Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Gardens and Spas - Rosherville

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from The Illustrated London News, 1842

Rosherville Gardens, Gravesend. - Admission, 6d.

Routledge's Popular Guide to London, [c.1873]

Rosherville Gardens. These popular and well-conducted gardens are on the high road to the west of Gravesend, and can be reached direct from the steamboat-pier. The admission is 6d., and there is a constant succession of amusement throughout the day; dancing on the circular platform from 2 o'clock to 11 being a special and favourite feature. Besides the tea and shrimps so dear to the heart of the Gravesend excursionist, other refreshments of a more substantial and stimulating character can be obtained at very reasonable rates. The extent of the grounds, which are tastefully laid out and produce abundance of flowers, is about 20 acres. There is a conservatory about 200 feet long, a bijou theatre, a maze, museum, "baronial hall," occasionally used for dancing, but more often for purposes of refreshment. There is a very good fernery and a bear-pit, and some to miles of walks are held out as additional inducements to the excursion public. The peculiar situation of Rosherville - it being an old chalk quarry - has lent itself admirably to the landscape gardener's art, and the result is a really pretty and remarkably diversified garden, in which it is quite feasible to pass that "Happy Day" which in the advertisements is always coupled with the name of Rosherville. For railway and steamboat arrangements, see GRAVESEND and STEAMBOATS.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881


No. XIII. We are off to the "place to spend a Happy Day," or evening, as the case may be. Rosherville Gardens, though some thirty miles down the Thames, are really a part of London. You step in the cool afternoon on board the steamer at London Bridge, and after a couple of hours' steaming—there you are ! Be as happy as you can. The steamer is not superlatively comfortable by which we travel. It has a certain air of make-shift and shabbiness, not altogether out of harmony with the passengers—ourselves, of course, excluded. Before we pass under the arch at London Bridge we are already enveloped in a cloud of London natives, commonly called "blacks," emitted by the lowered funnel. "They want to kipper the crew!" remarked a jocular traveller, whose wit was sharpened by the ozone from Billingsgate Market, a few yards further down.
    They came out for a "blow," the motley and deadly-dull seekers after happiness. And they got it. From the slums of Cherry Gardens on the right, and the wastes of Wapping on the left ; from Rotherhithe and North Woolwich, and the outlets of the main sewer, the "blow" came. It was quite as refreshing as the boasted hundred distinct "smells" of Cologne.
    Our passengers washed the "blow" down with some very bilious bitter beer. The knowing ones brought their own refreshment in bottles. Truth compels me to say that the credit for this forethought must be ascribed exclusively to the ladies. Do you see that demure-looking, respectable female, with the prim bread-and-butter daughter, and the nice clean-looking boys. Would you believe that she has just had a long and a strong pull at a capacious bottle, the contents of which, to judge by her look of anguish and joy during the operation, must have been "neat?" For want of anything to think about other passengers beguile the time by eating. From mysterious bundles and hidden pockets parcels are drawn forth, and a steady two hours' munch begins. The air about the Docks gives one such an appetite you, know ; and the salt sea billows, rolling off Greenwich, are so provocative of thirst!
    When we had overcome the first fearful joy of embarkation, and had proceeded a few miles on our journey, a band emerges from the little drinking saloon to add still further to the gaiety of this merry party. There is much ostentatious preparation. The throat of the cornet is husky, the harp is out of tune, the piccolo needs a deal of screwing up ; but at last they are off; and so are we. The company of the squalling babe on the lower deck is preferable to that fearful mixture of jig and ballad; that heavy-sentimental and lightly comic jumble of notes hurled, with beery vigour, at the heads of the unoffending passengers.
    It is but a few yards from the steamboat pier to the Gardens at Rosherville. Yet the path is full of peril ; it is running an Amazonian gauntlet. The air resounds with shrieks of "Shrimps." The women bombard you with this cry : "Shrimps ! Shrimps ! ! Shrimps ! ! !"—you fancy the air is alive with the fearful creature—"Shrimps, tea, and a nice room, sir?"—are we not Happy ?
    There have never been two opinions that Rosherville Gardens, formed out of a disused chalk pit, are delightful- pleasure grounds, to which, so far as natural beauty goes, Cremorne, Surrey and North Woolwich, whose ancient glories the rising generation wot of only by tradition, could hold no kind of candle, nor yet farthing dip. The grounds are illuminated. From a distance comes the strains of a band, and anon the sharp "ping" of the shooting gallery.' Forward, brave heart ! but cautiously ; you may stumble against, or trip over, or sit down upon, a pair of lovers, billing, cooing and mating in the cold evening amid these verdant bowers. Onward to where the merry waltz invites. Alas! there are but three couples, and all females—two daughters of Israel, four others, daughters of their mothers. Modesty forbids our joining this exhilarating throng; so, attracted by a regiment of painted soldiers marching at the double in battle array against a goose, or something, we try our fortune at the rifle gallery. We confess to shooting nothing, not even the proprietor's son, who played a. provoking game at hide and seek among the bottles.
    The maze wasn't bad fun. Four of us lost ourselves there ; two were of the other sex.
    The parrot and maccaw house was disappointing. An aged dame sat at the door. The evening spider had woven his web amid her tresses. She may have been slumbering there from old, for all we know. We deposited the necessary coins and passed in. Immediately such shrieking began as could be only heard by the lonely traveller in the primeval forest, when those demons are disturbed in their native haunts. We promised to tell others not to disturb the solitude of these proud, resentful birds, and lightly took our departure.
    We had enough happiness for one day. We regained the steamer —a different and much superior vessel, fitted, mark you, with electric light and an attractive saloon, where it was possible comfortably to avoid the night scenes on the river. But we had no wish to avoid those scenes. The difficulty was to find a seat. They were all occupied by parties of two. It wasn't so very cold ; but you might easily have fancied yourself in Siberia. Where did all those shawls come from that encircle these parties of two ? The boat has a full complement of passengers, but she might be the Phantom Ship, for all the sound that comes from her living cargo. Much more beautiful is the river by night than by day. Lights are gleaming on the distant banks. Barges are heaving with a stately grace in the illuminated track made by their own, full orbed, red and white lights. The ghostly black hulls of ships lying at anchor frown at us as we pass. Some vessel, pressed for time, is being discharged. The workers, by the dancing lights, look like so many actors in a stage Inferno. The lapping water-- But what do we see ? The two girls of the maze ! And they have their shawls, too. Eureka! The deck is good enough for comfort. We join the parties of two; and our tidy boat steams up to London Bridge, well before midnight, conveying its live freight all silent—and all " Happy !"

Pick Me Up, 1892


see also A.R.Bennett in London and Londoners - click here