When Victorian Londoners craved some cultural stimulation and a little mischief, they could head to the city’s opulent pleasure gardens to find it. Those long-faded entertainment destinations are about to be resurrected, with the launch of London Pleasure Gardens on 30 June.
Pontoon Dock, a derelict site in east London is currently being transformed into a pop-up cultural centre that can hold 35,000 people, with venues for music, dance, arts and theatre as well as a floating cocktail lounge, a hotel and restaurant, a nature reserve and sculpture gardens.
The Creative Team
The idea for London Pleasure Gardens won the Meanwhile London competition to find uses for London’s wasted spaces before they are permanently redeveloped. The creative team behind the initiative have worked on projects like Glastonbury’s futuristic Shangri-La, the field where a night-time dystopia of clubs, costumes and theatrics unfold after the festival’s music stages close.
One of the directors is Garfield Hackett, the man behind east London’s counter culture art movement, Mutate Britain. He says London Pleasure Gardens will bring “the kind of urban leisure environment not seen in the city since the great pleasure gardens of the Georgian and Victorian periods.”
“We’re going to have beautiful structures, amazing art, places to chill out and all kinds of cultural adventures for those who want them. Our backgrounds in the guerrilla entertainment world mean we’ll be bringing lots of names and faces you really couldn’t see elsewhere.”
Coming Up at London Pleasure Gardens
The pleasure gardens have already signed up major events like Bloc 2012 and BT River of Music. For the Olympics it will put on a programme of entertainment ranging from big screen sports to cabaret, circus and comedy, in what Hackett affectionately calls “an environment of beautiful madness.”
Building work is well underway to create the site before the opening night on 30 June. “Over the next couple of weeks anyone passing by is going to see some cool structures going up and confront a stream of workers, artists, designers, architects, food and drinks co-ordinators and more heading in and out,” says Hackett.
“We’re right on schedule at the moment, though the pop-up nature of the site means it still isn’t looking finished. At the minute, it looks like a butterfly half out of the chrysalis, or, less poetically, like somewhere that is going to be pretty unbelievable in a couple of weeks time.”
London Pleasure Gardens opens with the Paradise Gardens Festival, 30 June to 1 July. Entry is free.