Tag Archive | Toupee Letters

Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side

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!

Vauxhall’s huge success after Jonathan Tyers’s acquisition of the property, which had been in existence for seventy years as the “New Spring Gardens”, can be attributed to the man’s perception that his idealistic dream must be counter-balanced by sound financial practices. An essential element of this was publicity, and of this, Tyers proved to be a master. How did he do this?

Promoting Vauxhall

He promoted the gardens as a sort of “heaven on earth,” a magical sort of place to lift one’s spirits after a hard day in the real world.

[T]his was achieved through stories in literature and the printed media, through popular songs and through the artworks and music he commissioned. The second was the flattery of his audience; he consistently treated his visitors as special people, always referring to them as persons of quality, ladies and gentlemen, patriots, libertarians, educated people who appreciated fine things and good music. And the last was the simple dissemination of factual information about Vauxhall, its history, its current attractions, and how this pleasure garden should be enjoyed, by means of articles in newspapers and periodicals, of histories and guidebooks and of topographical and satirical engravings.

John Lockman, Publicist

John Lockman, Publicist

In truth, of course, Vauxhall fell short of perfection, and that’s where John Lockman came in. He was a sort of early publicist, who wrote poems and songs designed to “underscore Tyers’s transformation of a notorious gathering place for drunks, gamblers and prostitutes into a civilised pleasure garden where anyone could enjoy a decorous evening’s entertainment without risk to their reputation.”
Lockman’s assistance was necessary because it was impossible to exclude troublemakers, particularly if they were respectably dressed. “[I]t was easier to sell an enhanced image of the place to a persuadable public.

Tyers was always careful to make everybody in his clientele feel good about themselves, and in particular about their patronage of Vauxhall. In his press announcements, for instance, he would often start by thanking his visitors for their support, especially if the weather had been bad, and would repeatedly finish by pledging to keep out of his gardens anyone not worthy of their company.

Another tactic was to use magazines and newspapers. Newspapers, of course, were a no-brainer. Letters such as the “S. Toupee” articles published in Scots Magazine may or may not have been instigated by Tyers, but they certainly proved valuable in driving up excitement for Vauxhall. “Of the Luxury of the English; and a Description of Ranelagh Gardens and Vaux-hall, in a Letter from a Foreigner to his Friend at Paris,” supposedly written by Henry Fielding (a friend of Tyers) and commissioned by Tyers, piled on the praise for Vauxhall in comparison to Ranelagh Gardens.

A female audience was enticed to Vauxhall by published songs and by scenes in novels set in Vauxhall Gardens. And then there were the Love at First Sight articles, or “Lonely Hearts” columns, which may or may not have been genuine. Here’s one from the London Chronicle in August 1758:

A young Lady who was at Vauxhall on Thursday night last, in company with two gentlemen, could not but observe a young gentleman in blue and a gold-laced hat, who, being near her by the orchestra during the performance, especially the last song, gazed upon her with the utmost attention. He earnestly hopes (if unmarried) she will favour him with a line directed to A.D. at the bar of the Temple Exchange Coffee-house, Temple-bar, to inform him whether fortune, family, and character, may not entitle him upon a further knowledge, to hope an interest in her heart.

Another marketing tactic was to engage actors dressed as gentlemen to patronize coffee-houses to express their intention to go to Vauxhall and entreat others to meet them there.

Tyers’s Management Style

It goes without saying that if one wishes to have customers return, one has to ensure that their first time is as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. If you knew Jonathan Tyers—and you probably wouldn’t because it was never himself he wanted to promote and therefore took pains to remain in the background—you could see him in the kitchens working as hard as his employees to get the food out to the customers.

Waiters, or “drawers” were freelance employees, who were constrained to work hard in order to earn tips and keep their posts. Since in other venues, “drawers” were known to steal from their employers, “Vauxhall waiters were required to pay for the food on collection from the kitchens, and themselves ran the risk of defaulting customers, especially if they had not been sufficiently polite or efficient in their service.”

Although he had to maintain a strict discipline among his employees, he was a thoughtful employer. When two of his waiters married two of his barmaids, he provided wedding rings and an elaborate dinner at his home in Denbies, with fifty of his staff as guests.

one shilling coin

Vauxhall Tickets

Up until 1736, the admission cost was sixpence, but afterward, the price was doubled to one shilling. Considering the expense of maintaining and improving the gardens and contriving new entertainments, this seems modest indeed; however, there was more to be made from the food and drink once the visitors were admitted. For the visitors, there was also the cost of dressing respectably and the cost of transportation. The one shilling price was fixed until 1792, when it was doubled to two shillings.

Season Ticket greySeason Ticket grey reverse

In 1737 Tyers initiated a subscription price, or season ticket. The metal tickets were issued to a thousand people at a guinea each, and would admit two people to the gardens for the entire season. Not only did this ensure repeat visits by two thousand people, it provided him with funds upfront to use for maintenance and improvement.

