Tag Archives: Cremorne Gardens

Wonders of Cremorne: acrobats and angels

This is a companion piece to the author’s recent post called Dancing at Cremorne. The Cremorne crowd loved their dancing and drinking but it wasn’t the only reason to come there.


There was something for thrill seekers of all tastes.


De Vere

De Vere, changing things in a startling way, creating illusions and surprises, even dabbling in necromancy.

De Vere 00011

And the rabbit in the hat of course.


Professor Risley

Fresh from Drury Lane, Professor Risley and his slightly not to scale sons.

And the Chantrells:


No end to their balancing skills, it seems.


Madame Caroline

If Madame Caroline wasn’t enough for you, on special occasions there could be some re-enactments.

Cremorne Gardens tournament 1863

A medieval tournament brought back to life for entertainment and edification.


Beckwith frogs

The remarkable underwater activities of the Beckwith Frogs, an entire family capable of diverse aquatic pursuits.

Beckwith frogs 00007

Your author has been reading Matthew Sweet’s excellent treatise Inventing the Victorians, included in which is an educational chapter on “freaks”, a term not much used in the days of Cremorne. The term prodigies was preferred when referring to performers such as this gentleman:


This “remarkable specimen of humanity on a small scale, who was present at the Massacre at Cawnpore and an eye-witness of many of the battles in India” held court at the Indian Temple (near the King’s Road  entrance).

Performers such as Mr Baux became celebrities of the age, rather than objects of ridicule or pity. I cannot promise the same for these two performers.

Kostroma people - Copy

Discounting the possibility of fakery, there is a medical / genetic condition which would give rise to excessive body hair. There were of course many bearded women in circuses and travelling fairs well into the twentieth century. Mr Sweet argues that the Victorian attitude to people who made a living from their unusual appearance was no more unenlightened than modern views. (Think of all those television documentaries about sensational afflictions).

World of the Strange!

fortune teller

Step inside, Madam and see what awaits in the fortune teller’s booth. Or come and see an even stranger phenomenon.

Fakir of Oolu - Copy - Copy

The Fakir performed a levitation act, apparently balancing the “entranced girl” on “two solid silver pedestals” which are then removed leaving her floating unsupported in the air.

There were skeptics then as now, who insisted that it was merely an illusion, and the Fakir a faker. But there were greater marvels to be found in the spiritual world:

Anderson combined

While bound to a chair (purely to prevent any cheating) Mrs Anderson makes contact with the world beyond our own, conversing with angels and cherubs, causing musical instruments to play themselves, and messing about with disembodied objects, with witnesses seated close by observing all. Who could fail to be amazed?

No? Well, get back to the Dancing Platform, ladies and gentlemen. The orchestra is in full swing, and there will be fireworks later.

And come back another day. There is always something happening.

Handbill 1855

And I haven’t even mentioned the Talking Fish.


Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians is an excellent antidote to the cliches about 19th century life and I have been enjoying it recently.

I referred you to Lee Jackson’s The last pleasure garden in the recent Cremorne post. The book also features the Beckwith Frogs.

The Talking Fish, like the Great Sea Bear was a phrase describing a performing seal, or sea-lion. You can see a picture in one of our early posts. Another early post featured a balloon adventure.

Dancing at Cremorne: quadrilles and crinolines

Some of you may recall one of the early roles played by Aidan “Poldark” Turner, as Dante Gabriel Rossetti in a lively version of the story of the Pre-Raphaelites called Desperate Romantics.  As I recall it (and I apologise for any inaccuracy in my recollection) Rossetti and his friends had a few scenes hanging out and picking up girls at Cremorne Gardens, the celebrated / notorious pleasure gardens which was located at the western end of Chelsea, from the 1840s until its sudden demise in the 1870s.

It’s been a long while since we were at Cremorne for blogging purposes. I concentrated back then on the sensational entertainments – the balloons, the high wire acts and other death-defying feats hyped on the posters and handbills. But along with the big events, the most regular and consistent activity at Cremorne was dancing. Pepper’s Ghost, the learned dogs and monkeys, the prestidigitation, the necromancy (really?), the double-sighted boy and the Italian Salamander were all very well but for most of its young visitors the biggest lure was the dancing platform.

Cremorne dancing


Any activity at Cremorne was a bit of a high wire act. It is said that during the day there were the verdant gardens, the edifying displays and exhibits, theatrical performances and ballets. All quite respectable stuff.


Cremorne crowd


Ladies and gentlemen, strolling, sitting and taking refreshment. And there were perfectly acceptable entertainments.


