Tag Archive | Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

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

Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786

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 year 1751 marked the pinnacle of Jonathan Tyers’s success. After twenty years his vision was at last complete, and the basic ensemble of landscape and buildings was in place. The following year the act to license places of public entertainment was passed, leaving just the three major gardens, Marylebone, Ranelagh and Vauxhall, with a virtual monopoly for the time being. Vauxhall’s prestige would never be higher, and the artworks, design and refreshments would never be surpassed. The opening night of the season, Monday 20 May, was attended by about seven thousand visitors, all eager to see the most recent changes, and to enjoy the new musical performances.

A contemporary publication that effectively and entirely objectively sums up Tyers’s achievements is Stephen Whatley’s guide to the main towns and villages of interest in the country, England’s Gazetteer. Apart from a short description of classical statuary at Cuper’s Gardens, the only entry for a pleasure garden is under “Foxhall (Surry)’ (neither Ranelagh nor Marylebone merited a mention):

This is the place, where are those called Spring Gardens, laid out in so grand a taste, that they are frequented, in the 3 summer months, by most of the nobility and gentry, then in and near London; and are often honoured with some of the royal family, who are here entertained with the sweet song of numbers of nightingales, in concert with the best band of musick in England. Here are fine pavilions, shady groves, and most delightful walks, illuminated by above 1000 lamps, so disposed, that they all take fire together, almost as quick as lightning, and dart such a sudden blaze, as is perfectly surprizing. Here are, among others, 2 curious statues of Apollo the god, and Mr. Handel the master of musick; and in the centre of the area, where the walks terminate, is erected the temple for the musicians, which is encompassed all round with handsome seats, decorated with pleasant paintings, on subjects most happily adapted to the season, place, and company.

The growing success of Vauxhall can be attributed directly to Jonathan Tyers’s continual upgrades in music, lights, and fine costumes. Profits from major events were plowed right back into the gardens, which is what drew an increasing number of visitors.

The Pillared Saloon

Prior to the 1751 season, the Pillared Saloon was opened up and an extension created that provided for space for artwork and made space for half again as many visitors. Unfortunately, the design was awkward and unsophisticated and was probably created by inexperienced students at the St. Martin’s Lane Academy.

PILLARED SALLON REMODEL

H. Roberts after S. Wale, The Inside of the Elegant Music Room in Vaux Hall Gardens, engraving, 1752 (British Library, London)

The new indoor orchestra stand opposite the Pillared Saloon, behind a balustrade that separated it from the audience, shared its awkward style; the same foliate columns framed it, and similar paintings decorated its ceiling. It must have been a substantial space, as an Irish visitor in 1752 claimed that he saw fifty-four musicians performing there, accompanying the singers Thomas Lowe and Isabella Burchell.

The Triumphal Arches and Decorative Paintings

In contrast to the gaucherie of the Pillared Saloon, the three triumphal arches built over the South Walk at about the same time presented a more elegant, though more predictable, classical appearance… [T]hey were designed by ‘an ingenious Italian’ and made of timber and painted canvas.

ARCHES

J.S. Muller after S. Wale, The Walk of Triumphal Arches and the Statue of Mr. Handle in Vauxhall Garden, engraving, 1751 (British Library, London).

…the undeniably theatrical view through the three Vauxhall arches to the piece of scenery at the end of the walk must have been impressive; the vista was focused and enclosed by the surrounding trees, and the trompe-l’oeil effect of the scenery seen at the proper distance was intended to draw visitors to that end of the walk, where, on arrival, they could marvel at the skill of the artist, who had fooled them into thinking it was a three-dimensional object.

PALMYRA

E. Rooker after Canaletto, A Vew of the Center Cross Walk &c. in Vauxhall Gardens, engraving, 1751 (British Library, London).

In addition to these theatrical-esque arches, four large scenes were painted and installed at the end of the walks, to camouflage the surrounding landscape and introduce a bit of fantasy. The Temple of Neptune, at the end of the South Walk, was soon replaced by the ruins of Palmyra, after the publication of Robert Wood’s journey there. A painting of an alcove of three niches with figures of Flora and the Genii, at the end of the Dark Walk, was replaced with a scene of a Chinese Garden in 1762. “At the opposite end was an altogether more eccentric scene of another alcove, but this one bore a representation of a scaffolding and ladder ready for artists to work on the canvas.” The explanation for this:

An eminent artist, but of dissipated character, was employed by the first proprietors of the gardens to paint some classical designs at the end of one of the walks; but the delay in their completion so irritated the proprietor, that, having to leave London for a fortnight, he declared to the artist that he would listen to no further excuses, and that if he found his scaffold, paint-pots, &c. on his return, they should be thrown over the garden wall. On his return, perceiving, as he thought, in the same position, the scaffold, paint-pots, &c., he hastened to the spot to put his threat into execution, when, to his great amazement, he found them to be so accurately pictured on the canvas, that he ever after lavished the most extravagant praises upon the delinquent artist.

