of the Phytology team.

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    Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, Middleton St, Bethnal Green