Tag Archive | David Coke & Alan Borg

Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell for Ever

vauxhallbook

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 Final Season: 18-25 July, 1859

blog_vauxhall playbill 07353-1

The Public is respectfully informed that this celebrated Place of Amusement, after an existence of nearly a Century and a Half, and receiving within its Portals the elite of the World is DOOMED TO BE DESTROYED; on Tuesday 26th Workmen will commence taking down the whole of the Buildings, and clearing the Ground in order to Let it for Building purposes. It is therefore with great pleasure that Mr G Stevens, for thirty five years connected with the establishment, informs the public that, through the kindness of the owner of the property, he is enabled to open the Gardens for The last Illuminations! The last Concerts! The Last Horsemanship! The Last Fireworks! The Last Music! The last Dancing! The Last Suppers! And The Last Punch!

On the last night, the “Grand Illumination Gala” included a military band in the Old Orchestra, a juvenile ballet; an equestrian troupe in the Rotunda, as well as numerous acrobats and rope dancers. Dancing on the new Leviathan platform ended with the usual fireworks, but no balloons.

The doors opened at 7 p.m., admission was only 1s, and over fifteen thousand people attended. At the end of the evening Mr. Russell Grover sang the last song, Nevermore shall I return; the last dance was a gallop and, after a short period of silence, the National Anthem was played. Then people began running to the trees on the platform breaking off twigs as souvenirs. Arthur Munby was there and recorded in his diary:

To Vauxhall. It was the last night: dense crowds of people filled the gardens: the circus, the ballet, the dancing & concerts, the supper-rooms, the rifle shooting, the fortune telling, the colored maps and the statues in the long walks—all were there as usual; there was no sign of dissolution: there was nothing in the noisy gaiety of the people (except perhaps that noisy gaiety itself) to show that they knew they were meeting there for the last time. But over all, in large letters formed of colored lamps, hung the words ‘Farewell for ever.’ These were the moral of it all… It is indeed much for a thoughtful man, to have seen the last of Vauxhall: to muse for the last time in those dim lighted alleys, and cry Vanitas vanitatum, and call up melancholy shows of Kings & Court ladies to put to shame the living laughing crowd: but the real sting is, that it is all over.

It’s all gone

All moveable items were sold at auction at bargain prices. The property itself, which was by now extremely valuable for development, was divided up into building plots. The only building left standing today—and it is nearly unrecognizable at this point—is the house that was originally built for the widow of Jonathan Tyers the younger.

pavilion and colonade

Anon., The Pavilion and Colonnade, Vauxhall Gardens, watercolour, November 1859 (Houghton Library, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard Theatre Collection, Evert Jansen Wendell Bequest, TS 943.6.8F). The pictures have been removed from the walls and workmen prepare for the final demolition.

Why did Vauxhall close?

The weather was always a problem, and became a standing joke that farmers could always count on rain on the day of Vauxhall’s opening for the season. As the years passed, however, “an increasing number of covered areas, where entertainment could be provided even in a downpour” were introduced. Inclement weather is nothing new to outdoor events, but generally “if the attraction is good enough, the public will put up with the rain and the inconvenient delays or postponements associated with bad weather.”

Essentially, though, the Gardens failed to appeal to the Victorian middle classes.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries visitors to Vauxhall would experience an idealized version of a rural idyll—trees, walks and nightingales, supplemented increasingly by music, dining, drinking and man-made illusions… By the end of the eighteenth century, however, it was not enough; the changes in the structure of London society… brought to the gardens a new, less sophisticated clientele for whom the rural idyll no longer exerted its traditional charm. Londoners increasingly saw themselves as citizens of a great industrial power that was coming to dominate the world through trade and military might… [T]he new audiences wanted to be entertained, amazed and thrilled by new attractions that appealed to the self-confident and patriotic spirit of the age.

Madame Saqui’s daring high wire act and Charles Green’s balloons kept the place running long past the time it would naturally have folded. Expensive new novelties added rarely paid for themselves. Inept management and annual battles with magistrates over the renewal of the license—which resulted in increasing restrictions—also contributed to Vauxhall’s demise.

“There was, of course, always a significant section of the potential Vauxhall audience who opposed all attempts to turn the gardens into a modern popular attraction and pined for the good old days under Tyers.” However, in its beginnings, the Vauxhall area was largely rural. “The creeping urbanisation of the area brought with it the seeds of the final failure of the gardens. As they were no longer truly rural, the original reason for their existence disappeared. Yet if they were to offer little more than the theatres and music halls, they were a long way from the centre of town.”

A-photograph-of-Vauxhall--007

Vauxhall Gardens, photograph, c.1859 (Lambeth Landmark, 1259). One of only two known nineteenth-century photographs of the gardens. Lit by the setting sun, the figures in the foreground are standing on the New Monster (or Leviathan) Platform and give an idea of the scale of the Orchestra, the original building of 1758 much altered and lamp-encrusted. The caryatids supporting the sounding board were probably added during the remodeling of 1845.

Vauxhall, farewell forever

 

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: The Final Years, Part IV

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!

Financial Setbacks & Bankruptcy

Vauxhall had suffered financial setbacks regularly over the years, but especially in its later years, when it changed hands frequently. Bankruptcy was declared in 1840, when the gardens were closed and auctions were held for “all sorts of fittings and decorations from the gardens, including many of the paintings; the Royal Nassau balloon, which had originally cost over £2000 was sold to [balloonist] Green for £500.”

Nevertheless, it opened again in 1841, when George Catlin’s “Red Indians” were introduced to the gardens. These tableaux vivant were made up of, in Catlin’s own words:

twenty living figures in Indian costumes, forming groups of their ceremonies, domestic scenes and warfare. These were got up and presented with much labour to myself, and gave great satisfaction; as by them I furnished so vivid and lifelike an illustration of Indian life as I had seen it in the wilderness.

