Tag Archives: Battersea Park

Curious Battersea

Curious London was the title of a small book published in 1951 by Hugh Pearman. The author was a London Taxi Driver and in the book there are two pages for each of the “twenty-nine boroughs and cities that make up the county of London”. I have already hunted down the Southwark sites from the book, and for this week’s post I went on a walk to find the six locations Pearman covered in the book for Curious Battersea.

I have shown the locations on the map below. They are numbered differently to the order in which they appear in the book. I started at Clapham Junction and walked to Battersea Power Station and changed the site ordering to better fit my walk.

Curious Battersea

Map  © OpenStreetMap contributors. 

The first location was a problem before I set out on the walk. At the time little did I know it was not so far from Clapham Junction Station.

Site 1 – “Down by the railway tracks, hemmed in by streets of little houses, is this caravan encampment. Some of the dwellers in the old vans claim to be of pure Romany stock. Their ancestors came, so they say, year after year in the long ago when all around was Surrey countryside”.

This was Pearman’s caption to the photo below:

Curious Battersea

I failed to find the possible location of Pearman’s photo before walking the area. There are no clues in Pearman’s book. I have subsequently found a possible location as Sheepcote Lane which I have marked as point 1 on the map.

One side of Sheepcote Lane is of terrace housing and on the other side of the street is a grassed area between the road and the railway tracks, so as Pearman describes as being “down by the railway tracks” this could be the location.

I found the reference to Sheepcote Lane in a presentation by Dr. David M Smith of the University of Greenwich titled Gypsies and Travelers in Housing: adaptation, resistance and the reformulation of communities., which refers to Sheepcote Lane being occupied in the 50s, which is the same time period as Pearman’s book.

I will need to return to photograph the street and update this post.

The first location that I could identify in Curious Battersea was a walk from Clapham Junction station down to Battersea High Street to find:

Site 2 – “In the High Street is this 17th century bow-windowed inn, the ‘castle’, a picturesque reminder of coaching days.”

Curious Battersea

A pub has been on the site since the very early 17th century. Pearman’s text claims that the building in his photo is the 17th century Inn, however I am not sure that all the features are from the original pub. Features such as the bow window may have been retained, but the facade does look of later construction.

There is what appears to be a large crest on the front of the pub, facing the camera. The small photo in the book does not provide any detail on the crest.

The pub did not last for too many years after Pearman’s book. It was demolished in the 1960s along with the buildings to the left and right of the pub. New flats were built to the left and a new pub (retaining the Castle name) was constructed on part of the site of the original Castle and slightly to the right.

This 1960’s Castle pub was demolished in 2013 and the site is now occupied by flats:

Curious Battersea

Checking the 1895 Ordnance Survey map, the Castle as photographed by Pearman was mainly on the site of the new flats, but also on part of the 1960s flats to the left in the photo below.

Curious Battersea

I was not aware that it was there, but found after walking the area, that the 1965 plaque from the 1960s pub is on the wall of the new flats – the wall that faces onto the open space on the ground floor on the 1960s flats to the left. The plaque records that the original Castle was built circa 1600 and rebuilt in 1965. The plaque also records that in 1600, mild ale was 4 shillings a barrel (equivalent to 1/4 d (old pence) a pint) and in 1965 was 1 shilling and 5 pence a pint.

Another reason to return to Battersea and photograph the plaque.

The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage site has a photo of the Castle in 1961, just a few years before demolition.

Curious Battersea

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0965_62_255

Although I missed the 1965 Castle plaque, I did find some other interesting features in Battersea High Street.

This three storey building is occupied by the Katherine Low Settlement.

Curious Battersea

The plaque on the first floor records the Cedars Club, founded in 1882 and rebuilt in 1905, whilst the blue plaque to lower left records Katherine Mackay Low, 1855 to 1923, a philanthropist in whose memory the settlement was founded on the 17th May 1924.

Katherine Mackay Low was born in Georgia in the USA to British parents. When her mother died in 1863 her father returned with his family back to UK, and when he died, Katherine settled in London. Her father was a merchant and banker so her inheritance was probably the source of her independence and philanthropy.

The land occupied by the Katherine Low Settlement was originally part of the grounds of the vicarage of the Vicar of Battersea (the large building, part of which can just be seen to the left of the above photo). The railway cut through the grounds of the vicarage in 1860 and due to this disruption the vicar moved out of the house.

In 1872 the old vicarage building was occupied by a settlement established by two Cambridge colleges. The purpose of the settlement was the support of the poor in the area, which was much needed in this area of Battersea in the latter decades of the 19th century.

