|The St Helena tea gardens and tavern in 1843|
At one time the tea gardens and tavern sat on the rural edges of Rotherhithe and were, as a result, a major attraction. In their heyday they were visited by such fashionable people as the Prince Regent (the future King George IV, 1762-1830) so it must have been quite a significant rural attraction. Walford says that a newspaper advert in May 1776 "announces that there are tea, coffee and rolls every day, with music and dancing in the evening." There were also the gardens, which were supposed to be very pretty, including pleasure lawns, a number of ornamental ponds, trees, two Chinese pavilions and some statues. It was surrounded by hay fields, unimaginable today.
However, as the docklands grew more successful and the area in which the gardens were located became less rural, it became more of an attraction for local people. Walford emphasises that the tea gardens were "chiefly supported by the lower classes of the neighbourhood, the families of men who worked in the docks. In the summer there were brass bands and dancing platforms, singing, tumbling and fireworks, for the selection of the merry souls of 'Redriff;' but the place never attained more than a local celebrity or affected to be a rival of Ranelagh or Vauxhall" (page 138) thereby putting it firmly in its place, just in case it had any remaining delusions of social grandeur. According to another source, the Gardens also had sports displays, tight-rope walkers and similar circus-type events, and a remarkable-sounding centrifugal railway, about which I would love to know much more!
|The St Helena Tavern and Tea Gardens in 1839.|
From the Ideal Homes website at http://bit.ly/1CHbGcq
Both the tavern and the tea gardens stood on Corbett's Lane, which no longer survives but ran parallel to today's Rotherhithe New Road. It is now St Helena Road. The 1843 map at the top of the page shows its original location (shaded in pink and marked as the St Helena Tea Gardens) just south of today's one-way system, where Plough Way crosses Lower Road and begins to extend towards the Old Kent Road.
|The St Helena Tavern in 1870 by J.T. Wilson |
© The Southwark Art Collection
The 1868 Ordnance Survey map of North Deptford shows the St Helena Tea Rooms as quite a substantial property surrounded by trees. Further along Corbett's Lane, to the east, is the St Helena Tavern. They are both shown on the scan of the 1868 map below, highlighted in pink (click image to expand). At the top of the map, to give an easy point of reference, Surrey Docks station is highlighted at the apex of today's one-way system in green. Lower Road is the large diagonal road marked as Deptford Lower Road. Both the tea rooms and the tavern are clearly shown lying to the south and west of dense areas of residential terraces and railway lines and it is obvious, looking at the map, that they would soon become subsumed into the advancing urbanization of the area.
|The 1868 Ordnance Survey map of North Deptford|
Although it was almost inevitable that the tea rooms would become a casualty of urban expansion, many pubs were incorporated into new communities and survived quite happily. However the St Helena Tavern was apparently closed in 1881 along with the tea rooms. Both were presumably sold to developers.
By 1889 the area in which the tea garden had been located was shown on Charles Booth's 1889 Descriptive map of London Poverty. It is a densely residential area, full of rows of terraces, of which Corbett's Lane was one. The area, on Booth's map, was a mixture of poor and mixed (some comfortable and some poor) housing, and the idea that this was once an admired and valued rural area seems so unlikely.
In the 1916 Ordnance Survey map of North Deptford, Corbett's Lane had undergone a name change and was now, appropriately, St Helena Road. The scene was very different, a mass of residential streets, row upon row of them. Again I have highlighted Surrey Docks station to give a point of reference, and the area under pink is more or less where the St Helena tea gardens and tavern used to be located (click to expand the image).
|The area in 1916, on the Ordnance Survey |
map of North Deptford
The terraces were also demolished and replaced by blocks of flats. I find this sad, as the few vestiges of the terraces that survive show that they were really attractive buildings. Today the area in which the tea rooms and tavern were located is one of Rotherhithe's most congested residential areas and it is now covered by the block of flats at 23 St Helena Road, part of the Silwood Estate (there is a photograph of the present building on the Geolocation website).