AND EVERYTHING EXTRAORDINARY
- more from Howard Bloch on the history of the North Woolwich Pleasure Gardens
At North Woolwich the number of visitors increased in 1870 following an agreement with the Woolwich Steam Packet Company to bring passengers there from all its piers. The most significant boost however came from the passing of Sir John Lubbock’s Bank Holiday Act in 1871. On the first Bank Holiday -7th August 1871 - unprecedented numbers of people took advantage of the closure of factories and offices to enjoy a day out. Many of them travelled by railway and steamboats flooded to capacity to visit the North Woolwich Gardens.
The merrymaking was disturbed by a violent incident in the evening of 13th July 1817. A Party including Elizabeth Barnett and William Lowe visited the gardens somewhat the worse for drink. Barnett became separated from Lowe and danced and drank with several men. When he found her again he was heard to say that he would ‘give her a poke in the eye and shortly afterwards took her aside then poked her in the eyes with the point of his umbrella. Realising what he had done he called for a doctor and pulled his handkerchief out and put it into the wound. Later she was taken to hospital where she died. At his trial at the Old Bailey it was said that they lived together was man and wife and that he had often ill treated her. Although acquitted of murder Lower was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eighteen months hard labour.
Holland’s genuine concern for the welfare of working people was shown by the number of benefits which he organised. On 3rd October 18171 he granted free use of the gardens to about 4,000 people, mainly engineers and their families, for a benefit in aid of the striking Newcastle engineers.
The gardens were cleared and lights turned out on the evening of 3rd September 1879 after Holland had received news of the disaster which had occurred nearby when the pleasure steamer Princess Alice collided with the collier Bywell Castle and sank with the loss of about 650 lives. A few days later he organised a benefit for the families of the victims many of whom had lived in East London.
One of Holland constant worries was the rain god ‘Jupiter Pluvious; who seemed to have made a habit of ruining his outdoor events and causing him considerable financial loss. Between 1872 and 1883 London experienced some of its wettest years and it as also during this period that man of London's other pleasure gardens closed down, Soon the North Woolwich Gardens was left was “the only place of out-of-door amusement in this vast metropolis”.
A number of journalists visited the gardens as a result of this new claim to fame and wrote about the curious behaviour of its visitors. Marcus Fall, disguising the name of North Woolwich. said “The North Tilford is not a very aristocratic lounge although here cannot be less than three thousand to four thousand men, women and children in the grounds, there is not one whose name you can find in Debretts. The majority of the men are artisans, clerks, shops hands and small tradesman. There is no absolute rudeness but a good deal of horseplay. The humour is of the simplest order and takes the form of practical jokes. ...........A steam merry-go-round with lads and lasses on the horses and in the coaches .. the lads are gallant, hilarious and festive, the lasses timid, coy, confiding, apprehensive of display of ankles and bewitching. Into one of the coaches had got a very stout women with a very fat face and very blue ribbons in her bonnet - alas, poet disguise it how you will, but we write prose and are compelled to say that the motion has made her very green and sea-sick
The expense of engaging artists and providing the wide range of entertainments in the gardens placed Holland under a very heavy financial burden. In 1877 after he had signed a new 21 year lease with the North Woolwich Land Company he spent a considerable amount in building a new pavilion and a steam roundabout which was estimated to cost him about £1,000. Surviving papers relating to the North Woolwich land company for the late 1870s include a number of references to their unsuccessful attempts to collect debts from him. Writing in 1879 their agent commented ‘the gardens rent has always been difficult to get and the disputes and actions against their tenants give me plenty of work”.
Despite being in debt Holland advertised in April 1881 that he had spent several thousand pounds on improvement in the gardens. This was however to be his last season. In September after a far from successful straw hat exhibition he was declared bankrupt having liabilities of £10,176 and assets of £27. A year later he was discharged and his debt of £1,165 to the North Woolwich land company written off.