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Inside Spitalfields City Farm: A Green Oasis in the Big Smoke

Spitalfields City Farm is a green oasis located in the heart of East London. So we sent Willie behind the scenes to find out what makes this place so special.

donkey in an outdoor enclosure at spitalfields city farm

If you’re looking for a city break, then London is the perfect destination to descend to. Buzzing with activity all year round, the big smoke offers the perfect fast-paced city experience, with so much to do and see. However, what makes London stand out from other metropolises is the great selection of green spaces located a stone’s throw away from skyscrapers in the city. Spitalfields City Farm is one such place, a green oasis where you can escape the noise and into nature. So we sent Willie behind the scenes to find out what has made this farm a favourite amongst people from London and afar. 

Imagine that you’re standing in the centre of London surrounded by concrete, steel and smoke. All of a sudden you look to your left and what’s that? Yes, a drove of donkeys frolicking through the pasture. Located in the heart of East London, visitors to Spitalfields City Farm are treated to a bonanza of barnyard animals, wildflower gardens and community vegetable patches.

Where is Spitalfields City Farm?

grey cobbled path inside surrounded by brown fences and a green trees

The city farm is surrounded by community gardens on every side. A welcome refuge from the smoke and grit of London. // photo: Willie Gevertz

The farm is located on Buxton Street in the borough of Tower Hamlets, just down the street from the famous Brick Lane. It’s an ideal location for those making the voyage east. Just an 8 minutes walk from Bethnal Green and Shoreditch High Street, a 15-minute trot from Aldgate East and 20 minutes from Liverpool Street Station on the edge of ‘the city’. Spitalfields City Farm’s proximity to London’s enclave of financial skyscrapers makes it such an astoundingly surreal experience.

boy with blond hair wearing a black white striped top petting a donkey in Spitalfields city farm.

Photo: Willie Gevertz

The History of the Farm

Cast your mind back to Victorian England, Oliver Twist and Charles Dickens. The rapid industrialization of Great Britain during the 19th century decimated agricultural land. Forcing millions of rural residents into cramped and crowded cities.

black and white picture of donkey in an enclosure inside spitalfields city farm with a church in the backdrop

The Church of St. Anne looms over the city farm. Completed in the 1850’s, this Catholic place of prayer was initially utilized by an Irish community escaping famine back home. // photo: Willie Gevertz

Then came the First World War with its accompanying social ill of mass starvation as veterans poured home withered and weary from combat. In response to these desperate trends, a series of “Allotment Acts” were passed at the beginning of the 20th century in order to reserve space for community-based agriculture. These allotments had their heyday in the 1940s and ’50s, but have been threatened by over-development thereafter.

sheep eating hay inside enclosure at spitalfields city farm with a sign that says the

“The Worshipful Company of Woolmen” is one of the oldest known livery trade guilds in London. It is known to have existed in 1180! //photo: Willie Gevertz

Spitalfields City Farm owes itself to the legacy of these allotments. Back in 1978 local residents opened the farm once developers began encroaching on land previously reserved for community farming. While gentrification and behemoth buildings have shot up like weeds in the vicinity, Spitalfields City Farm has remained a beloved enclave of peace and tranquillity in the midst of the encroaching chaos.

man with stripey red top blue jacket smiling at white donkey in spitalfields city farm,

Bayleaf, a lovely white and speckled grey donkey, is a firm crowd favourite. // photo: Willie Gevertz

The Animals

The farm is home to a plethora of fascinating animals including geese, sheep, chickens, pigs, cats, goats, rabbits, ferrets and donkeys, as well as a miniature Shetland pony.

donkey with white fur looking at the camera

Bayleaf up close. // photo: Willie Gevertz

There’s an aviary on-site with a whole host of exotic fliers as well as a so-called ‘bug hotel’ and some Guinea pigs too. The stars of the show are the two hairy kunekune pigs aptly named Watson and Holmes – for their intellect – and the beautiful white Donkey who goes by Bayleaf. He may very well be the most handsome donkey in the world.

giant pig with black fur with white spits big snout inside spitalfields city farm

Not sure if this is Watson or Holmes. Kunekune boars are known for their intellect and are native to New Zealand. // photo: Willie Gevertz

The Gardens

The atmosphere of the city farm would be nothing without its tremendous green space. There are several wildflower gardens with a lovely mixture of flowers and wild vegetables including exotic blends like “7th-century French wheat”.

allotments with green plants next cobbled road

The community gardens are best viewed in the spring and summer months, but crops grow here year-round. // photo: Spitalfields City Farm

Volunteers are welcomed to the Wildlife Garden which bursts into life come the spring with bluebells, snowdrops, foxgloves, violets and wild strawberries exploding into bloom.

basket of vegetables filled with red tomatoes green chillies green peas flowers and other fruit

Photo: Spitalfields City Farm

There are additional allocations for vegetable plots where you can learn the benefits of raising your own edible greens.

black women with a hat holding thatched basket of green yellow orange chillies

Photo: Spitalfields City Farm

When to go?

3 brown horned sheep and one white sheep inside an enclosure within a spitalfields city farm

The charisma of these animals knows no bounds. If you pet an animal please be polite and respectful and make sure you wash your hands! // photo: Willie Gevertz

The farm is closed on Monday, but is open every other day of the week, between 10 AM and 4 PM (4:30PM in the Spring and Summer). The farm also has a shop on-site, open from Tuesdays to Thursdays where you can buy a variety of freshly grown, organic products. There are events on all year including an annual goat race and you can visit Santa in his “Grotto at the farm” on the 21st and the 22nd of December. Please keep in mind that Spitalfields City Farm will be closed for a winter break from the 23rd until the 7th of January.

So if you fancy taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, then be sure to check out Spitalfields City Farm. A great place for an afternoon stroll, and especially if you have younger siblings or children you need to keep entertained. Oh and if you’re looking for some more awesome spots to check out whilst you’re in London, download the Like Locals app now. Available on both iOS and Android devices.


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