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The Riverside Theatre, and Festival Pleasure Gardens, Battersea Park, London

The Riverside Theatre - Festival Pleasure Gardens Brochure - 1960s Images of the Festival Gardens at Battersea Park

Also see in this area - Clapham's Theatres and Cinemas - The Battersea Palace

The 1951 Riverside Theatre in Battersea Park - Photo Waldo Lanchester, whose Lanchester Marionettes performed during the Festival, and whose sister was Elsa Lanchester, married to Charles Laughton - Courtesy Roger Fox

Above - The 1951 Riverside Theatre in Battersea Park - Photo Waldo Lanchester, whose Lanchester Marionettes performed during the Festival, and whose sister was Elsa Lanchester, married to Charles Laughton - Courtesy Roger Fox

 

A Bill advertising the Festival Pleasure Gardens and mentioning the Theatre from 1951 - Courtesy Maurice Poole - Click for more of this brochureThe Riverside Theatre was built for the 1951 Festival of Britain and designed in a 'pastiche of Regency, Victorian and Modern styles' by the Set Designer Guy Sheppard. The Theatre was not actually on the Festival site on the South Bank of the Thames but in the new 37 acre Pleasure Gardens created by James Gardner for the Festival in Battersea Park.

The Foaming Fountains - Click for more images of the park in the 1960sThe Gardens included a 'West End' Restaurant with a terrace overlooking the river and facing Cheyne Walk; 'Foaming Fountains' (which have recently been restored), a wine garden surrounded by miniature pavilions; a wet weather pavilion with a stage facing two ways so that performances could also be done in the open air, with murals by the film set designer Ferdinand Bellan; a large Ampitheatre constructed of brick and seating some 1,250 people and featuring the well known music hall star Lupino Lane and his company on its opening, although The Big Dipper - Click for more images of the park in the 1960slater being used as a circus; a miniature railway designed by Rowland Emett which ran for nearly 500 yards along the south of the gardens and even had its own station near the south east entrance to the park and another station with snack bar at the western end of the line; and an amusement park which would eventually outlast all the other entertainments and later become 'Battersea Fun Fair', only closing in the mid 1970s. Most of the buildings and pavilions on the site were designed by John Piper.

Above Right - A Bill advertising the Festival Pleasure Gardens and mentioning the Theatre from 1951 - Courtesy Maurice Poole - The 'Blurb' reads: Come to the Fair, come to the Festival Pleasure Gardens, come to the flowers and the lakes, come to the Fun House, the Grotto, the Miniature Zoo, come to the bands and illuminations, come to the eating and drinking and dancing, come to the shops, the theatres, the fireworks! In Lovely Battersea Park. More of this brochure can be seen here.

 

The auditorium and stage of the Riverside Theatre, Battersea - Courtesy Ted Loveday.

Above -The auditorium and stage of the Riverside Theatre, Battersea - Courtesy Ted Loveday.

 

A Bill for 'Mister Sachs's Song Saloon' at the Riverside Theatre, Festival Gardens, in 1951 - Courtesy Ted Loveday.The Riverside Theatre itself though was designed by Guy Sheppard and was intended to be a 'Song Saloon' where the Chairman could feel close to his audience in the circle and gallery. It was run by Leonard Sachs on its opening, who was well known for his involvement with the Players Theatre, and his old time Music Hall productions.

Right - A Bill for 'Mister Sachs's Song Saloon' at the Riverside Theatre, Festival Gardens, in 1951 - Courtesy Ted Loveday.

The Theatre was partly constructed by Brunskill and Loveday and opened on the 28th of May 1951. The auditorium had 450 seats in its stalls, promenade circle, and small gallery, painted in the Victorian style, and the stage was fully equipped with 19 sets of flying lines in the stage house. The stage could be adapted as a proscenium apron stage or utilise a small orchestra pit instead, and had dressing rooms beneath. The Theatre was lit by electricity and equipped with an 'electronic switchboard.' The Theatre also had a small 'Grotto' also designed by Guy Sheppard, which consisted of four 'caves' representing the four elements, wind, fire, earth, and water, all lit by ultra violet lighting.

