by Phil Gould
: Added May 2011
Architect James Gardner was put in charge of overseeing the Festival Gardens but towards the end of the construction period the administrators bought in a ‘Fixer’ to try and ensure the Battersea site opened on time. The odds were stacked against them. Gardner explained: "Frankly we just couldn’t open on time. We had started 18 months late owing to trouble over funds and the cricket pitch. We had an inexperienced contractor accustomed to building wartime airstrips. And we had a lot of labour troubles. The only time the men were really motivated was when they had a strike meeting. There were a lot of them."

To add to his woes the Thames flooded and turned the site into a mud bath. There was nowhere to drain it so the mud had to be carried away.

Gardner said: "By the time the Fixer arrived we were well behind schedule and I was fighting for a three week postponement. The committee just sat round the table and said it must open for the King.

"The final crisis occurred when I left the site for four days to deal with  problems at the South Bank. The Fixer decided to do his stuff while I was away. When I returned the site looked for all the world as though some great monster had walked around vomiting tarmac."

Instead of having  a Venetian pavement with steps going down to the lake there was an undulating mass of tarmac. But Gardner remained adamant that his original plans would become a reality. He managed to get the support of the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects who helped to convince the committee that the hurried approach to completing the job was wrong. The tarmac was removed and replaced with the pavements that had originally been planned.               

Showmen who had rides and other attractions at Battersea, and who were ready to open for business, also began to get frustrated with the delays. In the Daily Telegraph of April 23 a report appeared saying the showmen were threatening to light up and start their machines on May 3 to show the public outside the fences just what they were missing.  

Despite all of these threats the Festival Gardens did not open up for business on Thursday May 3, as did the South Bank Exhibition. The amusement park, albeit hastily fenced off from the rest of the incomplete gardens, opened its gates to invited guests on May 10 and the public a day later. The Gardens opened a few weeks after at the end of the month. 

Attractions at Battersea, apart from the amusement park, included the Guinness Festival Clock, the Schweppes Grotto - four caves which represented the four elements of wind, fire, earth and water; The Tree Walk - where you could walk past a village, fiery dragon, owls, bats and caterpillars and a Children’s Zoo and Pets’ Corner.     

General view of the park. Picture: From Festival Gardens Photo Memories

The Tree Walk. Picture: From Festival Gardens Photo Memories


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