Sloane Street Insider

FACT OF THE WEEK: CHELSEA, 18TH CENTURY PLEASURE PLACE

Some things never change. In the same way that Chelsea today is a great pace to eat, drink and relax, so it was in the 18th Century, when it reached its heyday as a riverside pleasure resort. There were many inns and coffee houses, the most popular of which were dotted along the riverbank.

In 1742, Ranelagh Gardens opened to the public to much fanfare. The politician and author Horace Walpole commented on the gardens’ centrepiece, a rotunda amphitheatre with a circumference of 555 feet and a diameter of 150 feet: ‘Everybody that loves eating, drinking, staring or crowding, is admitted for twelvepence.’ Concerts were played there – the child prodigy, Mozart, performed there in 1764 – and there were fireworks, dancing and balloon ascents. Visitors could wander the gardens while the garden-orchestra provided a soundtrack.

Although many inns and coffee houses remained, by the 1770s, Ranelagh was losing its allure, and despite attempts to revive it, the gardens were eventually closed to the public in 1826. A rather nasty journalist wrote in 1833 that Chelsea ‘though now proverbial for its dullness, was formerly a place of great gaiety’. Ouch.

The opening of Cremorne Gardens to the public in 1846 signalled a revival for the resort, and the crowds began to return to see pony-riding monkeys or to parachute from hot air balloons. But Cremorne gained a reputation as a place where reputable women would not travel alone and men went looking for fistfights and it never reached the heights of fashion that Ranelagh had. Which is a shame because it sounds like cracking good fun to us.

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FACT OF THE WEEK: CHELSEA, 18TH CENTURY PLEASURE PLACE

Uncategorized

FACT OF THE WEEK: CHELSEA, 18TH CENTURY PLEASURE PLACE

Some things never change. In the same way that Chelsea today is a great pace to eat, drink and relax, so it was in the 18th Century, when it reached its heyday as a riverside pleasure resort. There were many inns and coffee houses, the most popular of which were dotted along the riverbank.

In 1742, Ranelagh Gardens opened to the public to much fanfare. The politician and author Horace Walpole commented on the gardens’ centrepiece, a rotunda amphitheatre with a circumference of 555 feet and a diameter of 150 feet: ‘Everybody that loves eating, drinking, staring or crowding, is admitted for twelvepence.’ Concerts were played there – the child prodigy, Mozart, performed there in 1764 – and there were fireworks, dancing and balloon ascents. Visitors could wander the gardens while the garden-orchestra provided a soundtrack.

Although many inns and coffee houses remained, by the 1770s, Ranelagh was losing its allure, and despite attempts to revive it, the gardens were eventually closed to the public in 1826. A rather nasty journalist wrote in 1833 that Chelsea ‘though now proverbial for its dullness, was formerly a place of great gaiety’. Ouch.

The opening of Cremorne Gardens to the public in 1846 signalled a revival for the resort, and the crowds began to return to see pony-riding monkeys or to parachute from hot air balloons. But Cremorne gained a reputation as a place where reputable women would not travel alone and men went looking for fistfights and it never reached the heights of fashion that Ranelagh had. Which is a shame because it sounds like cracking good fun to us.