Female orchestra


Who could deny the allure of the demure Viennese Female Orchestra?

But in the evening, its critics insisted, Cremorne took a dive into immorality. Not that dancing itself was immoral of course. But some of those young people were taking the pleasure of the pleasure gardens just a little too far.


Cremorne songbook cover 02


Because this wasn’t your staid middle class drawing room dancing. These were wild polkas and even a dance called the gallop.


Cremorne Galop by Musgrave


And as far as I can tell the Gallop consisted of couples running clasped together from one side of the famous Chinese Pagoda dancing platform to the other.

And when the clerks and assistants, the shop girls and the parlour maids took a breather from the dancing they could just hang around just like any of the toffs.


Richard Doyle Cremorne 1850


There were plenty of those too, slumming it at the edge of London.


Cremorne songbook cover 03


See those three gents at the front, holding each other up in a last ditch effort to look sober and respectable. Then look over at the couple on the left – he with his excessively long mustaches, her with her neat little veil. They could be off to one of the many little cubicles located around the dancing platform.


Supper party


Where mixed parties could have a little privacy, take some rest after their exertions on the dance floor, and spy on each other. Rumour had it that there were even more secluded spots in the exuberant foliage which filled the gardens, where depravity could ensue, if you were so inclined. But obviously we won’t be following anyone there. On with the dance..


Cremorne songbook cover 01


There are stories to be told of the nights at Cremorne.


Broken 'arted butler


A sad tale of a servant at a great house forced to wait at tables:

The Broken ‘arted butler hof Bel-grave- yer – A pathetic ballad dedicated to the Duke of Smother’em, Commander of the Fire Brigade (Words and music by T Blewit Pearce)

Or there was the fate of the Aristocratic Fete, an attempt to raise the tone of the evening at Cremorne.


Washed out at the Aristocratic Fete July 9th 1858


Unfortunately washed out by a fearsome downpour. In July as well.

Face it, “Royal” Cremorne (as it was sometimes styled by optimistic proprietors) was never going to be an upmarket palace of fun.


Days Doings May 1871

The pleasure seekers raise their glasses. Even the guy under the table resting his weary head against the frills and flounces barely covering the lady’s leg.

[Trivia lovers. Where have you seen this image before? You’ll need to remember when Ted Danson was a young chap… the picture was used in the opening credits of Cheers. If you knew it, does that date both of us?]

Cremorne was a byword for illicit pleasure by the end of its tenure, as demonstrated in this cartoon.


Funny folks


The young swell has a damn good time mooching around and carousing, but in the centre picture it’s all swirling around him in a phantasmagoria of regret. He’ll probably be back for more though.

The forces of morality (and falling profits) eventually closed Cremorne and with indecent haste the property developers moved in to clear the site and start building. But we’ve time for one more story.

Oh, I met her on a steamer as I journey’d to Cremorne
Crinoline, a pork-pie hat her figure did adorn
Our glances met, she smil’d at me, then as if unawares
My arm it slipp’d around her waist, whilst on the cabin stairs
I ask’d her if she’s go with me, she said yes if I’d let her.
T’was just as good as going home.
Yes as good and a great deal better.

So we went into the Gardens, dan’d the Polka and Quadrille
From nine till half past eleven at night
Stood not ten minutes still
Then to the supper rooms we went and had a first-rate spread
With lots of wine, Oh t’was very fine, but it got into my head.
For after when I tried to dance I tumbled and upset her.
I really felt as good as tight
Yes as good and a great deal better.


As good and a great deal better cover


The young gentleman proposes the same evening. Having been told she lives in Belgravia, he imagines she is an heiress. But when he turns up on the steps of the church, she is there accompanied by a personable young policeman. She, a servant in Belgravia as it happens, tells him that she would rather marry the policeman and that he should pay out fifty pounds or face a claim for breach of promise. (This all sounds very unlikely, but let Mr Burnot have some artistic licence. )

So mind all fast young gentlemen who journey to Cremorne
Or any other gardens, or where crinoline is worn
Do not propose to wed strange girls, however well they dress
Or else like me you perhaps may get in such another mess
Be sure you know her station well before you say you’ll wed her
A little care is good enough, as good and a great deal better.

Personally I think he deserved it. This is an example of a moment when the lower orders could get one over on their betters by the simple expedient of  dressing well. There would be a lot more of that in the years to come in the arenas of mass entertainment and  elsewhere.