The relief on the obverse usually represented, through classical imagery, a particular aspect of Vauxhall Gardens, often associated with the music. On the reverse was engraved the subscriber’s name, accompanied… by the ticket’s number.

silver ticket

silver ticket

In 1738, the tickets were made of silver and the price rose by three shillings. In 1741, the price was raised to two guineas.

As a comparison, a season ticket for two to the Great Room in Soho was five guineas, while individual concerts were ten and a half shillings, the same price as Handel’s fundraising concert at the Foundling Hospital in 1749. Almack’s (founded in 1765) charged ten guineas for a once-weekly ball over twelve weeks, so Vauxhall tickets were considered quite a bargain.

Hogarth's gold "perpetual" ticket

Hogarth’s gold “perpetual” ticket

Attendance

“S. Toupee” in his letters in Scots Magazine estimated that “not less than one thousand shillings are received each evening of performance during the season,” not including season ticket holders. Special events, such as the rehearsal of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, drew several thousand spectators. Opening and closing nights and royal birthdays also drew large crowds.

The opening night of the 1769 season, for instance, was a remarkably fine evening for the time of year, and it was estimated that ‘there were upwards of twenty thousand of the first nobility present.’

Crime and Disorder

Even though it suffered occasional lean times, there can be little doubt that eighteenth-century Vauxhall Gardens became the most popular single visitor attraction for London… With these numbers of people coming together, especially to a place where alcohol was available, crime, vandalism and disorder were inevitable.

Nor was it just pickpockets and prostitutes his police force (initiated in 1732) had to deal with. While Tyers encouraged his waiters to restrict alcohol consumption, it was difficult for them or even him to police the mischievous London Bucks, who were of a class higher than his. Tyers and his staff managed these problems themselves, even if it meant “eating” the cost of vandalism, not wanting to involve courts, which would draw bad publicity. “S. Toupee,” in one of his letters in 1739, “pointed out that there was ‘a man in the posture of a Constable, to protect the Ladies from any insult, &c.’ at the end of each walk.

Besides the half-dozen or so constables, he employed up to eight men to guard the route from the river and led a (possibly regular) blitz against the pickpockets.

Refreshments

Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry can tell you how difficult a task it is to prepare food for crowds of people, but how many restaurants have to cater for 500-1000 or more hungry people? This is a logistical nightmare that Tyers managed with aplomb.

Consistent with his insistence on featuring English art and music, the food at Vauxhall was simple and English. There were complaints about the prices, of course. Here are some prices from one of the “S. Toupee” letters in 1739:

  • one bottle of French claret: 5 shillings
  • one cold chicken: 2-1/2 shillings
  • one quarter of cyder: 1 shilling
  • one quart of small-beer: 4 pence
  • one slice of bread: 2 pence
  • one slice of cheese: 4 pence
  • dish of ham or beef: 1 shilling, salad, an extra pence
  • sweet pastries: 1 shilling
  • custards and cheesecakes: 4 pence
  • heart cakes and Shrewsbury cakes: 2 pence
  • one bottle of champagne and arrack: 8 shillings
  • two pounds of ice: sixpence
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.

Even a devoted fan such as “S. Toupee” confessed that the food was expensive. The sliced meats were thin, especially the ham. “This was all part of the fun of the evening—a great joke on fashionable society who were happy to play along.” A well-known verse alluding to this:

Never trouble Ham House, or its inmates at all,

For a ghost, that may be but a sham,

But seek in a sandwich that’s cut at Vauxhall,

For the true apparition of Ham.’

Note:

The cost of the food did not alter significantly over the whole period from Tyers’s re-launch until the gardens’ final closure; the prices of wines and spirits, however, were a different matter, rising sharply in the nineteenth century.

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: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”

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 Toupee Letters

Scots Magazine ran a series of articles in 1739-40 purporting to be “from a London correspondent, a certain ‘S. Toupee’, portraying the social scene in London, and at Vauxhall in particular, to the Scottish readership.”

The letters begin by explaining that because ordinary people of the London beau monde in search of simple pleasures were no longer satisfied with the traditional pastime of enjoying the beauties of nature, for their own sake, more fashionable amusements had been brought in from overseas, in particular the ridotto al fresco. Just how popular the gardens had become is illustrated by the fact that, despite the ingrained British dread of damp evenings, and the gentry’s habit of moving to the country in the summer, the average nightly number of paying visitors… was around a thousand. From this, it is possible to calculate that, as the Vauxhall season lasted for about one hundred evenings between May and September, the annual admissions income would amount to £5000 to £6000, a healthy figure that must have been substantially more than the normal revenue expenditure to run such a venture.

