The existing gardens at Holloway are steeped in a rich history of care and stewardship by the Prison inmates. Pride in their upkeep is clear from historic photos and paintings where pristinely trimmed hedgerows and beautifully managed beds of roses and tulips adorn the outside spaces.

The Gardens at Holloway Prison’ by Erika, an ex-prisoner

Stories of the women tending the flower beds themselves, managing productive gardens, and rearing chickens in hutches kept beneath a large Weeping Willow Tree near the back of the site emphasise the care that went into the gardens.

Such memories: multi-faceted, personal, and layered are directly connected to these spaces and will undoubtedly outlive the walls of the Prison buildings.

Women prisoners at work in the garden at Holloway Prison, 1958. Photograph: ANL/REX/Shutterstock

With this in mind, we have placed the history of the Prison gardens at the heart of our designs for the new open spaces. We have listened to the views of the community and working with the architects and master planners, we have used a ‘Landscape Led’ approach. This started with identifying which existing trees and tree groups to keep and therefore setting the framework that the buildings are designed around.

We have also identified a number of the existing courtyard and garden spaces that will be integrated into a set of new publicly accessible landscape spaces. This includes a new central garden embellished by a backdrop of large existing mature trees. This space will reflect what currently exists, opening it up to be used by all in a way that hasn’t been possible before.

Aerial view of the existing garden spaces

Our plans to keep the trees that people value physically and emotionally form a connecting thread between the past and future of the former Prison site. Additional planting of new shrubs and trees will complement those retained and help to create healthy new habitats and spaces for animals and people alike.

The centre piece of the new outdoor space is a magnificent London Plane Tree, which was planted when the Prison was first built in the Victorian era and designed to grow with the space. London Plane Trees rarely have the opportunity to grow freely to this scale! At the moment the tree is tucked away in an enclosed courtyard space, but our plans will see it sit proudly for all to view at the site’s new main entrance. We are also retaining trees along Camden and Parkhurst Road and a large Weeping Willow.

Photograph of the London Plane Tree

The opportunity to design spaces with such a rich existing cultural and land-based history does not come along every day. In developing our initial ideas we have found inspiration in the prison gardens, both in their form and use. This has influenced some of the key drivers we are focusing in our designs which include ‘connecting’ (people to nature, and people to each other), ‘enabling’ (through shared ownership and management), ‘well-being’ (through exercise, nourishment, rest and relaxation), ‘nurturing’ (spaces to live, grow, and interact).

We are extremely excited by the potential of this project and what meaning and memory these spaces might hold for new residents and the wider Islington community in the future. Our conversations so far have been rich and special, and we are very much looking forward to continuing to shape the future of these spaces with those who have used them previously, as well as into the future.

Photographs of some of the existing trees and outdoor spaces


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