Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
It was on the route that Samuel Pepys took from his home in the City of London to the Royal Dockyards in Greenwich which he visited frequently in the course of his work. His diary entry for 13 June 1664 records “and so to Cherry-gardens and carried some cherries home.” Clearly these cherries had special properties for Pepys goes on to record that after supper, he went to bed “my wife lying with me”, an event that had only happened once in the previous two to three weeks. A Jacobean house connected to the pleasure gardens was built at the north end of Cherry Garden Street and named Jamaica House after the newly acquired island. Pepys and his wife visited it in 1668 together with their two maids who “ran wagers upon the bowling green, a pleasant day and spent but little.”
In the early 1980s, the area was the scene of fierce protest from local residents against development plans by the London Docklands Development Corporation. The land had been cleared in the 1970s and Southwark Council had developed a scheme involving low rise council housing but the land was compulsorily purchased by the LDDC. Their plans involved the building of 250 luxury flats at prices far above the means of local people, and included four pairs of seven storey towers along the river’s edge that would cut off local people from the river which, for many until the closure of the London Docks, had been their livelihood. Simon Hughes, the local MP, got behind their protest and raised questions in the House of Commons regarding LDDC’s lack of accountability. At length, the LDDC handed back 50% of the land to Southwark Council where 64 homes and gardens were built for local people, and a tiny public garden created by the river where cherry trees were planted and named Cherry Gardens.
Cherry Garden Pier
Cherry Gardens is a small, recently created public garden between the river and Bermondsey Wall East. Cherry trees grow there, echoing and commemorating the cherry orchard that flourished here in the 17th century and the original Cherry Garden pleasure garden visited by Londoners at the weekend.
The pleasure gardens had closed by the latter half of the 19th century and by then Jamaica House had also been demolished but the cherry gardens lived on, and still do, in the name of a street, the stairs that lead down to the river, a pier and more recently a school.