The Cambridge colleges settlement established the Cedars as a boys club and mission and in 1905 the three storey building was constructed between the old vicarage and Orville Road.

Katherine Mackay Low died in 1923 and funds were raised to create a legacy in her name. The Cedars building was purchased and the Katherine Low Settlement was established.

The Settlement continues to this day, in the same building as a local community charity.

Whilst researching these posts, I stumble on events of which I was completely unaware. Searching newspapers for the Katherine Low Settlement, there was one date when many newspapers mentioned the settlement, but it was through a disaster rather then the works of the settlement. The first in-flight fire of a passenger flight. From multiple newspapers on the 4th October 1926:

“One of the worst disasters in the history of the Paris-London air lines occurred on Saturday afternoon near Tonbridge, Kent. A big French four-engine Bleriot plane from Le Bourget aerodrome was seen to be in difficulties, and flames were observed coming from the rear. Slowly the great machine turned turtle, and then fell like a stone into a field. Farm workers ran to render help, but so fierce was the heat that no one could approach it, and every soul on board perished.

Mr. J.H. Webb, a butler at an adjoining house, the first man on the scene, said ‘I was in the pantry when I heard the noise of an aeroplane passing overhead. As I looked through the window I saw the machine suddenly burst into flames and nose-dive to the ground. I shouted for assistance and, with some of my fellow-servants, rushed to the spot. Through the roaring flames I saw the terrified features of a woman passenger. We made an attempt to get to the woman’s assistance, but before we could approach her she was totally obscured by flames and smoke. The moment I saw my chance, however, i did succeed in dragging out a lady wearing a silk dress, but I was too late. She was very badly burned and quite dead.'”

The Settlement and Battersea connection comes when the article lists the casualties of the crash, one of whom was Miss Gertrude P. Hall, aged 43 of The Katherine Low Settlement, High-street, Battersea who was described as “a lady of independent means who devoted herself to philanthropic work.” 

Gertrude Hall must have been one of those who contributed to the founding of the Katherine Low Settlement just a few years earlier.

I walked further along Battersea High Street and although the Castle has been lost, there is still a pub in the street. This is the rather excellent, mid 19th century pub, The Woodman.

Curious Battersea

Further along Battersea High Street is the building constructed for the Sir Walter St. John’s School:

Curious Battersea

Sir Walter St. John of Battersea founded a charity in 1700 for the education of poor boys of the parish. The school expanded over the years with increasing number of boys and the inclusion of girls.

The enlarged school was constructed in 1859 and the school underwent various rebuilds, modifications and upgrades over the following years.

The school became a grammar school after the war, however in the following years the school went through various changes where pupils were integrated with other schools, classes moved and eventually, with a falling local birthrate, the school was closed in 1986.

The buildings were purchased in 1990 by Thomas’s London Day School, one of a group of Thomas’s independent schools within London.

I do not know whether it was due to the growth in numbers, or the desire to separate boys and girls, however in the 1850s the girls from the school were moved to Mrs Champion’s School, and the buildings of this school can still be found in nearby Vicarage Crescent:

Curious Battersea

A plaque on the building:

Curious Battersea

The plaque reads (hopefully read correctly, rather difficult as part of the inscription was hidden by vegetation):

“National School for Girls and Infants. These buildings were erected by Miss Champion on land granted by Earl Spencer and opened April 10th 1855 for the education of the children of the poor on scriptural principles. This tablet is placed by order of the parishioners in the Vestry assembled in grateful remembrance of her munificent charities to the Parish of Battersea.”

To find this school building I had doubled back along Battersea High Street to Vicarage Crescent, but I was still on the correct route as my next location in Curious Battersea was a short distance further along the street.

Site 3 – A different sort of dwelling is this one in Vicarage Crescent that also seems strangely out of place in present-day Battersea. It was designed by Wren and has carvings by Grinling Gibbons. Although the home of a private family, this house, one of the finest in South London, is at certain times open to the public and is well worth a visit.

Curious Battersea

This is Grade II listed Old Battersea House. The house is set behind a high wall and faces the River Thames across Vicarage Crescent and the grassed area directly in front of the river.

I photographed the house from beside the river, looking across Vicarage Crescent.

Curious Battersea

Pearman’s photo appears to be taken from the side, probably as with my photo it is not an easy house to photograph from the front. The original photo also appears to show a building on the side of Old Battersea House, between the house and the small side road that leads to the estate at the rear.

This extension is not there today, with just what I assume to be the original Old Battersea House as shown in the photo below (with a bright sun shining directly into the camera).

