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  Red House, Battersea

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Archaeologists digging into the foreshore of the Thames at Battersea Park recently found the brickwork of a famous old tavern, the Red House. It was demolished in 1850 and earth excavated from the Surrey Docks had been used to bury the whole landscape around it. Why should such drastic action have been be necessary?


An article in "The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction", dated 23rd December 1843 states: "Among the numerous houses of public resort on the fair margin of the river of Thames, few have been more largely patronized, or are more generally known to all classes, than the Red House at Battersea. During the summer months, thousands repair thither to enjoy the delights of a short water excursion, and the smiling landscape by which it is surrounded."


The truth is that the Red House had a darker side and that the Victorians landscaped Battersea Park to clean up the area. Battersea fields had been a wild area of intersecting streams and thick reed-beds. It was famous for racing and gambling. Pheasant shooting was popular, along with pigeons, starlings, sparrows, and occasionally, other victims. In 1671, Colonel Blood hid in the reeds with his gun, his target being Charles II. In 1829, the Earl of Winchelsea fought a duel with the Duke of Wellington.


Since Tudor times it had been a favourite rendezvous. Day-trippers arrived by boat from London to promenade, paint, write and read poetry at the Red House and the causeway separating the river from the marshes. It was however, also infamous for petty theft, brawling and debauchery, which resulted in its downfall.


When viewing artwork of the Red House, look for its changing shape and the magical windmill. Artists and engravers may include and interpret objects without regard to the date that the image is created, giving historians a headache when dating these images.


Red House, Battersea

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