The Theatre began life with six shows a day including Sachs' Music Hall recreations in the evenings between 10 and 11 pm including Billy Milton's 'Festival Party' John Huxwell and Judith Shelley, the Sic Trio of Indonesian Dancers, Ronald Gourlay and Anna Redgrave in 'Have a Go' and John Regan's 'Festival Follies'; and two shows in the afternoon featuring productions such as Miniature Ballets, 'Old Time Marionettes', and 'Harlequinade Ballets'; with half hour showings of vintage early 1900 films in the morning. The Theatre was later turned over to showing 'Three Dimensional Films' in late August 1951 and was also the home to the world premier of a 3d colour film of the coronation in 1953.

The Riverside Theatre was built to outlast the Festival of Britain and was constructed of tubular steel scaffolding and fibrous plaster panels, a design which was intended to allow it to be dismantled and reconstructed elsewhere if necessary, but sadly this was not to be the case as it was closed on Saturday the 13th of October 1953, along with most of the other Festival attractions, by the Conservative Government and its leader Winston Churchill who thought the Labour Government's Festival of Britain to be a monstrous waste of public money.

The Riverside Theatre and other Festival buildings were subsequently demolished and removed, and sadly only a few remnants remain of the Festival in the park today.

There are some very nice archive photographs of Battersea Park transformed into the Festival Pleasure Gardens from the BBC here.

If you have any more images for the Riverside Theatre, Battersea Park, you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

An Extract From The Festival Pleasure Gardens Brochure of 1951

 A map of the Festival Pleasure Gardens in 1951 - Courtesy Maurice Poole

Above - A map of the Festival Pleasure Gardens in 1951 - Courtesy Maurice Poole

The Riverside Theatre (near the West Gate), the Amphitheatre (open air, on The Parade), The Tent and Lakeside Stage (in The Grand Vista), Mr Punch and Mrs Judy — all give you welcome. Every evening, as the clock strikes ten, an atmosphere of plush and potted palms, of bustles and bubbly, invades the Riverside Theatre, and MR SACHS ' SONG SALOON' opens its doors.

Here you may recapture the pleasures of the song and-supper-room entertainments of the kind that could be enjoyed a hundred years ago at Evans's (late Joy's) in the purlieus of Covent Garden, and in our own age were reborn at the Players' Theatre under the Hungerford Arches near the Strand.

A map of the Festival Pleasure Gardens in 1951 - Courtesy Maurice PooleBefore the show every evening, the Ladies and Gentlemen artistes arrive (who knows, by hansom?) to sing you the songs which grandpapa sang when grandma wasn't listening.

"Rooty-toot-toot, she plays the flute,
In a very charming manner.
Plinkety-plong, she runs along
The keys of the grand pianner."

and:

"So stick together girls, or you're sure to lose your pearls,
With that rascal of a Captain, that is certain ..."

and, of course:

"In Trinity Church I met my doom . . ."

For those ladies who like a good cry, there are such heartbreaking moral ballads as, " She was poor but she was honest . . .", "She may have seen better days . . .", and "A bird in a gilded cage . . ."

When you arrive, we would advise you to spare 6d for a pink song-sheet, which will enable you to join in the choruses with suitable feeling. All these beautiful songs will be sung to you during the season (in full costume) by a selection of Artistes of Note. Here are some of them.

 

A map of the Festival Pleasure Gardens in 1951 - Courtesy Maurice PooleFour curvaceous ladies with a roving eye apiece: Hattie Jacques, Megs Jenkins, Joan Sterndale Bennett and Vida Hope. Three lovelorn maiden's, as demure as violets: Lisa Lee, Eleanore Summerfield and Daphne Anderson. The Gentlemen will include Geoffrey Dunne, Bernard Miles, Edric Connor, Denis Martin, Philip Godfrey, Bill Owen and John Hewer. And, of course, Mr Leonard Sachs in person, to make you feel at home — and keep you in order with his Chairman's hammer.

During the Festival, every night is a Saturday night at "The Lambeth Arms", the pub where costers and pearlies meet. Each evening, under the auspices of Lupino Lane, it opens its bar-room on The Amphitheatre stage.

For an hour or so, " Nipper" Lane's jolly Cockney pals, "The Lambeth Walkers", sing their choruses, old and new — "Knocked-'em in the Old Kent Road", "The Lambeth Walk" and all the rest, and dance until their pearl buttons jingle and the ladies' ostrich plumes quiver like aspen-leaves.

