Tag Archive | Vauxhall Gardens

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

Amusements of Old London: London al fresco: Vauxhall

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

The “New” Spring Gardens

As mentioned in an earlier post, the original Spring Gardens was adjacent to Charles I’s gardens at Whitehall, which gave it an almost royal flavor. Naturally, its popularity was enough to convince the Puritans to shut it down, although it opened up almost immediately after the death of Cromwell. However, Charles II’s ambitious building plans put an end to it, leaving the name to the sole use of the Spring Gardens that had been established earlier in Lambeth along Kennington Lane.

Established around 1660, the “New Spring Gardens,” which, confusingly, ran alongside the “Old Spring Gardens” (the two were eventually combined), charged no admission, but made its profits solely on the sale of food and beverages. “Balthazar Monconys speaks of the place as “lawns and gravel walks dividing squares of twenty to thirty yards enclosed with hedges of gooseberry trees within which were planted roses.” No doubt the coincidence of the name being the same as the former royal gardens added to its popularity, as did the fact that it could best be accessed at the time by the highway of the Thames, there being no bridge between London Bridge and Kingston.

Taking water for vauxhall - Be careful, my love, don't expose your leg

Taking water for vauxhall – Be careful, my love, don’t expose your leg

The fares on the Thames were extraordinarily moderate. There are regulations of the Corporation extant which tell us that the citizen wishing to go by Vauxhall by water could take a pair-oared wherry at Whitehall for sixpence, or if he was content with sculls for half that moderate fee. Then the journey by water was itself an attraction which brought advantages to the gardens. The place was in the country, and a visit in the heat of summer was something in the nature of an expedition to the substantial merchant from the city and his family. They were apt to stay longer and eat more after the little voyage, in which their appetites were sharpened by the fresh air of the river.

The name Vauxhall took its name from a famous manor in South Lambeth called “Fulke’s Hall,” Faukeshall, Foxhall, Vauxhall.

The Gardens After the Restoration

The humours of Spring Gardens at Charing Cross were removed to Spring Gardens at Vauxhall, with little maiming of their rites; there are the same rumours of syllabubs and cheesecakes, the same wandering of damsels through the close walks of the wildrness, the same whispering of gallants in love-locks to ladies in masks and flame-coloured gowns. Spring Gardens appear in the pages of Wycherley and Congreve, and Vanbrugh and Sedley, as a spot upon which much of the glitter and revelry of that reckless society, lately released from the bondage of the Puritans, displayed itself to the best advantage. The historical evidence of Mr. Samuel Pepys, too, is to the same effect. Samuel was there often, and in many moods; with the maids, with his wife, and without his wife but with other people’s at times. The vice of the age as exhibited by the company in the gardens, would shock him one day, and on another, he would kiss Knipp [actress Mary Nepp] in the arbour, “it being darkish.” But that quaint sinner can speak best for himself. “Thence to the new one,” he says in May of 1662, speaking of the Old and New Spring Gardens, “where I never was before, which much exceeds the other; and here we also walked, and the boy crept through the hedge, and gathered abundance of roses, and, after a long walk, passed out of the doors, as we did at the other place.”

Jonathan Tyers: The True Genius

It wasn’t until Jonathan Tyers took a lease on the place, added some acreage, and spent four years transforming the place that Vauxhall Gardens began to rise above all other such entertainments, in England, and also all of Europe (the capitals of which were damaged by war at one point or another). He saw Heidegger making a fortune on masquerades in the theatre and took the idea one step further by bringing them out-of-doors in the fresh air. His ridotto al fresco of 1732 was a great success.

It requires little imagination to recall the famous Ridotto al fresco of 1732; the river still without bridges, boat-loads of happy people in fancy-dress going up-stream, as the evening closed in, in boats preceded by others playing music, the lights of the flotilla and the fancy dresses and the music giving a touch of Venetian gaiety to the lovely but sober reaches of the Thames. There were some hundreds only of the élite of London Society admitted to this fête, as we are told, and Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales, came down the river in his barge from Kew. The night was fine, and they kept it up till the birds sang and the daylight came at four o’clock the next morning.