From the satirical magazine Punch:

We wended our way to the ‘royal property’, to take a last look at the long-expiring gardens. It was a wet night—the lamps burnt dimly—the military band played in the minor key—the waiters stalked about with so silent, melancholy a tread, that we took their towels for pocket-handkerchiefs; the concert in the open rain went off tamely—dirge-like, in spite of the ‘Siege of Acre’, which was described in a set of quadrilles, embellished with blue fire and maroons, and adorned with a dozen drums, thumped at intervals, like death notes, in various parts of the doomed gardens. The divertissement was anything but diverting, when we reflect upon the impending fate of the ‘Rotunda’, in which it was performed.

Although it was announced that ‘Vauxhall would positively close its doors for ever’ on September 8th, 1841, it did open again for the 1842 season, but despite new acts such as Ducrow’s questions (now under the management of his black protégé, Mungo) and the exhibition of Napoleon’s state carriage taken from Waterloo, the gardens remained unprofitable. Vauxhall did not open at all in 1843.

In 1844, the new lessee brought the “Ioway Indians” to Vauxhall. An native encampment was established “on the old Waterloo Ground, from which the party of fourteen (three chiefs, five braves, four squaws, a child and a papoose) emerged from wigwams. They performed only in the afternoon and stayed in lodgings at night.”

This arrangement was one of very great pleasure to the Indians, as it allowed a free space to exercise in during their leisure hours, amongst trees and shrubbery, affording them almost a complete resumption of Indian life in the wilderness, as they had the uninterrupted range of the gardens during the hours that the public were not there to witness their amusements.

The next few years, surprisingly, were quite profitable for Vauxhall, with upgrades and new acts such as Monsieur Musard, “Napoleon of the Quadrille,” with his band of a hundred musicians.

Master Juba

One of the most famous of all Vauxhall performers, William Henry Lane, was an import from the saloons and dance halls of Manhattan.

juba-vauxhall

Anon., Juba at Vauxhall Gardens, engraving (David Coke’s collection) from the Illustrated London News (5 August 1848), 77. William Henry Lane, known as Master Juba, created a sensation in London and was known as the “Dancinest fellow ever was”. He is credited with the invention of tap-dancing.

Playing the banjo and the tambourine, he was known as the “Dancinest fellow ever was’ and hailed as the inventor of tap-dancing. Dickens made him famous in his American Notes, describing a lively young negro, who is the wit of the assembly, and the greatest dancer ever known. He never leaves off making queer faces, and is the delight of all the rest, who grin from ear to ear incessantly.”

Originally one of six so-called “Ethiopian Serenaders”, Juba was unquestionably the most talented although it was at Vauxhall where he became a star attraction. From the Illustrated London News:

How could Juba enter into their wonderful complications so naturally? How could he tie his legs into such knots, and fling them about so recklessly, or make his feet twinkle until you lose sight of them altogether in his energy. The great Boz immortalised him; and he deserved the glory thus conferred.

The Final Seasons

royal vauxhall gardens

Poster advertising Van Amburgh and Juba, 1848 (British Library, London, EVAN.474). This illustrates current attractions at the gardens and features (clockwise from top left): the Grand View of Constantinople; the Grand Orchestra; the Rotunda Theatre; the Ballet Theatre; the Coral Cave; the Pavilion and Musical Promenade; the Neptune Fountain; and C.W. Pell’s Serenaders.

In spite of continued financial problems, Vauxhall limped on a few more years, with a lion tamer renowned for putting his head the lions’ mouths (Van Amburgh), the Algerine Family (“clothed in rich Arabian silks and reclining on luxurious divans”), boat races, masquerades, the Great Italian Singers (1851), military fetes featuring the Crimean War, and the American bareback rider, Mr. James Robinson in 1859.

But when the last night came, on 13 October, it must have been clear to all that Vauxhall could continue no longer.

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: The Final Decades, Part III

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 early 1830’s marked a low period in Vauxhall’s fortunes. The weather was often poor, causing cancellations of particular events, especially fireworks. There seems to have been a lack of cash for either further investment or spectacular displays.

Among the newer attractions were Michael Boai, the ‘celebrated Chin Melodist’; Joel, the ‘Altonian Siffleur’, who imitated birds; the Singers of the Alps; Don Santiago, the Lilliputian King, only 27 inches high; the great Boa Constrictor and Anaconda. Forty thousand attended on September 8, 1830 when the gardens were free all day to celebrate the coronation of William IV.

In 1832, charity events, flower shows, and other special events were held as a way of increasing income.  “Many of these events were run under the leadership of aristocratic or even royal patrons and attracted wealthy visitors.” These included a Ladies Bazaar and Fete Champetre in aid of the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear; a Fancy Fair sponsored by the Duchess of Kent for the cause of restoring the Lady Chapel at St. Saviour’s Church, Southwark; a fete for the abolition of slavery (1834), and the ‘Superb Gala for the benefit of the Distressed Poles’.

Ballooning

Balloon ascents had been taking place at Vauxhall since 1802, but it wasn’t until the 1820’s and Charles Green that regular balloon ascents and rides were held, generating much-needed income to keep the gardens a viable enterprise.

Green’s first flight was from Green Park on 19 July 1821 in honor of William IV’s coronation. Green’s balloons were larger because he used coal gas instead of hydrogen, which was easier and safer to inflate, as well as cheaper and less harmful to the silk canopy.  Green’s

first flights from Vauxhall took place in July 1826. These were the first ever night ascents in Britain and were the climax of the firework displays. The aeronaut could be observed launching rockets and other incendiary devices from the car of the balloon beneath the main canopy.