Curious Battersea

The house was originally called Terrace House. It became derelict in the late 1960s and restored in the 1970s – it was perhaps then when the extension photographed by Pearman was removed.

If you have a spare £10 million, the house is currently for sale.

Between Vicarage Crescent and the River Thames opposite Old Battersea House, there is a small grassed area, where this lovely sign can be found.

Curious Battersea

I do not know when these signs date from, but there are still a few to be found. I like the depiction of the river at the bottom of the sign with the Thames sailing barge on the right – signs should be more like this, graphical and including a symbol of their subject.

To get to the next location in Curious Battersea, I continued east along Vicarage Crescent, along Battersea Church Road to:

Site 4 – By the river is this parish church of St. Mary’s, a church full of memories. Here are a few of the famous names with which it is connected :- William Blake, poet, artist and mystic, here married his wife Katherine: from the upper vestry window Turner painted his glorious sunsets. The great Wilberforce, whose house was in the parish boundaries was a frequent visitor to the church. Buried in the crypt are the remains of that infamous “turncoat” General Benedict Arnold who tried to betray his comrade-in-arms, George Washington to the British.

Curious Battersea

St. Mary’s is a lovely church, facing at a slight angle onto the river, the church has always struck me as being perfectly in proportion to its surroundings. The lighting was perfect as I walked towards the church along Battersea Church Road, where the church suddenly comes into view after a bend in the road.

Curious Battersea

At the church gates. The church sits on a slightly raise plateau of land as can be seen in the following view.

Curious Battersea

The current St. Mary’s Battersea was built between 1775 and 1777 to a design by the architect Joseph Dixon. As with so many other London churches, the location had already been the site for a church, possibly as far back as the 9th century.

Although the church today dates from the 18th century, it was repaired and reconstructed in 1878 and 1938 with later additional repairs.

The church is deservedly Grade I listed.

I had planned to look inside the church, however on the day of my visit there appeared to be a function in the church with a number of cars parked in front – another in the growing number of reasons to re-visit Battersea.

The front of the church with the encroaching towers of flats expanding along the Thames in the rear.

Curious Battersea

The next location was in Battersea Park which was the perfect excuse for a walk along the river.

The view from the southern side of the river, the shell of the old Lotts Road Power Station stands out, one of the original Chelsea Wharf buildings on the right and yet another glass tower dwarfing its surroundings on the left.

Curious Battersea

The light was perfect for the Albert Bridge:

Curious Battersea

On reaching Battersea Park, I walked to the next destination in Curious Battersea:

Site 5 – In the days when this borough still had a countrified air, this old wooden hut was the pavilion of the town cricket club. It is in Battersea Park near where it is said the “Iron Duke” fought a duel with Lord Winchelsea.

Curious Battersea

It is still possible to feel a “countrified air” in parts of Battersea Park today, as this carefully framed view of the pavilion today demonstrates.

Curious Battersea

I have no idea if the current cricket pavilion is in the same position as the one in Pearman’s photo, however the pavilion has been considerably upgraded since 1951.

Pearman mentions a duel between the Iron Duke and Lord Winchelsea. The Iron Duke was the Duke of Wellington who at the time of the duel (March 1829) was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland.

The cause of the duel appears to have been the Catholic Relief Bill passed by Wellington’s government. The aim of the bill was to provide greater Catholic emancipation and the possibility of Catholics becoming members of Parliament.

Although Wellington was not a Catholic, fears of rebellion in the country appears to have influenced his decision to support the bill, however he was fiercely opposed by the staunch Protestant, the Earl of Winchelsea. In his opposition to the bill the Earl of Winchelsea appears to have accused the Duke of Wellington of allowing Popery to become part of the State.

Wellington challenged Winchelsea to a duel, which then took place at Battersea.

The duel appears to have been rather a strange affair, more about maintaining gentlemanly honour rather then attempting to kill or wound. Newspaper reports on the 27th March 1829 carried lengthy reports of the build up to, and the actual dual:

“Lord Winchilsea, it appeared, was aware that he had treated the Duke unfairly, and that an apology was due from him, but he considered that as a man of honour, it was ungentlemanly to do an act of injustice, until he had compelled his Grace to adopt a measure which might cause the death of Lord Winchilsea, to be produced by an act of the Duke’s. However monstrous the system may appear in theory, it is considered the very perfection of honour, and the Duke of Wellington was forced to discharge his pistol at Lord Winchilsea. The ball fortunately did no mischief, and then his Lordship tendered such an explanation as was deemed satisfactory, and which was prepared to be presented , in case the affair had terminated fatally to Lord Winchilsea. The latter nobleman was conscious that he had injured the Duke, and had determined therefore, not to return his fire.”