The Cascade

The most popular of Tyers’s additions in the 1750’s was the artificial Cascade, which was likely conceived by Frances Hayman, from his work with scenery and special effects in the theater.

The Cascade was concealed behind a curtain which was drawn back at a particular time in the evening, as night fell, to reveal a three-dimensional illuminated scene of a landscape with a precipitous waterfall: the illusion was created with sheets of tin fixed to moving belts, turned by a team of Tyers’s lamplighters; when it was running, the noise and spectacle must have been terrific.

Throughout its existence the Cascade underwent various improvements, enlargements, alterations, replacements, demolitions, and moves, which continued into the 1840’s. No visual representation of it survives, but at the height of its popularity in 1762 an anonymous author described it as:

a most beautiful landscape in perspective of a fine open hilly country with a miller’s house and a water mill, all illuminated by concealed lights; but the principal object that strikes the eye is a cascade or water fall. The exact appearance of water is seen flowing down a declivity; and the turning the wheel of the mill, it rises up in a foam at the bottom, and then glides away. This moving picture attended with the noise of the cascade has a very pleasing and surprising effect on both the eye and ear.

Until well into the 1820’s, when it was demolished to make way for the new Ballet Theatre, the Cascade continued to delight and surprise Vauxhall audiences, with depictions of the tidal race and watermill at London Bridge, of distance military encampments, and other scenes.

CASCADE

Well, I did find this image of the Cascade! Or at least it purports to be such.

The Gothic Orchestra

The original Orchestra building had outlived its usefulness, and was replaced in 1757-8 with a sort of Gothic-style building, made of wood and plaster and painted white and ‘bloom’, whatever that is. This building remained through the end of the gardens, having a domed roof with a “finial of Prince of Wales feathers”. The organ and musicians occupied the top floor, with supper-boxes on the bottom. The upper floor had graduated seating that made the musicians visible to the audience.

vauxhall_Muller_1751

Anon., A Perspective View of the Grand Walk in Vauxhall Gardens, and the Orchestra, engraving (David Coke’s collection), from the Gentleman’s Magazine (August 1765). The earliest view of the new Gothic Orchestra, built in 1757.

The Company

As we have mentioned previously, Vauxhall attracted a diverse group of visitors, more than any other entertainment of the period. The bulk of its income, however, came from the “Smarts,” which were middle-class young men, known for their licentiousness and self-indulgence, who came to show off to their female companions. A press reporter put it this way in July 1738:

The Smarts are, as it were, the sole Authors of our publick diversions at the Theatre they have a majority of the pit and the boxes: to them the Opera owes its subsistence, and Vaux Hall, the agreeable Vauxhall! would be a wilderness without them.

A big draw for the lower classes was the opportunity to encounter the upper classes, royalty, or other celebrities, that they would not normally be allowed anywhere near.

An account of a visit by an upper-class party is given by Horace Walpole:

I had a card from Lady Caroline Petersham to go with her to Vauxhall. I went accordingly to her house at half an hour after seven, and found her and little Ashe, or the pollard Ashe, as they call her; they had just finished their last layer of red, and looked as handsome as crimson could make them. […] We got into the best order we could and marched to our barge, with a boat of French horns attending and little Ashe singing. We paraded some time up the river and at last debarked at Vauxhall […]. At last we assembled in our booth, Lady Caroline in the front, with the vizor of her hat erect, and looking gloriously jolly and handsome. She had fetched my brother Orford from the next box, where he was enjoying himself with his Norsa and his petite partie, to help us to mince chickens. We minced seven chickens into a china dish, which Lady C. stewed over a lamp with three pats of butter and a flagon of water, stirring and rattling and laughing, and we every minute expecting to have the dish fly about our ears. She had brought Betty [Neale] the fruit girl, with hampers of strawberries and cherries from Rogers’s, and made her wait upon us, and then made her sup by us at a little table […]. In short, the whole air of our party was sufficient as you will easily imagine to take up the whole attention of the garden, so much so, that from eleven o’clock till half an hour after one, we had the whole concourse round our booth, at last they came into the little gardens of each booth on the sides of ours, till Harry Vane took up a bumper and drank their healths, and was proceeding to treat them with still greater freedom. It was three o’clock before we got home.