I’ve used the final picture before I know but I think it deserved a second outing in a more detailed context. (It was back in the early days of the blog). There’s an excellent book which covers Cremorne and other entertainments of the age – Victorian Babylon by Lynda Nead (Yale University Press 2005). And I can also recommend The Last Pleasure Garden by Lee Jackson (Arrow 2007),  a crime story set partly at Cremorne . (Lee also does serious history as well of course like Dirty Old London: the Victorian fight against filth (2015) also worth reading.)

Many people have researched Cremorne at the Library, but I’m dedicating this post to the most assiduous researcher I know, Gill Best.

Shepherd in Chelsea

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd is one of the few artists in our collection who seemed equally happy in Chelsea and Kensington. It could be argued that his Chelsea watercolours have the edge for the variety of the subject matter, although some of these views are familiar from the work of other artists. Take Gough House as an example.

Gough House 238A

We’ve seen it before in the paintings of Mariane Rush. She painted Gough House from different angles, even from old prints and her imagination. Shepherd’s view is more exact, his trees less exotic, but he does allow a certain darkness about the place. Gough House was built in 1704 but the Gough family didn’t own it until ten years later. It lay adjacent to the later building Walpole House – susequent researchers wish that Shepherd (or Rush) had painted that.  In 1790 Gough House was a girl’s school (inevitably) . The grounds were gradually absorbed in the 19th century by the building of the Embankment and the laying out of Tite Street but the house itself partly survived into the 20th century as The Victoria Hospital for Children

The Chelsea Bun House in Grosvenor Row was the home of the Chelsea Bun but also had a museum of curiosities, not the only one in the area.

Chelsea Bun House 167A

The Bun House was run by several members of a family named Hand. The often quoted figure of a quarter of a million buns sold on Good Friday 1829 is probably apocryphal but the buns themselves “a zephyr in taste, fragrant as honey” sound  a little more interesting than the modern version.

Below, a view of St Joseph’s Convent, Cadogan Street occupied then by the Sisters of Mercy. Boys and girls’ schools and alms housas were later added and the street now also has a Catholic Church, St Mary’s.

St Soseph's Convents and Schools, Cadogan Street 172A

Some of this building still survives. Another building with ecclesiastical connnections is now gone, Winchester House, home of the Bishop of Winchester after the destruction of Winchester Palace. While the Bishop lived there it was outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, but by 1825 Earl Cadogan’s estate had acquired it. After its demolition, Oakley Street was built, running south from the King’s Road to the river right through the former house.

Winchester House 150A

Some clerical figures strolling on the left perhaps, and one of Shepherd’s running dogs on the other path.

East of the point where Oakley Street met the river was a grand terrace of houses we’ve seen in Hedderly photographs. The house with the signs is Don Saltero’s Tavern,  once home to an even more famous museum of curiosites.

Cheyne Walk - Don Saltereo's 151A

James Salter (“Don Saltero” was his exotic alter ego) had been a servant of Sir Hans Sloane. The original coffee house was further east near Lawrence Street but he finally moved to 18 Cheyne Walk. He died in 1728. The collection was sold in 1799 and by the time Shepherd painted this picture the house was just a tavern.

The collection itself deserves a post of its own, which I may do one day but let me just give some random examples from the 1734 version of the catalogue:

21 Petrified crab from China; 27 The Worm that eats into the Piles in Holland; 31 A piece of rotten wood not to be consumed by fire; 67 A pair of Nun’s stockings; 69 A Nun’s Whip; 70 the Pope’s infallible candle; 76 A little Lobster;102 A curious snuff box, adorn’d with ivory figures;119 the Hand of an Egyptian Mummy; 135 An Ostritch’s Leg; 142 A Cat of Mountain; 302 A Whale’s pizzle: 305 A Batt with four Ears

As you can see, it was a collection you’d want to see if you could. I once displayed the whole list in the gallery at Chelsea Library. In the end though the whole lot sold for £50.

We now begin a walk along the riverside, one of the most illustrated parts of Chelsea [link]

Another familiar view shows the pre-Embankment riverside heading towards the Old Church. The river was wider, and maybe gentler at this time.

Chelsea waterfront 152A

Getting closer to the church you can see the Sloane Monument and the terrace leading up to it, both photographed by Hedderly. (plus other posts under his name)

Chelsea Old Church 145A

Shepherd gave the dog some time off and puts a horse in this one. Arch House, the covered way to Lombard Street is just visible.

Lindsey House 146A

On the other side of the bridge, the dog returns in this view of Lindsey House, built in 1694 but substantially altered over the years. The Brunels, father and son lived there for several years in the early 19th century.

