In the spring of 2008 Somewhere were invited to submit ideas for an art commission at the Abbey Gardens site in Newham. The invitation came through art consultants Modus Operandi and at the suggestion of the Friends of Abbey Gardens group who were familiar with Nina and Karen's past work. This group of local residents had already been working closely with the council for some time to improve the site.
Somewhere proposed a holistic scheme for the entire garden taking in both the physical design and a planned programme of engagement to span several years development, beginning with the implementation of the Harvest Garden that you can see being developed today.
Prior to the start of the Harvest Garden the site had suffered a rather sorry recent history lying neglected for years and used as a prime spot for fly tipping and burnt out cars! Due largely to the campaigning of the Friends of Abbey Gardens in 2006 the council’s interest in developing the site had been taken forward relatively rapidly.
During 2007/2008 the archeological ruins were re-excavated (led by English Heritage with the help of a volunteer team) and then capped to provide access. The site was cleared and grassed and by the time Somewhere became involved they were able to begin work on a green site lined with wild flowers.
However, serious levels of soil contamination meant that their plans to use the land for food production next involved remediating the whole site and searching for funding to allow this to happen. After a hard slog from all parties through 2008 the first phase funding targets were reached in the nick of time and work began to remediate the site in time for the 2009 growing season. Whilst the diggers worked on site to level the garden and spread 200mm of clean top soil, Somewhere & FOAG set to work propagating enough seedlings on various balconies, windowsills and gardens locally to fill the raised beds once they were built.
After some delays the specially designed untreated oak & steel raised beds were constructed with volunteers joining the contractors in the big push to get the garden going. There was an amazing local response to the call for growing plants from seed and the team were able to completely fill the 34 huge raised beds with an impressive stock of vegetables and annual flowers all grown locally from seed - no mean achievement for a group largely comprised of inexperienced gardeners.
The Abbey Gardens site contains the remains of what is thought to be part of the gatehouse to a 12th century Cistercian Abbey - St. Mary Stratford Langthorne, Essex. These remains are considered to be of national importance and the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, one of only two in Newham. The gatehouse is all that now remains of what was once a huge Abbey, much of the rest of the monastery now lies below the Jubilee Line which runs next to the site.
The Abbey was founded in 1135, originally as a Savigniac House, later in 1147 becoming absorbed into the Cistercian order. It quickly became successful, undergoing a number of periods of expansion and alteration. It was rare for a Cistercian monastery to be located so close to an urban area as the Ciscercians desire for solitude usually meant they chose more rural sites. Probably due to its location, by dissolution in 1538 it was ranked the 5th most important Cistercian Abbey in England. After dissolution the monastery was demolished although some of its ancillary buildings remained in use for some time. The area slowly became more industrialised and by the time the railway works began in the mid 19th century nearly all visible traces of the Abbey had disappeared.
The Abbey Gardens site is on the Eastern Boundary of the former monastery precinct. The 'Great Gate' would have been the main entrance (along Bakers Row) and the remains in the Garden are thought to be from a building which would have been adjacent to this 'Great Gate'. This building wasn't demolished until 1750 although there may have been a further brick building constructed at a later date. The Great Gate itself also survived dissolution and remained until around 1825. A row of terraced houses was later constructed on the site which remained until the middle of the 20th century, the remains of the foundations for these houses can now be seen on the edges of the 'capped' monument.
Aside from the history of the Abbey another very local site has also been very influential in the development of What Will The Harvest be?