Not only was Green a serious scientist, but also a skilled showman, which was a winning combination for Vauxhall. “In 1832 he and a ‘scientific gentleman’ went up at 6 p.m. To measure air pressures and carry out other experiments with barometers.”

Balloon ascents were the main reason for daytime opening. For the afternoon openings, Green staged balloon races with his brother and other family members, also giving rides to members of the public. Dickens went to see the spectacle and left a vivid description:

So we retraced our steps to the firework-ground, and mingled with the little crowd of people who were contemplating Mr. Green.

Some half-dozen men were restraining the impetuosity of one of the balloons, which was completely filled, and had the car already attached; and as rumors had gone abroad that a Lord was ‘going up’, the crowd were more than usually anxious and talkative. […] Just at this moment all eyes were directed to the preparations which were being made for starting. The car was attached to the second balloon, the two were brought pretty close together, and a military band commenced playing, with a zeal and fervor which would render the most timid man in existence but too happy to accept any means of quitting that particular spot on earth on which they were stationed. Then Mr. Green, sen., and his noble companion entered one car, and Mr. Green, jun., and his companion the other; and then the balloons went up, and the aerial travelers stood up, and the crowd outside roared with delight, and the two gentlemen who had never ascended before, tried to wave their flags, as if they were not nervous, but held on very fast all the while.

The Royal Vauxhall balloon

The proprietors of the gardens financed part of this balloon, which was intended by Green to be three times bigger than any previous gas ballon.

Measuring 150 feet in circumference and 80 feet high when inflated, it consisted of 2000 yards of raw Italian skill, dyed crimson and white and made up by Mssrs Soper of Spitalfields. Alternate 90-foot lengths were then stitched and glued together, producing a striking striped effect. The whole surface was coated in a varnish devised by Green himself and encased in a net of ropes. The car… was made of wickerwork, oblong in shape, with a bench seat all round the inside. On the exterior there were large gilded eagles at either end, and the sides were draped with purple and crimson velvet, richly embroidered. The cost of the whole machine was put at £2100, but since members of the public were charged for flights at the rate of £21 for gentlemen and £10 10s for ladies, this was soon recouped… Despite the cost, the public demand for flights was insatiable, as Benjamin Disraeli commented in 1837: ‘There is no news today: everything is rather flat and the room is thin as the world have gone to see the monster balloon rise from Vauxhall.

The Great Balloon of Nassau

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Hollins, A Consultation prior to the Aerial Voyage to Weilburgh, oil on canvas, 1836. Green is seated on the right, discussing the voyage with Robert Holland; between them stands Thomas Monck Mason, while the group by the window comprises (left to right) Walter Prideaux, Hollins himself and Sir William Melbourne James. The balloon is visible in the gardens behind them. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

On 7 November 1836—without any prior notice—Thomas Monck Mason, Robert Holland, and Green took off in an attempt at a long-distance record. Financed by Holland, the provisions included 40 pounds of ham, beef and tongue, 45 pounds of fowls, as well as preserves, sugar, bread, and biscuits—not to mention two gallons each of sherry, port and brandy, and a device for heating coffee using quicklime.

Carried along on a north-westerly breeze, they passed Canterbury at 4 p.m., dropping a message for the mayor by parachute. Night fell after their Channel crossing between Dover and Calais so they sat down to a substantial supper.… Once it was light Green began seeking a landing site and brought the balloon safely to earth at 7:30 a.m., near the town of Wilbur in the Duchy of Nassau. The aeronauts had flown 480 miles in eighteen hours, easily setting the world record for the longest balloon flight.

More Balloons

Balloons with parachutes had been done since the 1790’s, and Robert Cocking developed a theory of aerodynamics that unfortunately led to his death. Besides the fact that his theory was faulty, the parachute was far too large and heavy. Green and others tried to dissuade him, but he was adamant, and when the parachute was detached from the balloon, it sunk like a stone, and Cocking died within ten minutes of landing from a serious head wound. Vauxhall held a benefit night for Cocking’s widow and Queen Victoria sponsored a public subscription to raise funds for her as well.

cocking's parachute

The tragedy of Cocking’s upside-down parachute

The plan for a lion tamer and a Bengali tiger to ascend never came to fruition, banned by the magistrate. “In 1850 Green went up on horseback, with his unfortunate mount locked onto a wooden platform by its hooves.

Handbill advertising Green's ascent on horseback, 31 July 1850 (Museum of London, A8955). This appears to be a complimentary ticket issued by Green himself. The flight did take place, with the horse firmly locked in place by the hooves.

Handbill advertising Green’s ascent on horseback, 31 July 1850 (Museum of London, A8955). This appears to be a complimentary ticket issued by Green himself. The flight did take place, with the horse firmly locked in place by the hooves.

George Cruikshank’s Comic Almanac for 1851

Would you want to have lived near Vauxhall with all these stunts taking place? The following piece purports to be from a disgruntled local resident:

Sir, I reside near a place of popular amusement ‘al fresco’. I am of a cheerful though quiet disposition, and should be perfectly happy but for one circumstance. During the entire summer season I am in a continual state of terror from balloons.

It was in my front garden that the Ourang-outrang descended in a parachute in 1836. I then said nothing of the annoyance caused by the mob rushing into my lawn and scrambling for fragments of the machine, of the destruction effected among my crockery by the animal attempting to escape through my scullery, nor of the alarm which his sudden appearance in the Dining room excited in the bosoms of myself and my family. I thought the balloon mania had reached its highest pitch—no such thing, Sir. After that came the Nassau Balloon which used to take a dozen people up at once exactly over my house, about once a week; till a terrible dream haunted me of seeing the whole party discharged into my premises.

Then Balloons with fireworks, waking me up every other night, and gazing at one of which, out of a window, I received a sudden blow in the eye from a firework case, descending fifteen hundred feet perpendicularly. My next alarm was occasioned by a hamper of champagne, which during a ‘perilous descent’, when a valve gave way, some intrepid aeronaut pitched through my roof at midnight.

