Cuper's Gardens

View of the entrance to Cuper's Gardens
View of the entrance to Cuper's Gardens

The following article is reproduced from a 1991 booklet "Lambeth's Theatrical Heritage" with the kind permission of the Streatham Society. Copies of this very interesting booklet are still available from the Streatham Society Website.

This celebrated pleasure garden, also known as Cupid's Gardens, was originally part of Lambeth Marsh. In the late medieval period 3 acres of this meadowland came into the possession of the Earls of Arundel. Passing through other hands it eventually came back in the form of a large garden to Thomas, Earl of Arundel in 1634, who also had Arundel House across the river. The Earl leased the site to an employee, Abraham Boydell Cuper, and it was either he or his son who opened it as a public pleasure garden. As added attraction to the Gardens, Cuper acquired some of the marble statues from Arundel House when it was demolished.

In 1686 Bodwyn Cuper was granted a lease to some seven acres from the Archbishop of Canterbury next to the Gardens and extended them. They were long and narrow with serpentine paths among trees and bushes. On the west side was a lake. Twenty years later Edward Hatton was able to describe them "pleasant gardens and walks with bowling greens whither many of the westerly part of the town resort for diversion in the summer season."

At the end of March 1738 it was announced that Mr Ephraim Evans and Mr Jones of the Hercules Pillars, Fleet Street, had taken up Cuper's Gardens and the adjoining Feathers Tavern. In the following year the summer season started on 4th June with a concert of music, a manner that was to continue each evening. The gates opened at 4pm and entrance was 6d. New walks were laid out Within the Gardens the best food and wine was available. To improve the ambiance, Evans had a magnificent music pavilion erected and an organ installed. The musical entertainment opened at the latter end of April 1740 and were continued for 3 months or so. The orchestra played each evening between 6-l0pm, and the Gardens illuminated throughout. A thousand season tickets, costing 1 guinea each, were to be issued which would admit two people at 1/- (5p) each visit

Unfortunately, Evans died that year at the height of his achievement, but his widow endeavoured to keep the Gardens flourishing. Many fashionable people frequented the Gardens, including the Prince and Princess of Wales. Newspaper advertisements in the 1740s extolled the delights; e.g. announcing in 1741 Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks" complete with firework display. On 28th June 1743, a spectacular firework display called "The Gorgon's Head" was presented for the first time in this country. Three years later, there was a celebration of the Duke of Cumberland's victory at CuIloden. On 1st May 1749 the temple and fireworks previously seen at Green Park to mark the Peace of Aix-Ia-Chapelle were reproduced. And on 9th June 1752 there was a firework display to mark the Prince of Wales' birthday.

Despite its 1/- (5p) admission charge, the Gardens also attracted pickpockets and other undesirables. In 1753 it fell under the ban of an Act to combat theft in places of public entertainment and license was refused. Mrs Evans continued to run it, however, as an unlicensed tea garden in conjunction with the Feathers Tavern. She held private evening concerts and firework entertainments for subscribers, but the Gardens finally closed in 1760.

Meanwhile Mark Beaufoy, a vinegar merchant, had possession of the land, and later, in 1813, some of this was bought for the approach road that was to become Waterloo Bridge.

John Cresswell