Both parties maintained their honour, and no one was wounded or injured. I suspect that both parties were also concerned that if the Duke had been killed, political chaos would have ensued and if Winchilsea had been killed he would have become a martyr to the Protestant cause.

There does not appear to be any monument or plaque to the duel in Battersea Park, however on the Cricket Pavilion there is a plaque recording another 19th century event:

Curious Battersea

Prior to 1864 the game of football did not have a consistent set of rules to manage the game. There was pressure to develop rules that would apply to all games and in October 1863 the Football Association was formed, who then went on to draw up the 13 rules of Association Football.

To demonstrate the new rules a game was organised on the 9th January 1864 in Battersea Park between two teams led by the FA President and the FA Secretary. The President’s team won 2-0.

Leaving Battersea Park, I then headed to the final location of Curious Battersea:

Site 6 – Not all of interest in Battersea is of the past, as witness this huge ‘Wellsian’ river-side power station. It is one of the largest in the world, and at night, when it is flood lit, has an unearthly sort of beauty.

Curious Battersea

When Hugh Pearman wrote Curious London in 1951, Battersea Power Station was becoming the largest provider of power to London. Half of the station (the A station) had been completed in the 1930s and construction of the B station started after the war, with the station coming on stream between 1953 and 1955.

In Pearman’s Curious Battersea, the power station was therefore the peak of modernity. Powering London into the future and “at night, when it is flood-lit, has an unearthly sort of beauty”.

Change is continuous and what had at the time been the most thermally efficient power station in the country eventually lost that efficiency. Generation was moving more towards gas and nuclear rather than coal and power stations were moving out of central London down towards the Thames estuary.

Battersea Power Station ceased operation in 1983, and since has been reduced to the outer walls, through many different schemes and ownership and is now finally being rebuilt.

The turbine halls will consist of shops, restaurants, cafes and cinemas and offices will occupy the boiler house.

Pearman’s photo was from across the river, however I wanted to take a look close up.

After walking under the rail tracks that run across the river into Victoria Station, the first of the new apartment blocks that will almost enclose the old power station is on the right. This follows the standard design seen all across London of apartments above and restaurants, bars and cafes on the ground floor.

The old power station with its rebuilt chimneys is still a major construction site with cranes rising above the building.

Curious Battersea

I am not sure what Hugh Pearman would think of what is happening to Battersea Power Station today. In 1951 it was supporting the growth in post-war electricity consumption across the city. Today the site is mirroring so many other developments across London and whether the old power station retains any historical significance among the glass and steel apartment towers and the commercialisation of semi-public space remains to be seen.

As usual, I feel I am just scratching the surface of the history of the streets I have walked, but again I am grateful to Hugh Pearman for providing another fascinating route through London to discover more about Curious Battersea.

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The Festival Of Britain Pleasure Gardens – Battersea Park

The next stop in my exploration of the Festival of Britain is the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea. Many of those who visited the South Bank festival site would have taken one of the shuttle boats from the South Bank piers to the pier at Battersea Park, however I had a day off work on the hottest day of the year, and caught the Circle Line to Sloane Square then walked across Chelsea Bridge to explore Battersea Park and see what reminders there are of the festival.

The Pleasure Gardens at Battersea Park were very different from the rest of the Festival of Britain events.

  • All the other core events were educational and informative. The intention of the Pleasure Gardens was to balance the other events and add an element of fun to an otherwise mainly serious festival.
  • The Pleasure Gardens allowed commercial sponsorship. Unlike the other events where the display of a manufacturers product was based on the excellence of the design, demonstration of innovation and a British manufacturing success, the Pleasure Gardens had a number of sponsored events and displays.
  • Whilst the majority of goods displayed at the rest of the festival were British, the Pleasure Gardens sourced a number of the fairground rides from the US. The latest and most exciting rides could not be obtained in Great Britain at the time.
  • You could shop at the Pleasure Gardens. The experience of shopping for luxury goods was a core part of the Battersea event.

Although the other festival sites presented a history of the land and people of Great Britain, they were essentially forward-looking – how the creativity and industry of Great Britain would create a better future – the Pleasure Gardens were more nostalgic including references to earlier pleasure gardens at Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne, traditional entertainments such as Punch and Judy and Music Hall along with gardens, water features and Rowland Emett’s Oyster Creek railway.