Now folks go up on horseback. Can I walk at ease in my garden and know that the veteran Green is three miles above me, performing equestrian feats in the air? Pray, Sir, exert your influence in my behalf, or we shall shortly hear of a ‘Terrific Ascent in a cab,’ to be eclipsed by ‘First ascent of the Monster Balloon, taking up the Pimlico Omnibus.’.

not in my backyard

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: The Final Decades, Part II

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!

C.H. Simpson: Master of Ceremonies

C.H. Simpson had held this office since 1797, but it wasn’t until 1826 that the decision was made to promote him as a “character” in the Gardens. “Thackeray described him as ‘the gentle Simpson, that kind smiling idiot.'”

He was renowned for his excessive politeness, servile manner and elaborate bows. With his top hat and silver-mounted cane, trademarks from the beginning his time at Vauxhall, he could easily be seen as a figure of fun. In his later years he came to be regarded as one of the great attractions of the place, greeting all visitors with his special brand obsequious courtesy.

George Cruikshank, with C.H. Simpson in the center raising his hat

George Cruikshank, with C.H. Simpson in the center raising his hat

Simpson’s exaggerated and hyperbolic style is amply demonstrated in the flowery language of his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of C.H. Simpson, Master of Ceremonies at the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall, from his Earliest Youth to the Sixty-fifth Year of his Age (Written by Myself, London, 1835)… He stated that…he was saved from drowning in a bathtub, aged three, by the family’s Newfoundland dog (called William Tell). In 1781 he joined the Royal Navy and took part in a major naval engagement in the Caribbean, the Battles of Saintes. He then enlisted as a second mate on a merchantman and sailed to New Zealand. Another voyage took him to China, but a terrible storm on the return passage determined him not to go to sea again. When he was twenty-one, already working at Vauxhall, he was set to marry a girl called Julia…; on discovering her with another, he broke off the engagement and remained a bachelor all his life.

Since almost every visitor to Vauxhall was met by Simpson there are many descriptions of him.

The appearance of this gentleman was in keeping with the oddity of his character. He was a short man, with a large head, a plain face, pitted with the small-pox, a thin thatch of hair plastered with pomatum and powder. His body and limbs were encased in black cloth of antique cut, and occasionally his head was covered with a hat as heavy as a coal-scuttle, or a life-guardsman’s helmet. This awkwardly constructed piece of felt was more often in his hand than on his head. He was continually bowing to everybody he met […] he was the very climax of obsolete politeness; the most obsequious and painstaking man to oblige everybody and express his gratitude for their condescension in giving trouble, that I ever remember to have met with.

According to another writer: ‘the moment he hears the faintest hum of an uproar, he glides away to the locus in quo, and it is miraculous to see how soon he gets to the core of the commotion. He pierces through the mob like an eel in mud.’

Robert Cruikshank, C.H. Simpson Esq.' M.C.R.G.V., engraving, 1833 (Lambeth Landmark 1301). The Master of Ceremonies is shown welcoming the Duke of Wellington, 19 August 1833, on the occasion of his benefit night. Cruikshank drew this scene in the gardens on the spot; the huge illuminated figure of Simpson was one of the special effects created for the event.

Robert Cruikshank, C.H. Simpson Esq.’ M.C.R.G.V., engraving, 1833 (Lambeth Landmark 1301). The Master of Ceremonies is shown welcoming the Duke of Wellington, 19 August 1833, on the occasion of his benefit night. Cruikshank drew this scene in the gardens on the spot; the huge illuminated figure of Simpson was one of the special effects created for the event.

Simpson’s obsequious manner was also put to use in diffusing difficult situations that arose in the gardens. If he was jostled by drunken diners, or had port splashed over his white gloves and waistcoat, he would ‘bow himself dry again’ and smile upon ‘the boorish Bacchanalian’ as though conferring the highest honour upon him.

The Battle of Waterloo

Although Vauxhall had frequently held military-themed galas and fetes, these were nothing like the stunning re-enactments performed at Astley’s Amphitheatre. Based on a play by Henry Amherst, the battle re-creation had three acts and up to the 90 riders, in addition to a huge cast of soldiers and impressive special effects.

Unsurprisingly, the Vauxhall proprietors figured they could do the same at Vauxhall, with more space and a more realistic setting.

In preparation for the show an area was cleared on either side of the firework tower, with shrubs and ornamental trees removed. The firework gallery itself was enlarged for viewers, and several supper-boxes were removed to give a clearer view from the walks in 1827. The Battle of Waterloo was to be performed by Mr Cooke’s stable of horses and his own troupe of equestrians; Cooke, a rival and imitator of Durrow based at the Royal Amphitheater in Liverpool, claimed that his Vauxhall show would involve more than a thousand performers. Every detail of the action was acted out and the performance concluded with a huge firework display, int he course of which Cooke promised to mount

His celebrated Charger, Bucephalus, and, at full speed, ride up a nearly perpendicular Rock, to the Temple of Fame, at the summit of the Fire-Work Tower, and there deposit the British and French Colours as an Emblem of Amity, in the Temple of Concord, a Feat unequalled in the Annals of Horsemanship.

This indeed took place and all were impressed by the fact that after the fiery ascent Cooke’s mount remained perfectly docile, despite the huge explosions of fireworks all around.

