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One of the new spectacular places of entertainment was Cremorne Gardens. It opened in 1843 on a 12 acre site in west Chelsea between the river and the King’s Road offering theatres, dancing, concerts, supper rooms, gardens, grottos, mazes and circus performers. But by far the most popular attraction was the balloon ascents. Unfortunately many residents complained of the noise and unruly behaviour of the visitors and Chelsea Vestry finally withdrew its licence in 1877, citing that Cremorne attracted ‘loose people’.
In 1887 J R Whitely opened an entertainment ground on derelict land between the railway lines at Earl’s Court. Annual exhibitions and ‘spectaculars’ such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show were staged, attracting huge audiences. Permanent attractions included the Big Wheel, a helter-skelter and a water chute. The grounds closed in 1914 and were replaced in 1937 by the Earl’s Court Exhibition Hall. The Ideal Home Exhibition, The Motor Show, The Boat Show, the Royal Tournament and pop concerts are just a few of the events held here since the 1940s.
Two other ‘palaces’ of entertainment should also be mentioned. The Royal Court Theatre opened in Sloane Square on 24 September 1888, and almost from the beginning it earned a reputation as a showcase for new playwrights. At the turn of the century it was Bernard Shaw and John Goldsworthy then in the 1960s John Osborne, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett and the tradition is still continued. The Electric Cinema in Portobello Road opened in 1910 and was one of the first purpose built cinemas in England. Recently it has been restored to its former glory.
Drawing of a balloon ascent at Cremorne Gardens by Walter Greaves, 1872
Programme for Buffalo Bill's Wild West show at Earls Court