As with the South Bank festival, Battersea was a target of the Beaverbrook press along with much of the Conservative party who viewed the festival as a waste of money. The plan for the Pleasure Gardens was put on hold for a year, and then only went ahead with half of the budget estimated by the planners (hence the real need for commercial sponsorship).

The cover page of the guide for the Pleasure Gardens is very different from all the other official guidebooks to again highlight that the visitor would have a very different experience here than at the other events such as the main festival site, the exhibition of science etc.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 17

Despite these differences, the focus on design was just as important as with the other sites and all the main features had an individual designer, for example:

  • The Chief Designer was James Gardner, responsible for the overall design themes of the Pleasure Gardens
  • The Chief Architects were D. Dex Harrison and Ernest Seel
  • High Casson was responsible for the Aviary Restaurant
  • Rowland Emett for the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway
  • Bernard Engle for the Vauxhall and Ranelagh Beer Gardens
  • Arthur Braven for the Festival Fare Snack Bar

These were highly qualified people, for example Bernard Engle who was responsible for two of the beer gardens was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Arthur Braven, responsible for the Festival Snack Bar was an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. They also designed other aspects of the festival, for example Arthur Braven designed the interior of several London double-decker buses that carried out a publicity tour of Europe for the festival.

The main areas of the Festival Gardens were:

  • The Riverside along the Thames which included the pier where boats docked bringing visitors from the South Bank piers.
  • The Parade – the shopping area of the Festival Gardens along with access to all the other spaces and events
  • The Grand Vista – a view of towers and arcades, lakes and fountains, eating and drinking and the location of the evening fireworks
  • Oyster Creek – the Rowland Emett designed railway that ran between the festival gardens stations of Oyster Creek and Far Tottering
  • The Fun Fair
  • Lawn and Flower Gardens
  • Specific areas for children such as the Punch and Judy and Zoo

The overall view of the Festival Gardens site is shown in the following map from the Festival Guide (as usual, click on the map to open a larger version).

Festival Pleasure Gardens 38

As with the South Bank festival site, my father took very few photos of the Pleasure Gardens, just a set of photos of one of the entertainments which I will show later, so as with the South Bank site I have been collecting postcards over the years to understand what the site looked like and I will feature some of these in this post.

Of all the festival locations, it is Battersea Park where there is still much to be seen relating to the festival. This was probably helped by the fact that many of the festival installations, such as the fun fair remained for many years after the festival closed, and Wandsworth Council have also carried out some excellent restoration work to some of the festival locations.

The main information plaque in Battersea Park recalling the festival:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 25

I took along a copy of the guidebook to help understand the site, probably the first time it has returned to Battersea Park since 1951.

Referring back to the map of the site, I will start at the large round tent just to the lower right of the top staple. This is the Dance Pavilion.

The external appearance of the Dance Pavilion was of yellow and brown canvas, but on entering the pavilion a more sophisticated sight greeted the visitor where a second layer of canvas was hung from the central pole on which was also mounted a large chandelier. The Dance Pavilion was apparently the largest tent of its type in Europe at the time.

The dance floor was made out of oak strips surrounded by a red carpet. There was an orchestra stage and along the walls of the pavilion were alcoves. The majority of the lower surround of the pavilion was of glass.

There was space for 400 couples on the dance floor and 700 spectators on the surrounding red carpet. Regular dances were held, but it was at night when the chandelier lit up the pavilion that, in the words of the guide “the pleasures of the night are afoot”.

The Dance Pavilion:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 14

Although there is no sign at the site, by checking the map against the physical features that still remain, the location of the Dance Pavilion seems to where this circular raised flower bed is located today.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 27

Just to the right of the Dance Pavilion, is the Fountain Lake. This was part of the Grand Vista that ran from the Parade through to the Fern House and firework platform and formed a long view with water features on either side.

The intention with the Grand Vista was to emulate the visual effects seen in the parks surrounding English country houses, or along the processional vistas of Paris and within the grounds of Versailles. Battersea was on a much smaller scale and importantly, cost, but still produced a dramatic effect.

Designed by John Piper and Osbert Lancaster, the Grand Vista was approached from the Parade. Firstly, two great flights of steps led down to the area where two rectangular lakes each 100 foot long and containing fountains, with the visitor walking along the central walkway between the two lakes.

On either side of the lakes were Gothic towers, arcades containing shops and cane-work statues.

At the end of these two lakes was Fountain Lake. A single lake with central and side fountains that led down to the Giant Fern House and the Firework platform.

