Of course, it’s not possible to visit Rosherville Gardens any more, although in the 1840s and 1850s you might have been one of the hundreds of London visitors who travelled down to Kent by steamboat to visit these famous pleasure gardens.
The gardens started with high academic aims, to be a place for the best society to enjoy the zoological gardens and fine planting. But by the mid 1800’s, the emphasis was fully on pleasure. Here’s how local boy, Charles Dickens, described Rosherville in his 1881 Dicken’s Dictionary of the Thames:
Besides the tea and shrimps so dear to the heart of the Gravesend excursionist, other refreshments of a more substantial and stimulating character can be obtained at very reasonable rates… There is a conservatory about 200 feet long, a bijou theatre, a maze, museum, “baronial hall,” occasionally used for dancing, but more often for purposes of refreshment. There is a very good fernery and a bear-pit, and some to miles of walks are held out as additional inducements to the excursion public. The peculiar situation of Rosherville – it being an old chalk quarry – has lent itself admirably to the landscape gardener’s art, and the result is a really pretty and remarkably diversified garden, in which it is quite feasible to pass that “Happy Day” which in the advertisements is always coupled with the name of Rosherville.
And this is what one of those famous ‘Happy Day’ advertisements looks like on the front cover of a very good looking book about the gardens by Lynda Smith:
Hmmm…. it seems that part of the guarantee of a ‘Happy Day’ came from an unofficial rule of secrecy, or ‘what happens in Rosherville stays in Rosherville’. As one contemporary account notes, ‘The maze wasn’t bad fun. Four of us lost ourselves there ; two were of the other sex.’ And here’s how P J Wodehouse described a day enjoyed by one of his characters: ‘There is a story about Sir Stanley Gervase-Gervase at Rosherville Gardens which is ghastly in its perfection of detail. It seems that Sir Stanley – but I can’t tell you.’
However, it was the antics of the garden’s famous MC and dancing teacher, Baron Nathan who captured my imagination. Or to be more specific, his world-famous blindfolded dance of the Egg Hornpipe.
Here’s my poem:
Mr Baron Nathan Performs The Egg Hornpipe
She’s not normally keen on gardens
but was drawn by the bills,
be prepared for anything,
so when she saw him, blindfolded
and dancing, hello, she thought;
the way his velvet suit encased
a body so smoothly oval
she wanted to tap him here,
and there, to take her spoon to him,
consume slowly down to his yolk.
He’d wobble for sure by breakfast,
but now young Master Gellini (ten
years old) was making his terrific flight
direct from the cliffs for their pleasure
and delight, steamboats raced, rockets
showered and though she’d yet to see
a flower, Mr Baron Nathan
took again to the stage, hornpiping
with his stylish flip of a calf
over a carpet of thirty other eggs.
Oh yes, they’d unshell each other
under fairy land illuminations,
a pyrotechnical finale, their fall
more brilliant than in any other Eden,
at Rosherville where paradise
grows wild as weeds in every bed.