Created by Ralph Hancock in the 1930’s, it is still functioning as a public space after 75 years. Originally the Roof Garden above Derry +Tom’s department store, it is now owned by Sir Richard Branson and known simply as The Roof Garden.
A bit about Ralph Hancock…
Clarence Henry Ralph Hancock (known as Ralph) was born in Albany Road, Cardiff, in 1893. In 1926 he paid his membership fees and became a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society. The following year the family moved to Surrey. It was from here in 1927 that Ralph undertook the first of his more famous garden projects designing and constructing a rock and water garden and also an Iris garden for HRH Princess Victoria, (Edward VII’s daughter) at her home” in Buckinghamshire. Photographs of the garden show a naturalistic style with the use of huge rock outcrops. This fondness for the use of rock combined with the influence of the “arts and crafts” movement is not surprising given the time that Hancock was constructing gardens.
On May 31, 1930, Ralph, set sail for New York. In order to promote his work in the US, he published an illustrated booklet titled English Gardens in America and described himself as being “Landscape Gardener to HRH the Princess Victoria of England”.
The gardens show some of Hancock’s trends, the use of low Cotswold stone walls combined with wrought iron used to construct the gates. He comments that “Cotswold stone harmonizes perfectly and is difficult to beat for this purpose”.
The promotional booklet must have worked as Hancock went on to design an exhibition garden at Erie Station in New Jersey. He also staged exhibits at the Massachusetts Horticulture Show where he won several awards, including in 1933 the Presidents Cup. He was one of the designers of the Lydia Duff Gray Hubbard garden in New Jersey which now forms part of the Garden Club of America Collection. Between 1933 and 1935 Hancock was to embark on the construction of one of his most ambitious projects, a series of roof gardens called the “Gardens of Nations” on the 11th floor of the Rockefeller Centre in New York. The gardens at the Rockefeller Center were visited by Trevor Bowen, the managing director of Barkers who had taken over Derry and Toms in Kensington, London. Bowen liked what he saw and employed Hancock to create a similar effect in the heart of London. Again the logistics involved in the construction are impressive. On opening, the gardens contained over 500 different varieties of trees and shrubs.
In common with the gardens at the Rockefeller the gardens at Derry and Toms had an international flavor and featured Spanish, Tudor and English woodland gardens. The gardens were completed in 1938 at a cost of £25,000. In common with the Rockefeller there was an admission charge of a shilling (5p) but this time the money went to support local hospitals. Over the next 30 years it was to raise over £120,000.
This must have been a particularly busy time for Ralph as he was also winning Gold Medals for his display gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show. Ralph continued to be a very successful exhibitor at Chelsea, winning gold medals in 1936, ’37 and ’38. The gardens constructed at Chelsea had moved away from the naturalistic rock garden style towards the more arts and crafts style that we associated him with. One of Ralph specialities became the use of Moon Gates, which he used both at Chelsea and a number of other gardens.
Original illustrations of Derry + Tom's Roof Garden (courtesy Ralph Hancock archives)
Present day photographs I took earlier this month on a rainy day.
A thoroughly lovely video off of YouTube on this garden...