Then there was Henry Timberlake, who brought a group of Cherokee Indians to the gardens on two occasions, the second advertised ahead of time drawing ten thousand curious onlookers. (Note: those Cherokees had a very busy schedule. Take a peek here.)

A ‘silent majority’ of visitors came from the professional classes, lawyers, doctors, parsons, and increasingly in the 1780’s, after Tyers’s death, prostitutes and the demi-monde.

demi-rep

Anon., The Vauxhall Demi-Rep, engraving, 1772 (Senate House Library, London). One of the working girls who frequented the gardens. Less a prostitute than an escort, the demo-rep would join an all-male party to titillate and amuse the men.

 

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

Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda

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 Organ Building

In 1737, the Organ Building was built, after numerous delays related to “the acoustics and audible range of the organ in this outdoor setting, as well as the damping of the building itself to ensure that no structural vibrations spoiled the sound.”

This square structure was the same width as the Orchestra, and was on three levels; a heavy lower storey supported the first floor where a short bridge joined the two buildings together. This first floor, at the same level as the first floor of the Orchestra, was partly taken up by the organ console and pipes, and partly by a covered open space running all around it. The building then rose to the ‘belfry’, which had louvred semicircular openings on all four faces to project the sound of the organ around the gardens… The lower storey, totally unrelieved by any surface decoration, was pierced by a triple arch on each of its four plain faces, one taller arch flanked by two smaller; the taller central arch on each face was a hybrid triform arch which gave the building a real visual strength and presence.

organ005

Vauxhall and the Weather

The typical rainy English weather, especially on opening day every spring, was a significant problem for an outdoor business such as this one. In 1740, due to the loss in business caused by the poor weather of 1739, Tyers announced “several considerable Additions and Improvements,” which were later described as “Conveniences for receiving Company in cold or rainy Weather,” whatever that means.

Weather-related jokes at Vauxhall’s expense were commonplace; especially popular was the one about a farmer waiting to see when the gardens were going to open, so he would know when to plant his crops, a good few days of drenching rain being assured.
The regularity of rain on Vauxhall’s opening night increased in the nineteenth century; so much so that, at one stage, announcements advertising the forthcoming opening were carried around town printed on umbrellas.

The Three “Tents”

In 1742 Henry Fielding described his impressions on entering the gardens. The first structures he saw there were ‘two similar Tents’ under the trees of the Grove, ‘of such a Contrivance and Form, as a Painter of Genius and Judgement would chuse to adorn his Landscape with.’ If these were, in fact, the shelters that Tyers had announced two years earlier offering protection from cold and wet weather, their position was certainly appropriate, between the Orchestra and the Prince’s Pavilion, and only a few yards from the entrance and the servery. The word ‘tent’ did not specifically apply to a canvas structure; indeed, it could refer to almost any temporary building, especially in a garden.

A “Turkish Tent” was built as an undercover dining area for visitors who could not get a supper-box or wanted to have a more entertaining party. “Its exotic style, more closely associated with Venetian festivals… allowed visitors to act the part of Eastern potentates relaxing on their magnificent bed under a grande baldacchino.

The design of this structure is clearly more informal and frivolous than the strictly classical styles favored by Tyers in his earlier buildings.

The Rotunda

In the 1740’s, other entrepreneurs jumped into the pleasure gardens business, the most successful of which were Ranelagh and Marylebone Gardens.

In the face of serious competition from such places and in view of the unreliable British summer, Tyers was under constant pressure to introduce regular improvements whenever adequate funding was available. At the end of the 1740s he went one step further, and, playing the proprietors of Ranelagh at their own game, installed a major new structure as a grand assembly room and concert hall for use by the band when the weather was too wet or windy.

