Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”


Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can!

The Toupee Letters

Scots Magazine ran a series of articles in 1739-40 purporting to be “from a London correspondent, a certain ‘S. Toupee’, portraying the social scene in London, and at Vauxhall in particular, to the Scottish readership.”

The letters begin by explaining that because ordinary people of the London beau monde in search of simple pleasures were no longer satisfied with the traditional pastime of enjoying the beauties of nature, for their own sake, more fashionable amusements had been brought in from overseas, in particular the ridotto al fresco. Just how popular the gardens had become is illustrated by the fact that, despite the ingrained British dread of damp evenings, and the gentry’s habit of moving to the country in the summer, the average nightly number of paying visitors… was around a thousand. From this, it is possible to calculate that, as the Vauxhall season lasted for about one hundred evenings between May and September, the annual admissions income would amount to £5000 to £6000, a healthy figure that must have been substantially more than the normal revenue expenditure to run such a venture.

The type of entertainment provided was considered to be very new; it was well received, especially by fashionable ladies whose social life hitherto had been restricted to calling on acquaintances or going to the occasional ball, all within a very small circle of friends and relatives. Pleasure gardens opened up a whole new world to these people—a polite and exciting world where they could go with their family or friends, where they were free to entertain and mix socially with an infinitely broader circle than had been possible previously.

J. Maurer, A Perspective View of Vaux Hall Garden, etching, hand-coloured, 1744 (David Coke's collection). The view looking down the Grand South Walk before the classical triumphal arches were installed, with Roubiliac's Grand Alcove on the right.

J. Maurer, A Perspective View of Vaux Hall Garden, etching, hand-coloured, 1744 (David Coke’s collection). The view looking down the Grand South Walk before the classical triumphal arches were installed, with Roubiliac’s Grand Alcove on the right.

A Typical Visit to Vauxhall (from 7-10 p.m.)

The journey usually began with a boat ride from Whitehall or Westminster. On one occasion, Toupee writes about accompanying “a family group including Tom, a young musician who played the latest opera melodies on his French horn, while Miss Kitty was asked by her mother to sing one of the latest Italian songs.”

Others on their way to the gardens in neighbouring boats included ‘Sir John, from Fenchurch-street’, with his wife and all his children, attended by a footman. A Cheapside apprentence called William was on an illicit outing with Sukey, his master’s daughter… ‘An honest old mechanick’ and his wife followed; he was returning to Vauxhall after many years’ absence, to see how it had changed, reassuring his wife that the gardens must be a respectable place for her to be going, because the Prince of Wales himself was a regular visitor. This piece is clear evidence for the type of social mix that Tyers wanted to see at Vauxhall, although it is equally clear that, just because people inhabited the same space and came into direct contact, they did not necessarily interact in any meaningful way.

Pet dogs were not allowed in the gardens, but that did not stop people bringing them along for the ride, maybe to occupy the liveried footman who would not be admitted by Tyers’s gatekeeper, but could walk the dog in the fields of Lambeth. Having entered the tardens, Toupee’s party saw all the sights, listened to the music and strolled around the walks, watching and being watched by the other visitors.

The third letter, concerning the hour before closure at 10 p.m., starts with a detailed description of the dinner, accompanied by music from the Orchestra. The dramatic finale to the letter is the boat trip home, recounting the dangers of the riverside and the traditional ‘Thames ribaldry’, long-winded insults from the occupants of nearby boats that were suffered by voyagers as far apart in time as Addison’s Sir Roger in 1711 and Oakman’s John Gilpin in 1785.

“Sexual freedom was intrinsic to the gardens”

The overriding topic that runs flagrantly throughout the three letters is the meeting of the sexes, and the self-evident truth that human nature takes full advantage of any liberty offered to it. If Toupee is to be believed, Tyers was promoting his gardens as a place for lovers to meet, for initiating and nurturing romantic attachments, for sexual intrigue and adventures, and for illicit affairs; or, if he was not promoting these activities as such, he created an environment that made them possible and, indeed, inevitable. The river-crossing, the music, the paintings, the food, the walks and even the weather were all seen by Toupee as legitimate means to this one specific end.

The focus for most of the licentious activity in the gardens was not the Grove or the surrounding supper-boxes, which were too public, but the Druid’s Walk or Lover’s Walk, an unlit avenue running between and parallel with the Grand South Walk and Kennington Lane. It was distinguished from the other avenues by the fact that the trees met overhead, plunging it into shadow even before dusk. This concealing shade was unrelieved by artificial light until 1764, when magistrates forced Tyers to act against the immoral behaviour that the darkness encouraged, and to install lighting there.

At its eastern end, the Druid’s Walk met the avenue that ran around the eastern and northern edges of the gardens, always known as the Dark Walks; the darkness heightened the receptivity of impressionable young minds to emotional seduction, and no female reputation was safe…

Tyers employed constables to patrol the end of each walk in an attempt to keep such incidences to a minimum, but even they were not able to watch everybody all the time.

