In 1850 the proprietor of the Pavilion Hotel, fronting the River Thames, expanded his premises and laid out tea gardens, which he opened in 1851 as Royal Pavilion Pleasure Gardens. 

By 1859, the Stratford Times mentioned a “riverside terrace, winding walks among green turf and beautiful flowers, a maze, gipsy's tent, rifle gallery, large ballroom and refreshment room.” There was also an Italian garden, a Chinese dancing platform and a stage beyond the lake.
Crowds of visitors were attracted to the entertainments but in the early 1880s it began to make a loss, eventually redesigned as Royal Victoria Gardens.  

The Gardens suffered bomb damage during The Blitz in 1940 and only small sections of the original layout remain today.

But generations of children have grown up with the park as a big part of their lives.  

Fifties and sixties children played a game of rolling over and over down the grassy banks of the hills. That still continues today. The spectacular views of the Thames have enchanted young and old for over 130 years.

Lyle Park, October 1986 | Photo: Newham Archives Local Studies Library
Royal Vic Gardens | Photo: Newham Archives Local Studies Library

A few lines from a local story about the 1930s and 40, written for the Newham Recorder by Jill Sidoli revealed:

We had a youth club and the scouts and guides. The old Kent Arms pub had a very large room and two kind ladies who ran the Young Britons Club. This was very enjoyable and there was also the Boys Brigade. Many of the young ones would be in a band and would march around the area playing music for all to enjoy. We would watch the boys play football on the cinder pitch in Royal Victoria Gardens.

In the 60s and 70s Lorraine Stevens remembers Reg Young the park-keeper and wife Lil, who used to be on duty at the swings.

They had a little wooden hut and would patch you up if you hurt yourself

she said.

There were also memories of a lorry that came into the park on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and opened up its back to reveal a giant screen, showing movies for children.

A fair turned up every year and it had dodgems, side show and wonderful stuff for kids to enjoy. Locals created a cycle track on the bombsite inside the park - a case of young people creating their own enjoyment.

On a Sunday evening, there were band concerts, and we’d have a bag of crisps, with a blue bag of salt and a lemonade. We looked at the park keeper’s house and all wished we lived in it. We’d play football on the hard cinder pitches laid out in the park. It was rare to come home without your legs covered in burn marks.

The park became the centre piece of the Ferry Festival in the 1970s and 1980s. And it performed the same function when the festival was brought back by locals over the last four years.

Locals remember their loved ones on the benches at the top of the park with plaques in their memory.

Lyle Park in West Silvertown is an altogether gentler hidden gem.

Everyone knows how Mr Tate gave the world a gallery. However, Lyle Park came from Sir Leonard Lyle.

Lyle established a food processing plant in West Silvertown in 1881 – called the Plaistow Wharf. In 1924, Sir Leonard donated the land to West Ham Council and opened a park to locals. For the thousands living crammed around factories it was a magical piece of greenery. The entrance is on a small side street. It was originally laid out with a bandstand in the centre.

As a child I played many Sunday football matches there, including one ‘cup final’ where the trophy was a wooden replica of the FA Cup covered in tin foil!

Red Rovers Football team | Photo: Colin Grainger
Royal Victoria Gardens postcard, North Woolwich, c1908 | Photo: Newham Archives Local Studies Library

Each generation has its own favourite games and activities and passed down the laughs and memories. For adults, the pull of 13 public houses were strong, not only for socialising, but also with the growth of pub games like pool, snooker and darts.

But for children, ‘playing out’ was the key. For 35 years from the end of the war, the bomb sites in Silvertown and North Woolwich remained largely untouched – and this really was our playground. There were vast areas of rubble on land where we’d find our best spot which would be turned into “camps” by youngsters. Milk crates, carpets and lumps of wood were stacked and nailed together to make our own little houses. We made campfires, staying for hours on end.

The girls would love playing hopscotch and we’d play football. There was always so much to do. The adults would bring chairs out into the street in the summer to chat.

Bill Grainger, 93, said:

We didn’t have cricket bats, just bits of wood nailed or strapped together, and our children grew up doing the same. 

It was a community spirit that grew… There was no funding you just organised it yourselves. Kids got up to mischief, of course they did. But you could not go more than a few streets without seeing a copper, they always seemed to be about.

We learned new life skills with the aid of our friends and family.

In North Woolwich and Silvertown, we took advantage of the free in Woolwich Free Ferry. Days on end – especially in the school summer holidays – were spent on those wonderful vessels.

The trips to Woolwich - and back - were like being on holiday. The vibration of the engines, the vessel shaking and water splashing and the views made for great day.

As you got older there were rare treats when someone’s dad got hold of a van or open backed lorry for the day.  

Then came the trips to hop-picking in Kent, or a day strip to Southend, hiding under a tarpaulin for most of the trip. No seat belts, but never an accident and the lorry barely made it up Bread and Cheese Hill. When you got there, you knew you were nearly at the shingly beaches.  

Happy days. 

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Photo: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library