Taking the Steamer to Hollands Pleasure Gardens

A steamboat towing a passenger boat on the River Avon, near to Marlcliff village. Circa 1912.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference PH21/73

Verity Fincher wrote down reminiscences of her childhood holidays. Her recollections of the Hollands Pleasure Gardens and taking the Steamer up the river offer an insight into childhood in Bidford in the early 20th century.

Messing about in boats

As a special treat once every summer we were allowed to go in the steamer to Hollands Pleasure Gardens where we could have tea from little tables set out on the lawn and which we found quite a novelty.

The steamer only made two journeys a day and was very popular, especially with the visitors from Cleeve and it was for us a great treat. This part of the river was almost unknown to us. Although mother often rowed us across from our side so that I could paddle and hopefully learn to swim, never once did it occur to my parents to get the boat lifted out of the river and transferred to the upper reach so that we could explore this different part.

How I agree with Ratty that there is “nothing, absolutely nothing, so good as messing about in boats”.1 I loved it, I loved the bank full of flowers and the willows and alders bending over as if to look at their reflections; the sunlight dancing on the river and putting my hand in the cool waters and let it drip between my fingers and watching the wake it left behind. The steamer however had rails round it so I could not do this. I could only look and watch.

Hollands Pleasure Gardens

Hollands Pleasure Gardens were quite small, though much bigger than Winters, but you could buy a proper tea there and sit on the bank or on little white chairs round the table, but more important than this there were “swing boats”. How my brother and I loved them. He was a very unusual boy, a great chatterer about nothing in particular, and very easily excited. The swing boats made him almost uncontrollable. I am sure if mother had known about them we should have never been allowed to go.

To get the best results you should have the same weight on each side, so it was not much use my brother and I going together. He usually climbed in one by himself and waving and gesticulating he swung the boat so alarmingly that the attendant came and made him get out or go with another boy which he refused to do. While this was going on Maud [our maid] had found a child of my own size and we started off more sedately. I was not much use with strange children and sat there mutely while Maud showed us how to use the ropes. I was used to a swing and did not mind going high.

More often than not the child opposite me became frightened and the swing boat had to be brought to a halt and she was taken out sobbing and clinging to her mother while I demanded, and did not get, my money’s worth. Sometimes my brother would get inside and then the boat swung about and both of us laughed so much there was no chance of a proper ride.

A sense of freedom

We didn’t care; we felt free and became over excited and in the end only the thought of fizzy drinks and cakes and buns calmed us down. My mother would not have approved of my riding in a boat with a strange child. There was always the chance of “catching something” or hearing “bad words” and our own behaviour would not have suited her either. I think Maud understood this and so did we, as what we had been doing was never alluded to at home and mother thought we had just been for a quiet ride in the steamer and tea at the other end.

1 Paraphrased from Kenneth Graham, The Wind in the Willows (London: Collectors Library, 2005) p. 18.

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