Tag Archive | Madame Saqui

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part III

In our last installment, Susana and Lady P made the requisite trip to the “ladies’ retiring room,” which Susana declined after a brief perusal of the facilities. Returning to the fringe of the dancing, she made the acquaintance of a child who offered to obtain a voucher for her to Almack’s (!!!), and listened to several songs by the sweet-voiced warbler, Mrs. Maria Theresa Bland.

A bell rang and the organ music stopped as we were swept away with the noisy crowd to the end of one of the walks where we could see a tall pole (a ship’s mast, as it turned out). A trio of young hooligans elbowed their way past us; at least one trod on the train of my gown and nearly knocked me down. Lady P threw her arm around my back and kept me vertical, but in the second or two it took me to recover, the impatient crowd behind us tossed us a few angry looks and impolite murmurs as they pushed past us. A rush of heat came over me and I could hear my heart racing, so I knew a panic attack was coming on.

madame-saqui-descending

“Can we get out of this crowd?” I asked her ladyship, trying to peer over the heads of the crowd in search of escape.

After one look at my face, she put on her stern “countess” face and aimed it at the crowd behind us. “Susana, my dear,” she said loudly. “I believe that is the Prince Regent waving at us from the Rotunda.”

A slew of people behind us stopped in their tracks and craned their necks to peer at the Rotunda. Lady P and I took the opportunity to duck out of the crowd and into a clump of trees on the right, where she took out her handkerchief and wiped the moisture off my face. The floral scent on the linen had a calming effect on my nerves, and gradually I began to feel more myself.

“Is the Prince Regent really here?” I asked her when I finally caught my breath.

“I do hope not,” she answered, lips pressing into a white slash. “Because if he is, I shall have to pay my respects, and more than likely, he will wish to be presented to you, and with you not having the slightest idea of court etiquette…”

My eyes were bulging. The thought of seeing the Prince Regent would be a thrill beyond my wildest dreams, but to actually be presented to him was a far more intoxicating notion. I started to feel a bit dizzy.

“Susana!” Lady P pounded me on the back. “Get hold of yourself or I shall have to put my hartshorn to you.”

“No, no, I’m fine. I just need to sit down.”

Fortunately, we espied a white wrought-iron bench behind a clump of trees in the near distance. Just as we were seated, we heard the sound of fireworks, and suddenly the sky was ablaze with colored lights and smoke, brief images of crowns, hearts, initials and other indistinct figures flashing in the haze.

“It’s starting!” I said, jumping to my feet, still feeling a bit dizzy, but not willing to miss the main attraction. “Let’s move ahead of these trees!”

small-saqui

We cleared the obstructions just in time to see a tiny figure dart out of the darkness and smoke, her feet moving with surprising agility on the narrow rope toward the summit of tall pole, which had to be at least eighty feet high and a steep climb. I wondered what it was her husband did to her shoes to keep her from sliding backward. [I knew from my Vauxhall blog series that her husband was the only one in the family who was not a rope walker, but that he had important other responsibilities.]

Rockets exploded all around her, causing the spangles on her skirts to sparkle and make her a magical figure. The long ostrich feathers on her elaborate hat dipped and swayed as she ascended, and I found myself holding my breath like the others in the crowd lest she lose her balance or the rope become severed by a rocket [even though I knew from my research that she died of old age, her life taken over by her nostalgic memories of the past]. Reaching the midpoint, she paused for a moment to make a slight bow in our direction. Following her gaze, I looked behind us and saw a rotund figure with a familiar face about ten feet away.

1819_prince_regent_g_cruikshank_caricature“Is that…?”

“… the Prince Regent,” Lady P hissed. “Don’t stare.”

Turning my attention back to the spectacle at hand, I saw Madame Saqui take the final quick steps to the top of the pole, where a man seated there [her husband, I assumed] grabbed her hand while she turned around and made a rapid descent amid a flash of blue lights, again stopping at the center, this time making bows in both directions and executing some graceful balletic moves before continuing her descent and dancing her way back into the smoke.

“She dances exquisitely on the horizontal rope,” said a voice behind us. “I’ve seen her at Covent Garden. As graceful as a ballerina on a stage.”

We whirled around to face a middle-aged gentleman with a smattering of reddish brown hair still remaining on his balding pate. He bowed briefly to Lady P and sent a questioning look in my direction. “A pleasure to see you again, Lady Pendleton. I hope you are enjoying yourself this fine evening.”

Lord Yarmouth, eventually 3rd Marquess of Hertford

Lord Yarmouth, eventually 3rd Marquess of Hertford

Lady P gave me a look that I interpreted as a “don’t-even-think-of-embarrassing-me” warning as she plastered a smile on her face and bobbed. “We are indeed, Lord Yarmouth. On a fine night such as this, Vauxhall never fails to delight us.” She nodded in my direction. “Your lordship, I’d like to present my good friend, Susana Ellis, from America. Susana, I’d like you to meet Lord Yarmouth, the son of the Marquess of Hertford.”

I swallowed and tried to gather my chaotic thoughts. Hertford. Something to do with Lady Hertford, the Prince’s mistress? What should I do? Any schooling on polite discourse I’d ever had from Lady P disappeared from my brain. I vaguely recalled her own actions and did my best to reproduce her bob. “A pleasure to meet you, Lord Yarmouth.” To my ear, it came out squeaky and I could feel my cheeks reddening. Don’t faint. Lady P will kill you if you do.

He bowed in my direction, his eyebrows furrowed. “American, you say. How delightful. They seem to be everywhere these days.” His voice signaled boredom, however.

I was saved from having to answer that by the voice of a woman calling to him from behind. “Come along, Francis! We’re removing our party back to Carlton House for dinner and dancing.”

lady_hertford_1800

Isabella, 2nd Lady Hertford

Lord Yarmouth gave us an apologetic-yet-relieved smile. “My apologies, ladies. It seems I must take my leave of you.”

Lady P let out a deep breath, no doubt relieved that she would not have to present me to royalty after all, and then the woman behind the voice approached us.

“Agatha? Is that you? It’s been an age. How are you faring these days?”

Approaching us in all her royal blue splendor was a woman I assumed to be the prince’s mistress, Lady Hertford, and behind her was the magnificent royal dandy, His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, the future George IV, and he was looking at me!

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

descent-of-madame-saqui-surrounded-by-fireworks

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

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: 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