Life beyond Elmbridge
London served as an apprentice to John Rose, who was gardener to Arthur Capel (Earl of Essex), and later Henry Compton (Bishop of London), and King Charles II. Rose recognised London's talent for design and sent him abroad to study French gardens. After his indenture with Rose ended, Henry Compton greatly furthered George London's development as a designer and nurseryman by employing him at Fulham Palace. Stephen Switzer in his 'Ichnographia rustica' (1718) calls Compton, George London's 'Great Encourager'. In 1677, Arthur Capel also encouraged him by employing him to work alongside his gardener, Moses Cook, at his forest garden at Cassiobury.
In 1681, Cook and London co-founded the Brompton Nursery, on the present site of the Royal Albert Hall and the museums of South Kensington. In 1687, London took over the nursery in partnership with Henry Wise, which proved to be one of the most fruitful partnerships in garden history. With London gardening and Wise running the nursery, Brompton achieved fame across Europe.
In 1683, London designed gardens at Burghley and Longleat. At Longleat he began a longstanding association with the architect William Talman, subsequently gardening wherever Talman built. Longleat and Burghley made London's reputation for designing parterres, waterworks, and planted avenues. These prestigious designs led to other large, important commissions throughout the 1680s and early 1690s, most notably at Bretby House, Cholmondeley Hall, and Chatsworth. In 1692, he also designed the spectacular parterre in New Park at Richmond.
When William III came to the throne in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he made one of his Dutch favourites, Hans Willem Bentinck, Earl of Portland. William III and Bentinck possibly had homosexual relations; Bentinck had apartments adjoining the King's at Whitehall, Kensington, and Hampton Court. Amongst his many offices at court, Bentinck became Superintendent of Royal Gardens, and appointed George London as his deputy, with William Talman as controller of works. This triumvirate subsequently dominated English gardening and architectural design under William III. London worked in all the royal gardens, most notably Hampton Court, near his home in Thames Ditton. From 1694, Henry Wise assisted him on his royal commissions.
In 1698, London and Bentinck traveled to France together to visit gardens, and meet André Le Nôtre. The great French landscape architect Le Nôtre was the chief gardener of King Louis XIV of France and was responsible for designing and planting the park of the Palace of Versailles. At the time of London and Bentinck's visit, Le Nôtre was the foremost landscape designer in Europe, and his work represented the height of fashion for the jardin à la française or formal French garden. George London's subsequent designs for Wanstead House in 1706 reflect Le Nôtre's influence, and are on a scale and splendour that can be compared only to Versailles. Thereafter, London became known as 'The English Le Nôtre'.
Life in Elmbridge
In May 1689 William Talman had been appointed Controller of the King's Works, and later that year, when Bentinck was appointed Superintendent of the Royal Gardens, with Talman and London became his deputies. In these two official posts, Talman was responsible for the interior re-decoration of Hampton Court Palace, whilst London was responsible for the extensive new gardens. Both men continued to work on the royal gardens until the death of William III in 1702, when Talman was dismissed and replaced by John Vanbrugh. Around 1696, William Talman acquired a property at Long Ditton, close to Hampton Court, and began to build himself a large new house and garden. However, the house was incomplete when Talman lost his position as Controller, and he sold the property to George London, who built a smaller house for himself, almost certainly designed by his friend Talman.
Already by April 1699, Bentinck was feeling increasing personal disillusion with his position at court. He was jealous of William III's increasing affection for a younger man, Arnold van Keppel, and eventually resigned his offices to retire from public life. In 1702, Henry Wise succeeded Bentinck as Superintendent.
London died on 12th January 1714, at his house in Thames Ditton, and was buried in Fulham. Contemporary opinion is that London's greatest achievements were the water gardens at Bretby and Cholmondeley Hall, which are undoubtedly the greatest of all English fountain designs.
- Harold Colvin et al., 'The History Of The King's Works; In Six Volumes' (HMSO, 1963).
- John Harris, 'London, George (d. 1714)' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).
- R. G. M. Baker, 'William Talman and a supposed project to improve Hampton Court, Surrey' in 'Archaeological Collections' No. 75, 1984.
- Simon Thurley, 'Hampton Court: A Social and Architectural History' (Yale University Press, 2003)
- Stephen Switzer, 'Ichnographia Rustica: Or, the Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation, Containing directions for the general distribution of a country seat into rural and extensive gardens, parks, paddocks, &c., and a general system of agriculture; illus. from the author's drawings', Vol. 1, D. Browne, (1718).