Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Gardens and Spas - North Woolwich Gardens (aka Royal Pavilion Gardens)

ROYAL PAVILION GARDENS, North Woolwich. - Season 1859. - The public is respectfully informed that this popular place of amusement will OPEN on Whit Sunday, June 12, for promenade, by refreshment ticket, and continue open every day and night, wet or dry, for a succession of extraordinary grand galas and fetes, on a scale of splendour never before attempted at any place of al fresco amusements. At the same time, the proprietor has great pleasure in announcing to his patrons he has made such arrangements with the Directors of the Eastern Counties and Blackwall Railways that will ensure the visitors a quick transit to and from the gardens. In fact, it will be only a 25 minutes' ride and trains will run every quarter of an hour until a quarter to 12 o'clock at night. During the recess vast improvements and alterations have been made: a large lake has been formed, interspersed with islands, rustic bridges &c. at the rear of which a splendid ballet stage has been erected. The stage, &c., built by Mr. Bevington. The scenic department painted by that eminent artist Mr. D. Hughes and talented assistants. The whole of the elaborate and unique alterations designed and executed under the immediate direction of Mr. A.W. Page. Engagements have already been formed. A popular ballet company, a troop of classical poses plastiques gymnastic performers. A vocal and instrumental concert by some of the first artistes, including the inimitable Mackney, who has been engaged to sing here and at no other gardens. The band will be, as it has hitherto been, a leading feature, it will consist of 40 superior instrumentalists. Musical director Mr. Thomas Reynolds. Herr Chevalier, the Austrian Salamander, will perform his astonished fete of walking through pyramids of fire. Dancing nightly at half past 9 on the illuminated platform. Efficient masters of the ceremonies have been appointed, under the direction of Mr. Henry A. Taylor, from Her Majesty's Theatre. A grand pyrotechnic display will take place every night at 10 o'clock; pyrotechnic artist, Mr. W. Brock. The gardens will be brilliantly illuminated on a new and novel principle under the superintendence of Mr. Robert Duffell, late director of the Vauxhall Gardens. Director of the amusements, Mr. Henry Francis. The refreshment department will be under the immediate superintendence of the proprietor. The wine, spirits, &c., will be found of first-rate quality, and at moderate tavern prices. There will be no extra charges to any of the amusements. Admission, including railway fare there and back, 1s. N.B. On Sundays, a refreshment ticket is included in the shilling.

The Times, June 9, 1859

To Fenchurch Street, and went down by rail to North Woolwich, a place new to me.. . I went into the 'Royal Gardens'; a dreary place of the Cremorne kind; with pleasant trees, however, and a terrace looking on the river. In a large hall or ballroom in the grounds, a farce, a concert, a ballet, went on successively, in broad daylight; the audience, some 200 respectable looking artisan folk, men wives and damsels. Then the hall was cleared, everyone standing around it; a couple of the new two wheeled velocipedes were brought in; and the 'French Female Velocipedists' appeared: two girls of 18 or 20, one of them very pretty, and both wellmade & graceful. They were drest as men; in jockey caps, and satin jackets and short breeches ending above the knee, and long stockings, and mid-leg boots. Thus clad, they stepped forth unabashed into the midst, and mounted their bicycles'; each girl throwing her leg over and sitting astride on the saddle. And then they started, amidst cheers; pursuing one another round and round the hall, curving in and out, sometimes rising in their stirrups (so to speak) as if trotting, sometimes throwing one leg or both legs up whilst at full speed: and after riding so, with the skill and vigour of young men, for a quarter of an hour, these girls halted and dismounted, and made their bow amidst thunders of applause. 'They're fine made girls,' said a respectable matron near me: and the man who had charge of their steeds observed 'They've got some English velocipede-girls at Cremorne, as rides astride like these here; but lor, they cant hold a candle to these two!' It seems that the fair cavaliers are circus-riders from the Paris Hippodrome, not unused, therefore, to bestriding a horse; and that they belong to a party of six female velocipedists who have been performing there. Before they rode, today, I had seen them in the garden, quietly drest in women's garb, walking to and fro: and in fine weather, they exhibit in the open air as well as in the hall. There was nothing indecent in the performance, or in the girls' behaviour; if once you grant that a woman may, like a man, wear breeches and sit astride in public....

