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Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers— “The Master Builder of Delight”

vauxhallbook

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 photos are fabulous!

“The Master Builder of Delight”

In 1729, the site of the “Vauxhall Spring-Gardens was leased to a twenty-seven-year-old entrepreneur called Jonathan Tyers, whose goal was to transform it from a sort of seedy rural tavern to a respectable venue for all social classes.

A fellmonger (dealer in animal hides or skins) by trade, Jonathan was not content to continue the family business, successful though it was. Driven by a desire to raise his family’s status—and improve the world as he did so—Tyers believed that culture and pleasurable entertainments should not be the sole prerogative of the upper classes, but that the middle and lower classes deserved to find some enjoyment in their lives as well.

tyers family

Family portrait by Francis Hayman, Jonathan Tyers and his Family, 1740. Left to right: Elder son Thomas, Jonathan, daughter Elizabeth, son Jonathan, wife Elizabeth, daughter Margaret.

Jonathan Tyers was a very complex character, with more than his fair share of contradictions and eccentricities. Upright, intelligent and self-assured, he also exhibited strains of arrogance and ambition. However, his ambitions were clearly projected chiefly upon his business rather than himself, while his personal aspirations were driven by a wish to raise his own status and that of his family to gentry, an object in which he succeeded at a remarkably early age. (p.35)

Through his association with The Wits’ Club, a social club for freethinkers, scholars, libertarians, and writers, Tyers became good friends with Charles Burney, Henry Fielding, William Hogarth, Harry Hatsell, Edward Moore, Thomas Cooke, Richard Dawson, and Leonard Howard. The club first met at Vauxhall Gardens later moved to a nearby tavern. Many of the ideas behind his development of the gardens came from the discussions at this club.

Although he never managed to mix with fashionable society in his lifetime, he was held in great respect and admiration by his peers, so much so that he was elected to the Royal Society of Arts in 1757, where he would have met many other prominent people, including Benjamin Franklin, when he visited London.

He and his creation were even featured in his friend Henry Fielding’s work of fiction, Amelia (1751).

The extreme Beauty and Elegance of this Place is well known to almost every one of my Readers; and happy is it for me that it is so; since to give an adequate Idea of it, would exceed my Power of Description. To delineate the particular Beauties of these Gardens, would, indeed, require as much pains and as much Paper too, as to rehearse all the good Actions of their Master [Tyers], whose Life proves the Truth of an Observation which I have read in some Ethic Writer, that a truly elegant Taste is generally accompanied with an Excellency of Heart; or in other Words, that true Virtue is, indeed, nothing else but true Taste.

The_Works_of_Henry_Fielding_Amelia_v2_1000373134

Tyers’s Mission

Besides his goal of cleaning up the gardens’ reputation, Tyers hoped to use the venue to improve people’s lives “through contact beauty and quality.” In other words, he planned to provide the lower orders with both art and beauty, and also expose them to “polite society,” who would educate them by example.

His influence on the manners and morals of eighteenth-century society was to be far-reaching, and his patronage of artists and designers would change the face of British art. But it was his ideological beliefs and priorities, his egalitarianism and his conviction that the pursuit of pleasure was a basic human right, and a vital element of the balanced life, that would really motivate his proprietorship of Vauxhall Gardens.

The Ridotto al Fresco

Tyers’s first event at Vauxhall was a masquerade ball in the manner of the Italian carnival in the spring of 1731. Not much is known of this event, except that there was outdoor dancing in masquerade costume and was restricted to the upper classes.

The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750's

The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750’s

By contrast, his second event in April of 1732, was attended by the poorer class of people, including “an oyster girl, a barber’s apprentice, a lawyer, an army captain, a doctor, a vicar and a number of prostitutes…”

The third event, considered to be the opening ceremony of Tyers’s Vauxhall Gardens, took place on 7 June 1732 and included the presence of Frederick, Prince of Wales. Under the guidance of John James Heidegger, Tyers created an extraordinary event that was talked about for years. A hundred armed soldiers were employed for the security of the distinguished guests, and he “hired the Westminster and Lambeth ferrymen for the whole night to carry his guests across the river and back.” Even with an admission fee of a guinea—which only the wealthy could afford—“between three and four hundred people actually attended the ridotto.” Besides the Prince of Wales’s entourage, the guests included politicians and their friends, “lawyers, bankers, printers, brewers, churchmen, military men and aristocrats.” The party broke up at around four in the morning. “The principal entertainments…were dancing and feasting, combined with the social intercourse between masked guests.”

The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750's

The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750’s

While by most accounts—particularly in the view of the Prince of Wales—this event was a great success, other accounts indicate that there was a distinct theme of preaching and moralizing via buildings set up to show the misery and pain that result from excessive self-indulgence that may have not gone over too well with the party-minded guests.

In any case, his final ridotto, which was held two weeks later on 21 June, likely at the request of the Prince, who was having the time of his life, was attended by only half as many, which, considering his expenses, would likely have completely wiped out any profits from the four events. No doubt this is the reason Tyers held no such events during 1733 or 1734, although the gardens themselves likely continued to be open to the public.

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever

Vauxhall Gardens: A History

vauxhallbook

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 photos are fabulous!

newspringgardensmap

Public Gardens

Royal Parks, such as St. James and Hyde Park, began to open up to the public in the seventeenth century. The first “Spring Garden” was located near St. James Park. Amenities in 1614 included a bathing pond, water fountains, graveled paths and fruit trees, a butt for archery, and a tiltyard. A bowling green was added by Charles II. It also became known for excessive drinking, quarrels, and hopeful prostitutes.

