In 1941, during the Second World War, St Jude’s church was bombed and totally destroyed. It is estimated that 80 tons of bombs fell on the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green alone and the East End was a scene of devastation, with large areas derelict and depopulated. War production was changed quickly to making prefabricated housing, and many were installed in the bombed areas. Today, 1950s and 1960s architecture dominates the housing estates surrounding the Phytology site.
East London’s rural past is now invisible throughout most of the borough and the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve site is a rare example of a place where it is still possible to have a sense of continued history. Over four months in 2015 artist Tal Brosh has produced an illustrated history of the BGNR in four incarnations: a medieval meadow and market garden, a Victorian church, a war-time bomb site and now an apothecary garden called Phytology. The work imagines these slices of the space’s life that has seen nurture, worship, violence and then nurture again. Each new piece of work is layered upon the previous image to create a single art work.