Variously called the ‘Umbrella Room’, the ‘Music Room’, the ‘Great Room’ or simply the Rotunda, Tyers’s building, with its orchestra stand and organ, was capable of accommodating as many musicians as its outdoor equivalent.

rotunda006

The most remarkable feature of the original Rotunda was undoubtedly the chandelier described by Lockman as having been designed by a gentleman amateur. This chandelier, 11 feet across and with 72 candles, must have been one of the largest in the country, a hugely impressive piece of furniture, and its grandeur was considerably enlightened sometime later by the addition of a plaster sculpture, the Rape of Semele by Jupiter.

The Rotunda was redecorated at intervals… The modelled floral decoration of the ceiling was stripped out in 1765, and the roof re-painted ‘in the resemblance of a shall. For the opening gala of Tuesday 18 May 1790, the Rotunda, growing ever more exotic, was fitted up in imitation of a Persian divan. It was then redecorated several times, becoming by turns a garden tent, a Roman military pavilion, an Indian garden-room and, finally, a circus hippodrome, with two tiers of audience boxes, a proscenium stage and a central ring for displays of horsemanship and circus acts.

 

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

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

Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes

vauxhallbook

Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

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

The Orchestra

Across from the Prince’s Pavilion, mentioned in last week’s post, stood the open-air bandstand known as the Orchestra, which opened on 3 June 1735.

There is built in the Grove of the Spring-Gardens at Vaux-Hall, an Octagon Temple, intended to serve as an Orchestra, for a Band of our finest Instrumental Performers; who will play (beginning at Five every Evening during the Summer-Season) the compositions of Mr. Handel, and other celebrated Masters. Upon Trial, the Concert had a wonderful Effect, the Sounds spreading through every Part of this delightful Garden; so that Gentlemen and Ladies, whether walking, or sitting in the Alcoves, may hear it to the greatest Advantage. Though there has not yet been any Thing of this kind exhibited among us, and the Master of the Gardens has put himself to a considerable Expence upon this Occasion, yet nothing will be requir’d for this innocent and elegant additional Entertainment, which will begin Tomorrow at the Hour above-mentioned.

This building, with a base of large blocks of roughened masonry, supported an upper floor, an octagonal room enclosed by eight arches illuminated by a central chandelier. The outer area of the first (second) floor was bounded by a low balustrade.

Although the opening night was plagued with poor weather, a good audience was in attendance.

Yesterday being so rainy, little no Company was expected in the Spring-Gardens at Vaux-Hall, for which reason the Concert was to have been put off till this Evening; but a great Number of Coaches and Persons of the best Fashion coming in, the Concert was open’d; several very fine musical Compositions were perform’d, to the great Satisfaction of the Hearers, and especially of the Judges of Musick, many of whom were present on this Occasion. The Gardens, tho’ so very pleasant in themselves, were yet greatly improv’d by the Harmony, which had different Effects (but all delightful) in the various parts of the Garden; so that all the elegant Company seem’d very desirous of encouraging this rural kind of Opera, which pleas’d no less from the Execution than from the Novelty of it.

As popular as the orchestra music became, it was soon clear that the large number of trees were a detriment to the acoustics. Tyers lost no time in removing “a great Number of Trees… from the Thicket joyning to the Orchestra,” and placing “several Tables and Seats fixed at proper Distances, in the Openings” so that visitors could enjoy refreshments while listening to the music.

The Orchestra itself was able to accommodate, on its upper level, as many as thirty seated and standing musicians. The building’s actual dimensions… judging from the numerous visual sources… measured over 20 feet in diameter and about 25 feet in height to the tip of the conical slated roof—quite a small building, but certainly large enough for its purpose.

bars003

From a satirical pamphet “A Trip to Vaux-hall (1737): Notice the bar in the lower left where waiters went to collect food orders for the visitors. Also, the roof terrace above where Tyers could keep an eye on everything.

The Supper-Boxes

Between September of 1735 and April 1736, during the off-season, more improvements were made.

