St. George's Hanover Square Park in London has new benches. Perhaps too many. They are almost armrest-to-armrest in tawny teak amid older benches that have weathered gray to blend with wet tree bark and wintry skies.
I have loved this Mayfair park for more than 20 years, hidden, as it is, off Mount Street behind the public library and Grosvenor Chapel on South Audley, and the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Farm Street.
I have strolled there in every season, and admired the flowers and bird songs as if they were changing exhibits in a gallery. Even in winter the park stays green, its gnarled trees standing guard over dewy blades of grass. At Christmastime I have used this park as a shortcut to scurry from the chill winds of Carlos Place to Charles Street or to an Underground station on Piccadilly.
It is impossible not to linger in the fresh days of spring when flower beds are sunny with daffodils or regal with tulips that form heraldic arms in scarlet. The gardens bloom on, through primroses and phlox and mums--ever tidy, ever reassuring, ever there.
This is not one of London's massive Royal Parks such as Hyde Park, Green Park, Regent's or St. James's, which were hunting preserves and private gardens for the royal family before being converted to public use. It originally was set aside as a distant burial ground for St. George's Church next to Hanover Square, which was laid out in the 18th Century near what is now Oxford Circle. Today it is protected by slim iron gates and the benevolence of the City of Westminster.
Yet the sturdy teak benches, made in Braintree, England, are the constant in this haven. They are reminders that a city is for people, and that people need to be able to step away from traffic and crowds and noise.
The benches offer a place to sit and read, a place for watching a wedding party erupt in lace and finery from the elegant Farm Street Church, a place to listen to playground chatter from behind the brick walls of St. George's School or to visit with a friend whose cane or umbrella hangs from the high, slatted back.
Each bench has a plaque from its donor. Many have been given as memorials. There were only about a dozen in the park when I first passed that way.
Now there's a bench from Connie and Jim Walter, who were married in Farm Street Church on July 10, 1983. Another is from the family of a Jesuit priest, J. Robert Barth, "who cherishes his quiet hours in these gardens."
One was given by Mr. C. Hu of Hong Kong; another for Herb Jardiner and "all Hawaiians everywhere who love the peace and beauty of this place."
Near the South Audley gate, and down three stone steps, is a secluded niche, a place of high shrubs and two benches. One is in memory of Aida Geneen, from her son Harold S. Geneen, former president of IT&T, who was born in England and came to the United States with his parents in 1911.
I cannot imagine a kinder tribute.