“The… cold and miserable spring of 1740”

I was blown through and through, in such a manner, as to drink four full glasses of French wine, before I knew I was alive. And, in that cold condition, as returning by water would have endanger’d my life, I was forced to be shook in a most unmerciful hack, till one half of my joins were distorted, and the other bruised to a jelly.

Indeed, all of the Toupee letters highlight the fact that the pleasures of the evening were never without their discomforts; and that a full enjoyment of the experience was predicated upon a full participation in the inconveniences, dangers and risks, whether perceived or real.

“The outstanding fashionable attraction of the London summer season”

In a sample letter from a young lady in town to her aunt in the country, published in 1741, the novelist Samuel Richardson confirmed that regular visits to the gardens had become an obligatory feature of the fashionable lifestyle, having his subject comment… that ‘I went on Monday last to Vaux-hall Gardens, whither every body must go, or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company.’

Vikki Vaught: Lady Overton’s Perilous Journey

I want to thank Susana for having me on her blog today. I’m very exciting about my new release, Lady Overton’s Perilous Journey. This is the first book in my Honorable Rogue series. This series is set in early 19th century England & America. I’d like to discuss some of the fascinating research I did for my book.

photo (2) copyI originally set this book in 1809, but on further research I discovered Jefferson convinced the U.S. congress to pass the Embargo Act of 1807, which stopped all foreign trade. While Jefferson did not want to involve the U.S. in the conflict between France and England, he wanted to put in place financial sanctions that could possibly hurt these countries economically. This act devastated the economy. American ships literally remained in port rotting in the harbors.

Here is some background history that led up to the embargo. Britain and France resumed their war in 1803, causing relations to become strained between any countries, deciding to remain neutral. In 1806 France passed a law against trading with neutral countries, and since America did not take sides in the conflict between the two countries, the French began plundering American ships. In 1807, Britain passed a bill prohibiting trade between France and neutral countries. The British began seizing American vessels and demanding that all ships pull into their ports before they were allowed to trade with other countries.

The British also started boarding American vessels and began seizing any sailors they deemed were deserters from the Royal British Navy. This infuriated the U.S. and thousands of American sailors were unlawfully impressed into the British Navy.

During the last sixteen days of Jefferson’s presidency, a bill was passed replacing the Embargo Act with the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809. While this act opened up trade again, it did not allow trade with Britain. Since my story has my heroine fleeing England on an American vessel, I needed to move it to a different year, prior to the escalating issues between the two countries. Since 1802 was the only year that England and France were not at war, I decided to place my story in that year.

This was by no means the only research I did for Lady Overton’s Perilous Journey, but was certainly the most important. While this is a novel of fiction, I wanted to ensure that the happenings within the story were possible.

I hope you’ll enjoy the romance between Alex and Anissa as much as I enjoyed writing their love story. Happy reading!

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About Lady Overton’s Perilous Journey

When her son’s life is threatened, Anissa, Marchioness of Overton, seeks refuge by sailing to America. Before the ship reaches the high seas, sparks fly between her and Captain Alex Hawks. Although the young widow may be lonely, and afraid, she cannot risk the diversion a romantic entanglement could bring, no matter how much she wants to lose herself in the captain’s embrace.

The Captain vows to protect the young Lord Overton, but can offer no assurance that the marchioness will leave his ship with her virtue intact. Alex is drawn to Anissa’s beauty and courage, as a hummingbird is to the nectar of a flower. How long can he fight a losing battle before he surrenders and makes her his own?

Will Alex be able to keep this remarkable woman and her child safe? Will his passion for Anissa be enough or will their differences keep them apart?

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She cuddled her sleeping child close as she scanned the overcrowded common area. Her insides churned as she wove her way through the crowded tables, the chairs filled with dirty, unsavory-looking men. The strong smell of sweat mingled with ale threatened to turn her stomach and had her breathing through her mouth.

Anissa approached the man the stable boy had described. “Sir, are you Captain Hawks?”

He turned around, and in a drawling voice, he answered, “Well, darlin’, that’s my name.” He swept his tri-corn hat from his head, stood and bowed. “Captain Alex Hawks, at your service. What can I do for you?”

Anissa gazed up into the blackest eyes she had ever seen and wanted to fall into them. Mesmerized, she blinked as a shiver ran across her shoulders. This was not the time to notice this man’s eyes, no matter how compelling they were. Now was the time to use her charms to convince him to take her on his ship.

“My name is—” she quickly searched for a name, not wanting to give him her identity, “—Mrs. Carlson. I would like to pay for passage on your ship. I understand you are leaving for America this morning.” Then, thinking of a city she had heard of in America, she added, “I need to go to Boston, where some of my family lives. Would you be able to help me?”

Captain Hawks gave her an appraising stare, which unnerved her. This man was intimidating, to say the least. “I’m not going to Boston. And, I don’t normally take on passengers. I’m headed to Baltimore, and it’s a far piece from Boston, darlin’.”

“Please take me. I have to leave for America as soon as possible.” Anissa had to convince him to allow her passage. “And as far as your destination is concerned, I’m sure once I am in America, I shall be able to travel to Boston from there.”

“Darlin’, do you even know where Baltimore is and how far it is from Boston?”

