Okay – so the new galleries at the Museum of London are brilliant. They’re spacious (if a teeny bit crowded just at the moment…) and innovative, cleverly displayed and with lots of quirky stuff. I have been waiting patiently for it to re-open for ages now to find something I’ve been wondering about for some time, so I rushed over as soon as possible to see it.
I haven’t been able to find it yet, chiz, but I’m not giving up, and while I was there, I was reminded of something that I was asked some time ago, which, of course, has been languishing in the massive backlog that is my inbox…
“I have just found a relative of my husband lived at 1 Spring Gardens, Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich in 1871 and wondered if you had any details about this address or surrounds.”
Now, the first strange thing is that there isn’t a Spring Gardens named as a road anywhere in Greenwich, and there hasn’t been for a long time. That’s not surprising in itself – loads of roads have been renamed over the years – I notice that the 1900 map which I was searching for Spring Gardens lists Blackwall Lane as ‘Marsh Lane,’ for example, and you may remember the fun and games we had trying to work out why Silver Street was changed to Nevada St. Earlier maps that I have at my fingertips show the layout of the roads, but not the names.
HOWEVER, I did know about Spring Gardens from another source, one which, annoyingly, is both delicious in its romance and frustrating in that it is the only mention I can find anywhere of them. Edward Walford’s Old and New London, whose 6 giant volumes I have been piecing together over several years (just Volume 1 to go now…) has this delightful snippet:
Like St. James’s Park and Hampstead, Greenwich in former times could boast of its Spring Gardens. In the General Advertiser for May 25, 1771, occurs the following announcement:—
“Spring Gardens, Greenwich.—The Evening Entertainments at this place will begin this day, the 25th inst., with a good Band of Vocal and Instrumental Musick. To be continued on Saturday and Monday Evenings during the Summer Season. N.B.—The Grand Room in the garden is upwards of fifty feet long.”
These gardens, as a correspondent of Notes and Queries tells us, were situate near Christ Church, in East Greenwich, and, for many years after they were closed as a place of amusement, were turned into garden ground, but, as is the fate of many such places in the vicinity of London, the site is now nearly built over.
So – if Walford’s right, East Greenwich was once the playground of fashionable, pleasure-seeking Georgians who would come in their finery to enjoy the pleasures of an 18th century Theme Park. There’s been acres of stuff written about the fabulous pleasure gardens – one of London’s more frivolous exports to the world – Walt Disney took another couple of centuries to come up with his own version.
The most famous spring gardens of all were at Vauxhall and they must have been something. It never occurred to me that we might have had some at Greenwich, as fun lovin’ Georgian Greenwichians already had the shenanigans every Easter and Whitsun (and whenever else they could get away with it) at the Greenwich Fair. But if this is true, somewhere around where the Forum is now, was once a Georgian garden paradise, with its attendant jugglers, acrobats, music, singing, tumblers and naughty stuff in the bushes (And what with Blackheath Cavern being open for penny tours round about then, too, Greenwich must have been the Southend of London.)
By my reckoning, it would have been about here (not a million miles from Pelton Road, where everything on earth seems to have happened…):
Is it true? Who can tell. I would really like there to be some corroboration about it somewhere, but all I can find keeps referring back to the Walford article. Even he doesn’t sound 100% sure. Certainly by the time he was writing, around 1890, the killjoy Victorian prudes were marking up another victory in their ‘clean up Greenwich’ campaign, the Spring Gardens, if they ever existed, had gone and the whole area was being merrily built up.
We don’t, as far as I know, have any of Georgian pleasure gardens left at all in London, but a little flavour of one can be found in the new galleries at the Museum of London. Faced with the problem of wanting to show delicate Georgian and Regency costumes in the lowest light possible, some genius has hit on the idea of turning a tiny gallery into a ‘Pleasure Garden’ by night, where the lights being low (and sometimes out altogether) just add to the mystery of the clothing. It’s lovely. The Phantom says check it out…
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