Hogarth's season ticket

Hogarth’s season ticket

The success of the ridotto notwithstanding, the financial side of the gardens was precarious at first. At one point, when Tyers was feeling almost suicidal, he ran across William Hogarth, who was living across the street at the time. That began a longstanding friendship between the two. Hogarth lent his abilities to the enterprise by donating a painting to one of the saloons, as well as designing the silver or bronze season tickets. He himself received a lifetime ticket “to admit a coachful”, inscribed with “in perpetuam beneficii memoriam.”

The Physical Layout

The Grove in the middle; the house in the foreground is the Prince's Pavilion

The Grove is in the middle; the house in the foreground is the Prince’s Pavilion (1751).

The place was a parallelogram, and its main features were groves of trees which eventually assumed the dignity of forest timber, intersected by gravel walks crossing each other at right angles. It was entered by a gateway through an ordinary-looking house of brick of three storeys, which with a high brick wall enclosed the gardens on the western side bounded by Kennington lane. On the three other sides its borders were the hayfields of the open country. As you entered the place from the gateway through the manager’s house you looked up the Grand Walk, planted with a stately avenue of elms, and extending the whole length of the demesne. Parallel to the Grand Walk on the right hand ran the South Walk, an avenue of much the same length and dimensions, which was crossed by three triumphal arches of a rather debased Renaissance design. A third avenue, the Grand Cross Walk, ran across the whole garden at right angles to the two avenues we have named. On the right the Grand Cross Walk gave access to the Dark Walks, the Druids’ Walk, or the Lovers’ Walk, the secluded alleys of Vauxhall which gave the place much of its fame and not a little of its attractions for some of its patrons. On the left the Grand Cross Walk led to the Wildernesses and Rural Downs, more open shrubbery-like spaces which afforded a view of the country towards the river. The whole place covered about twelve acres…

The secret to Vauxhall’s long popularity was Tyers’s dedication to constant improvements to the grounds and attractions. He had sculptures of Handel and Milton made and placed them prominently in the gardens, as well as building an impressive orchestra in what he called the “Grove,” “a space of nearly five acres near the entrance on the right, where bands of the ablest musicians in London played good music in most imposing cocked hats, and tenors and prima donnas trilled and quavered for half a century.”

handel statue

Handel statue that appeared at Vauxhall Gardens for over a century

Round and about the Grove were clustered the temples, the pavilions, the rotundas, the great rooms, the music rooms, the picture rooms, the covered colonnades for wet weather, above all the famous supper boxes built in straight rows or curving sweeps. In those famous supper boxes, where generations of Londoners ate the noted Vauxhall chicken and ham, were the paintings which gave a quaint interest to each, every picture displayed by its own little oil lamp… Above all, Mr. Tyers lighted up the darkness of his groves “with above a thousand lamps so disposed that they all took fire together, with such a sudden blaze as was perfectly surprising.”

The illuminations of Vauxhall were undoubtedly arranged with much taste, and the sudden lighting of the lamps, with a simultaneous crash of music from the orchestra, had a considerable effect. Moreover, the illuminations of Vauxhall gained greatly by contrast with the aspect of the town of that day. Long after the general use of gas, London after nightfall was a dull and gloomy place. The streets were generally narrow and ill lighted… Vauxhall was really the only place where the citizen could see anything of the beauty of artificial light intelligently employed.

Vauxhall After Tyers

The great period of Vauxhall Gardens lasted, as we believe, until the year 1791, when the ordinary price of admission of one shilling was doubled by a new management, and a series of entertainments were begun… which marked the inevitable period of decline. Jonathan Tyers died in 1767, was succeeded by his son of the same name, and the old traditions of his management lasted until the year we have named.