Turner's House 119 Cheyne Walk 147A

Further along Cheyne Walk at number 119 (the house in the centre) was rented from 1838 by the painter J M W Turner. The rail on the roof was supposedly the point from which he watched the river, particularly at sunset.  He lived there almost incognito only visited by a few friends such as Leopold Martin, son of the painter John Martin. It’s not recorded whether the misspellings at Alexander’s are what Shepherd actually saw or whether Shepherd himself was a poor speller.

Time-journeys along this stretch of river often end here:

Cremorne Gardens 1852 148A

The Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, where I imagine there were no dogs allowed, apart from the performing variety [link]

Cremorne Gardens 1852 149A

Shepherd doesn’t show the crowds. Perhaps he’s imagining a quiet afternoon at Cremorne. These two ladies, the gentleman and the boy can have their pick of the chairs. A few figures make their way out of what I assume is Ashburnham Hall, part of the old estate now convereted into an exhibition area.. This is the genteel version of the Gardens. Some edifying displays in the hall, a chance to sit quietly, almost in the country with only the sound of the wind in the trees and the river in the background. Later the entertainments will begin and presumably Cremorne won’t be so quiet or so staid.

Let’s go one step further and pass through the gardens onto the westernmost stretch of the King’s Road. St Mark’s College was built right across from the entrance to Cremorne. As a teacher training college the authorities there naturally deplored the licentious activity in the evenings at Cremorne and the Principal of the College was one of the main objectors whenever Cremorne’s licences were up for renewal. (Although the main reason for the closure of Cremorne was probably a decline in profitability and the desire of developers to build housing on the site.) The days of seasonal  outdoors entertainment on the scale of Cremorne were coming to an end.

On the Fulham Road side of the College site was the chapel:

St Mark's College Chapel 138A

It looks like another tranquil spot. But London was growing around all the quiet places Shepherd depicted and the modern city was taking over. The only animals in this picture are a small flock of birds.


Shepherd brings together many strands of Chelsea history. I’m almost certainly going to pick one of those up next week, I’m not sure which one right now.

100th post: Bignell meets Hedderly

100 is a special number so it deserves a special post.  I can’t actually arrange a time travelling meeting between the two Chelsea photographers John Bignell and James Hedderly but I can bring them together in another way.

John Bignell was not only a photographer but a student of photographic history. He wrote a visual history of Chelsea, “Chelsea seen from its earliest days” (1987). And he owned a collection of Hedderly photographs. On one occasion as you’ll see he recreated a Hedderly picture. But as a Chelsea photographer he literally went over the same ground as Hedderly and you can see echoes of his predessessor , conscious or unconscious, in his work.

Here’s an example. In the picture below Hedderly is looking east along Cheyne Walk in the pre-embankment days. The road is roughly paved and narrow. The wooden fence on the right marks the river’s  bank. On the left you can just see the edge of the King’s Head and Eight Bells public house. The image has faded over the years so the white misty background beyond the trees may be deceptive. It will have gotten more mysterious as the print has aged so we may have lost some detail but you can get the quiet atmosphere of riverside Chelsea in the 1860s.

001 Hedderly - H36 Cheyne Walk by King's Head

Nearly a century or so later in 1950 Bignell took this picture.

001 Bignell - Kings Head and Six Bells 1950 1840A

The foliage is lusher, there’s a garden on the right beyond which is a very much wider Cheyne Walk. The buildings in the background have changed with the exception of that one with the ornamental porch. The lampost looks very similar too although it may have been replaced with one which looked the same. You see a little more of the pub. And of course there is a small crowd of pub-goers who have spilled out of the bar onto the street. The men look about as casual as Chelsea  men got in 1950, the women slightly more so. In contrast to the 1860s picture only a couple of them are paying the slightest attention to the photographer. I wonder if the man in the double-breasted jacket is bringing a drink for Bignell.

The two pictures fit together remarkably well. This is not so obvious in the next pair.

003 Hedderly St Lukes

This is one of Hedderly’s rare north of the King’s Road pictures, possibly a commission. It shows the “new church” St Luke’s in Sydney Street. The church would have been thirty or so years old in this picture. The churchyard to the left looks well populated.  But the church, surrounded by trees, is still in a suburban setting.

The view by Bignell shows the urban setting of the late 1950s.