Arthur Munby, Diary, 21 June 1869

see also an entry in Dickens's Dictionary - click here

see also The Penny Illustrated Paper - click here

It is a Saturday half -holiday, and all who can are hurrying out of the denser regions of London. It is only half an hour since we left Westminster Bridge, and we have already put down our sixpence and passed the turnstile into the North Tilford Gardens. The North Tilford is not a very aristocratic lounge. Although there cannot be less than three to four thousand men, women , and children in the grounds, there is not one whose name you can find in Debrett. The majority of the men are artisans, clerks, shop -hands, and small trades The women are the wives, friends, sisters, cousins of the men. There is no absolute rudeness, but a good deal of horse play. The humour is of the simplest order, and takes the form of practical jokes. Looking round at how the crowd comports itself, we feel the vigorous simplicity that prevailed in the times of which Chaucer wrote is not much diminished to -day, notwithstanding the lapse of centuries and the invasion of science.
    Here is a group of sickly - looking Cockney lads, standing before an instrument intended for ascertaining the air capacity of the human chest. The man who presides over it is not a good salesman. He is neither fluent nor mysterious, and consequently is doing a bad business. The chestometer is enjoying a holiday so far. At length one of the deplorable- looking youths, the most deplorable - looking of all, steps forward and hands a penny to the man. The man dips the mouthpiece in a cup of water, wipes it in a towel, and then hands it to the lad, explaining that all other means of testing one's strength are unsatisfactory and illusive compared to this. A more wretched- looking being than the lad, tube in hand, it would be difficult to find. He is about five feet four, sallow, lank, knock -kneed, thirty inches across the chest. He blows until two dull black vein-cords swell out of his hollow temples. Ninety -eight ! cries the man, looking in amazement on the weakly youth ; then he adds, gravely: Go home. You ought to be ashamed of being so healthy. Go home, and ' list in the Horse Guards, and try and do something for your unfortunate country . Later we pass by the same man , and hear him address the identical words to a Cumberland farmer who could take Achilles by the hair and bend . bis neck . He of the chestometer is evidently a man of no great invention. He does not look as though he could compose that one speech. Who made it for him ? When the youth dropped the tube and retired he seemed oppressed by the consciousness of singular ingratitude; the farmer laughs, shakes his powerful frame, and moves away with the easy gait of one who through good humour, and good humour alone, refrains from doing grievous bodily harm to every man within reach who happens to be anything near a match for him .
    Here is a maze, with gipsies at the centre and fortune-telling. It takes a little time to penetrate to the core, but in the end patience and perseverance conquer. Two yellow -skinned , dark -eyed, brightly -dressed sibyls, and five in quirers of the servant- girl type. The oracle is to be consulted in a kind of rude hut, half formed of branches of trees and half of canvas. A brazier of charcoal or coke, burns in the middle of the hut. The visitors are grave, timorous. Occasionally one makes a faint and startling attempt to laugh, but such levity does not meet the approval of her fellows nor of herself either, for after a second she repents and does penance in a more funereal face than any of the others. News of sweethearts is precious in a land where there are only nine men to every ten women.
    Out into the open again. Ladies and gen tlemen are here shooting with bow and arrow at targets. You get three shots for a penny, but, owing to the gentleness and suavity of the bows, the archers are compelled to discharge the shafts at an elevation similar to that used with mortars in shelling towns . As a rule the tendency of the gentlemen is to draw the arrows beyond the head before letting go, and the result is somewhat wide and disquieting shooting . The ladies seem to regard effect more than result, and are satisfied when upon any terms they make the tense string murmur .' But at the target farthest from the gravel walk and most out of sight stands the figure of a young man. He has a dark , reso lute face, and is sending arrow after arrow in the direction of that lattermost target, but never one into it. He is a tallow -chandler's apprentice, has been reading romances of sixty years ago, and is endeavouring to acquire a method of manslaughter approved of in the gallant days of old .
     Men are trying their strength on that boss with the dial- plate above. The boss is fixed in the pit of a Russian's stomach, so that you can not only ascertain the weight in pounds of a blow from your shoulder, but relieve your feelings at the same time . A steam merry -go -round, with lads and lasses on the horses and in the coaches. The lads are gallant, hilarious, and festive ; the lasses timid, coy, confiding, apprehensive of displaying ankles, and bewitching . Into one of the coaches has been got a very stout woman with a very fat face and very blue ribbons in her bonnet . Alas, poet ! disguise it how you will, but we write prose, and are compelled to say that the motion has made her very green and very sea- sick. In the centre of a boarded platform is a pagoda, and in this pagoda a band of eight performers, and on the platform a dancing master and dancers. The dancers are grave, solemn, as though they were in momentary expectation of celebrating their apotheosis, and were anxious to preserve a fitting seriousness for the occasion. There are concert-rooms in which the entertainments are of the music -hall class, rifle - galleries where, having allowed the horizontal funnel of a penny steamboat to swallow you you may fire at a mark about twenty feet off. There are Aunt Sallys and weighing -machines.

Marcus Fall, London Town: Sketches of London Life and Character, 1880