A review from The Times of 19 July 1827:

These Gardens presented the fullest attendance of visitors on Monday evening which we ever remember to have witnessed in that favorite scene of amusement. The leading attraction on this occasion consisted of a grand spectacle representing the Battle of Waterloo. […] We were by no means prepared to anticipate so high a degree of illusion as the exhibition of last Monday occasionally produced in the mind. […] As near a resemblance of the field of action as possible, with the various buildings of the farm-houses of La Belle Alliance, Hogomont &c was effected, aided by the trees, which, without much effort of imagination, where converted into the original wood that covered the rear of the British line. Here several hundred soldiers, horse and foot, personated the French and British troops; and after going through numerous evolutions, which were somewhat tedious, commenced the engagement, by the former attacking the wood and chateau of Hugomont, the walls of which were loopholed by British soldiers. The various features of the great battle of Waterloo were then successively presented, some of which were managed in a way that excited feelings of considerable interest. Others were, as might be expected, rather feeble, but the general effect was certainly striking; particularly when the chateau was in flames and the hostile armies furiously engaged in front of it; while here and there detached objects, such as an ammunition wagon blowing up, various single combats on horseback and on foot, Buonaparte flying from the field in his chariot, together with the roaring of the artillery, the continued discharge of musketry, and the dense clouds of smoke in which the whole scene was occasionally enveloped, imparted to it an appearance of reality, that almost rendered it independent of any effort of fancy for the moment to produce a strong illusion. The spectators seemed very much delighted with the spectacle, and from time to time loudly applauded the performance.

Of course, not everyone was so complimentary. Older folk lamented the days when one could go to Vauxhall for a pleasant evening of music and social discourse. The younger generation tended to think it was fabulous. Twelve-year-old Albert Smith:

The Battle of Waterloo was being represented on the firework ground, and I could not divest myself of the idea that it was a real engagement I was witnessing, as the sharpshooters fired from behind the trees, the artillery wagon blew up, and the struggle and conflagration took place at Hougomont. When I stood years afterwards at the real battle-field, I was disappointed in its effect, I thought it ought to have been a great deal more like Vauxhall.

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: The Final Decades, Part I

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!

Changing Up

Thomas Bish and Frederick Gye, who took over management of the Gardens in 1821, decided that “the traditional formula of concerts, suppers, and fireworks” had to be expanded in order to compete with Astley’s Amphitheatre and the West End theaters. In addition to a revamped decor and a grand Panoramic Scene “in lieu of the old Cascade,’ a Grand Masked Fete in honor of the coronation of George IV was held on July 23. Among the attractions was a 24-foot transparency of “His Majesty in his Coronation Robes, with a distant view of Westminster Abbey, attended by Minerva, and a great number of Allegorical figures” painted by Henry Singleton RA. This lavish event included

  • numerous illuminated devices, representing ‘national trophies… designed for the occasion
  • Monsieur Chalons, magician
  • Ramo Samee, Indian juggler
  • Mr. Wilson, tightrope performer
  • Mr. Gyngell’s troop of tightrope dancers
  • Fantoccini and his Ombres Chinoises (shadow puppets)
  • dancers, including the “celebrated English morris dancers”
  • military savoyards, Pandeans, Scotch, and other bands
  • premier performance of A Grand National Ode by the orchestra
  • supper by Mr. Ward of Bond Street
  • performance of one of Handel’s coronation anthems

This very successful event was repeated the next day, but the death of Queen Caroline of Brunswick the following day definitively ended any further repetitions.

Transparencies and Optical Devices

The Heptaplasiesoptron, otherwise known as the ‘Fancy Reflective Proscenium’ was built in 1821 by Mr. Bradwell of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. It was composed of

A number of large plates of looking-glass placed in the form of a semi-hexagon, which constitute the walls of the exhibition; and in these seven points of reflection are gained for the view of several illuminated revolving pillars and palm trees, twining serpents, and a fountain of real water; the whole lighted by coloured lamps and brilliant cut-glass chandeliers. Before this splendid scene is exhibited (which is from ten till one o’clock) it is hidden by two curtains of azure-blue silk, richly fringed and ornamented with gold.

 The Submarine Cave:

The Submarine Cave, Royal Gardens, Vauxhall, engraving, 1822 (Boolean Library, Oxford. James Winston Collection, Gough Adds. Surrey C.22, item 2). Painted by the main staff artists, Mr. Thorn and his son Francis, this was one of the new attractions for the 1822 season, the first in which the gardens permitted to use the prefix 'Royal'.

The Submarine Cave, Royal Gardens, Vauxhall, engraving, 1822 (Bodleian Library, Oxford. James Winston Collection, Gough Adds. Surrey C.22, item 2). Painted by the main staff artists, Mr. Thorn and his son Francis, this was one of the new attractions for the 1822 season, the first in which the gardens permitted to use the prefix ‘Royal’.

The back scene of this exhibition is a rich fancy view, consisting of a water-fall, castles, and a fine romantic landscape beyond; this has a peculiarly good effect as a day scene. Before it is placed the rocky entrance to a marine cavern, the arch of which is eighty feet in the interior span; and within this entrance are placed the Water Works. This exhibition commences at 10 o’clock, when it is brilliantly lighted up with concealed lamps.

The Hermitage:

hermit

Anon., The Hermit of Vauxhall, engraving, 1832 (Minet Library, London, Lambeth Archives Department, V. of. 207). This is a rare view of the interior of the Hermitage and of the hermit himself. The verses are a parody of Oliver Goldsmith’s lengthy ballad The Hermit (1765), the first line of which is, ‘Turn, gentle hermit of the dale’.

…Made of wood and canvas, it represented the interior of a hermit’s cottage, with the hermit ready by lamplight. First installed in 1757, this too was painted by Mr Thorn and… was presumably constantly re-painted. The Hermitage became a fixture and was soon supplied with a live hermit, a fortune-teller.

The Thorns: Staff Artists

The Thorns, father and son (Francis), seem to have been the main staff artists…; their task was to change or renew the views and transparencies on show at regular intervals. So industrious were they that it is almost impossible to keep up with the succession of spectacular views that graced the gardens.

