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A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Sq……

Posted on 4th Jul, 2011

This week I found myself taking shelter from a sudden downpour in Berkeley Square.

I was killing time waiting for a meeting and had the time to really look at the Square. Sheltering under the eves of the decorative central summer house, I realised that I have driven around the square hundreds of times and walked around it during the period of my life when I worked close by, but I had not actually been in it before.  Like many garden and green spaces, it needs to be experienced from within. The towering and magnificent London Plane trees are the major feature. Standing beneath them you get a full sense of their sheer scale and structure. The leafy canopy providing as much shelter from the rain as the little summer house beneath.  The notice board at the entrance informed me that the trees had been planted in 1789 and that they are reputedly the oldest trees now in central London – now into their 3rd century!

What amazing changes those trees have witnessed. The area that now makes up the square was first enclosed in 1747 during the extensive building period during which most of the properties which form the square were constructed. The  area was originally a lush water meadow on a bend of the river Tyburn but in 1766 an Act was passed to “enclose, pave, clean, lite and adorn the square” to provide a pleasant green space for walking”, and the space we see today began to be developed.

Today the London Plane tree is widely planted throughout the temperate regions of the world from Buenos Aries to Chicago. Tolerant of atmospheric pollution, root compaction and with a good degree of resistance to wind it has proved to be a valuable tree for urban greening. However spring brings the shedding and dispersal into the air of its seeds which can be a major irritant, causing hay fever like symptoms for many. This shedding is often at its peak during the build up to Chelsea Flower Show, and with the showground ringed by great tall London Planes many exhibitors suffer terrible hay fever, which and has given rise to the term “Chelsea Flu”.

Platanus x hispanica – a hybrid between Platanus orientalis and Platanus occidentalis (American Sycamore). The latter scarcely grows in Britain and the hybrid probably arose in Spain or S.France in about 1650 (Collins Field Guide to Trees of Britain & N. Europe). This guide also claims that the first London Planes to be planted in England were in Ely and Barnes in 1680 (with both trees still magnificent and healthy)….. (in 1974!!)….perhaps this needs checking out!

As for the Nightingale – it never sang in Berkely Square however the song, which has been much covered with versions by,  among others………Vera Lynn, Glen Miller, Twiggy, Rod Stewart etc was published in the early 1940’s and will always be associated with the second world war.

A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square lyrics

When two lovers meet in Mayfair, so the legends tell,
Songbirds sing; winter turns to spring.
Every winding street in Mayfair falls beneath the spell.
I know such enchantment can be, ‘cos it happened one evening to me:

That certain night, the night we met,
There was magic abroad in the air,
There were angels dining at the Ritz,
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

I may be right, I may be wrong,
But I’m perfectly willing to swear
That when you turned and smiled at me
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

The moon that lingered over London town,
Poor puzzled moon, he wore a frown.
How could he know we two were so in love?
The whole darn world seemed upside down

The streets of town were paved with stars;
It was such a romantic affair.
And, as we kissed and said ‘goodnight’,
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square

When dawn came stealing up all gold and blue
To interrupt our rendezvous,
I still remember how you smiled and said,
“Was that a dream or was it true?”

Our homeward step was just as light
As the tap-dancing feet of Astaire
And, like an echo far away,
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square

I know ‘cos I was there,
That night in Berkeley Square.

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