10 things you didn’t know about the Story Garden

From how they built vegetable plots on solid granite foundations to the day a Harrier Jump-jet landed right here and won an air race to New York

Photography: Adam Razvi, Tom Kihl & Wikimedia commons

It's the latest pop-up plot from Global Generation

They’re the charity behind similarly creative local schemes such as The Skip Garden, which sees food grown in moveable planters in locations around King’s Cross, and The Urban Campsite, which brought a campfire-style storytelling circle to a disused restaurant in Regent’s Place back in January. This latest project is a partnership with the British Library and developer Stanhope to turn the land over to community use while awaiting redevelopment.

Hundreds of people have already been involved

The Garden was built entirely from scratch between May and July this year, using second-hand, repurposed and diverted-from-landfill materials. “We say our gardens are ‘built by a thousand hands’ for good reason,” says Kiloran Benn O'Leary, the project’s general manager. “In the lead up to opening we had over 300 volunteers help to get it all ready. We’ve now had over 500 volunteers and will have hundreds more coming in over the next couple of months as our projects get going.”

The ground is metre-deep hardcore, concrete and granite

Therefore, absolutely everything must be grown in containers. As well as those signature skips, you’ll find plant bedding made from reclaimed scaffolding boards, vast piles of woodchip and a 16-metre long polytunnel for nurturing seedlings. Local residents manage their own group growing beds, and the vegetables produced go into tasty free community lunches held on site.

The Garden isn’t only for growing food

It’s just as much a place of learning and making, with hands-on workshops in arts and technology at MAKE – a collaboration with nearby UAL Central St Martins. Their on-site studio is home to everything from sewing machines to 3D printers, with a schools programme as well as drop-in DIY making sessions in the evenings. There’s also a Mongolian yurt with its own wood burner for more workshops and ‘Nature Explorers’ kids sessions, and look out for a kiln for firing ceramics soon, too.

The site was originally streets of slum housing

Cramped, tightly-packed dwellings sprang up on the fields outside London during the railway-building boom of the 1830s. While being sandwiched between two major rail termini originally brought people here, it also proved the reason they were unceremoniously kicked out, too. Victorian Londoners couldn’t get enough of products arriving daily from the Midlands, including milk, fish and beer, so in a bid to accommodate ever-increasing demand, the Midland Railway displaced up to 10,000 Somers Town residents and flattened 4000 homes in the creation of a sprawling new facility to handle produce adjacent to St Pancras station.

It was cleared to create a massive St Pancras goods depot

In its heyday there were more than 30 sidings here for offloading food onto horse-drawn carts, which queued up along Euston Road. But while the gothic-inspired station was saved from the wrecking-ball of 1960s railway modernisation, the mucky, defunct and bombed-out yard next door was flatted once again. It sat vacant, until the eventual arrival of the British Library on the southern half of the site in the 90s, and the more recent addition of the Francis Crick Institute in 2016.

By 2026, the site will be a permanent home for The Alan Turing Institute

The final part in the latest genesis of this Somers Town plot will see the creation of the first permanent home for the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. Named after the famous WWII codebreaker and early computer scientist who was ultimately persecuted for his sexuality, it forms part of a much-needed extension of the British Library, where the Institute is currently squeezed in.

The Story Garden is part of increasing efforts towards greening Euston and King’s Cross

It sits at the heart of various initiatives to bring more trees, plants, squares and gardens to a neighbourhood that has been dominated by industrial urban development for more than 150 years. Euston Green Link is currently adding planters, green walls and pocket parks along a signposted route between the station and Regent’s Park. In turn, that route leads in the other direction too, morphing into the established Wellbeing Walk, which diverts pedestrians away from traffic between Euston and King’s Cross. And beyond that, the Islamic-inspired courtyards and terraces of the Aga Khan Centre and the wider King’s Cross development is bringing foliage onto the building structures – look out for the latest addition, Jellicoe Gardens, opening to the public early next year.

The site currently plays host to a portable wood

Look out for 52 oak trees growing in tubs at the Story Garden. These are a continuation of a grand project started in Germany in the 1980s by artist Joseph Bueys, planting 7000 oaks in cities. Acorns from these trees have been gathered and germinated by UK art activists Ackroyd & Harvey since 2007, and this is their latest temporary home.

A harrier jump-jet once landed here as part of a Transatlantic Air Race

Yes, as random as it may seem today, back in 1969 the Daily Mail ran a competition to see who could be the fastest person to race between the top of the Post Office Tower and New York’s Empire State Building. The contest gripped both nations, with celebrity participants and whacky modes of transport, but it was the RAF team that ultimately scooped the prize due to the ability of their fighter plane to take off vertically from central London. Watching dignitaries were unfortunately showered with masses of coal dust thrown up by the powerful downwards thrust of the aircraft as it left the derelict St Pancras Goods Yard ‘airport’.

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