The Improvements in the Spring-Gardens at Vaux Hall (which have employ’d upwards of 100 Hands ever since last August) being now finish’d, and a Band, consisting of above thirty of the ablest Performers provided, the Musical Assembly will be open’d next Wednesday [19 May]. The Grove, which is considerably enlarged and finely laid out in Gravel Walks, is embellish’d with a great Number of Colonades [the supper-boxes]; and in the Centre is an Edifice, in the Form of a Temple, for the Band, who will play the favourite Pieces of the most eminent Masters. The whole is so advantageously dispos’d, that 3000 Persons may sit at ease, and see one another during the Entertainment. In the Grove, above 300 Glass Lights are set up, all which are illuminated in half a Minute, and have a beautiful Effect on the Verdure. For the better Conveniency of the Company, a great Number of Waiters, &c., are provided; and in order that this innocent and agreeable Entertainment may be conducted with such a Decency, as many induce the politest Persons, and those of the most serious Character to honour it with their Presence, a proper Guard will attend to keep out all lewd and disorderly Persons. —Notwithstanding the very great Expence the Master has been, and must necessarily be at, during the Season, yet it was his intention to have admitted all Persons into his Gardens in the same Manner as last Summer; but as Numbers resorted thither who were no ways qualify’d to intermix with Persons of better Fashion; for this Reason he has been persuaded to let none enter but with Tickets (to be given out at the Door) at One Shilling each, which Ticket will be afterwards taken at the Entertainment in the Gardens, as One Shilling, if desir’d.

The old arbors and rickety supper-boxes in existence before Tyers came upon the scene were tossed away in favor of new and orderly ones arranged outside of the Orchestra. The Vauxhall Fan, which was produced and sold for three consecutive years (1736-8) as new features were introduced (only the first of which still exists) shows the view from the entrance, looking down the Grand Walk, with the Orchestra building on the right.

Many of the trees carry a globe lamp on a bracket, and more lamps hang on lamp-posts and from the ceiling of each supper-box. The edition of 1737 added the organ building behind the Orchestra, and in 1738 Roubiliac’s new statue of Handel was included.

The Vauxhall Fan (1736)

The Vauxhall Fan (1736)

In such a manner,Tyers made use of the popularity and intriguing “language” of the fan as a clever marketing tool.

The north and south ranges of supper-boxes… made up of more than twenty boxes each, were almost 300 feet long and about six to eight feet deep. A shorter range of eight boxes on the far side of the Grove between the two parallel walks, was around 100 feet long, making each box about 12 feet wide. The boxes themselves were initially open on all sides, with only a rail dividing adjacent supper parties from each other, leading to unwonted intimacies between friends and strangers alike. From 1741 or ’42 solid walls divided every box from its neighbour, and each one was roofed with waxed cloth and had a fixed bench around three sides of its table.

The layout of the Grove was remarkably formal and austere, like an ancient Greek agora. Through his arrangement of the boxes Tyers discouraged overtly immoral or intemperate behavior by providing a setting where there were no hidden corners and where the privacy enjoyed by Pepys and his contemporaries was difficult to achieve.

The exact number of supper-boxes in the years before 1751 is difficult to estimate, but it must have been around fifty-five. This rose sharply to over 130 in 1751, reaching a maximum of about 140 around 1800, before falling back to about 90 in the 1840’s.

The many additions to the number of boxes demonstrate that dining space was always at a premium, and that Tyers was under constant pressure to provide additional seating for his visitors wherever he could. This not only boosted his profits from food sales, but also helped his staff earn additional tips by finding more private seating for parties of visitors.

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

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

Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction

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!

William Hogarth Comes to the Rescue

The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1824 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00112

The Painter and his Pug 1745 William Hogarth

In our last installment, Vauxhall mastermind Jonathan Tyers was facing financial ruin when his most recent event wiped away all the profits of his other three. The story goes that his good friend William Hogarth, who still lived nearby, saw Tyers looking very dejected and asked what was the matter. Tyers replied that he was just trying to decide whether hanging himself or drowning was a better way to kill himself. Hogarth convinced him to wait until the following day, when he would share some ideas that might help. It can’t be known for certain what those ideas were, but it is clear that Hogarth was responsible for turning around the situation at Vauxhall.

In 1733 Tyers presented his friend William Hogarth with a solid gold pass to the gardens, giving free entry in perpetuity to a coach full of people. This unique and generous gift was accompanied by something even more precious, a small portrait of Tyers himself, painted when he was a young man visiting Paris, a gesture made in recognition of Hogarth’s many past favours.

hogarth pass

One of Hogarth’s ideas undoubtedly had to do with including contemporary English art, as he was always looking for places to display his own work and that of friends and students. Hogarth also persuaded Tyers to tone down his old-fashioned moralizing and use pleasure and enjoyment as his educational tools.

Early Design and Layout

When Jonathan Tyers took on Vauxhall Gardens, the site was more like a densely wooded park than a garden, and was basically a rectangle of mixed deciduous woodland, mainly elm, lime and sycamore, cut through by a grid of several long walks at approximate right angles to each other.