003 Bignell - St Luke's Church JB5 box

The trees are still there but London has caught up with the church and surrounded it. In the background you can see one of the domes of South Kensington. In the foreground however is another building Heddderly would have seen at some point in his life, the Chelsea Workhouse. It wasn’t a workhouse in Bignell’s day but you can see the forbidding nature of the place.

Both photographers were fond of riverside views.

002 Hedderly - H01 boats - bridge in background

I’ve featured Hedderly’s pictures of Chelsea Reach and the area by the Greaves boatyard in another post. This is an image I’ve never used before. You can tell the direction of the picture from the just visible view  of old Battersea Bridge in the distance.

002 Bignell Chelsea Reach 1965

Bignell’s 1965 view shows the current Battersea Bridge being crossed by four buses. The suspension towers of Albert Bridge can also be seen, with Battersea Power station in the distance, a couple of the chimneys visibly smoking.  The crucial difference in the hundred years between the pictures is the use being made of Chelsea Reach. The sailing barges are gone, replaced by houseboats, and the men at work have been supplanted by a pair of daredevils playing around on a nearly sunken barge at high tide. It probably looks more dangerous than it was. Bignell is certainly standing by quietly with his camera, apparently unconcerned. But their mothers wouldn’t have been too happy.

This image is one of Hedderly’s best photographs:

004 Hedderly CM1003 Trees of Cremorne

This is a view taken from the tower of Chelsea Old Church. It shows the tangle of closely-packed houses and wharves between Cheyne Walk and Beaufort Street before the embankment. Beyond are the larger house of Lindsey Row and the trees of Cremorne Gardens. Bignell owned a print of this picture and made an enlargement of it. I was examining it this morning imagining myself walking along Lombard Street towards Johnson’s Coal Office and then into Duke Street past the Adam and Eve Tavern. You could cross Beaufort Street and walk along the riverside to the wharf at Cremorne where the boats brought pleasure seekers to the Gardens all the way from London. Is one of those buildings visible in the distance Ashburnham House?

Bignell was so fascinated by this picture that in 1978 he too climbed the tower of Chelsea Old Church (though not of course the same tower, but a meticulously restored copy of the one Hedderly climbed) and took his own picture.

004 Bignell - Chelsea Riverside JB335

From this vantage point Bignell saw the sunken garden named after Sir Thomas More’s daughter Margaret Roper, the four lanes of Cheyne Walk which now pass right through where the old houses and taverns stood, and part of the old river too. He saw Crosby Hall, transplanted from the City in the1920s and where the pleasure gardens were, the towers of the World’s End Estate. You could barely make out the industrial landscape beyond the gardens in the 1860s picture, just a few chimneys. In 1978 Lots Road Power Station was still generating power and still had two of its chimneys.

Hedderly took a companion picture from the Church which he joined to the first to make a panoramic view. This is  part of it:

005 Hedderly Old Battersea Bridge

Almost the whole length of the old bridge, and the industrial zone on the Battersea side of the river.  Bignell didn’t try to get the whole view in again but his second shot takes in more of the bridge and the area west of the Power Station. Lots Road’s younger cousin Fulham Power Station with its four in line chimneys is on the left of the picture.005 Bignell - Chelsea Reach late 60s jb334

Bignell had a great reverence for Hedderly’s work and must have felt a connection between them. It’s unlikely that James Hedderly ever imagined the possiblity of that link or realised the great attention which would be paid to his work in the future. What would he have said or thought if he could have seen Bignell’s work and glimpsed some of the sights he would see and the technical possiblities that were to come?

Bignell - Albert Bridge at night 1951

[Night view of Albert Bridge 1951]


The 100th post on the Library Time Machine, a point I must have thought was possible when I started but I couldn’t have imagined how I would get here. The answer of course is just find some pictures every week and write something about them. Sometimes the ideas run three or four posts ahead, sometimes they stretch no further than next week (or less on a few occasions).

The other thing I imagined was that I would run out of ideas. It’s true that a lot of the big topics have been covered but only a few of them have been done so thoroughly that I could never go back there again. So we might visit Cremorne Gardens again one of these days or take another look at Marianne Rush or William Burgess. There are even a few unseen Linley Sambourne pictures knocking about on the hard drive. And judging by the continuing popularity of the Duchess of Devonshire’s Costume Ball we’ll almost certainly be going there again . I’ve probably done all I could on Walmer Road and Hurstway Street but there are plenty of other streets to walk down in the past and the present. One or two artists you haven’t seen yet. And yet more forgotten buildings and secret places. So all other things being equal it is just about possible that we might get as far as 200 posts in another eighteen months.

The conclusion is that there really is no end to history even in a small (but significant) part of one city, in one country, on one world.

