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London, England

Brown Hart Gardens

It is still illegal to "quarrel" at this unlikely urban oasis built on top of an electrical substation. 

In 1889, a public garden for local residents was built on this site, then called Duke Street Gardens. However, in 1903 it was leased to the Westminster Electricity Supply Company so they could build a substation. The local residents at the time weren’t impressed at losing their park, despite complaints that the former gardens attracted “disorderly boys” and “verminous” women. 

As compensation, it was eventually agreed that a new park would be built on top of the substation, and that’s what we have here. The park was reopened as Brown Hart Gardens in 1906. While it’s officially a Westminster Park, the space falls within the Grosvenor Estate that was laid out 300 years ago and thus has a unique and woefully outdated set of bylaws specific to that estate.

The rules state that “no idle or disorderly person or person in an intoxicated unclean or verminous condition is allowed in the garden.” Fair enough. But it goes further, prohibiting, among other things, “games, quarrelling, shouting, singing, and the practice of gymnastics.” It also states that any person committing a breach of the above bylaws will be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, the substation building (which, incidentally, was designed by Charles Stanley Peach, who later also designed Wimbledon’s Centre Court) rose to a greater height than had been planned, because the builders didn’t dig deep enough initially. This unusual substation is still working today and serves much of the West End. The windows along the sides are there to light the engine rooms, which occupy a deep basement. Today it contains three 60 mega volt amp transformers and a tunnel shaft connecting it to Carnaby Street.