There were in the public areas no bodies of water or fountains, no angles other than right angles, no formal flower beds, no mound, no topiary, no serpentine walks, nor the mazes or grottos…

Sophisticated landscape design played little part in Tyers’s Vauxhall, which was intended to accommodate as many people as possible with seeming overcrowded, while at the same time never appearing too sparsely populated.

The Proprietor’s House: the Entrance to the Gardens

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The Proprietor’s House (right) which served as the entrance to the gardens (Vauxhall is written upon the doorway). The left side may have been the residence of the Tyers family.

The interior of the Proprietor’s House was described in the 1830’s by a writer who called himself the ‘tame cat’ of the gardens. On some of the ceilings ‘there were dim paintings, which the proprietor averred were the works of William Hogarth’. The house also boasted a large ballroom and ten bedrooms on the second floor. On the ground floor, above extensive cellars, there were:

Two handsome Parlours, with Dove and Marble Chimney Pieces, and Folding Doors, with Communication into the Pavilion Supper Rooms, and Private Entrance from the Lane, with Noble Light Staircase, Manager’s Office, and Public Entrance, called the Water Gate, with Money Takers’ Officers; Housekeeper’s Room, with Presses; Spacious Bar fronting the Gardens; Bread Room; Store Room; Pantry; China Room; Chicken Pantry; Glass Room; Punch Room; Pastry Room, with Tiled Bottom, and Confectionary, with Two excellent Ovens, Stewing Stoves, and Dressers, a capital large Paved Kitchen, with Dresser and Shelves; Scullery, with Pump of fine Water; and Yard, with detached Servants’ Dining Room; Pantry; Larder; Boiling House; Ham Room; Shed; and Servants’ Office.

Entering the gardens through this substantial house, at least for the first-time visitor, would have been a thrilling experience. After the discomfort of the journey, the modest entrance door, and the gloomy passage through the house, the first sight of the gardens, with their confusion of noise, colour, smell and movement, would have been breathtaking, like the raising of a curtain in a theatre, immediately transporting the visitor to another world.

The Prince’s Pavilion and Great Room

prince002

Situated adjacent to the Proprietor’s House, and accessible from it, [the Prince’s Pavilion] was a Kentian, classically inspired rectangular building with a portico of four Doric columns, set up on a basement storey, and accessed by a double flight of seven steps over a low arch… At the back of the portico, through a central door, was a single large drawing-room.

The name ‘Prince’s Pavilion’ refers specifically to the broad open-fronted portico at the front of the building… The attached Great Room or Salon was reached through the rusticated central doorway at the back of the portico. This room was richly decorated… It was fitted with fine mirrors, a grand chandelier, and a series of busts of modern worthies, including Isaac Newton, Alexander Pope and Abraham de Moivre.

Regular news reports attest to the prince’s frequent use of the pavilion and the Great Room behind it. On a typical occasion in 1737, a Saturday evening early in the season, the prince and his party, including the Earl of Darnley and the Earl of Crawford, Lord and Lady Torrington, Lady Irwin and Lord Baltimore, danced and supped in the Great Room from seven until midnight, after which their river journey back to Whitehall was accompanied by trumpets and French horns.

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: A History

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!

newspringgardensmap

Public Gardens

Royal Parks, such as St. James and Hyde Park, began to open up to the public in the seventeenth century. The first “Spring Garden” was located near St. James Park. Amenities in 1614 included a bathing pond, water fountains, graveled paths and fruit trees, a butt for archery, and a tiltyard. A bowling green was added by Charles II. It also became known for excessive drinking, quarrels, and hopeful prostitutes.

Samuel Pepys and the “Old” and “New” Spring Gardens

But there were also “Spring Gardens” at Vauxhall during the early seventeenth century, and after the Restoration, two of them, one “Old” and one “New” which has caused much confusion over the years. The “Old Spring Garden” was a pleasant place to walk with trees and flowers, with food available that Samuel Pepys spoke of as too “dear”, causing him and his family to eat at a nearby house instead after they had also visited the “New Spring Garden.” The word “New” was used to indicate that it was re-opened after the Restoration. Before 1750, when Westminster Bridge was opened, most visitors arrived by boat.

