The image above is an idyllic view over Sydney Harbour from one of the most popular foreshore reserves. Today, Clifton Gardens is a popular foreshore beach, with a swimming enclosure and well kept park, perfect for picnicking. Yet Clifton Gardens is but a shadow of the once famous pleasure grounds, with most of the buildings pictured above long gone.
The history of Clifton Gardens as a pleasure resort and holiday destination dates back almost 150 years, to 1871, when the hotel known as the Clifton Arms was built by D. Butters. The hotel lease was soon granted to David Thompson, who first leased the hotel in 1879, before purchasing it outright in 1880. Thompson was also the man who built the Marine Hotel, which operated right up until the 1960s, and will no doubt be remembered by many Sydneysiders. Thompson also built a skating rink, wharf and dance pavilion.
It wasn’t until 1906 though that Clifton Gardens really established itself as a tourist hub. This was when Sydney Ferries Ltd purchased the entirety of the Thompson estate. Sydney Ferries soon added to the existing attractions, building a boat shed, a tramway from the wharf to the hotel and, most famously of all, the grand, two storied, circular swimming enclosure. Clifton Gardens soon became a popular destination, not just for families and private tourists, but for picnics by unions and companies. It was even used by The Water Board!