ballloon

Although there were still nearly seventy years of life, and perhaps half that number of prosperity, in store for Vauxhall, its history after 1791 interests us less… The old social features of the gardens are much less in evidence during its later history, the spectacular and the sensational much more… The taste of Londoners progressed if it did not improve, and the new views of life and its opportunities, which began to prevail after the Revolution in France, were no longer satisfied with the placid joys which had delighted earlier generations… There was a firework platform erected at the eastern end of the grounds, a firework tower, and a mast sixty feet high, fright which the “ethereal Saqui” descended on the tight-rope in a blaze of blue flame and Chinese fire… As the present century ran into its teens, there were changes which may have caused old Jonathan Tyers to turn in his grave. They cut down many of the trees in his grove, and two sides of that pleasant enclosure and a geat part of the Grand Walk were covered in by a colonnade with cast-iron pillars… The later Vauxhall of dancing-floors and balloon ascents, of spectacular panoramas of Arctic regions, if Indian jugglers and Mr. Ducrow’s equestrian entertainments—above all the Vauxhall of Mr. Simpson, the wondrous master of the ceremonies, the “gentle Simpson, that kind smiling idiot,” whose personality is preserved in the wonderful etching by Robert Cruikshank… The stout at Vauxhall grew muddier, the slices of ham, if possible, thinner, the chickens more skinny, and the company more raffish as modern England became transformed by railways and Reform Bills. There was no place in London for an entertainment which in anyway represented the old pleasant tradition of the al fresco.

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

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

For more information:

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

Amusements of Old London series

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!

Amusements of Old London: The Tea Gardens

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

An “unbroken tradition of al fresco entertainment in London over a period of two centuries*

After perusing through old publications, letters and memoirs, advertisements, diaries, and even through the records of police courts and licensing authorities, Boulton concludes that the heyday of the outdoor entertainment in London was from the time of Charles I to the end of the 19th century.

…the fireworks and the “twenty thousand additional lamps” of the Vauxhall and Cremorne… had less to do with the success of those famous institutions than the bad food and worse liquor, which Londoners are ever ready to pay for at exorbitant rates if only served out of doors.

London map 1700: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/17th_century_map_of_London_%28W.Hollar%29.jpg

When George the Third came to the throne, London, including Westminster, was bounded by Oxford Street and Holborn on the north, by the river on the south, by the outer boundary of the city on the east, and by Hyde Park, Arlington Street, and St. James’ Street on the west. All the rest of modern London was suburban merely, or open and pleasant country interspersed with wild heaths, and dotted with ancient villages.

seutter_1750_london_m

London, 1750

It was in and about a town of such dimensions then, and with such surroundings, that the al fresco entertainment took origin and developed, a town thickly populated and stuffy, it is true, the bulk of whose inhabitants lived and died with the limits of their own streets, but still a town whose innermost slum was within easy walk of a delightful country…

It was the citizens of such a town, sober merchants and shopkeepers, apprentices, sempstresses, and artisans who worked continuously, but leisurely and without much stress, during the week and spread themselves over an area of many square miles on Sundays, who formed the chief patrons of the al fresco  entertainment. The lawyers and military men… supplied their quota of course, and the aristocracy came to most of the al fresco entertainments at one time or another, but merely as incidental visitors.  [He mentions that Vauxhall and Ranelagh were the favorites for the aristocracy, but that they will mentioned in another chapter.]

London map 1890: http://www.majestymaps.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/1890_Bacon_Map_of_London1.jpg

Spring Garden

Spring Garden at Charing Cross was “practically a part of [Charles I’s] own gardens at Whitehall. In 1634, the bowling green was a major attraction, and apparently one could pay six shillings and drink wine and eat cold meat all day under the trees. Plagued by quarrels and other scandalous behavior, the Spring Garden was finally closed down by the Puritans in 1654, although it opened up almost immediately following the death of the Lord Protector.

This collation, indeed, was the great attraction of the place. It was difficult in those days to get a meal anywhere away from home, the coffee-houses had not yet arisen, and most of the taverns lay far eastward of Charing Cross. Great people then lived either in the city or just out of it, and Spring Garden, with its luncheon, was a convenient halting-place for refreshment on the way to, or returning from Hyde Park, where the promenade of the ring, the foot and chariot races, were at this time great attractions.

Apparently Charles II’s ministers decided the property could be made more profitable by building houses there, so “the name Spring Garden was adopted by the New Spring Gardens at Lambeth” (which became Vauxhall Gardens).

Mulberry Garden

The Mulberry Garden, which covered the site of the present Buckingham Palace and Gardens, was “of the true class of open-air entertainment… Half the dramatists of the Restoration make their characters move in its walks and arbours, and eat its tarts and cakes…” The Mulberry Garden was closed in 1674, when Vauxhall took charge of London’s al fresco tradition.