Anissa wished he would quit calling her darling. It was quite presumptuous of him, and she did not appreciate it at all. Of course, she did not want to anger him, so she kept her feelings to herself. “Well, no, not really. How far is it?”

“It’s over four hundred miles,” Captain Hawks explained, as if he were speaking to a child, which further irritated her, tugging at her frazzled nerves. “You would be better served if you found a passenger ship going there. I have an associate who should be arriving in a few days, and his ship is going to Boston. He also takes passengers. I’m sure he would be happy to take you on board.”

Oh, dear, why did I say Boston? Please, Lord, let me convince him to take me.

Every hour brought her closer to the chance of discovery. She could not afford to wait for another ship. She needed to get as far away from Lord Howard as possible, immediately.

“Captain, I do not have a few days to wait. My uncle is dreadfully ill. He may only have a few months to live, so I need to leave right away. Please allow me to travel on your ship.” She looked up at him, willing a few tears into her eyes, praying to gain his sympathy.

Captain Hawks sighed and rolled his obsidian eyes toward the ceiling. “I know I’m going to regret this. All right, darlin’, if it’s that important, I’ll take you. I hope you realize how uncomfortable this voyage will be for you and the child. The cabin you will be in barely has room to turn around in. Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider?”

“We shall be fine, regardless of the conditions.”

He shook his head, sending her heart to the floor.

Oh, Lord, please don’t let him change his mind.

What shall I do if he has?

About the Author

Vikki Vaught started her writing career when a story invaded her mind and would not leave.

Over the last few years, she has written more than a half dozen historical romances and is presently working on her next. Her new release, Lady Overton’s Perilous Journey, published by Secret Cravings Publishing is the first book in her Honorable Rogue series.

Vikki loves a “Happily Ever After”, and she writes them in her stories. While romance is the central theme of all her books, she includes some significant historical event or place in all her novels.

While all her books are love stories, she has also written short contemporary sweet romances as Vikki McCombie and erotic romances using the pen name of V.L. Edwards.

For the last decade, Vikki has lived in the beautiful foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with her beloved husband, Jim, who is the most tolerant man in the world to put up with her when she is in a writing frenzy. When she is not writing or working her day job, you’ll find her curled up in a comfortable chair reading her Kindle, lost in a good book with a cup of tea at her side.


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Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes


Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can!

A Splash of the Exotic

The… striking similarity between the Grove and travellers’ descriptions of the great piazza of San Marco in Venice, where citizens were able to arrive by water, take refreshments, listen to music and watch street entertainers, would have highlighted Vauxhall’s exotic pedigree, evoking images of faraway places. This fusion of the familiar with the foreign, a constant feature of the gardens, is likely to have been a deliberate move to give visitors the thrill of romantic and magical scenes without the discomfort of distant travel.

In contrast to the aristocratic or amateur owners of great private gardens, whose wealth allowed them to indulge themselves with indiscriminate allusions to the classical past, ancient mythologies and dreamworlds, Tyers’s overriding consideration in all his investments at Vauxhall was the commercial imperative. Providing that it also furthered his aims, every improvement had to attract more people and increase his profits if it was to justify itself. The sales of food and drink represented the bulk of his income, so the more people he could persuade to purchase refreshments in the gardens, the better it was for his business. Increasing the number of supper-boxes by inserting several sweeping ‘piazzas’, or crescents of supper-boxes, was a very effective and elegant way of achieving this.

The Temple of Comus (later the Chinese Pavilions)

The Temple of Comus was named… after the god of cheer and good food… Ben Jonson described Comus as the ‘Prime master of arts, and the giver of wit;’ he is also associated with music and with floral decorations. The god thus encompassed all the purposes of the new building, which, although primarily devoted to dining, allowed for the appreciation of the arts and music as well as polite conversation in civilised surroundings.

J.S. Muller after Canaletto,   A View of the Temple of Comus &c. in Vauxhall Gardens, an engraving hand-colored, 1751 (David Coke's collection). Families with small children are promenading in the foreground.

J.S. Muller after Canaletto, A View of the Temple of Comus &c. in Vauxhall Gardens, an engraving hand-colored, 1751 (David Coke’s collection). Families with small children are promenading in the foreground.

Initially, the building was “classical in style, with a colonnade of Ionic columns supporting a straight entablature, topped with urn finials; the semicircle flowed in a smooth curve out of the straight colonnade of the northern range of supper-boxes.” However, the designer also incorporated Gothic arches and “broad-ramped scrolls [that] acted as buttresses for the dome” and other unorthodox details. “The apparent breaking of architectural rules, mingling different styles in the same building, was deliberate and entirely typical of the unorthodox design of the English Rococo, which aimed to create playful, light-hearted works.”

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T. Bowles after S. Wale. A View of the Chinese Pavillions and Boxes in Vaux Hall Gardens, engraving. c. 1840 (David Coke’s collection). This is a reprint of Bowles’ plate of 1751, published by Francis West, a Fleet Street optician and printseller who acquired many original plates of London views, probably after the sale of trade stock by Robert Wilkinson, Bowles’ successor, in 1825. The buildings of the Temple of Comus are shown with their newly applied elaborate surface decoration.

