The site was part of the ancient manor of Hammarsh which Westminster Abbey owned for over 800 years, on land that was used for grazing. Until 1847 it was largely marshland, infested with malaria. Then a steam ferry was introduced to take people along the south bank and a rail link established between Canning Town and North Woolwich. The North Woolwich Land Company bought land from Westminster Abbey and promoted industrial development at North Woolwich. Royal Victoria Dock was opened in 1855. The Pavilion Hotel at North Woolwich was owned by William Holland. In 1850 he began to expand his hotel and lay out the gardens which he opened as the Royal Pavilion Pleasure Gardens in 1851, attracting large numbers of visitors who had come to London to see the Great Exhibition. He staged popular entertainments with trapeze artists, hot air balloons, fireworks, open-air dancing, and even ‘monster baby shows’ at the hotel. It is claimed that Holland had large debts and escaped his creditors in a balloon. By 1884 the gardens had become notorious as the haunt of prostitutes and other such undesirables. The gardens were losing money and there was fear that they would be built over. The locals were determined to keep them as ‘a breathing space for the occupants of these very dreary localities’. The 1st Duke of Westminster, as Chairman of the North Woolwich Acquisition Fund, launched an appeal (to which Queen Victoria sent £50) and eventually the necessary funds were forthcoming. The Duke told the London County Council that he was prepared to hand the gardens over to them so long as they would maintain them. This was done in 1890. In the garden’s more recent history, they suffered bomb damage in the Second World War during the bombing of the East End in 1940. Thus little of the original design of the gardens is left. In 1971 the park became the responsibility of Newham Council. The gardens were restored by the London Development Agency in 2000.
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