Islington Spa (New Tunbridge Wells)

In earlier times, the area around Holburn was bubbling with springs “charged with ‘chalybeate’ or ‘sulphate,’ as the doctors of that day believed and provided an excuse for a dozen or more of ‘spas,’ and ‘waters’ or ‘wells,’ each with its gardens and long room and special body of patrons… who certainly enjoyed the diversions of the place.”

Islington Spa, 1749

Starting in around 1685, Islington Spa became a popular watering-place. Besides the medicinal attractions of its waters and a doctor to administer it, it offered “the amusements of a tea garden,” including lime trees, coffee-house, dancing saloon, raffling shop, and gaming tables. Patrons ranged from seamstresses to aristocrats, and, of course, the pickpockets and prostitutes followed. Its popularity rose further after the Princesses Caroline and Amelia became regular visitors.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote: “New Tunbridge Wells is a very pretty and romantick place, and the water much like Bath water, but makes one vastly cold and hungary.”

Islington Spa ended in 1840 when it was overtaken by construction of streets and buildings.

Bagnigge Wells

Bagnigge Wells began as Bagnigge House, the country residence of Nell Gwynn, “where King Charles the Second and his brother James delighted at times to take breakfast with that lady.” In 1759 the current owner, a Mr. Hughes, discovered that the reason his pansies and carnations did not thrive was due to the mineral content of two springs of water underneath the surface. Apparently, the water produced “a kind of giddiness, and afterwards a propensity to sleep if exercise not not interposed.”

bagnigge1

The programme of amusement at this cockney paradise was very typical of the London al fresco in its prime. In the morning the place was chiefly at the disposal of the invalids who believed in the efficacy of its waters, and who, at the height of its vogue, were to be found at Bagnigge in hundreds. Many of these partook of the early breakfast which was provided for the austere ones who drank the waters in an orthodox manner on an empty stomach. A good organ, presided over by Mr. Charles Griffiths, provided music in the pump-room for the gouty and the lame: the pump-room with its panelled walls, low ceiling, its armorial bearings, its bust of Nell Gwynn in a niche in the wall… and its general pleasant flavour of antiquity. As the day wore on the invalids withdrew and the place was prepared for another class of customers. The citizens, their wives and daughters, came for their afternoon outing; the long room if the weather threatened, and the arbours if the sun shone, were filled with sober parties of shopkeepers or with boys and their sweethearts, drinking tea and eating the bread and butter and the buns baked on the ground for which the place was famous. Negus was another of the products of Bagnigge held in much favour, and there were cider and ale for the more jovial spirits who smoked under the shade of the Fleet willows and watched the games of skittles and Dutch pins…

bagnigge-bowles

Its nearness to the city, however, made it “the paradise of the city matron” on Sundays.

Thy arbour Bagnigge, and the gay alcove

Where the frail nymphs in amorous dalliance rove,

Where ‘prentice youths enjoy the Sunday feast,

And city madams boast their Sabbath best,

Where unfledged Templars first as fops parade,

And new made ensigns sport their first cockade.

Mr. Churchill, 1779

There was some attempt at a promenade in fine dresses on Sundays, where aspiring young men about town, who were not quite the mode, graduated in deportment for the brighter glories of Ranelagh and Vauxhall. There came of course the usual hangers-on of respectability, the ladies of doubtful reputation, the “bloods of humour,” copper captains, and even on occasion famous highwaymen, like the eminent John Rann, or Sixteen-stringed Jack, who was wont to display his hectoring graces in the gardens. Such incidents, however, gave a pleasant adventurous interest to a visit to Bagnigge; a highwayman, so long as he escaped the justices, was a not unpopular character, and the ordinary citizen lost no caste in taking a glass with one of these heroes at a tea garden or tavern.

Marylebone Gardens

The Rose of Normandy began as a small tavern famous for its bowling-greens. Samuel Pepys and Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham frequented the place in the late 17th century. The Rose also occasionally featured concerts on the king’s birthday, illuminations, acrobatic exhibitions, and other attractions. In 1738, the proprietor re-named it Marylebone Gardens and styled it as al fresco entertainment, building a large orchestra, an organ, and a building for balls and suppers. Marylebone had a reputation of being a pleasant and respectable place to enjoy the outdoors, eat, and listen to the music of Handel and Arne.