The Handel Piazza

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J.S. Muller after S. Wale, The Triumphal Arches, Mr. Handel’s Statue &c. in the South Walk of Vauxhall Gardens, engraving, c. 1840 (David Coke’s collection). The early version of the Handel Piazza.

The Handel Piazza on the Grand South Walk started life as a small semicircular colonnade of plain boxes, little more than an open setting for Roubiliac’s statue of the composer… The piazza was built in the simplest Doric order, although the domes of the two terminal pavilions were topped with Gothic lanterns. The rebuilding of 1750-51 created a much broader colonnade, with twenty-two flat-roofed boxes, still of the Doric order, but with urn finials on the roof over each column. As in the Temple of Comus, the central pavilion was more elaborate, marked out by the use of the Ionic order, with swagged decorations between the columns, but here in the Handel Piazza the classical order and restraint were maintained… This new structure added considerably to the number of supper-boxes available on the Grand South Walk… The opposing arrangement and contrasting decorative styles of the Chinese Pavilions and the Handel Piazza epitomise Tyers’s ideological belief in the balance between excess and moderation, with Comus appropriately representing pleasure and excess, and Handel, in his simpler classical architectural setting, representing virtuous sobriety.

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J.S. Muller after Canaletto, A View of the Grand South Walk in Vaux Hall Gardens, with the Triumphal Arches, Mr. Handel’s Statue, &c. Engraving, 1751 (British Library, London). On the right is the second version of the Handel Piazza, with more supper-boxes.

The Gothic Piazza

The Gothic Piazza, looking down the Grand South Walk from its western end, is not shown from the front in any engraving of Vauxhall, although Wale’s General Prospect shows it from the back just to the south (right) of the Prince’s Pavilion). It is, however, fully described in Lockman’s Sketch, as

a little Semi-circle of Pavillions, in an elegant Gothic Style […}. At each Foot of this Semi-Circle, stands a lofty Gothic Tent, each having a fine Glass Chandelier, the Lamps in which are of a very peculiar frame, as are those in the grand Tent, built in the Grove, &c. In the Center of this Semi-Circle is a Pavilion, with a Portico before it; and over the Pavillion, a kind of Gothic Tower, with a Turret at Top. Here a Glass Moon was to have been seen; but its Light was found too dazzling for the Eye. Those who survey’d the Alley, the Grove, &c. thro’ this Glass, saw a lovely Representation of them in Miniature. As the painted triumphal Arches before mentioned are in the Grecian Style, and these Pavillions in the Gothic, they form a very pleasing Contrast.

…The implication is that visitors could climb to the top of the central pavilion of this piazza, to look down on the gardens through an optical device or lens during daylight, and after that, after dark, a light was shone through it towards visitors in the Grove, possibly spotlighting courting couples. [Scandal!]

“A remarkable body of original and innovatory architecture”

The group of structures in and around the Grove at the end of the 1740’s, comprising the Orchestra and organ buildings, the supper-boxes and three piazzas, the Prince’s Pavilion, the Turkish Tent and the Rotunda, represent a remarkably body of original and innovatory architecture that was both decorative and practical, achieved by Tyers and his team in the space of just thirteen years. Few other patrons could boast of such a diverse collection of modern works of architecture. The sheer expense incurred in this building spree is evidence of the level of Tyers’s income; as Hogarth’s friend the enameller Jean-André Rouquet wrote at the time, ‘The director of the entertainments of this garden acquires and expends very considerable sums of money there every year. He was born for undertakings of this kind. He is a man of an elegant and bold taste; afraid of no expence, when the point is to divert the public’—or rather, to attract the paying public to Vauxhall.

The fact that this elegant and bold taste was devoted to a pleasure garden, and that the buildings no longer exist, should not detract from their importance in the context of the development of British architecture, and in particular, of British interior design in the eighteenth century. They would have been some of the best-known modern buildings in the country, seen by tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Supper-Box Furniture

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In the 1730’s and 1740’s, furniture at Vauxhall… was plain and serviceable, the tables usually covered with baize on linen. Rectangular square-legged farmhouse tables and foxed plain benches served the supper-boxes, with free-standing backless benches and plain tables out in the Grove. The Grove also boasted a number of slatted wooden garden seats, their circular inward-facing form, accessed through a single opening, providing the ideal setting for polite conversation for an intimate rendezvous.


By the early 1750’s, however, contemporary engravings show a number of more elaborate and expensive tables and benches in the supper-boxes. The carved Rococo table-legs, showing below the tablecloths, appear to be ornamented with double-C scrolls.

After this brief period, however, the furniture again reverted to a simple farmhouse style. Indeed, it would be unsurprising if the carved Rococo tables of the 1750’s were found to be too delicate for the abuse they would have received at Vauxhall from the visitors and weather.

Wendy LaCapra: Lady Scandal

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Interview with Wendy LaCapra

Susana: Any weird things you do when you’re alone?

Wendy: When my husband is traveling, I leave the hall lights (which are LED’s) on all night. I also tend to over-indulge in pasta J

Susana: What is your favorite quote and why?