Between songs, you can eavesdrop on the conversations of the customers — some of it in Cockney rhyming slang: "My old China" (=China plate= Mate); "plates-of-meat" (=feet) etc.; or this sort of thing: "I want a pair of sporn-ring hecticles, I mean hen ring spornicles, no, spinrorn hornecles, hemlock spinnacles . . . oh — glasses!"

 

Nipper Lane and His 'Lambeth WalkersThe first of the Lupino family to appear in England, was Georgius — who in 1642 brought his puppets from Italy to Bartholomew Fair. No less than 40 Lupinos have been stage performers of some kind or other, ever since. Lupino Lane got his famous nickname of "Nipper" from the great music-hall artist, Albert Chevalier, who, when he was appearing for Aunt Sara Lane at the Britannia Theatre, used to sing, "I've got a little nipper..."

As it happens — Lupino Lane likes to be called "Nip", and hates "Nipper" (which is slang for cut-purse or thief!)

Making a personal appearance in The Amphitheatre also is Britain's most famous contemporary cat, Orlando.

Twice a day, every day, the Marmalade Mouser presents his family — his dear wife Grace, the Kittens, Pansy, Blanche and Tinkle — in a musical masquerade, telling of the exciting events which occurred on the eve of their Silver Wedding Anniversary, as set down by official historian to the Orlando family — Kathleen Hale, author of the famous books for children. There are, in all, sixteen cat-actors and one human — the wicked Katnapper, who turned out in the end to be rather a dear.

 

Pas de Deux - Orlando partners GraceAndre Howard has produced the saga, and has taught the Kittens their dancing steps and the result — according to Tinkle (he's the boy kitten), who has been studying French — is an " entre-chat" of great splendour.

Orlando is danced by Harold Turner and Grace by Sally Gilmour.

The story takes half an hour to tell, and is in a series of scenes — and unseen human voices explain in song what is happening before your eyes. Arthur Benjamin has kindly provided the music.

Grace's costumes are just as elegant as they appear in the Orlando books — only, alas, it is not possible to turn her wedding-dress — made of spotted fish skin, shrimp-husks and a trout skeleton - into a delicious soup - as they did in fact when the party was over!

The Group Theatre, of which that distinguished admirer of "Practical Cats", Mr T. S. Eliot, is a director, is presenting "The Silver Wedding" for the Festival Pleasure Gardens.

Kathleen Hale - who lives in the country - has a house full of "models" and she has to provide accommodation for anything from 3 to 16 cats at a time. She also has a small Welsh sheepdog who rounds them up daily, for roll-calls and briefing, and who has taught himself to stop them from stropping their claws on the furniture. This is positively the Orlando family's first public appearance!

 

Branchville, Tree TownA glimpse of red and white striped canvas among the trees on the River Walk leads you to the Punch and Judy show. There are six complete shows every day (each one lasting for 25 minutes), sponsored by Sharp's Kreemy Toffee and in charge of two stalwart Punchmen, Percy Press and Bruce McCloud. Each has his own set of glove puppets, and while Mr Press, who started his career selling anything thought of. Among the branches whole villages appear, not to mention a fiery dragon, pterodactyls, owls, bats and caterpillars.

When I was up there just before the Gardens opened they were building a town which even had its own pool and ice-rink, not to mention an "Underground" railway. You won't be surprised to know it's called Branchville.

At its highest point The Tree Walk rises 30-ft above the ground. The best time to see it is by dusk or darkness, when all its lights are glowing with fantastic effect. But even by day it's a wonderful experience to amble at leisure along the wooden cat walk which with strong steel trusses and specially designed clamps has been slung between seven trees and a pylon, to and fro across The Parade.

The Mermaid has two tailsClose by also is the Mermaid Fountain (10) specially sculptured and cast in bronze by Arthur Fleischmann, to the commission of the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Co., Ltd., who sponsor it for your pleasure. An Australian citizen, Mr Fleischmann lived in the Isle of Bali for some years and I expect it was there he studied mermaids. His own has two legs ending in two tails. A little over life-size, she floats on her back in a wide pool where goldfish swim. Below her the head of a turtle just breaks the surface; like the fish she clasps and the two who are poised at her shins, it spurts water. By day, or by night when the lights come on around and below her, she's a sweet creature.