Marylebone Gardens Restrike Etching by J. Donowell http://www.easyart.com/scripts/zoom/zoom.pl?pid=37664

Marylebone Gardens Restrike Etching by J. Donowell http://www.easyart.com/scripts/zoom/zoom.pl?pid=37664

Harmony and decorum were the features of Marylebone Gardens at its prime, broken rarely by a quarrel under the trees, or the rudeness of a royal visitor like the burly Duke of Cumberland… the gentry who had country houses in the village… could send their children and their nursemaids in the summer days and evenings without fear of untoward molestation… Not that Marylebone was without its mild excitement on occasion. It is recorded that pretty Miss Fountayne, a relation of “Dr. Fountayne’s, a dean of the Established Church,” was one day taking the air in the gardens when she was saluted by a young man of a gallant bearing, who boldly kissed her before all the quality. The lady started back shocked and surprised, as in duty bound. “Be not alarmed, madam,” said the gentleman, “you can now boast that you have been kissed by Dick Turpin.”

White Conduit House

…had its “pleasing walks prettily disposed, its “genteel boxes,” with paintings in the Flemish manner, its alcoves let  into its clipped hedges, and its avenues of shady trees, and was the delight of numbers of Londoners for a century.

White Conduit House, 1749

White Conduit House, 1749

In 1754, Mr. Bartholomew, the proprietor, “provided bats and balls for his customers” to play the game of cricket in the adjoining meadow and therefore laid “the foundations of the vast organisation of the modern game.”

Belsize House

…was a country mansion opened in 1720, “with a park wilderness and garden a mile in circumference ‘filled with a variety of birds which compose a most melodious and touching harmony’… Cakes and ale were much in evidence… and foot and galloway races ‘six times round the course.’ In 1726 they ‘hunted a fat doe to death with small beagles,’ when sportsmen were invited ‘to bring their own dogs if not too large.’

belsize-house

Belsize House, 17th century

Hampstead

was famous for its wells and gardens, and even had a clergyman available for marriage-minded couples who could not afford a trip to Gretna Green. Mr. Samuel Rogers “danced minuets in his youth and met a great deal of good company.” In those days, a Londoner required a stage coach to arrive there.

Royal Well Walk, Pump Room, 1850

Royal Well Walk, Pump Room, 1850

South London

“The attractions of the South London districts were less simple and less respectable. With an unconscious humour, many of them advertised their mineral waters in competition with the spas of the north,” although it was more likely the waters pumped came from a huge marsh. “But their main attractions were more or less feeble imitations of the glories of Vauxhall, and their patrons were, speaking gnerally, of a less innocent cast of mind and less easily amused than the citizens who flocked northward to Islington or Hampstead, or westward to Marylebone.”

Some of these were Cuper’s Garden, Finch’s grotto, Bermondsey Spa Gardens, Helena Gardens, Belvidere Gardens, the Dog and Duck, St. George’s Spa, Strombolo House. and Florida Gardens.

The decline of the tea gardens

Many of these places fell victim to the urban growth of the city, exchanging the country meadows for buildings of brick and mortar. However, Mr. Boulton opines that their decline:

followed a change in the taste of the people themselves, that taste itself an inevitable consequence of an increasing population and an increasing prosperity. The simple pleasures which satisfied the London of Charles the Second left the London of George the Third unmoved, and the pleasure-seeking citizen of the London of William the Fourth had a soul altogether above the placid joys of the London of George the Third.

The longevity of Vauxhall can be attributed to the proprietors’ constant upgrading of attractions. While later visitors might not be enticed so much by the walks among the shrubbery, they could be attracted by the balloon ascensions and other circus-like events. Venues whose programs did not change with the times eventually failed and were taken over by urbanization.

The careers of the less famous gardens of the south and the west were almost invariably concluded in even less reputable circumstances, where the conduct of the raffish audiences attracted by their debased pleasures brought upon them the interference of the authorities.

*Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens are not included here, since the author deems them worthy of a chapter of their own.

 

Amusements of Old London series

Cover Reveal: Holly and Hopeful Hearts by the Bluestocking Belles

cover-of-holly-and-hopeful-hearts-copy

About Holly and Hopeful Hearts

When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight

As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Surely she can find a suitable husband amongst the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party. Above stairs or possibly below.

Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis

Facing a dim future as a spinster under her mother’s thumb, Vanessa Sedgely makes a practical decision to attach an amiable gentleman who will not try to rule her life.

A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing

Young widow Grace, Lady de Courtenay, has no idea how a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would make her yearn for love again. Can she learn to forgive Lord Nicholas Lacey and set aside their differences to let love into her heart?

Excerpt

Artemis, by Jessica Cale

Actress Charlotte Halfpenny is in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and out of a job, Charlotte faces eviction two weeks before Christmas. When the reclusive Earl of Somerton makes her an outrageous offer, she has no choice but to accept. Could he be the man of her dreams, or is the nightmare just beginning?

Excerpt

The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight

James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.

Excerpt

Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack

Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke who chases after every skirt he sees. Anna truly thinks the dashing duke cares for her, but her mother has her doubts.

Excerpt

An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield

Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people, but she wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?

Excerpt

Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett

Headstrong bluestocking, Miss Kate Woodville, never thought her Christmas would be spent racing across England with a viscount hell-bent on vengeance. She certainly never expected to find love…

Excerpt

Coming November 8.

Eight original stories, 578 pages of diverse characters,  complex relationships, and happily-ever-afters for $2.99.

Pre-order Now!

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Excerpt from Valuing Vanessa

“Are you certain it is not an imposition, Miss Sedgely? Because I shouldn’t mind showing the ladies around myself, in Mrs. Seavers’s absence.”

Vanessa’s chin rose as she directed a firm gaze at the institution’s housekeeper. “I assure you there is no imposition whatsoever, Mrs. Barnes. I shall be pleased to guide the ladies on their tour this morning, as Matron directed.”

Mrs. Barnes flushed. Obviously she considered the task her own prerogative, but Vanessa had not taken the trouble to get the hospital matron out of town just to be foiled by the housekeeper.

“But what about your class, Miss Sedgely? The children do so look forward to them! Why, they will be exceedingly disappointed to miss them today.” She leaned in closer, her eyes gleaming. “I hear that little Willie had prepared a special passage to read for you. He is quite partial to you, you know.”

Vanessa refused to allow herself to be diverted, in spite of the tiny twinge of guilt she felt deep inside. “My maid has agreed to take my classes for today. She has assisted me previously, you know, and thus is well-known to the children.”

She gave a curt nod to the housekeeper, who took it as the dismissal it was meant to be, and walked out of the room.

The Board of Governors were conducting a meeting in a quarter hour’s time, and Vanessa had taken great pains to find a reason to be lingering in the foyer as the gentlemen arrived. It was Mr. George Durand she wished to encounter, of course. During the week since the masquerade at Vauxhall, she had unearthed a great deal of information about the attractive gentleman.

George William Durand was the grandson of a viscount, his late father being the younger son, who had made law his profession. Durand’s cousin William had become the 4th Viscount Faringdon five years ago following his father’s death, and he had four healthy sons to follow him, which meant the title was unlikely to fall to George. George had followed his father into the law profession, although interestingly, he had briefly studied landscape gardening with one of Capability Brown’s former associates. That ended after his marriage, however, when young George set himself to becoming a successful solicitor like his father. His wife, Geneviève d’Aumale, was a French émigrée, the daughter of a comte who had lost his head on the Place de la Concorde at the hands of revolutionaries. She, her sister Juliette, and their mother the comtesse had lost their lives in a carriage accident which had arisen from an attack of highwaymen.

So dreadful. Life was so ephemeral. In a matter of minutes, three ladies’ lives had been snuffed out in such a horrific manner, leaving their husbands to bear the loss as best they could. And their adolescent daughters, of course. Both Durand and Lord Nicholas had daughters, approximately the same age. And perhaps not surprisingly, both had been residing with relatives since the tragedy. Men were notoriously helpless when it came to their maturing daughters. But in retrospect, Vanessa thought it rather pitiable that the girls had effectively lost both parents in that one disastrous moment.

