Tag Archive | Handel

Lady P and Susana Visit Vauxhall Gardens (Part I)

Agatha Tate, Lady Pendleton

Agatha Tate, Lady Pendleton

Susana: Readers, I am elated to report to you that Lady Pendleton has finally granted my wish to travel back in time with her. We are going to Vauxhall—a place that no longer exists in this century—and I am going to actually stroll down the Dark Walks and see for myself what is going on behind the bushes.

Lady P: Now Susana, you will promise to behave as a proper lady would or there will be no trip to the past for you. Ever.

Susana [rolling her eyes]: Whatever you say, your ladyship.

Lady P [inspecting Susana’s clothing]: The gown your mother made you is unexceptionable, I suppose. The hair will have to do since there is no time to have Izzie [her abigail] work her magic on it.

Susana [peering into the mirror]: I think it looks fabulous with the ringlets piece added.

gown427-4Lady P: Of course you do. [Shakes her head.] Now, as for the accent… I suppose I can pass you off as American as I did with Helena [from A Home for Helena], but it would be best if you said as little as possible and allowed me to do the talking.

Susana [eyes widening]: Now wait a minute…

Lady P [straightening her posture]: Do you wish to go or not?

Susana: Yes!

Lady P: Then…

Susana: I promise to follow your lead, my lady. [Aside] This is going to be great! I’ll tell you all about it when I get back!

***

I wanted to arrive by boat, but her ladyship clearly did not trust me not to overturn it and cause a scandal, so we went by carriage instead. Although it was shiny and black and carried the Pendleton crest, it was nothing like the Dress Coach owned by the Emperor Franz Josef that I saw a few weeks ago at the Carriage Museum here in Florida. The interior was a lovely purple velvet, and the seats were reasonably comfortable, although the ride was definitely jerkier than riding in an automobile. The springs were fairly good; however, I know I’d get nauseous if I ever tried to read anything in one of these things.

Entering a carriage with a long dress and train is not the easiest thing to do, even with a set of steps and coachman to hold your hand. But I assure you that leaving the carriage is even more hazardous. My foot got caught in my train and I ended up falling into the coachman’s arms. He seemed taken aback for a few seconds, and then set me firmly upon the ground and afterward straightened his fine purple and gold coat. Lady P shook her head, looked around quickly to see if anyone was watching, and then took my arm and dragged me to the entrance.

This a photo taken from a scene you can see at the Museum of London. The costumes are too early, of course, but Lady P would not let me bring a camera along.

This a photo taken from a scene you can see at the Museum of London. The costumes are too early, of course, but Lady P would not let me bring a camera along, so you’ll have to imagine 1817 costumes instead.

My first impression of Vauxhall Gardens was the brilliance of the thousands of lanterns in the trees. I briefly wondered how long it took someone to light all those lanterns and how safe it was to have burning flames in trees, but then someone bumped into me and I became aware that the place was teeming with people. People of all sizes and shapes and social classes. Elegantly-dressed ladies and gentlemen with canes and reticules strolled on the same ground as working-class folk in their Sunday best. Some were dancing in front of the orchestra building while others stood on the outskirts chatting and laughing, some leaning on trees. I stood there, mesmerized by the colors, sounds, and smells until her ladyship informed me that she had bespoken a supper-box.

“Are we going to have shaved ham as thin as paper?” I asked eagerly. Everyone knows that the food at Vauxhall was overpriced. That was how they made a profit. Nothing has changed in that regard. In modern times you still pay unreasonable prices for food at airports and amusement parks like Cedar Point.

A nearby gentleman eyed me suspiciously, and Lady P reminded me that I had promised to keep talking to a minimum.

Squidgeworth and the Handel statue that used to sit in Vauxhall Gardens

Squidgeworth and the Handel statue that used to sit in Vauxhall Gardens

The supper-box was simply a covered nook supplied with a table and benches on three sides. The supper-box paintings were long gone, as I knew from having blogged on Vauxhall for nearly a year. I had seen some of them at the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the statue of Handel. I craned my neck to look around for it, but couldn’t remember where it was in 1817, since it had been relocated many times its ±200 years in the gardens. The waiter (nattily dressed in fawn breeches with a turquoise shirt and purple waistcoat) who promptly appeared to take our food order said it was in the eastern alcove on the ground floor of the Orchestra. He seemed surprised to hear that I was interested in seeing it. I guess it was old and boring to people of 1817. I seemed to recall that it was removed from the Gardens soon after. Well, tastes change over time. What attracted people in the 17th century seemed tame by the 19th century. Vauxhall lasted for so much longer than others did primarily because its owners continually sought to re-invest their profits into upgraded facilities and entertainment.

Isaac Cruikshank, A Country Farmer & Waiter at Vauxhall. A farmer in country dress, on his first visit to Vauxhall, has ordered ham in expectation of a plateful of English gammon. When the waiter brings him the notoriously thin slices that were Vauxhall ham, the farmer is furious.

Isaac Cruikshank, A Country Farmer & Waiter at Vauxhall. A farmer in country dress, on his first visit to Vauxhall, has ordered ham in expectation of a plateful of English gammon. When the waiter brings him the notoriously thin slices that were Vauxhall ham, the farmer is furious.

Mr. Jackson (the waiter) was much more eager to tell of us Madame Saqui’s upcoming performance on the tightrope. He told us she had been a personal favorite of the former emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and had even crossed the Seine River on a tightrope. She had been performing at Covent Garden in the past year since the war with France ended, and the proprietors were over the moon to have snagged her for Vauxhall. I wanted to get up and head over to the venue immediately, but her ladyship insisted I remain until the food arrived, since she had been required to pay for it first (Waiters were more like independent contractors. They had to pay for the food themselves when they picked it up from the kitchen.)

We had plates of ham and chicken, cheese, salad, and a plate of cakes and custards, with wine to drink, which I did with good humor, even though I don’t normally drink wine. Any Regency author worth her salt should know that you don’t go around ordering water in that time period, since it wasn’t safe. Since I don’t like the taste of wine, I didn’t mind that it wasn’t of good quality. Lady P winced when she drank it, though. But she said it was definitely better than the cooking wine she had been reduced to drinking in my alcohol-free kitchen in Toledo. [She was quick to learn to pick out the good wines at the nearby liquor store, though.]

orchestra

The music varied from military tunes to softer ballads and classical music, much by Handel, as Lady P informed me (being not terribly knowledgeable about music). “Cherry Ripe” and “Lass of Richmond Hill” were among them. It was simply fascinating to sit there eating and listening to the music and watching all the people enjoy the atmosphere. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was really there. In Vauxhall Gardens. In 1817. With real Regency-era people. Wow. Just wow.

More next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel!

Lady P and Susana Visit Vauxhall Gardens, Part I

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part II

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part III

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part IV

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part V

Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes

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!

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.

furniture002

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.

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 Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes

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 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.

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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.

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