‘An immense variety of amusements’: Cremorne Gardens

To spend an afternoon or evening at Cremorne, enjoying the gardens and the various amusements, or dining, dancing and drinking, was a popular outing for all classes in the Victorian era.

The gardens, originally the grounds of Viscount Cremorne’s London house, were situated in Chelsea beside the Thames. The 12-acre site was bought in 1845 by Thomas Simpson, a coffee-house owner, who developed it as pleasure gardens and managed it himself or let it to various managers. At the time of our picture (LP240) Cremorne Gardens were in their heyday, for this was 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition. The Illustrated London News of 28 June 1851 described them thus:

‘The Gardens, apart from the variety of entertainments offered to visitors, form in themselves one of the most attractive resorts in the vicinity of the metropolis; indeed, we do not know any pleasure-grounds to which the public have access that can be compared with them. Trees centuries old, broad greensward, and spacious flower-gardens, interspersed with the choicest subjects of Grecian art, contribute to make up a scene of exquisite beauty. The visitor is removed altogether from the bustle and turmoil of London life into delicious seclusion. The parklike character of the grounds makes them a delightful resort for a summer’s afternoon …

‘There are added, for those who desire it, an immense variety of amusements. Here round an orchestra, brilliant with lights and gay colours, extends a vast circle or plateau for the votaries of Terpsichore. Then, when the lights of the grand gala of the “Feast of the Roses” are over, “the Star of Beauty”, one of Herr Deulin’s pretty ballets – “The Tableaux Vivants of the Prize Medals of the Exhibition” – the Panorama of Nineveh: its Rise and Fall – the Cosmorama of the Great Exhibition – the Ethiopian Serenaders – the “surprising exercises” of the Three Brothers Elliot – the “Double-sighted Youth” – a female conjuror, Mdme. Tallien – to say nothing of a maze, a real live gypsy in her tent, a shooting gallery, and an American bowling-saloon – succeed each other in an ever-varying round of pleasurable and exciting change, to be finally crowned with the grand display of fireworks … Monsieur Franconi, of the Cirque Nationale de Paris, “with all his horses and all his men”, is also engaged to delight the visitors with the performance of his unrivalled troupe, in a new pavilion.

‘Mr Simpson has good cause for congratulation in both the number and class of his visitors.’

Although decorous by day, Cremorne Gardens were more rowdy by night, increasingly so in the 1870s, and they closed in 1877. The area became increasingly run-down. It was bombed heavily in the Second World War, and in the 1960s and 70s social housing and community facilities were built, including the Cremorne Estate and the World’s End Estate. Today all that remains of Cremorne Gardens’ former glory is a small park beside the river.

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