Samuel Pepys and the “Old” and “New” Spring Gardens

But there were also “Spring Gardens” at Vauxhall during the early seventeenth century, and after the Restoration, two of them, one “Old” and one “New” which has caused much confusion over the years. The “Old Spring Garden” was a pleasant place to walk with trees and flowers, with food available that Samuel Pepys spoke of as too “dear”, causing him and his family to eat at a nearby house instead after they had also visited the “New Spring Garden.” The word “New” was used to indicate that it was re-opened after the Restoration. Before 1750, when Westminster Bridge was opened, most visitors arrived by boat.

Taking water for vauxhall - Be careful, my love, don't expose your leg

TAKING WATER FOR VAUXHALL – Be careful, my Love, don’t expose your Leg

An early visitor, Balthasar de Monconys, described it:

We took a boat to the other side of the Thames to see two gardens, where everyone can go and walk, have something to eat in the restaurants or in the cabins in the garden. They are called Spring Gardens, that is to say Jardin du Printemps, and the new one is more beautiful than the old. I admired the beauty of the grassy walks and the niceness of the sanded ones. It is divided into a large number of plots twenty or thirty yards square, enclosed by gooseberry hedges, and these plots are also planted with raspberry bushes, roses, and other shrubs, as well as herbs and vegetables, such as peas, beans, asparagus, strawberries and so on. The walks are bordered with jonquils, gilliflowers or lilies. We returned after we had eaten and went again to Longacre.

Samuel_Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys was a frequent visitor to the gardens, mentioning it twenty-three times in his Diary from 1662 to July 1668. On one of his earlier visits, he mentions “boys doing tumbling tricks”. In 1665 when the plague began to take hold, he mentions “the ayre and pleasure of the garden, was a great refreshment to me, and methinks, that which we ought to Joy ourselves in.” A month later, he writes:

I to Fox-hall, where to the Spring-garden; but I do not see one guest there, the town being so empty of anybody to come thither. Only, while I was there, a poor woman came to scold with the master of the house that a kinswoman, I think, of hers, that was newly dead of the plague, might be buried in the church-yard; for, for her part, she should not be buried in the Commons, as they said she should.

A year later, Pepys describes visiting the park with a friend and having a sexual encounter with some prostitutes in a private arbor. He also mentions bird (particularly nightingale) and animal calls, an entertainment which was to become customary at Vauxhall. From his writings, one can infer that entrance to the gardens was free, but that food and drink were not. One entry describes a situation where ladies were stalked by drunken men. Pepys says this:

… at last, the ladies did get off out of the house and took boat and away. I was troubled to see them abused so; and could have found my heart, as little desire of fighting as I have, to have protected the ladies.

Another time, when he visited with his wife, he was again troubled by these young rapscallions:

So over the water with my wife and Deb and Mercer to Spring-garden, and there eat and walked, and observe how rude some of the young gallants of the town are become, to go into people’s arbors where there are not men, and almost force the women—which troubled me, to see the confidence of the vice of the age: and so we away by water, with much pleasure home.

Food and Drink at the Spring Gardens

Restoration literature mentions waiters. The food served was usually cold: the very thin ham shavings that Vauxhall was known for, chicken served with salad, and occasionally beef and lobster. Strawberries and cream were popular, the fruit grown in local market gardens. Beverages were wine, beer, and rack punch (a drink from India containing arrack—distilled from coconut sap—hot water, limes, sugar, and spice).

The Great Walk

Tom Brown mentions the Great Walk—the central feature of the gardens—in Amusements, published in 1700.

The ladies that have an inclination to be private take delight in the close walks of Spring Gardens, where both sexes meet and mutually serve one another as guides to lose their way; the windings and turnings in the little wilderness are so intricate that the most experienced mothers have often lost themselves in looking for their daughters.

Much mention is made of intrigues and sexual encounters in the “Spring Gardens,” although it is hinted that such is of a somewhat higher class there than in other public venues. Sir Roger de Coverley complained to the mistress of the house “that he should be a better customer to her garden if there were more nightingales and fewer strumpets” after he was accosted by a “wanton baggage” there.

An escape from the city

The Spring Gardens, although not really the countryside, were far enough away from the dirt and smells of the city that its widely diverse visitors could—at least for a short while—escape their troubles. The following anonymous verses were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of June 1732:

At Vauxhall Stairs they land, their Passage pay,

And to Spring Gardens, tread the beck’ning way.

‘Hail pleasing Shades! O hail thou secret Grove!

The blest Retreat of Liberty and Love.

All hail, ye Bow’rs! Ye beaut’ous Silvan Scenes,

Ye Grotts, and Mazes of fresh blooming Greens;

Here dwells no Care, no matrimonial Strife,

The peevish Husband, nor the bawling Wife;

Here’s no Restraint to make our Pleasures cloy,

We part at will, and as we please enjoy

See how the Birds by Nature taught to rove,

How sweet they sing, and how like us they love.

With careless Ease they hop from Tree to Tree,

And are as Merry, and as blest as we.

Thrice happy State! Each am’rous Trulla says,

And baits with Poison all the various ways;

The Walks are fill’d with Throngs of different Sort,

From Fleet Street, Drury, and incog., from Court.

To these fair Shades, see Belles and Beaus advance,

Some sigh, some sing, some whistle, and some dance.

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever