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Study Day

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BGHG organises an annual Study Day, open to all, which this year will be on the theme: 
Water in Modern Designed Landscapes

The Birkbeck Garden History Group held it annual Study Day on Saturday 9 March 2024 to explore the diverse ways in which water has been used to enhance the rural and urban environment in both public and private spaces from the mid-20th century to the present day.

Venue: Lift, 45 White Lion Street, London N1 9PW in the Blue Hall, First Floor;  Islington.


10.00 am             Registration and coffee

10.25 am             Introduction. Chairman: Dominic Cole, Landscape Architect and President of the Gardens Trust

10.30 am             Water in modern public landscapes 

                               Speaker: Hal Moggridge, Consultant to Colvin & Moggridge, Landscape Architects

11.30 am             Short break

11.45 am             Hidden treasure: the rediscovery of urban canals since 1945

                               Speaker: Dr Alan Powers, Architectural Historian and Conservationist

12.45 pm             Lunch

2.00 pm                Liquid assets: water in the modern private garden

                                Speaker: Dr Katie Campbell, Garden Historian and Writer

3.00 pm                Tea

3.30 pm                 Rewilding Arcadia: 21st-century solutions to manage increasing flood risk along the river Thames

                                 Speaker: Jason Debney, Coordinator, Thames Landscape Strategy

4.30 pm                Close. Chairman: Dominic Cole

Tickets (£60 for BGHG members, £65 for non-members),  ticket included coffee, sandwich lunch, tea, and biscuits. 

About the Talks

Water in modern public landscapes

This talk combined two different aspects: lakes occurring incidentally in the creation of industrial landscapes that subsequently become publicly accessible habitats for wildlife, and the deliberate ornamental use of water in public places. Examples of the first were taken from Hal Moggridge’s own work as well as the extensive gravel workings along the upper Thames. The landscape of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, opened in 2000 and designed by Colvin and Moggridge, was described as an example of the second aspect.

Hal Moggridge OBE PPLI VMH RIBA was principal of Colvin & Moggridge, the oldest surviving British landscape practice, from 1969 until 1997 when he became consultant, a position he still enjoys. He was President of the Landscape Institute from 1979-81. He has illustrated the wide scope of his work in countryside, industrial, urban and historical landscapes in his book Slow Growth: On the Art of Landscape Architecture (2017).

Hidden treasure: the rediscovery of urban canals since 1945

In 1947, the canals of Britain, previously mostly owned by railway companies, were nationalised, a year after the foundation of the Inland Waterways Association and the beginning of a revival of interest in the commercial and leisure uses of canals. While attention was mostly given to boating and opening up closed waterways, the value of towpath walks for city dwellers, and the prospects of canals for developments overlooking them, gradually became apparent. The Camden section of the Regent’s Canal, which passes in its tunnel close to the site of this study day, is of special interest in this respect, as the towpath was opened to the public after many years of campaigning work in April 1974, fifty years ago. This was a precedent for the recovery of urban canals in London, involving a landscaping of the towpaths and canal basins, plus the creation of new housing and parks alongside them, and also the realisation of the scenic, ecological and recreational value of canals in Birmingham and Manchester.

Alan Powers PhD is an architectural historian and conservationist, formerly chairman of the Twentieth Century Society. He teaches at New York University in London, the London School of Architecture and the University of Kent, and is the author of books on mid 20th-century art, architecture and design. His recent books include Bauhaus Goes West (2019) and Abbatt: Modern Toys for Modern Children (2020).

Liquid assets: water in the modern private garden

This talk looked at the imaginative use of water in British horticulture from the turn of the twentieth century to the present day. From Jellicoe to Jencks, from Buscot Park to Little Sparta, it explored the ideas, inspirations and aesthetics which helped shape some of Britain’s best-loved water gardens.

Katie Campbell PhD, writer, garden historian and lecturer, has taught garden history at Birkbeck College, and Bristol and Buckingham Universities. She writes on art and landscape for a number of publications and leads art and garden tours. Her most recent book, Cultivating the Renaissance: A Social History of the Medici Tuscan Villas (2021), explores the evolution of Renaissance ideas and aesthetics through the Medici Tuscan villas. Previous books include British Gardens in Time (2014) to accompany the BBC television series, Paradise of Exiles (2009), looking at the late nineteenth century Anglo- American garden-makers in Florence and Icons of Twentieth-Century Landscape Design (2006).

Rewilding Arcadia: 21st-century solutions to manage increasing flood risk along the river Thames

Flood risk along the Thames is predicted to increase significantly throughout the coming century. Rather than build ever higher flood defence walls to protect riparian open spaces, new solutions need to be found to conserve character, wildlife and recreational use. This approach is being rolled out across the Thames estuary through a project known as the Joint Thames Strategies Refresh, a DEFRA-funded project that is working with communities, agencies and boroughs to write Riverside Strategies setting out how vulnerable places should evolve. 21st- century solutions will be needed to manage water that will change the way in which many historic landscapes function.

Jason Debney is the Coordinator of the Thames Landscape Strategy – a not-for-profit partnership to conserve and enhance the remarkable Arcadian Thames between Weybridge and Kew. Jason has raised £23m for works on the ground much of which has been delivered through local volunteer action. Previous restoration schemes that Jason has managed include the restoration of the Hampton Court flood meadows and the View from Richmond Hill. Jason has been at the forefront of a new initiative – Rewilding Arcadia – that explores ways in which nature-based solutions can be used to manage the functioning floodplain that includes protected parks, gardens and open spaces. What is wet now is going to get a lot wetter; places that for centuries have been managed as dry environments are going to have to change to embrace flood water – the Thames is reclaiming its floodplain back and at the moment no one is ready for this change!


Dominic Cole OBE CMLI was a qualified landscape architect with over thirty years’ experience. He is designer of the Eden Project and recognised for this through the Landscape Institute Peter Youngman Award and being granted Fellowship of the Institute of Horticulture. With the Gardens Trust and Historic England Dominic has championed recognition of 20th-century designed landscapes and was part of the team that added over thirty mid 20th-century landscape sites to the Historic England Register of Parks and Gardens in 2021. He is President of the Gardens Trust.


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