Whatever Happened To The London Pleasure Gardens?

Sittting on the southern side of the Royal Victoria Dock is the site of the now defunct London Pleasure Gardens.

Intended to be an outdoor festival venue for the London 2012 Olympic Games and beyond, with the organisers given a three-year licence to run the site, the London Pleasure Garden’s problems got off to an early start. A week after opening to great fanfare, the Pleasure Gardens hosted the two day Bloc dance festival, but this was cancelled after problems on its first night with many people reporting that they were unable to enter the site and, for those who did get in, tales of massive queues building up inside. Visitors noted that many of the promised attractions on the site had not materialised either, and basic necessities such as seating or even the tiniest patch of grass to sit on were also noticeable by their absence (despite the artists’ impressions which you can see in this piece over at The Quietus). Clearly, the site was opened well before completion – one wonders whether they would have fared better if they had delayed the opening until all of the components of the site were in place.

Shortly after the incident with Bloc, the stated capacity of the London Pleasure Gardens was slashed by 8,000 to 17,000. Reading warning signs, this prompted the organisers of the one of the upcoming music festivals, Secretsundaze, to withdraw their offer to use the site, stating that their festival would continue elsewhere (Secretsundaze GoBang will now take place at Camden’s Roundhouse on 26 August). Big visitor numbers were anticipated throughout the London 2012 Olympic Games because of the proximity of the ExCeL London conference centre, which was hosting seven sports in total, including the boxing, judo and table tennis events. These large crowds failed to materialise, and anyone with an understanding of the local geography of the area could tell you why. The London Pleasure Gardens site is located on the opposite side of the Royal Victoria Docks from ExCeL, and the only feasible route between them is to use the limited capacity bridge suspended high above the dock and then take a fairly lengthy walk along a main road until you reach the site entrance opposite the Pontoon Dock DLR station. No doubt faced with the prospect of a long walk to the festival site, and then having to negotiate an entirely different branch of the DLR to get back home afterwards, people simply got back on at Custom House or Prince Regent after watching the sport and went on about their business.

Unable to surmount these early issues, the London Pleasure Gardens laid off its largely idle waiting staff on Tuesday 30 July, and then went into voluntary administration three days later on Friday 3 August, less than five weeks after it first opened to the public. Many staff were left unpaid, and taxpayers are now out of pocket to the tune of over £3 million because the London Borough of Newham gave …

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The Most Peculiar Of The Peculiars – The Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy

Tucked away behind London’s Savoy Hotel is one of the country’s most unusual churches – The Queen’s Chapel Of The Savoy. This 16th century building (the last remnant of a hospital established by Henry VII for the homeless) has a unique status as, unlike its compatriots in the surrounding streets, it does not belong to the parish and diocese system of the Church of England – it is directly owned and controlled by the Queen in her capacity as Duke of Lancaster. She personally appoints the priest, a post currently taken up by the Reverend Professor Peter Galloway OBE who is a noted historian and educator, and directly funds the upkeep of the building.

As you might expect, the chapel has myriads of royal connections. For example, it houses two thrones at the rear which, while they’re not used by the Queen (she usually sits on a throne near the altar) have seen their fair share of royal bums on seats over the years – most recently by Michael, King of Romania, and his daughter who attended a service here towards the end of 2012. The stained glass windows also reward close examination, in particular the windows over the altar which mark the Second World War and the contribution of the Armed Forces, and the most recent addition – a glorious installation marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

This was designed by Scottish artist Douglas Hogg and was installed in November of last year – look closely and you’ll even discover corgis and a scene showing the Queen on horseback. In my opinion, the soon-to-be-installed window at the Palace of Westminster, made for the same purpose and funded by contributions from members of both Houses of Parliament, isn’t a patch on this one!…

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‘Jack The Ripper’s London’ – A Review

For a couple of weeks the Crow Theatre is bringing an interesting new take on one of London’s abiding mysteries to, not Whitechapel, but London Bridge, ‘Jack The Ripper’s London’.

It’s difficult to talk about these participatory performances without giving away the surprises so I’ll gloss over the details, but expect the experience to start with a guided walk. Led by a prim matronly figure it won’t be long before you’re shedding your 21st century pretensions and imagining life as a costermonger or guttersnipe in Victorian London. The main event takes place in a convincing recreation of a streetscape, thronged with all the colourful characters that we associate with this period in London’s history. All credit is due to Crow Theatre for pulling this off with a cast of just thirteen – given all the jostling, the noise and running to and fro you’ll swear that there are more.

There are some charming little conceits involved in ‘Jack The Ripper’s London’ that help to stitch the experience together, and there’s lots of colour and more than a few spine-tingling moments and shocking scenes. I’m sure that if you go along you’ll get a great deal of enjoyment out of it – I certainly did. It’s a shame that they couldn’t find a suitable venue over in Whitechapel itself…

Tickets to ‘Jack The Ripper’s London’ really are a steal at £12 per person. Performances take place at 12pm, 3pm and 8pm on Wednesday thru Sunday until 5 August.…

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Londoneer: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

I was enjoying one of my regular visits to Belfast this weekend, and we took some time out earlier today to visit the transport section of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra, just a few miles northeast of Belfast City Centre.

Located a few minutes from the local railway station (which is incredibly run down – very uninviting when you consider that this is the gateway to Belfast’s largest museums and one of its premium 5 star hotels) the Transport Museum’s main building houses the Irish railway collection, where you’ll find huge steam trains and their carriages, along with mocked up platforms and tableaus (one of which includes nuns!) and even a reconstructed station tea room. A section of the building is also dedicated to other forms of public transport, including trams, trolleys and buses that have been lovingly restored and feature working vehicles from Belfast and further afield in Ireland. An adjoining annex explores the history of cars and motorcycles, with the centrepiece of course being the iconic DeLorean motorcar with its characteristic brushed steel frame and gullwing doors, which was manufactured in the early 80s at the Dunmurry car plant just on the outskirts of Belfast.

A walk down the hill through some pleasantly landscaped gardens, bursting with huge rhododendrons, brings you to the general transport galleries which focus on earlier forms of transport including carts, stage coaches and even shanks’ pony. Here you’ll also find the air transport gallery (complete with flight simulator) and a dedicated exhibition tracing the history of the White Star Line’s RMS Titanic, which like the DeLorean has local connections, having been built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard on the edge of Belfast’s city centre.…

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