Spring Gardens


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…

Heather asked:

“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…

the attachments to this post:

pleasure gardens 2lo
pleasure gardens 2lo

tumbler 2 lo
tumbler 2 lo

1745 map of spring gardens
1745 map of spring gardens

12 Comments to “Spring Gardens”

  1. Bad Witch says:

    Lovely pictures!

  2. As far as I know, Greenwich didnt have its own Pleasure Gardens in the sense of Vauxhall, Ranelagh or Cremorne (which were the most famous ones). I’d imagine that most of the population of Greenwich who wanted to disport would have gone to the Rosherville gardens down in Gravesend, as there was a boat service between the two for Sarf Londonders. Unfortunately, in 1878, the “Princess Alice” went down en route with the loss of all hands, which rather took the shine off everybody’s day out. Rosherville wasn’t classy at all, much the opposite!

    Part of Ranelagh Gardens still survives down one side of the Royal Hospital in SW3.

  3. Dazza says:

    If the address ’1, Spring Gardens’ existed in 1871 and yet by 1890 it doesn’t mention the precise location, I think we have a real Greenwich mystery on our hands! I Like….LOL

    On the map of 1745 you have marked the rough area around Trinity Hospital and the Greenwich Auctions. If it was down by Christ Church it would be off the side of that bit of the map. Could it have been on the south side between Maze Hill and Tyler Street? Could we connect the ‘maze’ part of Maze Hill with a feature in the gardens? No, that would be too easy……..

    I’ll have a trawl through my old maps and see if I can find anything and get back to you all……I may be some time…..LOL

  4. Donovan says:

    I’ve scoured a bit, and though only surviving piece of original printed record I could come up with was a single engraved music-sheet with a couple of songs by Thomas Arne – ‘In a small pleasant village’ and ‘Sweet Nan of the Vale’ – which were “sung in the new spring gardens at Greenwich”. Frustratingly it’s undated and no printer is named. The catalogue suggests ’1751?’ but I suspect that’s because it’s somewhere in the middle of Arne’s life – he died 1778. They could have been a pretty short-lived phenomenon.

  5. Donovan says:

    sorry, that’s “the only”, not “though only”

  6. Peter says:

    the ordinance survey oldmaps website http://www.old-maps.co.uk/maps.html
    only goes back as far as 1869 for the greenwich area so I dont suppose that helps for this search

  7. Peter says:

    this site looks to be a good resource for old maps of the london area:-

  8. Mary says:

    Phantom – that is really interesting and the Walford reference is something I had missed. I sort of knew there was something called Spring Gardens but I was a bit confused about it. In the 1860s rate books (on the whole the bible for sites) it is listed, but with niowner or occupant but for the 1870s it says ‘Spring Gardens – occupant – Bridge Stondon and Henry Howard – manure works, with engine and drying room’. Sorry that’s a bit unromantic!
    Also in the rate books the site is listed next to Frank Hills chemical works – which was on the riverside by the Pilot (the old power station site) but that may not mean anything. I will see if I can dig up anything else but the best place to look would be the Morden College Archive – and good luck! and congratulations!

  9. Mary says:

    Phantom – coming back quicker than I thought – I have no note as to where I got this from – must have been on a map or a deed – but Spring Gardens and its manure works were roughly opposite the old Duke of Wellington pub in Old Woolwich Road.

  10. Tee hee – I bet that’s not the romantic happy ending that the originator of the Spring Gardens had in mind when they created their lovely attraction…

  11. Dazza says:

    Still no clearer then? LOL
    So Heathers ancestor lived by a Manure Works…..oh, the joy of putting that on your Family Tree!!
    Who would have thought that trying to find a street from 1871 was so difficult? Or is it that we all have a little too much time on our hands and like the diversion?
    Now, back to real work……..