Wendy: My day is made if I can quote Prince Humperdinck, “Skip to the end” or (and this is more rare) the Man in Black himself, “If we only had a wheelbarrow, now that would be something.”

Susana: Who is your favorite author and why?

Wendy: Can’t name just one. In romance I am a big fan of Gaelen Foley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Balogh & Eileen Dreyer to name just a few.

Susana: What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

Wendy: I cannot dissect. I think different authors have different strengths (dialogue, characterization, great description, subtle use of narrative techniques) and if they lead with their strength the book they create is going to be fabulous.

Susana: Where did you get the idea for this book?

Wendy: I’m not sure. This series started with a snippit of research about the charge of petty treason, started to take form with more research on Lady Worsley, but when I started writing, all three Furies stepped on stage at once, fully formed. It may have taken some false starts to find Sophia’s match, but once she met Randolph, the rest of the story flowed.

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About Lady Scandal

London, 1784

Sophia Baneham has lived in the poison of her dead father’s shadow for longer than she cares to admit. Now she exists outside of polite society’s influence, holding gambling parties for London’s most dangerous men. When a man walks into one of her soirees, a compelling mix of charisma and icy control, he offers the lady of sin a wager she can’t refuse…

Lord Randolph is a spy in the service of His Majesty, but he’s given an oath to protect the daughter of his mentor. Even as his gamble of marriage starts to spiral out of control and his passions ignite, Randolph is determined that he’ll handle things his way…

But when danger closes in, Randolph won’t just have to protect Sophia from an intended killer. He’ll have to protect her from himself…

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He had never before failed in a mission. Never.

Clearly, he had been off his game and there was only one reason.

BookCover_LadyScandal copySophia.

Before they had met, Randolph had thought of Sophia as an evil-made-necessary—a means to probe the secrets Baneham had left behind. But then she had turned her cornflower blue eyes on him and everything had changed.

…Hours after returning from India, he arrived at a Fury soiree—uninvited. Lady Sophia’s footman stuttered under his glower, but the man refused to grant him entry. No one could be admitted to the soiree, the man insisted, without approval of the hostess, even if accompanied, as Randolph was, by the hostess’s cousin.

He remained in the hall, suffering the indignity of his wait with hands clasped behind his back. The entry was hardly what he had expected of Baneham’s home. The man had been the epitome of male. These furnishings could only be described as—he suppressed an inward shudder—dainty.

He peered into the rooms beyond. The dandies within did nothing to dilute the feminine air. The library was a rainbow of velvet jackets and frothing cravats, topped with clouds of fluffed white wigs. Even from the distance, the scent proved this the motliest male collection of Eau du Cologne enthusiasts ever assembled.

“Cousin Charles has brought me a gift, I see.” Her voice sang over his veins the way the wind sang against lines of a hoisted sail—the song sank all the way into his cock.

He turned.

The voice came from a petite, provocatively curved woman sewn into her pink silk bodice—he could think of no other way the fabric could fit so tight. Her hair powder was laced with a matching pink hue. She looked like strawberries and cream and, if he was permitted a taste of her lips, he was certain she’d be as mouthwateringly sweet.

Her gaze dropped from his face and traveled boldly down his body.

By Saint George, he wanted a sampling of her sweetness.

“Lord Randolph,” he said, “at your service.”

Her faint smile implied a flirtatious scold. “You do not have an invitation, Lord Randolph.”

“Soon remedied, I hope. I am recently returned from the continent.” She did not need to know which continent—nor how recently. “I have heard your soirees are the must-attend events for any London rake worth his salt.”

“Do you fancy yourself a rake, then, Lord Randolph?” She sounded hopeful, blast her sensual voice.

He leaned forward and whispered, “Issue me an invitation, sweetness, and I will provide any proof you may require.”

“No proof is required…” a faint, secret smile teased her mouth—both challenge and invitation, “at present.”

…It had been lust at first sight. She lit a carnal fire in his blood and the resulting burn was hotter and deeper than any he’d known.

About the Author

AuthorPhoto_LadyScandal copyWendy LaCapra, a 2012 Golden Heart® Finalist, has been reading romance since she discovered Victoria Holt (in the library’s adult section!)  From that point on, her only dream was to create worlds with historical richness, intrigue and pleasure. She lives in NYC with her husband and can occasionally be found gossiping about history and romance with the Dashing Duchesses or burning up the web with those mystical mistresses of resilience, the GH class of 2012 aka the Firebirds.

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Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda


Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can!

The Organ Building

In 1737, the Organ Building was built, after numerous delays related to “the acoustics and audible range of the organ in this outdoor setting, as well as the damping of the building itself to ensure that no structural vibrations spoiled the sound.”

This square structure was the same width as the Orchestra, and was on three levels; a heavy lower storey supported the first floor where a short bridge joined the two buildings together. This first floor, at the same level as the first floor of the Orchestra, was partly taken up by the organ console and pipes, and partly by a covered open space running all around it. The building then rose to the ‘belfry’, which had louvred semicircular openings on all four faces to project the sound of the organ around the gardens… The lower storey, totally unrelieved by any surface decoration, was pierced by a triple arch on each of its four plain faces, one taller arch flanked by two smaller; the taller central arch on each face was a hybrid triform arch which gave the building a real visual strength and presence.


