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Tea, Debauchery and Sewage

I recently came across a 17th century location on the banks of the River Thames called Arnold’s Outlet (if you have the same puerile sense of humour as me, you’ll have sniggered at that). This schoolboy double entendre does have an element of fact about it, as it was actually a sewer outlet that dumped its waste into the Thames.

I went on to read that the area was also known as Cuper’s Bridge, which denoted the entrance to Cuper’s Tea Gardens. This seems to be quite an strange olfactory introduction to an establishment where food and drink were consumed, but I would imagine back then nobody was that bothered, odours of that type being commonplace.

Cuper’s, sometimes known as Cupid’s Garden opened in 1682 and was one of many pleasure gardens situated on the south bank of the Thames. In 1643, Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel bought three acres of land which he leased to his gardener Abraham Boydell Cuper. In 1686, seven acres of adjoining land was bought from the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, and added to the gardens. Cuper’s Bridge was actually a long landing stage in the river and was the most popular way to gain entrance to the gardens. It became a much visited venue for the well to do of London society and was renowned for its firework displays.

There is every Evening a very great Resort of Company at Cuper’s Gardens. The extraordinary Fireworks, which are almost every Night different, are allow’d to excel all that ever were before exhibited in this Kingdom.” Daily Advertiser, 3rd June 1743

From 1738 until 1740 Cuper’s Gardens were owned by a man named Ephraim Evans who improved them by installing a bandstand from which he offered concerts in the evening; after his death his widow, Nem became the proprietor. Nem Evans was described as “a woman of discretion’” and she played the hostess behind the bar during the musical entertainments. Under her direction, the gardens continued their heyday, for a time at least. However over the years it gradually became run down and attracted a lower class of visitor becoming known for it’s debauchery and lewd behaviour. Finally the authorities ran out of patience with this den of iniquity and Nem Evans was refused a licence for Cuper’s Gardens on the grounds, which she disputed, that the gardens were no longer “respectable” forcing its closure in 1753.

The gardens sat roughly on the same site as the National Theatre does today, commanding views across the river to Somerset House.

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