The Montpelier Tavern and Tea Gardens (MAP: Greenwood’s Map of London – 1830)
“The Montpelier Tea Gardens, Walworth, London. A compact place noted for a small maze at the bottom of the garden. Tea, hot rolls, good wines, spiritous liquors, &c. Large parties provided for.” – J.Feltham, The picture of London 1804.
The Montpelier Tavern and Tea Gardens, typical of public pleasure grounds on the southern fringes of Georgian London, though never quite on the scale of the nearby Surrey or Vauxhall Gardens, were in existence by 1787. First owned and run by a John Bendall, the gardens possibly date from the mid-1770s. During the Napoleonic wars the local Volunteers paraded there.
The Montpelier Gardens were also home to the Montpelier Cricket Club (The Beehive Ground) which was formed in 1795, becoming one of the strongest clubs in south-east London. In 1845 their ground was taken for development and so they moved to new premises at the Oval and became one of the founders of the Surrey Cricket Club.
The gardens themselves must have gone by about 1850. The tavern was replaced in the later Victorian period by a music hall, which in turn became a pub, which survived until the early 1940s.
The tea gardens in front of the tavern were reported to be a large, irregular space, neither square, round, nor oval, but a sort of compound of all three forms in one. One of the features of the Montpelier Gardens was a cold bath enclosed in a wooden shed near the entrance to the grounds. Each person desirous of its benefit had to pay one shilling for its use. Bendall laid out the South Western portion of his domain as a small labyrinth or maze, which, though inferior in extent to the one at Hampton Court was considered to display a great ingenuity in design.
On 10 and 11 August 1796, The Beehive Ground in Walworth hosted a cricket match was played for high stakes – in this case 1,000 guineas, with the players selected (by two noble lords) from the pensioners of Greenwich Hospital: eleven men with one leg against eleven with one arm. The match began at ten, but about three a riotous crowd broke in, demolished fences and a number of spectators fell through a stable roof, stopping the proceedings till six o’clock, when play was resumed. On the second day the teams reappeared, being brought to the ground in three Greenwich stage-coaches. The match was played out to a conclusion, with the one-legged men beating the one-arm eleven by 103 runs.
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