One thing was certain, however. A well-off gentleman with a near-grown daughter was clearly in need of a wife. And Vanessa thought she might suit this one very well indeed.

Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

Milkmaids on May-Day

On this gay festival, the Londoners of the present century have seen little. J.T. Smith, in his amusing Book for a Rainy Day, describes the carnival of nearly a century since, May 1771: “The gaiety during the merry month of May (says Smith) was to me most delightful; my feet, though I know nothing of the positions, kept pace with those of the blooming milkmaids, who danced round their garlands of massive plate, hired from the silversmiths, to the amount of several hundreds of pounds, for the purpose of placing round an obelisk, covered with silk, fixed upon a chairman’s horse. The most showy flowers of the season were arranged so as to fill up the openings between the dishes, plates, butter-boats, cream-jugs, and tankards. The obelisk was carried by two chairmen, in gold-laced hats, six or more handsome milkmaids in pink and blue gowns, drawn through the pocket-holes, for they had one on either side; yellow or scarlet petticoats, neatly quilted; high-heeled shoes; mob-caps, with lappets of lace resting on their shoulders; nosegays in their bosoms; and flat Woffington hats, covered with ribbons of every color. A magnificent silver tea-urn surmounted the obelisk, the stand of which was profusely decorated with scarlet tulips. A smart, slender fellow of a fiddler, in a sky-blue coat, wit his hat covered with ribbons, attended; and the master of the group was accompanied by a constable, to protect the plate from too close a pressure of the crowd, when the maids were dancing.”

One of Hayman’s paintings in Vauxhall Gardens, was the Milkmaids on May-day: here the garland of plate was carried by a man on his head; the milkmaids, who danced to the music of a wooden-legged fiddler, were very elegant. They had ruffled cuffs; their hats were flat, but not Woffingtons, but more resembled those of the Billingsgate fish-women. In Larcom’s Cries of London, published by Tempest, there is “a Merry Milkmaid;” she is dancing with a small garland of plate upon her head; and her dress is of the latter part of King William the Third’s reign, or the commencement of the reign of Queen Anne.

Francis Hayman’s May Day (Supper-box) Painting

From the V & A:

One of the ancient customs observed on May Day that persisted until the early 19th century was the ‘Milkmaid’s Garland.’ The milkmaids would dress in their best clothes and dance in the streets for their customers. A donation from the customers and from passers-by was expected. A ‘garland’ – a pyramid of borrowed silver tankards, plates and flagons decorated with flowers – was paraded by the milkmaids or carried, as in this painting, by a porter. Francis Hayman also included another May Day custom in his picture: that of the young chimney-sweeps noisily beating their brushes and shovels.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Francis Hayman, Vauxhall Gardens, supper-box painting, ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

See more about May-Day here. 

So… what’s a Woffington hat?

Here’s a portrait of famous courtesan Nelly O’Brien wearing what is described as a “Woffington hat” in Great Portraits Seen and Described by Great Writers. 

Actress and courtesan Nelly O'Brien in a Woffington hat

Actress and courtesan Nelly O’Brien in a Woffington hat

Apparently, this flat style of hat was named after Peg Woffington, Irish actress and lover of David Garrick in Georgian England.

Irish actress Peg Woffington

Irish actress Peg Woffington

Oh, and about Billingsgate fish-women…

In the 18th century, fishwives frequently appeared in satires as fearsome scourges of fops and foreigners. Their vigorous and decisive mien was contrasted with that of politicians who were, by contrast, portrayed as vacillating and weak. For example, in Isaac Cruikshank’s A New Catamaran Expedition!!!, a fleet of Billingsgate fishwives sails across the English Channel to terrorise the French and shame the British Prime Minister Pitt for his inaction.

By Isaac Cruikshank (publisher- Willm. Holland, London) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Isaac Cruikshank (publisher- Willm. Holland, London) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Decades, Part II

vauxhallbook

Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can! The photos are fabulous!

C.H. Simpson: Master of Ceremonies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Battle of Waterloo

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

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

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

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

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

A review from The Times of 19 July 1827:

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

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

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

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever