Cremorne Gardens

Park in/near Chelsea, existing between 1846 and now

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Park · Chelsea · SW10 ·

Cremorne Gardens, with a vestige existing today, was in its prime between 1846 and 1877.

The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens
Credit: Phoebus Levin (1864)
From Anglo-Saxon times, the tract of land on the northern banks of the Thames was divided into individually owned ‘lots’, and open to common pasturage after the annual harvest.

Later, in the 17th Century, Chelsea Farm was constructed and the area was used for market gardening plots, supplying central London. In 1778, Lord Cremorne bought Chelsea Farm and Cremorne House was built along with Ashburnham House and Ashburnham Cottage.

Fifty years later in 1825 the ‘Lammas’ rights of common grazing were abolished on the ‘Lots’. In 1830 Charles Random de Berenger, a colourful character implicated in financial fraud during the Napoleonic War, purchased Cremorne House. He was a keen sportsman and opened a sports club know as Cremorne Stadium for ‘skilful and manly exercise’ including shooting, sailing, archery and fencing.

In 1846, De Berenger’s Cremorne Stadium was transformed into a pleasure garden which became a popular and noisy place of entertainment. The entertainment included a diverse range of activities including concerts, fireworks, balloon ascents, galas and theatre.

In 1850 under the ownership of Thomas Bartlett Simpson, the twelve acres were increased to include the grounds of Ashburnham House which held flower shows and other exhibitions.

When Simpson retired in 1861 Edward Tyrrell Smith took on the management. His attractions included a woman who undertook to cross the Thames on a tightrope some hundred metres above the river. She got two thirds of the way across, but the rope was sabotaged and she was lucky to survive with her life.

John Baum became the lessee in 1870. Under his stewardship a new theatre was built. Over the course of their life however, the pleasure gardens became notorious for prostitution and vice. Increasing public clamour for their abolition was spearheaded locally by the Chelsea Vestry. The gardens eventually closed in 1877 after the lease on the land lapsed.

Today only a vestige survives as a small park on the river at the southern end of Cheyne Walk, just east of Lots Road power station. It is largely paved over, and there is little to suggest the grand scale of the original gardens, though it still has two attached jetties, an echo of the landing stages where visitors to the original pleasure gardens would arrive by boat.

Main source: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Further citations and sources


The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens
Phoebus Levin (1864)



Chelsea is an affluent area, bounded to the south by the River Thames.

Its eastern boundary was once defined by the River Westbourne, which is now in a pipe above Sloane Square tube station. The modern eastern boundary is Chelsea Bridge Road and the lower half of Sloane Street, including Sloane Square, along with parts of Belgravia. To the north and northwest, the area fades into Knightsbridge and South Kensington, but it is safe to say that the area north of King’s Road as far northwest as Fulham Road is part of Chelsea.

The word Chelsea originates from the Old English term for chalk and landing place on the river. The first record of the Manor of Chelsea precedes the Domesday Book and records the fact that Thurstan, governor of the King’s Palace during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–1066), gave the land to the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. Abbot Gervace subsequently assigned the manor to his mother, and it passed into private ownership. The modern-day Chelsea hosted the Synod of Chelsea in 787 AD.

Chelsea once had a reputation for the manufacture of Chelsea buns (made from a long strip of sweet dough tightly coiled, with currants trapped between the layers, and topped with sugar).

King Henry VIII acquired the manor of Chelsea from Lord Sandys in 1536; Chelsea Manor Street is still extant. Two of King Henry’s wives, Catherine Parr and Anne of Cleves, lived in the Manor House; Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth I – resided there; and Thomas More lived more or less next door at Beaufort House. In 1609 James I established a theological college on the site of the future Chelsea Royal Hospital, which Charles II founded in 1682.

By 1694, Chelsea – always a popular location for the wealthy, and once described as ’a village of palaces’ – had a population of 3000. Even so, Chelsea remained rural and served London to the east as a market garden, a trade that continued until the 19th-century development boom which caused the final absorption of the district into the metropolis.

Chelsea shone, brightly but briefly, in the 1960s Swinging London period and the early 1970s. The Swinging Sixties was defined on King’s Road, which runs the length of the area. The Western end of Chelsea featured boutiques Granny Takes a Trip and The Sweet Shop, the latter of which sold medieval silk velvet caftans, tabards and floor cushions, with many of the cultural cognoscenti of the time being customers, including Keith Richards, Twiggy and many others.

The exclusivity of Chelsea as a result of its high property prices has historically resulted in the term Sloane Ranger to be used to describe its residents. From 2011, Channel 4 broadcast a reality television show called Made in Chelsea, documenting the ’glitzy’ lives of several young people living in Chelsea. Moreover, Chelsea is home to one of the largest communities of Americans living outside of the United States, with 6.53% of Chelsea-residents being born in the United States.
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