Over the years, these included:

diorama

Optical toy or peepshow, color etching on cut sheets of card, 1822 (private collection). This souvenir of a Vauxhall Juvenile Fete folds flat but expands to give an in-depth perspective view of the gardens.

  • “a view of Naples by moonlight, with a vivid representation of Mount Vesuvius during an eruption”
  • Rotterdam by Moonlight
  • Paris from the Observatory
  • a Storm off the Cape of Good Hope
  • Fingal’s Cave
  • Views of Captain Ross’s Voyages to the North Pole
  • a moonlight scene of the ruins of an Italian abbey
  • ‘a stupendous diorama of the Golden Temple of Honan’
  • a model of St. Mark’s Square in Venice
  • ‘a dioramic picture of the proposed new Houses of Parliament after the designs of Mr. Barry’
  • ‘a Grand Moving Panorama of the voyage of the Nassau balloon up to 400 ft in length’.

The Royal Gardens, Vauxhall

Poster, June 1835 (Museum of London, 2007.1/82). From 1822 onwards the proprietors squeezed every ounce of publicity out of the Royal designation of the gardens.

Poster, June 1835 (Museum of London, 2007.1/82). From 1822 onwards the proprietors squeezed every ounce of publicity out of the Royal designation of the gardens.

On June 3, 1822, the gardens opened under a new title, issued by Royal Warrant: “The Royal Gardens, Vauxhall.” The new king had visited the gardens frequently as Prince of Wales, and winning his patronage a great promotional coup. “The main entrance was rebuilt, with a portico surmounted by a large carved Royal Arms.”

Juvenile Fetes for Children

juvenile fete

Poster advertising the Annual Juvenile Fete, 1824 (Lambeth Landmark 1383). The first such event was held on 13 July 1821 and proved so popular that it was decided to feature at least one every year. The attractions offered at Juvenile Fetes differed little from those on ordinary nights, although the songs avoided the doubles entendres designed for adult ears.

Saturday having been long considered problematic due to the objections of evangelical clergymen to keeping the gardens open after midnight, the new proprietors decided to hold a Juvenile Fete for children. “The first of these took place on 13 July 1821, starting at 5:30 and ending by 10 p.m. With much the same program as an ordinary night. It proved hugely popular.”

Dancing in the Gardens

Anon., The Ballet Theatre, brush drawing in grey wash, touched with colored chalks, 1840-45 (British Museum, London, 1966.0212.1). The stage is surrounded by large trees and there is no seating provided.

Anon., The Ballet Theatre, brush drawing in grey wash, touched with colored chalks, 1840-45 (British Museum, London, 1966.0212.1). The stage is surrounded by large trees and there is no seating provided.

Having been granted a licence for Public Music and Dancing (spectator dancing only), “…of the 1823 season two new theaters were erected: one with appropriate scenery and decorations for the Juvenile Ballets; the other, in the Rotunda, for a ‘Novel Entertainment, diversified with dialogue, songs, and imitations’… The first ballet was Cendrillon, danced entirely by children, although adults took part in subsequent years.

The Aerial

Anon., The Aerial, or The Great Unknown, at Vauxhall, engraving, 1825 (Minet Library, London, Lambeth Archives Department, V. of. 153). 'The Aerial' was an eccentric called Joseph Leeming who believed he was a person of unrivaled beauty. His appearances at Vauxhall during the 1825 season were widely reported in the press and provided good free publicity for the gardens.

Anon., The Aerial, or The Great Unknown, at Vauxhall, engraving, 1825 (Minet Library, London, Lambeth Archives Department, V. of. 153). ‘The Aerial’ was an eccentric called Joseph Leeming who believed he was a person of unrivaled beauty. His appearances at Vauxhall during the 1825 season were widely reported in the press and provided good free publicity for the gardens.

The summer of 1825… was most notable for the appearance of one of those strange characters who were drawn to Vauxhall from time to time. This was ‘The Aerial,’ the pseudonym of Joseph Leeming, whose eccentric behavior made him briefly the centre of attention. He claimed that his surpassing beauty was ‘without equal in nature or art, this or in any other age of the globe’. Having arrived in London from Manchester, he donned a blue and silver jacket, theatrical trunks or short breeches, silk stockings and blue kid shoes, with a double frill or ruff round his neck and wristbands trimmed with lace. Once in the gardens, he was taken by most visitors to be one of the performers, because he was not wearing a hat. But towards the end of the evening, people began to ask who or what he was. As The Times of 2 July 1825 reported:

An individual in a splendid dress of Spanish costume has excited much attention at Vauxhall Gardens. Having walked or rather skipped round the promenade, with a great air of consequence, saluting the company as he passed along, he at length mingled amongst the audience in the front of the orchestra, and distributed a number of cards on each which was written ‘The Aerial challenges the whole world to find a man that can in any way compete with him as such.’ After having served about three or four hundred of these challenges, he darted off like lightening, taking the whole circuit of the Gardens in his career, and made his exit through the grand entrance into the road where a carriage was waiting for him, into which he sprang and was driven off.

…His final visit to Vauxhall was on the evening of the Juvenile Fete, when he got drunk, and slept in a cloakroom until morning. After this he was informed that he would be refused entry to the gardens on any future occasion.

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: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III

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!

Madame Saqui

Madame Saqui at Vauxhall

Marguerite-Antoinette Lalanne came from an acrobatic family performing first at provincial fairs in France, and then at the fashionable Tivoli Gardens (‘The Paris Vauxhall’). Madame Saqui, as she was after her marriage,   became so popular in France that Napoleon arranged for her to perform for his army, after which she had her coach painted with an imperial eagle.