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

An early visitor, Balthasar de Monconys, described it:

We took a boat to the other side of the Thames to see two gardens, where everyone can go and walk, have something to eat in the restaurants or in the cabins in the garden. They are called Spring Gardens, that is to say Jardin du Printemps, and the new one is more beautiful than the old. I admired the beauty of the grassy walks and the niceness of the sanded ones. It is divided into a large number of plots twenty or thirty yards square, enclosed by gooseberry hedges, and these plots are also planted with raspberry bushes, roses, and other shrubs, as well as herbs and vegetables, such as peas, beans, asparagus, strawberries and so on. The walks are bordered with jonquils, gilliflowers or lilies. We returned after we had eaten and went again to Longacre.

Samuel_Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys was a frequent visitor to the gardens, mentioning it twenty-three times in his Diary from 1662 to July 1668. On one of his earlier visits, he mentions “boys doing tumbling tricks”. In 1665 when the plague began to take hold, he mentions “the ayre and pleasure of the garden, was a great refreshment to me, and methinks, that which we ought to Joy ourselves in.” A month later, he writes:

I to Fox-hall, where to the Spring-garden; but I do not see one guest there, the town being so empty of anybody to come thither. Only, while I was there, a poor woman came to scold with the master of the house that a kinswoman, I think, of hers, that was newly dead of the plague, might be buried in the church-yard; for, for her part, she should not be buried in the Commons, as they said she should.

A year later, Pepys describes visiting the park with a friend and having a sexual encounter with some prostitutes in a private arbor. He also mentions bird (particularly nightingale) and animal calls, an entertainment which was to become customary at Vauxhall. From his writings, one can infer that entrance to the gardens was free, but that food and drink were not. One entry describes a situation where ladies were stalked by drunken men. Pepys says this:

… at last, the ladies did get off out of the house and took boat and away. I was troubled to see them abused so; and could have found my heart, as little desire of fighting as I have, to have protected the ladies.

Another time, when he visited with his wife, he was again troubled by these young rapscallions:

So over the water with my wife and Deb and Mercer to Spring-garden, and there eat and walked, and observe how rude some of the young gallants of the town are become, to go into people’s arbors where there are not men, and almost force the women—which troubled me, to see the confidence of the vice of the age: and so we away by water, with much pleasure home.

Food and Drink at the Spring Gardens

Restoration literature mentions waiters. The food served was usually cold: the very thin ham shavings that Vauxhall was known for, chicken served with salad, and occasionally beef and lobster. Strawberries and cream were popular, the fruit grown in local market gardens. Beverages were wine, beer, and rack punch (a drink from India containing arrack—distilled from coconut sap—hot water, limes, sugar, and spice).

The Great Walk

Tom Brown mentions the Great Walk—the central feature of the gardens—in Amusements, published in 1700.

The ladies that have an inclination to be private take delight in the close walks of Spring Gardens, where both sexes meet and mutually serve one another as guides to lose their way; the windings and turnings in the little wilderness are so intricate that the most experienced mothers have often lost themselves in looking for their daughters.

Much mention is made of intrigues and sexual encounters in the “Spring Gardens,” although it is hinted that such is of a somewhat higher class there than in other public venues. Sir Roger de Coverley complained to the mistress of the house “that he should be a better customer to her garden if there were more nightingales and fewer strumpets” after he was accosted by a “wanton baggage” there.

An escape from the city

The Spring Gardens, although not really the countryside, were far enough away from the dirt and smells of the city that its widely diverse visitors could—at least for a short while—escape their troubles. The following anonymous verses were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of June 1732:

At Vauxhall Stairs they land, their Passage pay,

And to Spring Gardens, tread the beck’ning way.

‘Hail pleasing Shades! O hail thou secret Grove!

The blest Retreat of Liberty and Love.

All hail, ye Bow’rs! Ye beaut’ous Silvan Scenes,

Ye Grotts, and Mazes of fresh blooming Greens;

Here dwells no Care, no matrimonial Strife,

The peevish Husband, nor the bawling Wife;

Here’s no Restraint to make our Pleasures cloy,

We part at will, and as we please enjoy

See how the Birds by Nature taught to rove,

How sweet they sing, and how like us they love.

With careless Ease they hop from Tree to Tree,

And are as Merry, and as blest as we.

Thrice happy State! Each am’rous Trulla says,

And baits with Poison all the various ways;

The Walks are fill’d with Throngs of different Sort,

From Fleet Street, Drury, and incog., from Court.

To these fair Shades, see Belles and Beaus advance,

Some sigh, some sing, some whistle, and some dance.

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