Death defying feats – a day at Cremorne

The time machine has been parked in Mr Hedderly’s back yard (we have a special arrangement with him –we’re promoting his work in the 21st century). We’re here for another three weeks. Put down that instalment of the Old Curiosity Shop, we might as well go out. This is the first era of mass entertainment after all. Music halls, panoramas, dioramas, exhibitions, zoos and menageries, gambling, any amount of sport to watch or play. Or we could go to a place where there is music, dancing, fireworks, performing animals, balloons, plays, ballets, magic, freaks, prostitutes and above all stunts – death defying feats. That’s Cremorne Gardens – not quite the greatest show on earth…but close enough.

Her? If you’re lucky I might get Mr Rossetti to introduce you to her later. In the meantime check out the show bill.

In the afternoons it’s all harmless stuff. Educational even.

It’s that sea bear (or walking fish) I want to see. Arctocephalus Ursinus no less. You or I might be slightly let down to see the fish / bear in the flesh.

Later in the evening the real fun starts.

I can’t help feeling that actual necromancy might be asking a little much even from the renowned professor, but I would be prepared to be convinced. I could do without the dogs and monkeys but the fireworks could be good. Mr Whistler the American artist is said to like them. His sometime friend Walter Greaves painted him at Cremorne, but that’s a story for another day. I’m waiting for the next event. This should be worth seeing.

Cristoforo Buono Core is also known as the Italian Salamander (Salamanders were credited in folklore with the ability to bathe unharmed in flames). No photographs this week but we do have an artist’s rendition of the event:

Some of the ladies and gentlemen are standing a little closer than modern health and safety regulations and maybe common sense would allow I think. (Ladies, remember those scare stories in the equivalent of Daily Mail about crinoline fires?) This is basically a man in protective clothing I suppose so it’s just a case of good equipment and strong nerves,but I wouldn’t want to try it. As it turned out Coro was in more danger from a disgruntled former partner (Francisco Filliponi, the Emperor of Fire) who later tried to kill him with poisoned strawberries.

If we’d come on another afternoon we might have seen strong nerves and a high degree of skill.

She was a tightrope walker who went by the name of the Female Blondin. A few years before our visit in August 1861 she attempted to cross the river from Battersea to Cremorne. I don’t think Death literally accompanied her but it was a close run thing. The rope seems to have become a little slack over the final third of the course. She stopped and was forced to climb down the guide ropes to be rescued by one of the boats.

The engraving makes it look as though the river was thick with boats but there would still have been plenty of open water. Onlookers reported that the daring young woman wept tears of frustration when she was forced to climb down, cutting her hands in the process. She was vindicated later in the month when she successfully crossed both ways. Now that’s entertainment.

Our final act today moves from calculated risk to an idiotic disregard for safety, and brings us back to balloons, a Cremorne favourite. Jumping from a balloon with an improvised parachute can be done as was demonstrated at Cremorne by a Mr Hampton as early as 1839. But in 1874 in the final decade of the Gardens a Dutchman named Willem de Groof attempted a far trickier feat, jumping from a balloon wearing a set of homemade wings attached to a kind of wooden platform, intending to glide safely to earth. You wouldn’t really have wanted to see the result.

De Groof fell to earth in Sydney Street near St Luke’s Church (see last week’s post). He died a few days later. The proprietor of Cremorne at the time, John Baum was probably grateful the tragedy occurred outside his grounds as he already had financial troubles along with respectable citizens trying to shut down the Gardens on the grounds of immorality. De Groof was the subject of many stories like the one above and even a narrative poem. So we end with a salutary tale.

Now what about that immorality? Back to the night of our visit, Derby Day 1865. On the show bill it says “dancing will continue till the close of the Gardens”. Dancing and whatever else went on in the grottos and the shadowy corners of the gardens. Let’s leave them to it and get back to the Time Machine. Unless you fancy one last dance?

Author’s note

I’m sure that readers of this blog are not quite as interested in the number of page views as I am but nevertheless I want to tell you that this week we passed 20,000 page views since the beginning of the blog. And 21,000, and 22,000 and 23,000. In fact it was a busy couple of days, thanks to a post on Metafilter, some tweeting and some Facebook activity. So thanks to everyone who passed the link to the Linley Sambourne post on in any way.

Sometimes I follow my own obsessions when I’m selecting pictures and writing posts, but I also take note of what readers seem to like. So if you want more Linley Sambourne, more Hedderly, more Cremorne, more empty streets and more picture of 1970s Kensington and Chelsea let me know.

