Cuper's Gardens were situated on the south bank of the river where the National Theatre now stands. They were long and narrow, extending back as far as St George's fields, and became quite fashionable in the mid eighteenth century. They were famous for their intricate fireworks displays in the summer evenings.
London in the 17th and 18th centuries had a number of fashionable Pleasure Gardens of which Vauxhall is now the best remembered. Cuper's Gardens were situated a little down river on the site now largely occupied by the National Theatre on the South Bank. Three acres of land were originally bought by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, in 1643 and leased to his gardener Abraham Boydell Cuper. In 1678, Arundel completely rebuilt his house on the north bank and Cuper' son was prompted to develop the land in Lambeth as a Pleasure Garden.
He leased another seven acres from the Archbishop of Canterbury and decorated the gardens with many of the discarded busts and statues from the demolished Arundel House. The completed gardens were long and narrow and extended south from the river almost as far as St John's church on the modern Waterloo Road. There was a lake on the western side and serpentine paths were laid out between the trees and bushes. John Aubrey was an early visitor and found that
"the conveniency of its arbours, walks and several remains of Greek and Roman antiquities, have made this place much frequented" They soon became popularly known as Cupid's Gardens.
The speciality of Cuper's Gardens were firework displays. A visitor of the 18th century recorded that the site manager of the day
"had once been famous for this summer entertainment; but then his fireworks were so well understood, and conducted with so superior an understanding, that they never made their appearance to the company till they had been well cooled, by being drawn through a long canal of water, with the same kind of refinement that the Eastern people smoke their tobacco through the same medium"
The entrance fee was one shilling, the same as Vauxhall, and the most popular route into the gardens was from the river. The figure shows part of John Rocque's map of London 1745, and a landing stage called Cuper's bridge is clearly marked. The gardens in 1708 were described as
"pleasant gardens and walks with bowling greens whither many of the westerly part of the town resort for diversion in the summer season."The gardens were taken over in 1738 by Ephraim Evans who introduced substantial improvements. These included an orchestra with a band which played between six and ten o'clock in the evenings. One of the constant problems with the London Pleasure gardens was the presence of local prostitutes and their clients. In his advertisement for the improved gardens Evans was at pains to point out that care would be taken to exclude bad company and that no servant in livery would be admitted. He also appointed Watchmen to protect his customers from the footpads who entered the gardens from St George's fields to the south.
Evans died in 1740 and his widow popularly referred to as The Widow continued the business. She provided good music and elaborate fireworks that attracted a fashionable clientele that included the Prince and Princess of Wales and large numbers of the nobility. The end began in 1753 when a new "Act for Better Preventing Thefts and Robberies and for Regulating Places of Public Entertainment" came into force. The authorities refused to renew the entertainment licence but the place was allowed to remain open as a tea garden. A way around the act was found in 1755 when the gardens became available to subscribers only and concerts and fireworks were again provided. They were finally closed in 1760 and by 1762 the site contained a wine and vinegar distillery. These buildings were demolished in the early 19th century when Waterloo Bridge was constructed.