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Royal Victoria Gardens
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Royal Victoria Gardens  
Royal Victoria Gardens were opened by the London County Council in 1890 on land which had been acquired for a public park with funds raised through public subscription. The land was formerly part of the ancient manor of Hammarsh, owned by Westminster Abbey for some 800 years and largely used for grazing from the late Middle Ages onwards.

Before 1847 much of the area west of North Woolwich had been marshland. In 1847 a steam ferry began running to the south bank and a rail link between Canning Town and North Woolwich was established 'across (the) lonely, malaria-infested marshes'. During the 1840s the North Woolwich Land Company, bought land from the Abbey and promoted the new railway and ferry, which led to industrial development at North Woolwich. Curiously, North Woolwich was a detached part of Kent until 1899 due to the land having been in the ownership of Hamon, the Sheriff of Kent in 1086.

The growing industrial activity along the river included the waterproofing works of S W Silver which gave Silvertown its name, established in 1852, and the Victoria Docks which opened in 1855.

In 1850 William Holland, the proprietor of the Pavilion Hotel at North Woolwich, began to expand the hotel and lay out the gardens here which he opened as the Royal Pavilion Pleasure Gardens in 1851, attracting visitors who had come to see the Great Exhibition. He later apparently escaped from perople he owed money to by leaving the park in a balloon. His Pleasure Gardens attracted large numbers of people particularly at weekends and holidays to popular entertainments which included trapeze artists, hot air balloons, fireworks, open-air dancing, and 'monster baby shows' at the adjoining Pavilion Hotel. From the mid-1850s the Royal Pavilion Gardens had a number of managers under whom it was improved, although the growing industrialisation brought pollution and the Thames had became an open sewer. By 1859 some 20,000 had been spent on the gardens. Visitor numbers increased in 1870 as a result of an agreement with the ferry company, and again in 1871 with the new Bank Holiday Act. As other pleasure gardens closed down in London, the Royal Pavilion Gardens became the lone survivor of this type of open air entertainment.

However, from 1882, the gardens began to make a loss so that in 1884 the company wanted to use part of the site for building. However, people wanted to buy the gardens as 'a breathing space for the occupants of these very dreary localities'. The North Woolwich Acquisition Fund was set up with the Duke of Westminster as Chairman, and an appeal was launched. Although by September 1888 16,700 had been raised, the North Woolwich Land Co. had already sold some of the land and threatened to sell more if they did not receive the balance of 2,300. This was finally raised in 1889 through the Charity Commissioners and a 50 donation from Queen Victoria. The Duke of Westminster informed the London County Council that he was willing to hand over the gardens to them if they would maintain them, and they were thereby reopened in 1890 renamed the Royal Victoria Gardens by royal permission.The Gardens suffered bomb damage during 1940 and little of the 1890 design remains today. A steam hammer from a ship repair yard in Royal Albert Dock, built by R Harvey of Glasgow in 1888, has been installed near the bowling green. Maintenance passed to the Greater London Council and in 1971the park became the responsibility of Newham Council.

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