View of Fountain Lake:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 7

The rectangular lakes, arcades and Gothic towers leading up to the Parade:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 13

Circular feature at the end of the arcades. The round tent at the back of the photo is one of the Vista Tea Houses, blue and white umbrella roofed and where tea and coffee could be purchased.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 12

The main features of the Grand Vista and Fountain Lake are still to be seen today. The following photo is looking back towards the Parade from the end of the Fountain Lake. Central and side fountains still play across the lake and to the left and right are round structures of poles that mark the positions of the circular structures at the end of the arcades in the original festival (see the photos above).

Festival Pleasure Gardens 28

What I really like about the lake is the surrounding fencing at the top of the lake. I suspect this was installed as part of Wandsworth’s refurbishment of the site rather than original, however the style is perfect for the Festival of Britain.

The central fountain features also look to have been restored to as they were with a concrete base to the central fountains, and the edges painted in blue and white stripes.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 29

View of the twin rectangular lakes leading up to the Parade. As well as the circular structures the four box structures mark the positions of similar installations during the festival – seen in the original photos above where they had cones mounted on the top of each box.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 30

Looking up towards the flights of steps leading up towards the Parade. Note the diamond patterns on the central walkway – identical patterns can be seen in the original photos.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 31

And a final view of the Grand Vista from the top of the stairs. This would have been the view that met the visitor, however at the time of the festival, there were Gothic towers, arcades, statues all lining the water features and at the far end a large fern house. It was also from the far end that the nighttime firework displays were launched.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 32

Wandsworth Council have done an excellent job in restoring this part of the Pleasure Gardens, and whilst the majority of features have long since disappeared, walking along the Grand Vista and Fountain Lake does provide a sense of what the Pleasure Gardens must have looked like in 1951. Today, the lakes provide a perfect location for Londoners to sunbathe on very hot summer days.

One feature that has long since disappeared is the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway.

This was one of the nostalgic features of the Pleasure Gardens. The railway had started as a cartoon series in Punch by Rowland Emett, but was created as a working, 500 yard miniature railway taking visitors from one side to the other of the Pleasure Gardens. Three trains from the cartoons called Neptune, Wild Goose and Nellie ran between the stations on a single track.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 1

The guide to the Pleasure Gardens includes a description of the trains that illustrate the imagination and fantasy of Rowland Emett’s work:

“One thing this certainly won’t do justice to is the locomotive Neptune brought here specially for the nautical section of the railway. Even the directors are not quite clear about its origin but believe it was built from the wreck of the Packet Boat ‘Comet’, (she foundered – do you remember? – on a barnacle off Star Fish Point in the year eighteen hundred and what’s it). Measuring 10 feet to the funnel and 20 foot length with tender, Neptune is tough enough still to pull a train of 8 coaches with 12 passengers in each.

Wild Goose is another fine bird which has been pressed into similar service. She is, I understand, the railway’s reply to British Railways air services; owing to abnormal loads being carried at Battersea, however she may have difficulty in taking off.

There is also Nellie, whom nothing daunts. After all this it’s hard to realise seriously that these three locos can provide a two minute service, pulling a thousand passengers an hour.”

Festival Pleasure Gardens 2

The Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway was one of the most popular attractions at the Pleasure Gardens.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 3

Whilst concentrating on the fantasy nature of the railway, the guide also states “For the interest of the technically minded (but don’t tell Emett) the engines are diesel electrics and the track 15 inch gauge”.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 4

The Parade at the Pleasure Gardens ran the length of what is now Carriage Drive North.

Along the parade, there were many decorative structures and features along with a range of shops. The guide stated that along the Parade “is to be found the Bond Street of the Gardens – shops whose very names spell quality and luxury.

Here you will find exquisite antiques, figures in porcelain and ivory, miniatures and elegant fairings of a past age as well as modern pottery and china of all kinds.

Here, too, are bright adornments for my lady – earings and necklaces of pearl and brilliants, costume jewelry of every description. And while madam yearns over gems and fine perfumes, elegant slippers and diaphanous underwear, the mere male can can comfort himself with the contemplation (and purchase) of pipes, snuff, fountain pens, cameras, watches or razors, while younger members of the family gape at miraculous toys, stamps (including the special Festival issue), and other wonders”.

Looking down the Parade in 1951:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 6

The Parade today:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 21

The Tree Walk, a raised walkway among the tops of the trees ran across the Parade.

Commercialism and sponsorship was one of the main differences between the Pleasure Gardens and all the other festival sites and events. This was essential to the Pleasure Gardens due to the very limited budget allocated for the site and could be justified as the aims of the Pleasure Gardens were very different from the rest of the Festival of Britain.