Down at the World’s End

There is more than one World’s End. As a name for inns and taverns it seems to have emerged in the reign of Charles II and been used in other parts of London and elsewhere in the British Isles.  But the Chelsea World’s End tavern which gave its name to the area around it has been on local maps since there have been maps of Chelsea. The narrow alley which ran down diagonally to the river has been called Hobs Lane and World’s End Passage. This route was important as many of the tavern’s customers came by boat from London to enjoy its gardens and its hospitality. It is mentioned in Congreve’s play Love for Lover in 1695.

The surrounding area was farmland and nurseries in those days. The tavern was an island of leisure and a safe haven for travellers. (The water route was preferred – the area called the Five Fields between Chelsea and Knightsbridge was notorious for street robbery) By 1836 there were houses along World’s End Place and new streets nearby, Lackland Place and Riley Street. To the south west Baron de Berenger had started his National Sporting Club in the grounds of Cremorne House. Thirty years later at the time of the first Ordnance Survey map there were houses around the tavern and the Sporting Club had become the Cremorne pleasure gardens. By 1894 the Pleasure Gardens had gone and a network of streets had grown up to the south of the tavern – Blantyre Street, Vicat Street, Raasay Street, Dartrey Road, Bifron Street, Luna Street and Seaton Street all clustered in the triangle between the King’s Road and Cremorne Road.

Here is the tavern in the early 20th century:


And here is a view from the 1930s looking south with St John’s church on the left and the chimneys of Lots Road power station in the distance:



Hardly any of those street names are familiar today because the streets themselves are gone, all demolished to build the World’s End Estate which now covers the entire area. Work began building the estate in 1969 and by 1975 tenants had begun moving into what was then the largest Council housing estate in Europe.

For the purpose of this post everything I’ve written so far is a preamble to the photographs which follow which show some of those gone but not forgotten streets just at the point when demolition had begun. Here is a view showing the same block of shops in Dartrey Terrace in 1969:

The former Home and Colonial store has become the home of the famous counter-cultural emporium Gandalf’s Garden.

At the same date demolition was well under way in Dartrey Road:

The Chelsea Flower Mill is visible at the rear of the picture and if I’m not mistaken Lots Road Power Station has lost at least one chimney. (The chimneys of Lots Road are probably a story in themselves.)

In another view of Dartrey Road children are playing near the now empty houses:

But in two streets east in Luna Street normal life proceeds:

At the end of the street the Battersea  side of the river is just visible.

The final photo below also of Luna Street shows a woman looking out of an upstairs window. Thanks to an enquiry from one of our customers I know her name and that the van in the picture was her husband’s. This is one way of reminding us that the pictures of old buildings which are part of my stock in trade are important, but what truly makes history live is the people inside the buildings.

(While I was selecting pictures for this post I noticed that boy on the bike who got himself into several pictures the photographer took that day.)

The title of this post comes from the theme song to BBC2’s short lived 1980s Chelsea soap opera World’s End. It centred on a pub called the World’s End but was actually filmed at the Cross Keys in Lawrence Street. Anyone remember it?

Night flight 1861: runaway balloon at Cremorne

This is a detail from a James Hedderly photograph. Among the trees on the right you can see the firework platform of Cremorne Gardens, one of the great entertainment attractions of Victorian London now gone almost without trace. There seem to be very few photographs of the place at all although there are plenty of prints on posters and handbills and illustrations in magazines like the Illustrated London News. So we think we know what it looked like and we think we know what it was like to visit the place. Mass entertainment as we know it today began in the nineteenth century in the pleasure gardens and music halls of Victorian cities. 

The staples of Cremorne were music, dancing, variety shows and fireworks. At first these would have been enough to pull in the crowds. But the various proprietors of Cremorne also needed spectacle. Death defying stunts were provided on a regular basis including performers such as the Female Blondin, the Flying Man and the Italian Salamander. I’ll return to those three on another occasion but for our first visit to Cremorne I want to talk about the first great sensational obsession of proprietors and punters alike – balloons.

Balloons were the first invention that got us into the air and although they had been in regular use since the eighteenth century for military and scientific purposes as well as the occasional spectacular public show it wasn’t until places like Cremorne started regular shows that large numbers of people got a chance to see them in action on a regular basis.

Here’s an early poster advertising a balloon event and a later print of a balloon taking off near the fireworks platform.

