London’s Tea Gardens – part 8
An essay by William B Boulton
Here, by ordering a pint of wine, you could hear Mr. Blogg sing the “Early Horn” or “Mad Tom” to a kettledrum obligato; or gaze upon a “fine collection of large rattlesnakes, one having nineteen rattles; a young crocodile imported from Georgia, and a cat between the tyger and leopard, perfectly tame.” As time went on history was reflected in the entertainments of the New Wells. Admiral Vernon captured Portobello again; the Duke of Cumberland as “Courage” suppressed the rebels of the” Forty-Five,” and that surprising lady, Hannah Snell, who served as a marine, by the name of James Grey, at the siege of Pondicherry, and had been wounded more than once, went through” her military exercises in her ” regimentals.
At the Mulberry Gardens, again, in Clerkenwell, a place of generous size, with a clear pond of water and a great mulberry tree with seats to watch the skittle players, you could hear “honest Jo Baker beat a trevally on his side drum the very same that he beat before his Grace the Lord Duke of Marlborough after the battle of Malplaquet.” The Mulberry Gardens had their John Bull proprietor with a genius for advertisement, who engaged British musicians only, as holding that” the manly vigour of our own native music is more suitable to the ear and heart of a Briton than the effeminate softness of the Italian.”
The honest joys of the Mulberry Gardens in due season were blotted out by the House of Detention, and now the present huge pile of the quadrangle of the existing Clerkenwell School-board buildings occupies the site of its once pleasant shades. At the Lord Cobham’s Head, off the present Farringdon Street, anglers might find board and lodging on reasonable terms, a pleasant garden with shady groves of trees, and “a fine canal stocked with very good carp and tench fit to kill.”
Farther east, too, just off what is now Old Street, behind St. Luke’s Hospital, was Perilous or Parlous Pool, a place so named because in Elizabethan times “divers youths by swimming therein have been drowned.” For a century and a half Perilous Pool was a noted place for the joys of duck hunting, until in 1743 a man named Kemp changed its name to Peerless Pool and made of it a resort for perspiring citizens for another century. He embanked the pool, surrounded it with a grove of trees, provided it with marble steps and a marble vestibule for dressing, with a small library of light literature,” made of it in fact a fine open air swimming-bath of sixty yards by thirty, and had his reward in a flourishing subscription and a body of patrons who paid two shillings for a single bath.
Besides the swimmers, he attracted the support of another class by constructing a grand artificial canal stocked with carp, tench, and other fish for cockney sportsmen. Baldwin Street occupies the site of that canal to-day, and the name of the bathing place, which remained open until the middle of the present century, still lingers in that of “Peerless Row.”
Roam, indeed, where you will about those vast acres of brick and mortar of the northern half of the great County of London, if you have still heart for the enterprise, and you will find its most unlovely holes and corners teeming with the memories of these well-nigh forgotten places of pleasure. The present inferno of the Metropolitan station at King’s Cross is excavated from the once famous gardens of St. Chad’s Well, where a century and a half ago hundreds drank its medicinal waters of a morning and its tea of an afternoon, without the fear of typhoid before their eyes.
The great surgeon Abernethy was often to be seen at St. Chad’s Well, and the local Dr. Blimber, “Mr. Measall, the master of Gordon House Academy, Kentish Town, was used to march his young gentlemen once a week to take the waters” and so save doctor’s bills. Stand amongst the railway arches and shunting grounds at the back of St. Pancras Station and realise, if you can, the pleasant gardens of Pancras Wells in the middle of hayfields, with a view of the northern heights of Primrose Hill and Hampstead, reckoned fine, the old church of St. Pancras on its borders, and footpaths from Gray’s Inn in full view of the gardens, whence the proprietor could count his customers approaching and form his estimate of their wants. Pancras Wells, too, had a competitor at its gates in the Adam and Eve Tea Garden, where they kept cows for the making of syllabubs, and men played trapball of a summer evening and the children watched a little squadron of toy frigates on the pond.
Eastward again, in Penton ville, stood White Conduit House, in a space bounded approximately to-day by the present Penton Street, Cloudesley Road, Alton Street, and Denmark Road, another of the great tea gardens in the north which vied with Bagnigge and Marylebone. Here did generations of citizens partake of “hot loaves, tea, coffee, and liquors in the greatest perfection, and milk from cows which eat no grains, “enjoy the views from the windows in the Long Room, from whence is the most copious prospects and airy situation of any now in vogue,” as the proprietor was careful to point out.
White Conduit House had its “pleasing walks prettily disposed,” its” genteel boxes,” with paintings in the Flemish manner, its alcoves let into its clipped hedges, and its avenues of shady trees, and was the delight of numbers of Londoners for a century. It had also its own code of deportment. It was reckoned the mode at White Conduit House to tread on the skirt of the damsel whose acquaintance you wished to make, apologise for your clumsiness, and suggest an adjournment to an arbour for tea by way of amends.