Sitting on the southern side of the Royal Victoria Dock is the site of the now defunct London Pleasure Gardens.
Intended to be an outdoor festival venue for the London 2012 Olympic Games and beyond, with the organisers given a three-year licence to run the site, the London Pleasure Garden’s problems got off to an early start. A week after opening to great fanfare, the Pleasure Gardens hosted the two day Bloc dance festival, but this was cancelled after problems on its first night with many people reporting that they were unable to enter the site and, for those who did get in, tales of massive queues building up inside. Visitors noted that many of the promised attractions on the site had not materialised either, and basic necessities such as seating or even the tiniest patch of grass to sit on were also noticeable by their absence (despite the artists’ impressions which you can see in this piece over at The Quietus). Clearly, the site was opened well before completion – one wonders whether they would have fared better if they had delayed the opening until all of the components of the site were in place.
Shortly after the incident with Bloc, the stated capacity of the London Pleasure Gardens was slashed by 8,000 to 17,000. Reading warning signs, this prompted the organisers of the one of the upcoming music festivals, Secretsundaze, to withdraw their offer to use the site, stating that their festival would continue elsewhere (Secretsundaze GoBang will now take place at Camden’s Roundhouse on 26 August). Big visitor numbers were anticipated throughout the London 2012 Olympic Games because of the proximity of the ExCeL London conference centre, which was hosting seven sports in total, including the boxing, judo and table tennis events. These large crowds failed to materialise, and anyone with an understanding of the local geography of the area could tell you why. The London Pleasure Gardens site is located on the opposite side of the Royal Victoria Docks from ExCeL, and the only feasible route between them is to use the limited capacity bridge suspended high above the dock and then take a fairly lengthy walk along a main road until you reach the site entrance opposite the Pontoon Dock DLR station. No doubt faced with the prospect of a long walk to the festival site, and then having to negotiate an entirely different branch of the DLR to get back home afterwards, people simply got back on at Custom House or Prince Regent after watching the sport and went on about their business.
Unable to surmount these early issues, the London Pleasure Gardens laid off its largely idle waiting staff on Tuesday 30 July, and then went into voluntary administration three days later on Friday 3 August, less than five weeks after it first opened to the public. Many staff were left unpaid, and taxpayers are now out of pocket to the tune of over £3 million because the London Borough of Newham gave this amount to the organisers to ensure it’s viability and to support jobs for local young people. Given that they were going to recoup this loan through a percentage of the profits, I doubt that we will ever see that money again, and I wonder what the future of the site holds given that it clearly doesn’t work as a large festival venue in it’s current form? With the long-abandoned Millenium Mills and its hundreds of shattered window panes looming over the site I’ve always thought it would make a more appropriate location for a zombie movie than a party venue, so my educated and rather pessimistic guess is that it will sit empty and decaying for a few more years until a property developer comes up with enough cash to build flats on the site…
If you’re an aficionado of urban decay then don’t let me put you off from visiting – you can still peer through the padlocked main gates to the painted entrance beyond, and even get a good view of the temporary structures inside from the eastbound platform of Pontoon Dock DLR station. Windows on platform level offer vistas of this rather desolate patch of land which was, for a brief moment in time, the London Pleasure Gardens.