Vauxhall and the Weather

The typical rainy English weather, especially on opening day every spring, was a significant problem for an outdoor business such as this one. In 1740, due to the loss in business caused by the poor weather of 1739, Tyers announced “several considerable Additions and Improvements,” which were later described as “Conveniences for receiving Company in cold or rainy Weather,” whatever that means.

Weather-related jokes at Vauxhall’s expense were commonplace; especially popular was the one about a farmer waiting to see when the gardens were going to open, so he would know when to plant his crops, a good few days of drenching rain being assured.
The regularity of rain on Vauxhall’s opening night increased in the nineteenth century; so much so that, at one stage, announcements advertising the forthcoming opening were carried around town printed on umbrellas.

The Three “Tents”

In 1742 Henry Fielding described his impressions on entering the gardens. The first structures he saw there were ‘two similar Tents’ under the trees of the Grove, ‘of such a Contrivance and Form, as a Painter of Genius and Judgement would chuse to adorn his Landscape with.’ If these were, in fact, the shelters that Tyers had announced two years earlier offering protection from cold and wet weather, their position was certainly appropriate, between the Orchestra and the Prince’s Pavilion, and only a few yards from the entrance and the servery. The word ‘tent’ did not specifically apply to a canvas structure; indeed, it could refer to almost any temporary building, especially in a garden.

A “Turkish Tent” was built as an undercover dining area for visitors who could not get a supper-box or wanted to have a more entertaining party. “Its exotic style, more closely associated with Venetian festivals… allowed visitors to act the part of Eastern potentates relaxing on their magnificent bed under a grande baldacchino.

The design of this structure is clearly more informal and frivolous than the strictly classical styles favored by Tyers in his earlier buildings.

The Rotunda

In the 1740’s, other entrepreneurs jumped into the pleasure gardens business, the most successful of which were Ranelagh and Marylebone Gardens.

In the face of serious competition from such places and in view of the unreliable British summer, Tyers was under constant pressure to introduce regular improvements whenever adequate funding was available. At the end of the 1740s he went one step further, and, playing the proprietors of Ranelagh at their own game, installed a major new structure as a grand assembly room and concert hall for use by the band when the weather was too wet or windy.

Variously called the ‘Umbrella Room’, the ‘Music Room’, the ‘Great Room’ or simply the Rotunda, Tyers’s building, with its orchestra stand and organ, was capable of accommodating as many musicians as its outdoor equivalent.


The most remarkable feature of the original Rotunda was undoubtedly the chandelier described by Lockman as having been designed by a gentleman amateur. This chandelier, 11 feet across and with 72 candles, must have been one of the largest in the country, a hugely impressive piece of furniture, and its grandeur was considerably enlightened sometime later by the addition of a plaster sculpture, the Rape of Semele by Jupiter.

The Rotunda was redecorated at intervals… The modelled floral decoration of the ceiling was stripped out in 1765, and the roof re-painted ‘in the resemblance of a shall. For the opening gala of Tuesday 18 May 1790, the Rotunda, growing ever more exotic, was fitted up in imitation of a Persian divan. It was then redecorated several times, becoming by turns a garden tent, a Roman military pavilion, an Indian garden-room and, finally, a circus hippodrome, with two tiers of audience boxes, a proscenium stage and a central ring for displays of horsemanship and circus acts.

Next week: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes

Leigh Michaels: Magical Weddings

“Taking the Waters” in Regency England

by Leigh Michaels

When I turned my novella, Her Wedding Wager, over to the beta readers, one of them commented, “I don’t understand this sentence: ‘My uncle was taking the waters in Tunbridge Wells last summer.’

Taking the waters meant drinking or bathing in the water from a natural mineral spring, which was thought to cure pretty much everything from heart disease to infertility.

Leigh MichaelsMost readers of historical romances are familiar with Bath, where many an aristocratic family visited the natural hot springs and where Romans had established the famous baths during their occupation of England. But among the other spa towns and mineral springs prominent in England was Tunbridge Wells, located southeast of London, with relatively easy access during the Regency era via a turnpike road. Not as famous as Bath, Tunbridge Wells first gained notoriety in the 17th century when the springs were discovered.

Ailing individuals who drank the water found that it smelled foul and tasted vile. “Treatments” often included drinking several glasses throughout each day.

I’m tempted to wonder if people actually felt better after their course of treatment, or if they only talked themselves into feeling better so they could stop!

What odd treatments used in the past have you heard or read about?

Leigh will gift an ebook —Gentlemen in Waiting—to one commenter.

About Her Wedding Wager

Celia’s best hope of finding a husband – and avoiding the marriage her uncle has in mind for her – is Lady Stone’s high-society wedding party. With two earls, a viscount, and a baron to choose from, Celia should be content. So why is she paying more attention to her distant cousin Simon Montrose? He’s not only the man her Uncle Rupert thinks she should marry, but Simon’s the one who bet her she can’t capture a titled gentleman before the party’s over.

