Cremorne in Chelsea was one of several hundred so-called ‘pleasure gardens’ in London, designed to showcase the beauties of nature in otherwise built-up metropolitan areas. The novelty of Cremorne was that it opened in 1840 just as the popularity – and financial sustainability – of pleasure gardens came into serious doubt. Cremorne featured a theatre, a banqueting hall and purportedly the first ten-pin bowling alley in Britain.
In 1856, a French visitor to London, Francis Wey, described a scene very like the one depicted here. The gardens offered:
a variety of attractions. One moves on methodically from the one to the other at the sound of a large bell which a man rings as he leads the way, the crowd trotting along behind him […] In a Chinese bandstand an orchestra struck up a scottische. A minute later the carefully levelle open space was filled with couples […] people here dance with their hips and their shoulders, seeming to have little control over their legs […] frivolous young things improvise all sorts of indecorous antics.
A note on the reverse of this image remarks that the gardens closed in 1877 'after protests by the Chelsea Vestry' – presumably over the Gardens’s growing reputation as a venue for solicitation by prostitutes.