A new mural In the London Borough of Lambeth celebrates one of the most famous gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries that was also the location for a number of early balloon flights.
Vauxhall Gardens opened to visitors in 1661 under the name ‘New Spring Gardens’. Before Westminster Bridge was built, it could only be reached by sailing up the Thames. As London became more built up in the 17th and 18th centuries, Londoners began to need open spaces to relax in. The most famous were Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and the people who went to the gardens were the highest in society, including members of the royal family. They went to be entertained and to escape from the noise and pollution of the city.
As well as providing an opportunity to parade the latest styles, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens provided ‘fresh air’. Breathing fresh air and taking gentle exercise were thought to help keep people well while entertainment included lion-tamers, troupes of acrobats, jugglers and fire walkers. Although aimed at a new middle class, the wealthy and the aristocratic – the gardens welcomed everyone – providing you could pay the entry.
Balloonist Charles Green made a number of early flights from Vauxhall Gardens. In 1836, he set the record for the world’s first flight over 600km when he took off from Vauxhall Gardens and landed, 18 hours later, in Weilburg, Nassau, Germany.
Green set an altitude record from Vauxhall in 1838, when he ascended to 27,146 feet (8,274 metres). He also, unfortunately, was involved in an early parachuting tragedy when, in 1837, Robert Cocking jumped from the balloon at 5,000 feet to test a parachute of his own design. It broke up on the way down and Cocking was killed.
This ballooning history is now celebrated in the latest mural on Network Rail infrastructure. Painted by Nerone, a celebrated street artist, on the railway bridge structure on the corner of New Spring Gardens Walk, it is the latest in a series of street art murals that have been commissioned by Network Rail in partnership with community groups, schools, and artists.
Nerone said: “I’ve really enjoyed working in Vauxhall and it has been a great experience despite the difficult weather conditions. Many people were curious to discover the new addition in the neighbourhood and congratulated me while I was painting.
“Compliments are always appreciated and I’m getting ready to paint more art in this amazing borough.”
Almost all relics from this golden age are now sadly gone. The gardens closed in 1859 and the land was redeveloped. However, slum clearances allowed a new park to open in 1976 which is on the same site as part of the original Pleasure Gardens.
The mural was part-funded by the Vauxhall One Business Improvement District (BID). Its chief executive Bernard Collier said: “People have been coming to Vauxhall to have fun since 1661. The mural celebrates Charles Green’s Balloon rides of the 1800s, but also Vauxhall’s culture of fun and embracing of difference.
“Vauxhall One is supporting this culture as the area develops and changes.”