Of course once you’ve seen a balloon ascend a few times it might start to seem too easy and just not thrilling enough. Mr Green, the Nassau Balloon man livened up proceedings by taking “a lady and a leopard” up with him as passengers.  Later someone asked themselves what if we suspended something from underneath the basket? A horse maybe? Or a cow? How about a woman in classical costume riding the cow while the balloon ascends? She can then represent the goddess Europa whose sacred animal is the bull – educational as well as spectacular. This actually happened and I wonder how they persuaded the woman in question, a Madame Piotevin that it would be perfectly safe to sit on a terrified animal while ascending hundreds of feet up in the air dressed as a Greek goddess.  Other variations on the theme followed including the trip I’m going to describe now.

On July 24th 1861 the aeronaut Mr Lythgoe was scheduled to take paying passengers for a flight in his balloon. Mr Arthur Vivian and his friend Noel Anderson “having been disappointed a month before at Crystal Place” put their 5 guineas down to make sure they would secure a place. But the afternoon of 24th July turned out to be cloudy, windy and looking like rain. By 4.00pm Mr Lythgoe was on his way home, but after “a gleam of sunshine” Mr Adams, the secretary authorised the inflation of the balloon and Mr Lythgoe was summoned back.  The balloon took a long time to inflate and Mr Lythgoe had some misgivings but Mr Adams thought it would be a great climax to the evening’s entertainment if they set off after the fireworks at 10.30pm. “Several bystanders now endeavoured to dissuade us” according to Mr Vivian but despite strong winds and a torrential downpour they set off at 10.45.

Night flights had been done before. The adventurous Mr Green had set off fireworks from above to the general delight of the crowds. On one occasion he ascended at night during a heavy rainstorm. He and all his equipment were soaked. He was blown off course as far as Harrow where he was rescued, dirty and dishevelled by “four young ladies” who had been following the balloon from below.

All went well at first for Mr Lythgoe and his companions. At 1000 feet they could see London laid out underneath them like a map, the streets and squares “distinctly traced by the lines of gas light” and the sounds from below, carriages and carts, human voices and even music strangely clear. They shouted out themselves startling unsuspecting animals and people below. They went higher, up to 8000 feet, now much colder.  They thought they might be 20 miles or so from London as they descended and threw out the grappling iron. They stopped for a moment but with a loud crack the rope to the grappling iron broke. They were swept upward “at a frightening pace”. “Our situation was now anything but pleasant”. Without a grappling iron the only way to land was to descend and “run the balloon against a tree or other sharp object” and burst it. The first time they tried this they crashed into some trees. Vivian was momentarily stunned and regaining consciousness found Anderson gone, flung out of the basket when they touched the ground. The balloon was ascending again “at the most awful velocity” with most of their ballast gone. Lythgoe reckoned they got to 17000 feet before they could regain control and begin to descend. They were travelling through banks of cloud. Vivian thought he could hear water below. Lythgoe assured him they could be nowhere near the sea, but a break in the cloud cover showed that they were in fact above the ocean. After this terrifying realisation there was a moment of relief. They were heading towards the shore. Once over land again a landing was imperative. They climbed out of the basket and clung on to the ropes so they could drop immediately when they were close enough to the ground. The balloon bounced along, the basket hitting the ground only to be pulled up again until Lythgoe saw them about to hit a windmill and gave the order to let go. They landed “comparatively unhurt” and tried to follow the balloon. But after Lythgoe fell into a dyke they sought shelter at a cottage “not far from Southwold”. Once they persuaded the occupants that they had arrived by balloon they were given some welcome hospitality by the farm labourer and his family. At dawn they borrowed some clothes and went out time looking for debris from the balloon. They found Vivian’s umbrella among other items. Back in their own dry clothes by 6 am they made their way to Darsham Station and caught the 7.20 train which connected with the London express. They were in London by 10.00am “without hats and coats, to the great astonishment of many bystanders”. Anderson turned up at 1pm. He had been thrown into a field of beans in Essex and had made his way by omnibus and train back to Cremorne to enquire after the fate of the balloon. The three men were re-united later in the day.

Mr Vivian wrote an entertaining pamphlet about “our balloon adventure” with some observations about future safety precautions. Mr Lythgoe foreswore further night ascents.

It’s an excellent account with all the Victorian virtues, boldness, calmness in the face of adversity and some modesty in the telling of the story. I’m glad Mr Vivian saw fit to record the adventure. I can’t help wondering though if a modern balloon party faced a similar situation, and found themselves reluctantly transported from Central London to Suffolk on a stormy night whether the transport system would get them back by 10.00am the following morning.

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