After the war, and post war period of rationing and austerity, the availability of products such as those on sale at Battersea must have seemed remarkable and if you can ignore the gender assumptions in the text from the guide, the use of words such as yearns, gapes, miraculous and wonders, as well as the reference to Bond Street are indicative of the wide spread retail commercialism of the decades to follow the 1951 festival.

The adverts within the guide to the Pleasure Gardens are also different to the other guides.

In the Pleasure Gardens guide are adverts from the sponsors along with adverts for luxury goods:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 18

Festival Pleasure Gardens 20

Sponsors included Guinness and their advert in the guide included a picture of the Festival Clock – their sponsored exhibit at the Pleasure Gardens.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 19

Which could be found along the Parade:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 5

Other sponsors included:

  • HMV – the Music Pavilion
  • Franco Signs – the Tree Walk
  • Leichner – Powder Room
  • Lockheed Hydraulic Brakes – the Mermaid Fountain
  • Nestle’s – Playland and Fountain Tower
  • London Zoo and News Chronicle – the Children’s Zoo and Aviary
  • Schweppes – the Grotto
  • Sharp’s Kreemy Toffee – Punch and Judy and the Macaws

There were also three beer gardens, named after original London pleasure gardens, Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne, that were sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Brewers.

The sponsors took full advantage of advertising and selling their products during the festival. At the Ladies Powder Room, “Leichner, having added lustre to the beauty of nearly four generations of stage stars, here offer facial magic to ordinary mortals. In the dove-grey salon with its twelve mirrored dressing tables, the ladies, in their pause for beauty, will find a full range of powders, lipsticks, eye-shadows in all the colours of the spectrum and cleansing creams and lotions”.

In the Powder Room, advice was free, but “if you wish to be expertly made-up by one of Leichner’s Young Ladies, there is a small charge”.

The restoration work by Wandsworth Council includes these structures which run parallel to the Flower Gardens. Again I doubt these are original, however the styling is perfect for the Festival Gardens, including the small fence.

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Plaque commemorating the Pleasure Gardens:

Festival Pleasure Gardens 26.

A couple of other photos of the Pleasure Gardens. Many of the structures were temporary, constructed with canvas, but all highly coloured. I have not found any colour postcards of the Pleasure Gardens however some of the films I provided links for in an earlier post include colour film of the Pleasure Gardens and show a brightly coloured site, decorated throughout with bold colours.

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Festival Pleasure Gardens 11

The Crescent on the far western edge of the Pleasure Gardens:

The Pleasure Gardens also had a boating lake, just to the right of the Fun Fair and marked as number 30 in the map of the site. From the photo below there looks to have been a model village built around part of the boating lake:

Walking from the Grand Vista, back along the Parade, the site shown in the photo below, to the west of the Pagoda, was the site of the Riverside Theatre where shows were given by Britain’s leading puppet-makers, including names such as The Hogarth Puppets, Walter Wilkinson’s Hand Puppets along with Eric Bramwell and the Stavordales.

Festival Pleasure Gardens 33

There was also plenty of entertainment for children, including the Zoo, a Peter Pan’s Railway, the Nestle’s Playland and Punch and Judy.

It was at the Punch and Judy that I found the only photos that my father appears to have taken at the Pleasure Gardens. He took a series showing the expressions of children watching one of the shows. After originally scanning these negatives, I was not sure of the location, however in one of the shoe boxes containing photos he had printed, I found one of these photos with the location written on the back.

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Festival Pleasure Gardens 40

In the guide book there is a drawing of the Punch and Judy showing the railings around the seating area and benches which are the same as in my father’s photo. The drawing also gives an impression of what the children are looking at:

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The Punch and Judy was at location 13 on the Pleasure Gardens map. It was located along the Parade which is also lined with large trees. I have no idea how long these particular species of trees take to grow, but they look large / old and on the assumption that these are the same trees as at the festival, or later trees planted in the same places, I counted the number of trees from the entrance to the Grand Vista in the map and along the Parade today which took me to the following spot, which if correct, the Punch and Judy was in the space to the left of the bench.

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The Mermaid Fountain (sponsored by Lockheed Hydraulic Brakes) was on the space currently occupied by the Pagoda.

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Further along is the entrance to the Children’s Zoo. Originally, this was further back, to the east of the Flower Gardens, but has since expanded to take up the space occupied by The Piazza.

The Zoo at the time of the Pleasure Gardens had two bear cubs called Ruff and Scruff along with baby lions, foxes, wallabies and a crab eating racoon with the unusual name (for a racoon) of Sally.

There was a cage with monkeys, a “Mousetown building where hundreds of mice perform their antics all day long”, a  llama, goats, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and tropical fish and a reindeer called Rudolph.

