Saturday, 2 November 2019

North Woolwich Pleasure Gardens


another extract from Howard Bloch’s history of the North Woolwich Pleasure Gardens.

Arthur  McNamara, a haulage contractor employed by Eastern Counties Railway became manager of the gardens in 1855 but was succeeded by Edward McNamara, probably related. Over the next four years they spent over £20,000 on improvements, described in the Stratford Times as ‘Dinners of every description and wines of good quality can be obtained (in the hotel) throughout the day at prices which considering the excellent manner in which the dinners are served, and the excellent attendance, are exceedingly moderate .... The gardens themselves are admirably laid out. A broad, long terrace runs for some distance by the side of the river; at the back are pleasant winding walks bordered by fresh green turf and beds of gay flowers, a maze and gipsy’s tent is in one part, a rifle gallery in another, in the centre of the grounds is a large ballroom, and a little beyond a refreshment room, half marquee and half booth. Beyond this again is a capital specimen of an Italian garden, brilliant with scarlet geraniums,  and at the end is a large platform for dancing , adorned with an orchestra.  Chinese in form and decoration and by crossing the visitor arrives at the margin of a small lake, on the opposite shores of which a stage is erected for the performance of drawing room entertainment's and the display of poses plastiques.  The grounds are of considerable extent so open that a pleasant breeze is generally to be found playing about them, rendering them cool and refreshing even in the hottest days.  At nights too, when they are lighted up the effect is charming, and not the least effective of the illuminations are two fountains, in which the combination of artificial light and dancing waters is most capitally contrived.

Charles Bishop succeeded McNamara in 1862, going there after a fire had burnt down the Surrey Music Hall in  June 1861. He ran the gardens until 1867.

During the next period of their history the gardens came under the control of two of the leading music hall managers - Charles Morton and William Holland. Morton, who had established the concept of music hall with the Canterbury Hall, Lambeth, became manager after that had been destroyed in a disastrous fire on 11th February 1868.  He set to work immediately and trees and flower beds were out in order, buildings overhauled, a new stage erected in the Concert Hall and two new dancing platforms built. 

On Whit Monday 1868 about 17,000 people went to the gardens where they were entertained by a programme which included a Volunteer band, playing on the esplanade, Jean Price and Gevani on the trapeze, a concert in the main hall by Miss FitzHenry, Miss Kate Stanley and Mr. Jonghmans and the ballet ‘ Le Demon de Paradis’. To mark the visit of Lord Napier to Woolwich in July 1868 Morton staged a spectacular representation of his victory in Abyssinia. The desired effect was achieved by erecting a painting of the ‘March of the English through Abyssinia’ and the ‘Storming of the Magdala’ and a contingent of Volunteers firing off rifles and mortars to massed brass bands and  a display of fireworks.

This article appeared in the March 2000 GIHS Newsletter

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