A visit to Wanstead Park by Robert the Waiter
''Robert the Waiter" was the nomme de plume of John Thomas Bedford, who was a Member of the Court of Common Council of the Corporation of London. He died in 1900 at the age of 87 and his grave is in the City of London Cemetery. From the early 1880's "Robert" contributed articles to the illustrated magazine Punch, or the London Charivari, with his own particular outlook on places in London. He organised an excursion of a large party of interested persons to visit Epping Forest - where they met the newly appointed park-keeper, Robert Puffet - and this article is the result.
Robert was the son of William Puffett, who was born in 1819 and died in 1904. William became head keeper of Wanstead Park, with his son Robert - who was born about 1853 - also becoming a keeper. Later, William ran a refreshment kiosk at the park.
I especially liked some of the words used: 'Parker' is a good and old word, but not used now except that as a child we used the term Parkie or Parky. 'Scrowging' is really good - but not in the Oxford English Dictionary - it should be; it means to squeeze, or to crowd. The term "straight as a Douglas" I suspect relates to the Douglas fir, named after David Douglas, (1798~1834) the Scottish botanist who sent the first specimens for identification. From Douglas finding the tree to when it was first scientifically named in 1837 to "Robert's" article is not that many years - but it seemed that the tree had already made an impact!
"Wite Cundit House" was a pleasure resort some two or three miles to the north-east of another of its time: Marylebone Gardens. White Conduit House appears to have developed partially from an ale-house, possibly a small tavern, which it was said became popular to the accompaniment of much hard drinking on the day Charles I lost his head. The origin of the name comes from the fact that there was a water-conduit in an adjacent field, faced with white stone. The house itself, however, had its own grounds, which were attractively laid out when the whole property was reconstructed somewhere about 1745. At that time a Long Room was erected, and the gardens provided with a fish-pond and numerous arbours. Later, the White Conduit House became known as the "Minor Vauxhall" ("old Woxhall Gardens") and was the scene of balloon ascents, fireworks, and evening concerts.
The "Manshun House of the last of the Alldermen" was situated at the junction of Blake Hall Road and Overton Drive (north side). The house was known as "Park Gates" and was the home of Alderman Sir Thomas Finnis, Lord Mayor of London in 1856-57. The house was demolished in 1925, but on both sides of Overton Drive still stand two impressive gate posts placed there in 1715 by Sir Richard Child. "Happy Roastweal Gardens" must have been "Robert's" reference to the Rosherville Gardens at Gravesend - "A place of amusement..., containing a theatre, dancing platform, and restaurant."
The article amused me, and interested me that so much was still recognisable; not just the places but dare I say - even some of the people! I remember a Forest Keeper from Wanstead Park who retired some years ago. With his "Well, they do that" when some minor misdemeanour had been pointed out to him, I wonder how like "Mr Puffem" he was? Still, at least we've got the victuals now - and grateful I've been for a cup of tea or an ice cream after a walk round or some practical work And we've still got the grand Old Corporation - and maybe we're still an ungrateful public!
The article below is copied as closely as possible to the original found in a copy of 'Punch' dated Jan-June 1883.
Paul Ferris, August 2009
"ROBERT" AT WANSTEAD PARK
If anybody as is just a little tired of the bussel and the scrowging and the pushing and the noise of Cheapside, and of the Poulty on Cornhill wants a thurro change, he hasn't far to go for to find it, thanks again to the grand Old Copperashun. as is allus a-doing sumthink or other for a ungreatefool public. And should any right honerabble members of the venerable Ouse of Lords as happens to live in the naybrood of White Chapel, and is over fatigued with the hawfool amount of work as they has to do daily every night, pine for a change, jest like a poor devil of a Raddical, he can allus get it in sumthink less than no time. For instance, he can take the Tram and go for thrippence to Layton Stone, and then go straight as a Douglas till he cums to the Manshun House of the last of the Alldermen, Allderman FINIS, and then go over to the left and fust to yer right and there you are, at the entrance to Wonsted Park Plezzer Grounds. You've no occashun to nock at the dore, because its only a Gate, but in you gos in yer own rite, like as a bloomin Free Holder, and you walks rite on till you comes to the Temple, not as like the Temple in Fleet Street coz there aint no Lawyers, and not like the Temple on the Oben Wireduck cos there aint no PARKER, but only a most quiet and respectable keeper of the name of PUFFEM, so there is a sort of family likeness in all three after all.