WeddingWager-cover web copy


Noting the way her mother’s lower lip trembled at the reminder, Celia changed the subject. “As I was about to say, Uncle Rupert, if a London Season is out of the question, then Lady Stone’s house party is by far your best opportunity to get me off your hands and married. You keep telling me that the young men I meet at the assemblies here are far beneath my touch.”

“And so they are. Haven’t seen any yet with ambition or good sense. And not a one with so much as a pair of coppers to rub together, either, which is why they cast their gaze toward my fortune. But the only man you need is right here.” Rupert waved his fork toward Simon.

Her cousin? Of course he wasn’t serious, to imply that she and Simon…

Celia couldn’t help it. She giggled.

About Magical Weddings

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Her Wedding Wager is the lead-off title in the boxed set, Magical Weddings. Leigh Michaels is the award-winning author of more than 100 books, including historical romance, contemporary romance, and non-fiction. More than 35 million copies of her books are in print in 25 languages and 120 countries. She is the author of On Writing Romance and teaches romance writing online at Gotham Writers Workshop.

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Whether real or only in the hearts of the bride and groom, the magic of weddings is undeniable. And irresistible! As these 15 enchanting happily-ever-afters by bestselling and award-winning authors prove.

From sweet to spicy, the romances bundled into this set cross time and unite hearts, cast spells of laughter, battle wedding jitters and fight back tears, while weaving love’s hopeful magic throughout 1400 pages.

The boxed set includes a variety of sub-genres, lengths, and heat levels – something for everyone.

Her Wedding Wager by Leigh Michaels, National bestselling and Award-winning author. Celia’s doomed to an arranged marriage–unless she can win the most important bet of her life!

The Last Wedding at Drayhome (Breens Mist Witches) by Aileen Harkwood. Never underestimate the power of a witch and warlock in love who have nothing left to lose.

The Dress by Eve Devon. Two couples, 400 years apart. From a masquerade ball in Venice 1615 to a wedding in England 2015, can a dress laced with magic weave its spell through the fabric of time?

Second Chance Bride by Raine English, USA Today bestselling and Award-winning author. She thinks she’s marrying the man of her dreams, until a telepathic rescue dog leads her to someone else… Will this bride-to-be say “I do” to the wrong man?

Two Hearts Surrendered by Tamara Ferguson, Bestselling and Award-winning author. Will two warring hearts be strong enough to survive the ultimate battle?

Something Borrowed, Something Blue by Lynda Haviland. She has a wedding to crash–until love gets in the way!

Heart of the Secret (Witches of Lane County) by Jody A. Kessler, Bestselling and Award-winning author. A 500 year-old curse, a witch who will do anything to marry her one true love, and the heart of a secret that will either divide them or bring them together…forever.

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel by Jane Lark, National bestselling author. How do you fight a calling that comes from your soul?

A Wedding Across the Winds of Time by Bess McBride, National bestselling author. Darius and Molly found each other Across the Winds of Time. Now, it’s time for their wedding!

Kiss This by L.L. Muir, National bestselling and Award-winning author. You never expect the florist to catch the bouquet…

Caution is a Virtue by Jennifer Gilby Roberts. How much is too much to risk for love?

Loving Lindy by Jan Romes. In order to become the bank’s new Vice President, Gunther Justin has to be “settled.” With Lindy McPherson posing as his fiancé everything is set to go off without a hitch–until real feelings get in the way.

With this Kiss by Heather Thurmeier. Does a simple kiss have enough magic to reunite lovers?

Real Magic by Elsa Winckler. She’s the bridesmaid, he’s a best man. Will the magical evening stay just that or will it turn out to be real after all?

The Wedding Guests (A Tassamara Short Story) by Sarah Wynde. When unexpected guests attend Akira and Zane’s wedding, lives will change forever. But for better or for worse?

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Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes


Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can!

The Orchestra

Across from the Prince’s Pavilion, mentioned in last week’s post, stood the open-air bandstand known as the Orchestra, which opened on 3 June 1735.

There is built in the Grove of the Spring-Gardens at Vaux-Hall, an Octagon Temple, intended to serve as an Orchestra, for a Band of our finest Instrumental Performers; who will play (beginning at Five every Evening during the Summer-Season) the compositions of Mr. Handel, and other celebrated Masters. Upon Trial, the Concert had a wonderful Effect, the Sounds spreading through every Part of this delightful Garden; so that Gentlemen and Ladies, whether walking, or sitting in the Alcoves, may hear it to the greatest Advantage. Though there has not yet been any Thing of this kind exhibited among us, and the Master of the Gardens has put himself to a considerable Expence upon this Occasion, yet nothing will be requir’d for this innocent and elegant additional Entertainment, which will begin Tomorrow at the Hour above-mentioned.

This building, with a base of large blocks of roughened masonry, supported an upper floor, an octagonal room enclosed by eight arches illuminated by a central chandelier. The outer area of the first (second) floor was bounded by a low balustrade.

Although the opening night was plagued with poor weather, a good audience was in attendance.

