Cremorne Gardens
The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens
Credit: Phoebus Levin (1864)
Cremorne Gardens, with a vestige existing today, was in its prime between 1846 and 1877.

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.

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