The original entrance to the Piazza, now the entrance to the Zoo is shown in the photo below:

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The commercial aspects of the Pleasure Gardens extended to children. The Nestle’s Playground was advertised with the text that “Nestle’s have immense experience at looking after children and making them happy.” When the parent collected their children at the end of a two hour session at the Playground, each child was given a present, which I am sure was Nestle’s branded.

The other main attraction area of the Pleasure Gardens was the Fun Fair.

The Fun Fair was probably the most controversial of the Pleasure Gardens entertainments. For the previous 12 years, the development of fun fair rides has been the last thing in the mind of British industry. The American fun fair business had continued almost without interruption and new rides had been developed with height and speed increasing their excitement and attraction to visitors. There was nothing available in Great Britain that could hope to bring visitors the level of excitement expected from such a one off event as the Festival of Britain.

The organisors of the festival therefore decided to go to America and purchase rides for use at the Pleasure Gardens. The Treasury agreed a sum of £30,000 (a significant sum at the time – even more so considering national prioirties) to spend on rides from America and a team traveled out to select and purchase suitable rides (the team included representatives from other British fun fairs as the intention was to help justify the purchase, the rides would be sold to other British fun fairs after the festival had closed).

The Beaverbrook press found out about the visit and the budget with the resulting Daily Mail headlines criticising this waste of national funds.

As a result of the visit, the Festival Gardens ended up with some of the latest American fun fair rides, which including the small number sourced from Great Britain provided the fun fair with Three Abreast Gallopers, Lighthouse Slip, Leaping Lena, Octopus, The Whip, Dodgems, Caterpillar, Waltzer, Moon Rocket, Big Dipper, Scenic Grotto, Peter Pan Railway, Ghost Train, Bubble Bounce, Hurricane, Fly-o-Plane, Rotor, Boomerang, Flying Cars and the Sky Wheel which would carry riders 90 feet into the air. I am not sure of the type of ride of all these, but it does sound as if the visitor would have had a good time.

Parts of the fun fair continued long after the Festival Pleasure Gardens closed – a story for another time.

The Pleasure Gardens after dark were one of the main attractions for visitors. Whether the chandelier lit dances in the Dance Pavilions, the brightly lit shops, the Fireworks, the lighting on all the main features and the lakes and fountains, it was a very different experience for those who had lived through the long years of war and post war austerity.

Rockets and fireworks could be seen launched from the end of the Grand Vista or from on the lake. The trees along the Parade were lit by sodium and mercury lighting concealed on the roofs of the shops that lined the Parade. Fairy lights and multi-coloured diamond lights lit the pier on the river. Far Tottering station was lit by bright platform lights and above the Children’s Zoo a huge lighted bird was placed above the aviary whilst fairy lamps light the pony rides below.

All the individual shops, restaurants, cafes and bars had their own individual lighting scheme.

It must have been quite an experience to walk the Festival Gardens at Battersea after dark.

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Festival Pleasure Gardens 16

The Pleasure Gardens were very different to the rest of the Festival of Britain exhibitions, although they did share the same aim of bringing – in Gerald Barry’s words – “elegant entertainment” to the masses and creating a classless environment where different and new forms of entertainment were open to all.

The Pleasure Gardens aligned with the Labour Government aim of trying to broaden the types of entertainment enjoyed by the majority of the British population, which an earlier Labour report had identified as being too dependent on pubs and the cinema. There was also concern with the population being too dependent on passive forms of entertainment, and the creeping Americanisation of entertainment (despite the purchase of fun fair rides from America).

The last section in the guide to the Pleasure Gardens quotes Dr Johnson’s description of Vauxhall Gardens, suggesting that the description could well apply to the Pleasure Gardens at Battersea:

“That excellent place of amusement…is particularly adapted to the taste of the English nation, there being a mixture of curious show, gay exhibition, music, vocal and instrumental, not too refined for the general ear…and though last, not least good eating and drinking for those who choose to purchase that regale”.

The Pleasure Gardens at Battersea were a great success during the Festival of Britain, however as with much else portrayed across the Festival of Britain, the ambition of bringing “elegant entertainment” to the majority of the British population would take a very different path in the decades that would follow.

Battersea Park is well worth a visit (although perhaps not on the hottest day of the year) and Wandsworth Council have done a good job with the restoration of the area around the Grand Vista, Fountain Lake and Flower Gardens and features such as the railings really do evoke the designs from 1951.

Next week is my final post on the Festival of Britain with a visit to the Exhibition of Architecture at Poplar.

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