Once the War with France had definitively come to an end, Vauxhall proprietors George Rogers Barrett and Jonathan Tyers Barrett were determined to persuade her to come to England to perform at Vauxhall. Her first performance, however, was at Covent Garden Theatre. See the print below “of her descending from the balcony on a tight rope, brandishing two large flags, as the men in the audience look up her skirt with telescopes. The caption reads: ‘A Wonderful THING from PARIS… or Madame SACCHI gratifying John Bulls curiosity, at Covent Garden Theatre, April 1816.’

Madame Saqui at Covent Garden

Madame Saqui at Covent Garden

Prior to the opening of the 1816 Vauxhall Season on 3 June, the advertisements included:

At the end of the first Act Mme and Messrs Sachi will go through a variety of surprising evolutions on the Tight Ropse… at the conclusion of the concert… fireworks… when Madame Sachi, in the midst of a brilliant display of Chinese fire, will perform her astonishing Ascension, as exhibited in the Gardens of Tivoli in Paris. Admission to the Gardens is lowered from 4s to 3s 6d.

The weather was perfect and the crowds flocked to catch a glimpse of the new attraction.  The enormous success of the evening led to announcement that Madame Saqui’s troupe would perform every night until further notice. As they did, virtually every night of every season until 1820.

In her first year at Vauxhall, on the birthday of the Prince Regent, Madame Saqui exhibited her ‘grandest Feat which she had the honor of performing before the Sovereigns of Europe two years since, at Paris’—no doubt one of her spectacular ascents… [In 1819], instead of ascending from the ground, she suddenly appeared in the centre of a blazing star, 60 feet above the heads of the astonished crowd; from this she descended amidst a shower of fire accompanied by martial music. Then she turned round, ran back up the rope to the fiery star, only to be lost to view in a new barrage of fireworks. She also continued to perform with her daughter Adèle, the pair dancing an allemande on two or three ropes.

Vauxhall Madam Saqui Descending In 1816, Madame Saqui ascended and descended a tightrope that was fixed to a sixty foot mast accompanied by a firework display

Madame Saqui left Vauxhall after the close of the season in 1820 to do other things, eventually retiring and falling on hard times. She did come out of retirement at the age of seventy-five, performing at the Hippodrome. A correspondent to L’Intermédiare des chercheurs et des curieux said:

When I was a child, I saw her dance on the tightrope at the Hippodrome; she was seventy-five. It was a pitiful sight to see this decrepit figure in a pink costume, her face the color of faded parchment surmounted by a grotesque diadem. She gained in my childhood memory as an unforgettable image of the evil diary Carabosse.

Musicians

One of the characteristics of many Vauxhall performers long service. “It was not unusual for musicians, including singers, to work each season in the gardens for at least twenty years, and some served for much longer: the kettledrummer Jacob Nelson held the record at fifty years…”

James Hook, composer and organist, was a fixture at the park from 1772-1821, composing “over two thousand songs and  at least twenty organ concertos.”

William Parke, an oboist who joined Vauxhall with his brother John in 1776, composed numerous songs, concertos and other pieces, and also wrote Musical Memoires, which is full of information about the music at Vauxhall.

Strolling Players were the Savoyards , who played French and Venetian ballads in groups of four or five throughout the gardens following the main concert in the Orchestra, on instruments that included flutes and cymbals. The Pandeans (although some considered them to be the same as the Savoyards) played on pan-pipes. “The Duchess of Devonshire is known to have preferred the Pandeans…”

Charles Taylor received £290 in 1812. He

…was one of the longest-serving and most popular Vauxhall singers, especially noted for his comic songs. He first appeared in the gardens in 1794, returning regularly thereafter. He made the speech on the last night of the season several times and, unusually for a vocalist, rose to become Director of Music in 1822.

Mrs. Bland first appeared in 1790, retiring in 1823.

21 Mrs Bland THUMB

Described as ‘the sweet-voiced, dumpy little ballad singer’, she was said to have ‘refused an offer [for the 1789 season] of the Vauxhall Managers, to the tune of one hundred and sixty guineas.’ Her voice was ideally suited to the countless ballads that Hook and others wrote for her. Sometimes these demanded special effects—in June 1818, for example, she sang a new song by Parke, which was echoed in a distant part of the gardens by a bugle-horn.

Catherine (Kitty) Stephens, an actress and soprano, married the 5th Earl of Essex in 1838.

Miss Stephens

Charles Dignum first appeared in 1794, but became notable at Vauxhall during the first two decades of the 19th century. “He was well-known for his duets with Mrs Bland, especially Long Time I’ve Courted You, Miss,  a dialogue between a shy sailor and a flirtatious lady.

John Braham, a popular operatic tenor, made his first appearance at Vauxhall as a boy soprano in 1787, “returning as an established star for the season of 1826, for the enormous fee of 800 guineas.”

Miss Feron (Fearon), known for her imitative talent, performed “a new comic song by Parke called The Romp or the Great Catalani, in which she used her powers of mimicry to parody the famous Italian soprano.” This act became so popular that it was repeated often and Parke writes:

…The recitative which introduces the air, ending with the words Great Catalini, it became necessary, in order to make the music accord with the poetry, to repeat a part of the last word, by which it read thus: Great Cat, Great Catalani. This, I was informed, gave umbrage to the lady, who, having perhaps an aversion to the feline race, said that she liked the song very well, with the exception of the Great Cat in it.”

Comic Songs

Parke’s Great Catalani was an early example of the double-entendre, that came to dominate the music hall… The words of many of these songs were published and sold at the gardens, so that the public came to know them by heart and to glamour for their repeated performance.

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: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II

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!

