Tag Archive | Lady P and Susana Visit Vauxhall

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part V

In our last installment, Susana meets Lady Hertford and her son—and the Prince Regent himself!—and mortifies Lady P when she makes two embarrassing faux-pas in quick succession. 

Lady Pendleton [lips pressed together]: The Dark Walks are dark, Susana, and there is nothing of interest to be seen there.

Susana: But isn’t that where rakes meet loose women to—

Lady P: Indeed. Precisely why the place is of no interest to us.

Susana: But I want to—

Lady P: I know you do. But I refuse to countenance it.

Susana [scowling]: I never knew you were such a stick-in-the-mud, Agatha. As I recall, you were the one who insisted on going to that male strip-joint in Detroit. I was always looking over my shoulder hoping not to be seen by any of my former students.

Lady P [with a snort]: I shouldn’t think there was much likelihood of that, considering that outlandish mask you wore.

Susana: But I had to take it off to drink the piña colada. And that was when one of the dancers winked at me. [visibly sweating] He looked a lot like that kid who sat in the back row—what was his name—Jason something, I think. How humiliating!

Lady P: Poppycock! That-er gentleman bore no resemblance to an adolescent of ten and three. In any case, you are no longer teaching.

Susana [brightening]: That is true. Sometimes I forget that. So there’s no reason I can’t take a walk down the Dark Walk.

Lady P [hands on hips]: There most assuredly is! Do recall that I still must live here, with these people and their social mores. [Frowns at Susana’s snort]. Your conduct reflects on me, and I shan’t have you poking around the bushes gawking at ignominious behavior.

Susana [eyebrows raised]: Ignominius? What a great word! I shall have to use it more frequently.

Lady P [chin high and jaw set]: Susana…

Susana: All right, all right. I did promise to follow your lead. But I have to say I never knew you to be such a fuddy-duddy, Agatha. Especially considering your history with the Devonshire set…

Ignoring my last remark, she turned back toward the Orchestra, and after a longing look down the mysterious, shadowed walks, I followed her. I could hear sounds of tiny raindrops on the roof of the covered walk and wondered if the weather might prevent the fireworks display later in the evening. The sprinkle was accompanied by a light breeze, but it was nothing I hadn’t seen before on the Fourth of July. Still, fireworks were dangerous in general, and I wasn’t sure what safety precautions were taken in the nineteenth century. Not that that would dissuade me from watching them while I had the opportunity to do so; as a historical author, I was just as interested in watching the watchers of the spectacle).

The orchestra (musicians) had left the Orchestra (building), and standing on the stage was a single gentleman dressed in a red uniform with gold braids that reminded me of the Duke of Wellington’s portrait at Apsley House. A harmonica of sort was strapped around his neck (I think) so he could blow into it while his hands were free to strum the guitar, strike the triangle attached to the guitar or the Chinese cymbals on a tall stand next to him. A drumstick with a bell cymbal on the opposite end was attached to his knee for either striking the bass drum or the other bell cymbal, and I watched in fascination while he deftly reversed ends with a shake of the knee to switch from one to the other.

When the current piece ended, a boy of twelve or so came out with a wooden chair and deftly helped divest him of his other instruments so that he could accommodate the largish harp standing nearby. His voice as he sang Robin Adair—a song sung by Jane Fairfax in Emma—was clear and strong and and well-received. Members of the audience chimed in at the conclusion, whistling and cheering as he bowed and beamed.

“A pleasing rendition,” said a woman next to us, “but not as splendid as John Braham’s performance at the Lyceum in 1811.”

“No indeed,” I replied, “but I don’t suppose he played so many instruments.”

Robin Adair

After that he played “Sweet Gratitude” on the Pandean pipes while accompanying himself on the guitar. After the enthusiastic applause, there was an intermission of sorts and people began to move around and chat.

“He can do bird calls as well,” confided a lady next to me. “I heard him at the Concert-Room at Newcastle.”

“Signor Rivolta is awesome—er, astonishing,” I agreed, recalling my Regency persona just as Lady P’s elbow connected with my upper arm.

“Dear Agatha! Such a surprise to see you in Town after all!”

The second wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire

Lady P whirled around and her hands clenched briefly at the appearance of two women approaching them.

“Your Grace,” she said with a brief nod, “and Mrs. Lamb. I am sorry I could not attend your rout the other evening. Indeed, I was out of Town, but returned unexpectedly when my friend here—” she pointed at me with her chin— “insisted on visiting Vauxhall Gardens before she returns to America. Soon.”

The ladies gave me a quizzical look, and Lady P hurried to introduce me.

“Allow me to present to you my friend Susana Ellis, a friend of a friend, who is here on a very brief visit from our former Colonies. Miss Ellis, this is Her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire, and her daughter, Mrs. Caroline Lamb.”

I was stunned for a moment, aware that Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, had been deceased more than ten years and had no daughter Caroline, besides. But then I recalled that the Duke had married his mistress, the third of their scandalous ménage à trois, after Georgiana’s death, and that prior to becoming the second duchess, Lady Elizabeth Foster had born him two illegitimate children, one of which was a daughter called Caroline. Who apparently had married one of the Melbourne miscellany. Something I had not known.

Lady P cleared her throat, and I became aware that something was expected of me.