The type of entertainment provided was considered to be very new; it was well received, especially by fashionable ladies whose social life hitherto had been restricted to calling on acquaintances or going to the occasional ball, all within a very small circle of friends and relatives. Pleasure gardens opened up a whole new world to these people—a polite and exciting world where they could go with their family or friends, where they were free to entertain and mix socially with an infinitely broader circle than had been possible previously.

J. Maurer, A Perspective View of Vaux Hall Garden, etching, hand-coloured, 1744 (David Coke's collection). The view looking down the Grand South Walk before the classical triumphal arches were installed, with Roubiliac's Grand Alcove on the right.

J. Maurer, A Perspective View of Vaux Hall Garden, etching, hand-coloured, 1744 (David Coke’s collection). The view looking down the Grand South Walk before the classical triumphal arches were installed, with Roubiliac’s Grand Alcove on the right.

A Typical Visit to Vauxhall (from 7-10 p.m.)

The journey usually began with a boat ride from Whitehall or Westminster. On one occasion, Toupee writes about accompanying “a family group including Tom, a young musician who played the latest opera melodies on his French horn, while Miss Kitty was asked by her mother to sing one of the latest Italian songs.”

Others on their way to the gardens in neighbouring boats included ‘Sir John, from Fenchurch-street’, with his wife and all his children, attended by a footman. A Cheapside apprentence called William was on an illicit outing with Sukey, his master’s daughter… ‘An honest old mechanick’ and his wife followed; he was returning to Vauxhall after many years’ absence, to see how it had changed, reassuring his wife that the gardens must be a respectable place for her to be going, because the Prince of Wales himself was a regular visitor. This piece is clear evidence for the type of social mix that Tyers wanted to see at Vauxhall, although it is equally clear that, just because people inhabited the same space and came into direct contact, they did not necessarily interact in any meaningful way.

Pet dogs were not allowed in the gardens, but that did not stop people bringing them along for the ride, maybe to occupy the liveried footman who would not be admitted by Tyers’s gatekeeper, but could walk the dog in the fields of Lambeth. Having entered the tardens, Toupee’s party saw all the sights, listened to the music and strolled around the walks, watching and being watched by the other visitors.

The third letter, concerning the hour before closure at 10 p.m., starts with a detailed description of the dinner, accompanied by music from the Orchestra. The dramatic finale to the letter is the boat trip home, recounting the dangers of the riverside and the traditional ‘Thames ribaldry’, long-winded insults from the occupants of nearby boats that were suffered by voyagers as far apart in time as Addison’s Sir Roger in 1711 and Oakman’s John Gilpin in 1785.

“Sexual freedom was intrinsic to the gardens”

The overriding topic that runs flagrantly throughout the three letters is the meeting of the sexes, and the self-evident truth that human nature takes full advantage of any liberty offered to it. If Toupee is to be believed, Tyers was promoting his gardens as a place for lovers to meet, for initiating and nurturing romantic attachments, for sexual intrigue and adventures, and for illicit affairs; or, if he was not promoting these activities as such, he created an environment that made them possible and, indeed, inevitable. The river-crossing, the music, the paintings, the food, the walks and even the weather were all seen by Toupee as legitimate means to this one specific end.

The focus for most of the licentious activity in the gardens was not the Grove or the surrounding supper-boxes, which were too public, but the Druid’s Walk or Lover’s Walk, an unlit avenue running between and parallel with the Grand South Walk and Kennington Lane. It was distinguished from the other avenues by the fact that the trees met overhead, plunging it into shadow even before dusk. This concealing shade was unrelieved by artificial light until 1764, when magistrates forced Tyers to act against the immoral behaviour that the darkness encouraged, and to install lighting there.

At its eastern end, the Druid’s Walk met the avenue that ran around the eastern and northern edges of the gardens, always known as the Dark Walks; the darkness heightened the receptivity of impressionable young minds to emotional seduction, and no female reputation was safe…

Tyers employed constables to patrol the end of each walk in an attempt to keep such incidences to a minimum, but even they were not able to watch everybody all the time.

“The… cold and miserable spring of 1740”

I was blown through and through, in such a manner, as to drink four full glasses of French wine, before I knew I was alive. And, in that cold condition, as returning by water would have endanger’d my life, I was forced to be shook in a most unmerciful hack, till one half of my joins were distorted, and the other bruised to a jelly.

Indeed, all of the Toupee letters highlight the fact that the pleasures of the evening were never without their discomforts; and that a full enjoyment of the experience was predicated upon a full participation in the inconveniences, dangers and risks, whether perceived or real.

“The outstanding fashionable attraction of the London summer season”

In a sample letter from a young lady in town to her aunt in the country, published in 1741, the novelist Samuel Richardson confirmed that regular visits to the gardens had become an obligatory feature of the fashionable lifestyle, having his subject comment… that ‘I went on Monday last to Vaux-hall Gardens, whither every body must go, or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company.’

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