The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens - by Phoebus Levin, 1864
For the entrance fee of one shilling, London's grimy streets could be left behind to stroll at one's leisure across green lawns, past elaborate fountains and a lake, while shaded by elegant elm trees.
A circus was later converted into a permanent theatre with burlesques, ballets, even operettas, or - as described in a scene from the VV's new novel, Elijah's Mermaid, a viewing of the Beckwith Frogs; a daring act of aquatic prowess where men clad in nothing but 'fleshings and drawers' performed feats in a large glass aquarium, while -
'... each of us ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ with glee when presented with ‘The Beckwith Frog … one of the world’s finest acrobats’, who dived into the water, gyrating among all the goldfish and eels, or else walked back and forth on his hands while consuming a bottle of milk in one – all the time with his head completely submerged!'
By day children enjoyed the fun, while men politely tipped their hats to respectable women walking by. Later, when evening and darkness fell, the pagoda and trees would be glittering with thousands of little gas lights - a circle of shimmering crystal.
There were firework displays, and a hot air balloon to rise above the spectacle. But like moths being lured around a flame, a decadent crowd flew in at night. Many Londoners abandoned their prudery to play on 'Satan's hornpipe', partaking in nocturnal pleasures of a decidedly adult nature. As the clamour and numbers of prostitutes grew so the gardens' reputation reduced until, after many earnest complaints from neighbours in the area, Cremorne was finally closed down - its glories and al fresco fun now no more than a distant memory.