I bobbed rather inelegantly. “A pleasure to meet you, Your Grace. And Mrs. Lamb too.” I craned my neck to survey the crowd. “Is the Duke around? I would love to meet him.”

There was silence until I remembered that the 5th Duke had died as well, and the 6th Duke, Georgiana’s son, disapproved of the Foster clan and wasn’t likely to have accompanied them on a pleasure outing.

“She’s American, you say?” said the Duchess at last, staring at me from beneath her eyelashes. “Peculiar, is she not?”

“Mama,” said the younger woman, whose cheeks were flushed, “You have met Americans before, you know.”

“Yes, but there is something very singular about this one,” replied the Dowager Duchess, as she studied my gown (Butterick pattern B6630 and not the most authentic of the bunch). “I’ve never seen trim quite like that on your pelisse, Miss Ellis.”

Of course not, because it was from the 21st century. Lady P was glaring at me, and I knew I was in trouble again. But she would not convince me to leave before the fireworks. Even if it started to rain cats and dogs.

“An American innovation,” I said sweetly. “Perhaps it will reach your own modistes in a year or two.”

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens: Part IV

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part IV

In our last installment, Susana suffers a panic attack as the crowd stampedes to view Madame Saqui’s performance on the tightrope—which she found quite remarkable for the early nineteenth century—and makes the acquaintance of the son of the Marchioness of Hertford and finds herself in the company of the Prince Regent himself!

Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford

Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford

“Why Isabella, it has been over a year at least… since the Royal Wedding, I believe.”

With His Royal Highness the Prince Regent at Lady Hertford’s side, Lady P could not avoid acknowledging him, nor introducing them both to me, since they were both looking from her to me with puzzlement in their eyes.

“Your Royal Highness, how delightful to find you taking in the delights of the Royal Gardens this evening!”

She performed an elegant bow and then took my hand. “May I present to you my American friend, Miss Ellis? She is here to visit relatives, and was eager to see the famed Vauxhall Gardens.”

My muscles were quivering so much I thought I was going to faint, but one look at the expression in Lady P’s eyes was enough to motivate me to get myself together. I did my best to emulate her regal bow, which was sadly inelegant. Still, I managed to stay on my feet, and as Lady P has often told me, my American status was enough of an excuse for my awkward behavior.

regent_later“Your Highness,” I managed, my hand flying to my chest in an attempt to slow my racing heart. “I’m so—thrilled—to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. I never thought to meet an actual king of England.” Lady P squeezed my shoulder, and I scrambled to correct my error. “That is, a future king of England.” Another squeeze. “And, of course, Lady Hertford. You have such a lovely home.”

I stopped myself from saying more, but it was too late. I’d visited the former Hertford residence on Manchester Square more than once on my trips to London, as it has been open to the public—together with the exquisite furniture and art collected by some Hertford family member or another—for a hundred years or so. But that hadn’t happened yet. Oh dear.

I swallowed. “Or so I’ve heard, your ladyship.”

With the entire party giving me looks that could be described as incredulous, surprised, or furious—that last was Lady P—I added quickly, “The word of your exquisite taste in art has reached across the pond.”

Lady Hertford tapped her son’s arm with her ivory fan.

“Gracious me, I cannot accept any credit for the collections. Francis here is the true connoisseur. Why, after his Grand Tour, we had boxes and crates delivered to our door for weeks.”

The Prince Regent cleared his throat, and we all turned our attention back to him.

“Miss Ellis, it is a pleasure,” he said, his scowl belying his words. “Isabella, dear, we are expected at Carlton House.”

Lady Hertford smiled. “Of course, Your Highness.” She gave us an apologetic smile. “We really must be going. It has been good to see you again, Agatha. And to meet you, of course, Miss Ellis. A visit to our home can be easily arranged, if you would like to see it yourself. Apply to the housekeeper for an appointment.”

I believe I managed to convey my thanks as they took their leave of us.

“Well,” I said. “I have met the Prince Regent.”

Hertford House, known as the Wallace Collection, on Manchester Square

Hertford House, known as the Wallace Collection, on Manchester Square

Lady P rolled her eyes. “The less said about that, the better. Perhaps we should return to the future now.”

“Oh no! The evening is still young!” I protested. “And I’ve been invited to Manchester Square!”

Her ladyship snorted. “Invited? That was no invitation, my dear Susana.”

I blew out a puff of air. “Well, perhaps not. But I still want to go.”

“That’s not what we agreed and you know it. One evening at Vauxhall Gardens. And then you return to your own time. I won’t be responsible for disrupting the space-time continuum.”

I burst out laughing. “What nonsense! You do that all the time! What about those gifts to your grandchildren…?”

“A lapse in judgment. In any case, Henry has had them all destroyed.” But the flush that crept across her face told me I had made my point.

“Look, I’ve already mortified you in the presence of the Prince Regent. What else could possibly go wrong?”

Famous last words. Tune in next week to see what happens when Susana explores the mysterious and ever-so-scandalous Dark Walks…

Sir Richard Wallace

Sir Richard Wallace

Historical Note: Francis Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford and the son of Prince Regent’s last mistress, was an avid collector of art, as were his son and grandson. It was his grandson who left the house and art collection to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow bequeathed it to the nation. The Wallace Collection was opened to the public in 1900 and is open today, free of charge.

Wallace Collection Website

Susana’s Pinterest Page

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!