Having paid yer respects to Mr. PUFFEM, you takes the parth to your rite and you come in about 10 minits to what I feels inclined to call about the thirteenth wunder of the World, reckning Happy Roastweal Gardens as about the twelf, and that is the wunderfullest Grot Oh ! in Yourrope ! I saw at once by his new unyform and his sollem demeaner that Mr. PUFFEM is a man of the strictest werracity, or I should have been inclined to dout him wen he told me it was all bilt by a Lady, and that it cost her jest fifty thousand pound ! It seems a lot of money, but if it is all bilt of preshus stones, as Mr. PUFFEM says, we knows as dimonds and them sort of things does run into a lot. However be that as it may, I quite agree with a rayther exsited Koster Monger who said, with rayther unnecessary wigger of langwidge, that with that Grot Oh ! for his crib and them perch ponds for his fish in, he shouldn't want any other pair-o'-dice. Ah ! them's somethink like Fish Ponds them is, why, Mr PUFFEM acshally told me, with that sollem look of his, that sumtimes of a evening the Fish is a-jumping about. And a-splashing to that extent, that you'd think as there was a lot of boys a-bathing there ! And he looks at you so serious that you carnt carp at his Fish stories. When he's crammed you full of Fish, then he begins about Poachers. Somethink like Poachers too, them is. Why, the fust thing as they poached drectly as he was apointed, but before he had his new Unyform. was all the led off the roof of the Grot Oh ! That wasn't bad for a beginning. The nex as they poached wasn't eggs, as I naterally thort when he asked me to guess, but about 36 duzzen of butiful white water lilies. And think of their hartfulness in getting at 'em.. As the lillies was in the middle of the Lake they strips theirselves to their skins for fear of wetting theirselves, and then boldly plunges in up to their nees in water, and higher than that, and carries 'em ashore, hoping to sell 'em at the Market price of four shillings a duzzen. But a eye was a-watching on 'em they couldn't see, tho' he had his new Unyform on, and the Perlease siezed 'em in their unpertected condition, lit'rally catching 'em in the naked fac, when of course they couldn't run away, and the awful wengence of the Lor come down on 'em to the extent of twelve shillings!
Well - I have in my long egsperience seen about as many butiful places as most Waiters. I've seen old Woxhall Gardens, and Wite Cunditt House and Ornsey Wood, and Iberry Barn, but I haven't the least esitation in giving the Parm Tree to Wonsted. Of course there's a intire absense of those elewaiting amusements - such as swings and settrer - in which the nobel Brittish Publick takes such grate delight, tho', judging from what has been dun in Epping Forrest in that time, we may hope in a werry short time to have even them, but for who can manage to spend a few ours in the butiful pure hair without 'em, there isn't a lovelier spot for rest and quiet and peaceful injoyment, than Wonsted Park.
And how strange to think, as Mr. PUFFEM told us, that if these butiful grounds had not one blonged about a hundred Years ago to one of the greatest scamps in Youroppe, who married the pore gal who owned 'em for her money, and then broke her heart by his unkindness and neglec, the Copperashun would never have been able to buy 'em for the use and enjoyment of the Public.
One thing as struck me harder p'raps than it would strike nonperfeshnuls, is the hutter habsence of wittles !
BROWN says as how even the Copperashun wants a little rest now and then for the Stummick's sake, and so on them occasions, they cums down here and inwardly digests plenty of fresh hair, and then goes back to the place whence they came, like giants refreshed.
I'm afraid BROWN ain't got no reverence. In fac he confesses as much, for I've herd him say that "no Man's a Nero either to his Wally or his Waiter."