Grand Military Fetes and Displays

The first record of a military fete was on 30 May 1786, the day after the Jubilee, when transparencies of British men-of-war by the marine painter John Thomas Serres (1759-1825) were presented with other decorations, including a representation of the British lion trampling the Spanish flag. The newly formed Duke of York’s Band played military airs and was to perform regularly in the gardens until 1816. This period saw an increasing presence of soldiers and military bands, theoretically in response to the threat of invasion from France, but more directly in an attempt to rival the jingoistic displays to be seen at Astley’s. In 1787 the Cascade, the most famous of Vauxhall attractions in the eighteenth century, included marching soldiers. These military displays gradually expanded and needed more space, so from 1816 the Cascade site was used by Madame Saqui’s rope-dancing troupe.

Eventually, grand military fetes to celebrate actual events involved firework displays.

On 11 June 1810, Mizra Abul Hassan Khan wrote about his visit to the Gardens for the Grand Oriental Fete in honour of the Persian Ambassador:

The avenues were lighted by rows of tall candelabra and by lanterns hung from trees. In one place there were fireworks: when they did not rise high enough, everyone laughed and said ‘Shocking!’ The fireworks ended with the name of the Qibleh of the Universe written in Persian letters! Everyone appreciated this display and clapped their hands together. From there we went to a large covered place, beautifully lighted and decorated, like a theatre in the city. It was built to accommodate 5000 people in case of rain. After the fireworks, some people sat down to eat; later they danced.

American Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code, visiting on 17 September 1811:

A few evenings since I visited the celebrated Vauxhall Gardens, of which you have doubtless often heard. I must say they far exceeded my expectations; I never before had an idea of such splendor. The moment I went in I was almost struck blind with the blaze of light proceeding from thousands of lamps and those of every color. […] All is gayety throughout the gardens; every one is in motion, and care, that bane of human happiness, for a time seems to have lost her dominion over the human heart. Had the Eastern sage, who was in search of the land of happiness, at this moment been introduced into Vauxhall, I think his ost exalted conceptions of happiness would have been surpassed, and he would rest contented in having at last found the object of his wishes. […] The music and this course of dancing continue till about four o’clock in the morning, when the lights are extinguished and the company disperses. On this evening, which was by now means considered as a full night, the company consisted of perhaps three thousand persons.

vauxhall-pleasure-gardens-00364-800

George Cruikshank, Vauxhall Fete, engraving, 1813 (British Museum, London., 1862.1217.309). This satirical print shows many of the leading figures who attended the Grand Festival in honor of the Battle of Vittoria. On the left the Duke of York vomits against a tree; other notables include the Duke of Sussex in Highland uniform, the Duke of Clarence dressed as an Admiral, the Lord Mayor of London and Lord Castlereigh. On the far right a fat lady exclaims ‘They’re all drunk, the Brutes.’

Grand Festival of the Battle of Vittoria

On 20 July 1813, a Grand Festival of the Battle of Vittoria was held in honor of the then Marquess Wellesley, who attended. “The festival was ‘perhaps the most superb and costly entertainment ever given in England’ and such was its popularity that ‘the limited number’ of tickets ‘was exceeded and, in consequence, from ten to fifteen pounds was offered for a ticket’”. Byron noted:

There is to be a thing on Tuesday ycleped a national fete. The Regent and *** are to be there, and everybody else, who has shillings enough for what was once a guinea. Vauxhall is the scene—there are six tickets issued for the modest women, and it is supposed that there will be three to spare. The passports for the lax are beyond my arithmetic.

At a dinner for twelve hundred people in the Rotunda, the VIPs sat at a crescent-shaped, raised table. There was also

a row of crimson steps covered with massive pieces of ornamental gold and silver plate, with the bust of the Lord Wellington on the summit. At the foot, and leaning against a silver vase of exquisite workmanship, was the Marshal’s staff taken in the battle. Two trumpeters in their state liveries and with silver trumpets, stood forward from the pile, and between them a grenadier of the Guards held the standard of the 100th French regiment of the line.

Neither George III nor the Prince of Wales attended (in spite of Byron’s expectation), but otherwise, the list of attendees was quite impressive. Wellesley arrived late for the dinner and found his seat of honor occupied, but presumably that was quickly dealt with. The ladies joined the party at 9 p.m., and at 11 p.m., the Princess of Wales arrived. She

was conducted around the chief promenade several times by his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester and Col St Leger. The Princess was hailed repeatedly with loud greeting, and repaid the attentions of the company in the most courteous manner. She was dressed ina white satin train with a dark vet and ornaments, richly embroidered. On her head-dress she wore a green wreath, with diamonds.

Even later, “many of the nobility came from the Opera House after the conclusion of the ballet.”

In the course of the evening a new air called The plains of Vitoria was performed by the orchestra, while military bands, including those of the Foot and Life Guards, the Duke of Kent’s Regiment, and the 7th Hussars, played and marched up and down the Walks. ‘The appearance of some of these bands in the forest part of the garden was extremely picturesque, and presented some idea, at times, of soldiers in a campaign regaling and reposing themselves under the shade. The fireworks were set off in three sessions, at 11 p.m. and at 1 and 2 a.m. These were devised and directed by ‘Colonel Congreve’, the inventor of the Congreve Rocket, which was much used in the Napoleonic wars.

Other Military Fetes at Vauxhall

More fabulous military fetes were held in the following year, one of 13 June 1814 to celebrate the Treaty of Paris, and in August, a mock sea battle (Grand Mechanical Naumachia). Although there were fireworks on 15 August 1815 following Napoleon’s surrender at Waterloo, there were no specific events to mark the occasion until 18 June 1817. This became an annual celebration, eventually involving a reconstruction of the battle on the southeast side of the old Grand Walk, which became known as the Waterloo Ground.

View of Vauxhall, Lady's magazine

Anon., View of Vauxhall Gardens, engraving (Lambeth Landmark 1260) from the Lady’s Magazine, XXX (1799), supplement. The walks were covered to counter the rains which proverbially started when the Vauxhall season opened; they were extended all round the Grove in 1810.

 

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series