The Terrace Tea Shop (R3), our next port of call, between the fountain and the river, is a permanent building constructed for the London County Council.

Whereas most of the rest of the architecture in the Pleasure Gardens is made of materials intended for a relatively short life, the Terrace Tea Shop (cafeteria service) is in warm russet brick with windows and an open-air terrace facing toward the river. Even sitting down you can see the full sweep of the Chelsea bank.

Ahead now are two of the smaller of The Gardens' three chief places of live entertainment. First, tucked invitingly with its back to the big trees on The Parade, comes a Punch and Judy Theatre (13) all kindly provided, down to Mr Punch's last hammer-blow, by Sharp's Kreemy Toffees. There is sitting space for 60 children at the regular daily performances, and you'll read more about them in the chapter of this Guide headed "Entertainments."

 

Riverside Theatre: Regency flavour

 

Mr Sachs has pleasure in introducing...A few steps farther on, beyond the Grace Darling Memorial Tree, is The Riverside Theatre (15). Leonard Sachs, who is producing its old-time Song-Saloon shows (there will also be marionettes and a daily Seven 0 'C Show) explained to the designer that he wanted a theatre so intimate in feeling "that if I feel like shaking hands with the man in the balcony I can almost do it." He almost can!

Outside, its wedgwood blue and white fine stucco has all the feeling of early Victorian and late Regency days. The auditorium with its tip-up red-plush seating (for 440) is as charming as it is friendly. The painted balcony under a big central sound board in the ceiling and glass-cloth drapings is arranged to look like a row of boxes running right round the theatre. Nevertheless, there is room to promenade and see the show.

Going back to the Terrace we now stroll on to the terminating feature of this part of the Gardens — The Riverside Rooms (R5). These include a long low restaurant of West End standard with a Wine Garden (separate entrance) consisting of little umbrella-ed alcoves of Vandyke brown-and white behind a white trellis fence, all facing inward toward a 24-ft. circular dance floor, webbed above with fairy lights suspended from a central mast.

The restaurant terrace overhangs the Thames. You may eat inside or out, with music from a small orchestra.

The above text and its accompanying sketches and maps were first published in the Festival Pleasure Gardens Brochure 1951 - Courtesy Maurice Poole, who writes: 'I well remember the Festival Gardens in the 1960s. The tree walk I believe survives in the grounds of Caister Castle near Great Yarmouth. I also remember one of the Guinness clocks and the fun fair. A few years ago I went to Wrest Park, the English Heritage gardens. The cafe has some of the chairs used at the Festival of Britain.

If you have any more images for the Riverside Theatre, Battersea Park, you are willing to share please Contact me.

 

Some Images of the Festival Gardens at Battersea Park in the early 1960s

The photographer of the following images was a member of a photographic club in the South East of England, and the images, which were on 2 & 3/4 inch slides, date from the early 1960's. The photographs are all from a visit to the Battersea Park pleasure gardens which were originally constructed for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Some of the shots depict the amusement park, which would eventually become known as Battersea Fun Fair, and only closed in the mid 1970s. Other photographs show the park's famous fountains which have recently been restored.

John Collins Big Dipper at Battersea Park in the early 1960s

Above - John Collins Big Dipper in the early 1960s - Years later there was a serious accident on the Big Dipper on the 30th of May 1972 in which 5 children were killed and 13 others injured. One of the survivors tells the story of this day here.

Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

Above - Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

Above - Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

The Water Slide at Battersea Park in the 1960s

Above - The Water Slide at Battersea Park in the 1960s

The Carrousel at Battersea Park in the early 1960s

Above - The Carrousel at Battersea Park in the early 1960s

The Crazy Cottage at Battersea Park in the early 1960s

Above - The Crazy Cottage at Battersea Park in the early 1960s

Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

Above - Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

Above - Battersea Park Fountains in the early 1960s

Battersea Park's Rotor in the early 1960s

Above - Battersea Park's Rotor in the early 1960s

The Wonder Boat moored outside Battersea Park in the early 1960s

Above - The Wonder Boat moored outside Battersea Park in the early 1960s