Jubilee Pleasure Gardens

At last, a Parks for People application is being prepared, for Jubilee Gardens! Southbank Mosaics are putting in an application to the Heritage Lottery fund, with partners Putting Down Roots, St Mungo’s, to build in local ownership of this great site. One which will bring together the rich tapestry of interests that overlap this garden at the very heart of London.

Incredible layers of heritage lie one on top of the other and the difficulty is to sift through all the possibilities and distil memories that are suitable for such a central London location, named to celebrate the soon-to-be longest ever reigning monarch of England.

The area used to be called Cuper’s Garden from about the 1680’s, commonly known as “Cupid’s Garden”. It was one of the Southbank’s Pleasure Gardens. Even in those early days it was noted for fire work displays and open air orchestras. Then it was shut down in 1758, with loose morals given as the reason. When the series of central London bridges were built into North Lambeth, what was previously mostly fields and a garden, was rapidly swallowed up into the expanding metropolis of the largest city on earth. Cheap housing and light industries jostled for space together. The Beaufoy family set up their distillery and Eleanor Coade her Artificial Stone Manufactory among many others.

At one time there were 80,000 inhabitants of Waterloo/Southbank, packed into mostly two-up, two-downs. Overcrowding was so serious that the Necropolis Railway was built out of Waterloo station, to take corpses to Surrey for burial. It was at the North East corner of Jubilee Gardens, where Hungerford Bridge stands, that Dr. John Snow researched and isolated (1848) the cholera bacteria, opposing the landowners and establishment, who falsely reassured residents of the Palace of Westminster, that it was miasma, and not water supply, causing the cholera outbreaks in North Lambeth and elsewhere in London. “The low-lying brackish river at Lambeth was the ideal breeding ground for Vibrio cholerae.”

The flood of 1850 alerted the authorities to how out-of-touch we had become to the ecological DNA of London’s largest open space – the river Thames. The Albert Embankment forming the north side of Jubilee Gardens, was partly built in response to this. When parliamentarians looked out of their window at the Southbank it was generally slums they saw. So St Thomas’ Hosital was built at its Lambeth site (1862) and then County Hall began (1911).

The second world war saw devastation hit the whole Jubilee Gardens area. The entire district was so badly damaged that it was cleared to make way for the Festival of Britain – off-setting destruction with creativity. So many people died that there is no record of the exact numbers. Even one strike on St Thomas’ had at least 1500 casualties, but full figures were never finalised. Some people say the area has never recovered. The Festival of Britain briefly gave the whole nation a buzz. But the next in-coming government of 1951 decided to pull down the Festival buildings, apart from the Festival Hall and so the Jubilee Gardens area was filled with rubble and tarmaced over, to make a car park for an expanding County Hall.

In 1972 Lambeth Council received its biggest ever petition to return the car park to green space, and this was granted with the name Jubilee being given in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee that year. It was a humble plot of turf that has inspired local residents to hope, dream and campaign for something better, ever since. When the London Eye was built (2000) it became a point of shame, as Britain’s most visited spot, showed such a plain face to the world.

Now it is getting a make-over ready for the new Diamond Jubilee and Olympics. It is the right moment to build-in local ownership for this reclaimed Pleasure Garden. We need to be in touch with the ecological DNA of the Thames valley and mend our relationship with water. We want to work with the street population, uniting the whole community, to transform this space into a beautiful heritage site, maintained by poor people who are proud of their neighbourhood. And we will make a global statement, at this global site, that the role of formidable women (like the Queen)) should no longer be taken for granted, but celebrated at the heart of London.

So the heritage bid we are preparing, called Jubilee Pleasure Gardens, has three over-arching themes at the moment:
1. Celebrating the Achievement of Women
2. The Heritage of homeless people
3. Mending our relationship with water

Please come along to a meeting at Waterloo Action Centre on Wednesday 25th January, to have your say and let us listen to what you think about putting in a Parks for People bid. The meeting starts at 7pm at 14 Baylis Road, London SE1 7AA. It’s diagonally opposite the Old Vic and right beside Waterloo station. There will be drinks and light refreshments at 9pm. Get involved – tell us what you think.