architecture, Bell tower, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, Kent, Pleasure Gardens, Tower

The Tower, Rosherville Gardens, Gravesend, Kent

In 1837 George Jones opened a pleasure garden by the Thames at Gravesend. It was a great success, and new features were quickly added to tempt visitors. By 1849 it was said that the gardens were ‘sweet, safe, shady and salubrious’ and the ‘prettiest thing’ between the Thames and the Tiber.

The gardens were celebrated in song on a number of occasions. ‘The Place to Spend a Happy Day’ was the advertising slogan for Rosherville Gardens. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Formed as the Kent Zoological and Botanical Gardens Company in 1837, the animals soon ceased to be the focus, and over the years the gardens were home to attractions including theatres, cafes, an archery ground and a lake. The extensive ornamental grounds, admired for the botanical specimens, featured a maze. There was dancing and fireworks, and special guest performers included singers, musicians and daring performers such as tightrope walkers.  Quick to capitalise on the success of the famed funambulist Charles Blondin were similar acts, including the imaginatively-titled ‘Female Blondin’, ‘Young Blondin’ and ‘African Blondin’, all of whom appeared at Rosherville Gardens.

The ‘African Blondin’ in action at Rosherville Gardens. In 1881 he walked the high rope from an earlier tower (pictured) to the new clocktower. As he crossed ‘rockets, shells and fireworks’ were set off around him.

Right at the start a tower (above) was built on high ground ‘to point out the Gardens from the River’: initially most guests arrived by boat at Rosherville pier. In May 1868 the foundation stone was laid for a new clocktower, and a grand banquet was held to celebrate the occasion. When complete for the 1869 season the ‘observatory and clocktower’ stood, according to the newspapers, ‘nearly a hundred feet high’. It formed part of a new entrance into the gardens, as shown below (note the rather dapper young man on the steps). Bells were ordered from the famed Taylors of Loughborough, and it was planned that they would play a different tune, on the hour, every day. A clock had dials on four faces of the tower, each of which was illuminated at night.

Undated early 20th century postcard. Courtesy of a private collection.

The tower was a success with the public, but not so much so with the Mr Simpson whose house it overlooked, and who found the ‘melodious peal of bells’ a nuisance. He took Jones to court but the parties reached an agreement just before the case was heard. The judge raised a laugh when he said that as Rosherville was marketed as a ‘place to spend a happy day’ the defendant and plaintiff should return to Gravesend and ‘be happy together’.

A visitor in 1884 saved their flyer promoting the tower, so we know what delights were available on payment of one penny:

Courtesy of a private collection.

The coloured glass windows were particularly popular, making the ‘Thames and the trees look as if they were made of raspberries and cream and all manner of colours’.

The gardens changed hands a number of times after Jones sold up in 1872, with many a new attraction offered. After various ups and downs in their fortunes the gardens, by now depleted in size and derelict in appearance, closed for good in the late 1930s, and the site was redeveloped.

The gardens as shown on a postcard sent in 1905. The House of Marvels sounds particularly tempting. Image courtesy of the TuckDB postcards website https://www.tuckdbpostcards.org/items/63485-rosherville-gardens/picture/2

Such had been the fame of the gardens that when the demolition of the crumbling tower was announced in January 1939 it was reported in newspapers across the country. Today there are few reminders of the lost gardens: some fragments of the clifftop entrance survive and the bear pit has been restored (both are listed at grade II).

For a full history of the gardens there is an excellent publication by Gravesend Historical Society https://www.discovergravesham.co.uk/books/publications.html

Thank you for reading. You can scroll down the page to find the comments box if you would like to share any thoughts.

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One thought on “The Tower, Rosherville Gardens, Gravesend, Kent”

  1. TOM GARDNER says:

    ‘BIG APPLE TOM’,
    YES, WE HUMANS, IN TIMES OF OUR DAILY ANGST, RECALL THOSE – ‘MAGICAL DAYS OF LONG AGO’, KNOWN – FIRST HAND TO OUR GRANDPARENTS, AS THEIR YOUTHFUL PLAYGROUNDS (c. 1890’s) WITH NYC NAMES OF: LUNA PARK, AND STEEPLECHASE. SADLY, LIKE YOUR VINTAGE OFFERINGS, THEY TOO HAVE VANISHED FROM SIGHT.
    YOUR EFFORTS AFORE US ALL, A MOMENT TO RECALL THE WONDERFUL, MOST POSITIVE
    CREATIONS THAT ALLOWED THE ‘CHILD’, IN EACH OF US, TO SURFACE; IF BUT FOR A MOMENT. MANY THANKS.

    TOM G.

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