Yesterday being so rainy, little no Company was expected in the Spring-Gardens at Vaux-Hall, for which reason the Concert was to have been put off till this Evening; but a great Number of Coaches and Persons of the best Fashion coming in, the Concert was open’d; several very fine musical Compositions were perform’d, to the great Satisfaction of the Hearers, and especially of the Judges of Musick, many of whom were present on this Occasion. The Gardens, tho’ so very pleasant in themselves, were yet greatly improv’d by the Harmony, which had different Effects (but all delightful) in the various parts of the Garden; so that all the elegant Company seem’d very desirous of encouraging this rural kind of Opera, which pleas’d no less from the Execution than from the Novelty of it.

As popular as the orchestra music became, it was soon clear that the large number of trees were a detriment to the acoustics. Tyers lost no time in removing “a great Number of Trees… from the Thicket joyning to the Orchestra,” and placing “several Tables and Seats fixed at proper Distances, in the Openings” so that visitors could enjoy refreshments while listening to the music.

The Orchestra itself was able to accommodate, on its upper level, as many as thirty seated and standing musicians. The building’s actual dimensions… judging from the numerous visual sources… measured over 20 feet in diameter and about 25 feet in height to the tip of the conical slated roof—quite a small building, but certainly large enough for its purpose.


From a satirical pamphet “A Trip to Vaux-hall (1737): Notice the bar in the lower left where waiters went to collect food orders for the visitors. Also, the roof terrace above where Tyers could keep an eye on everything.

The Supper-Boxes

Between September of 1735 and April 1736, during the off-season, more improvements were made.

The Improvements in the Spring-Gardens at Vaux Hall (which have employ’d upwards of 100 Hands ever since last August) being now finish’d, and a Band, consisting of above thirty of the ablest Performers provided, the Musical Assembly will be open’d next Wednesday [19 May]. The Grove, which is considerably enlarged and finely laid out in Gravel Walks, is embellish’d with a great Number of Colonades [the supper-boxes]; and in the Centre is an Edifice, in the Form of a Temple, for the Band, who will play the favourite Pieces of the most eminent Masters. The whole is so advantageously dispos’d, that 3000 Persons may sit at ease, and see one another during the Entertainment. In the Grove, above 300 Glass Lights are set up, all which are illuminated in half a Minute, and have a beautiful Effect on the Verdure. For the better Conveniency of the Company, a great Number of Waiters, &c., are provided; and in order that this innocent and agreeable Entertainment may be conducted with such a Decency, as many induce the politest Persons, and those of the most serious Character to honour it with their Presence, a proper Guard will attend to keep out all lewd and disorderly Persons. —Notwithstanding the very great Expence the Master has been, and must necessarily be at, during the Season, yet it was his intention to have admitted all Persons into his Gardens in the same Manner as last Summer; but as Numbers resorted thither who were no ways qualify’d to intermix with Persons of better Fashion; for this Reason he has been persuaded to let none enter but with Tickets (to be given out at the Door) at One Shilling each, which Ticket will be afterwards taken at the Entertainment in the Gardens, as One Shilling, if desir’d.

The old arbors and rickety supper-boxes in existence before Tyers came upon the scene were tossed away in favor of new and orderly ones arranged outside of the Orchestra. The Vauxhall Fan, which was produced and sold for three consecutive years (1736-8) as new features were introduced (only the first of which still exists) shows the view from the entrance, looking down the Grand Walk, with the Orchestra building on the right.

Many of the trees carry a globe lamp on a bracket, and more lamps hang on lamp-posts and from the ceiling of each supper-box. The edition of 1737 added the organ building behind the Orchestra, and in 1738 Roubiliac’s new statue of Handel was included.

The Vauxhall Fan (1736)

The Vauxhall Fan (1736)

In such a manner,Tyers made use of the popularity and intriguing “language” of the fan as a clever marketing tool.

The north and south ranges of supper-boxes… made up of more than twenty boxes each, were almost 300 feet long and about six to eight feet deep. A shorter range of eight boxes on the far side of the Grove between the two parallel walks, was around 100 feet long, making each box about 12 feet wide. The boxes themselves were initially open on all sides, with only a rail dividing adjacent supper parties from each other, leading to unwonted intimacies between friends and strangers alike. From 1741 or ’42 solid walls divided every box from its neighbour, and each one was roofed with waxed cloth and had a fixed bench around three sides of its table.

The layout of the Grove was remarkably formal and austere, like an ancient Greek agora. Through his arrangement of the boxes Tyers discouraged overtly immoral or intemperate behavior by providing a setting where there were no hidden corners and where the privacy enjoyed by Pepys and his contemporaries was difficult to achieve.

The exact number of supper-boxes in the years before 1751 is difficult to estimate, but it must have been around fifty-five. This rose sharply to over 130 in 1751, reaching a maximum of about 140 around 1800, before falling back to about 90 in the 1840’s.

The many additions to the number of boxes demonstrate that dining space was always at a premium, and that Tyers was under constant pressure to provide additional seating for his visitors wherever he could. This not only boosted his profits from food sales, but also helped his staff earn additional tips by finding more private seating for parties of visitors.

Next week: The Organ Building and the Rotunda