Above: Spring Gardens (shaded yellow) shown on Morden and Lea’s map of 1682. Trafalgar Square was laid out (after the famous battle in 1805) where the large number ‘4’ is shown on the map.
Towards the SW of Trafalgar Square is a short street called Spring Gardens. It may be that you have never noticed it and, if so, you might care to look it up on a street map to find out exactly where it is. The land was once pleasure gardens and the present street was the site of the original entrance to the gardens. The topic of ‘Pleasure Gardens’ in London is a vast subject. The wealthy flocked to such places and they became very popular from about 1600 to well into the 1800s. Because of their popularity many pieces of land were converted into pleasure gardens and some of them made their owners very rich. This is the story of one such attraction that is within the area of study of the Strand.
The gardens seem to have started as part of the royal grounds of St James’s Park. Quite when Spring Gardens opened to the public is not really clear. Gardens are mentioned by Hentzler in 1598. They had butts, a bathing pond and a pheasant yard. They were first mentioned by name in 1610-11. In 1629 a bowling green was laid out by William Walker, with turf brought from Blackheath. In addition a garden house for Charles I to rest in was also constructed.
The gardens were certainly in use by the public by 1634 when Garrard wrote to Lord Stafford describing ‘an ordinary of six shillings a meal, continual bibbing and drinking wine under the trees’. Records show that the place had ‘grown scandalous and insufferable’. Charles I suppressed the bowling green for a time but it was reprieved after the Queen’s intercession – but its use for bowling was no longer allowed.
A new green was therefore established on land now covered by the National Gallery. By 1649 the original land was reopened but was again closed in 1654 by Cromwell. It reopened once more in 1659 when it was described in a book called ‘A Character of England’ with the words ‘For it is unusual here to find some of the young company here till midnight; and the thickets of the garden seem to be contrived to all advantages of gallantry’. Mention was also made of the refreshment: ‘The forbidden fruits are certain trifling tarts, neats’ tongues, salacious meats, and bad Rhenish; for which the gallants pay sauce’.
It may be useful to mention that ‘neats’ tongues’ were sliced tongue (as can be bought in food shops today) but these sliced tongues were beef tongue, usually the tongue of a cow. ‘Rhenish’ was a common term for German wine (so-called because it came from vineyards beside the Rhine). Quite what to ‘pay sauce’ means is unclear but it sounds as if it meant ‘to pay far too much’.
After the Restoration of Charles II (in 1660) the gardens were built over and the gardens were removed to Vauxhall, on the south side of the Thames – opening as the ’New Spring Gardens’.