Tag Archive | William B. Boulton

Amusements of Old London: Sundry Diversions

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.”

“Modern” folks less brutal and more sophisticated

People of condition in the reigns of Anne and the Georges flocked to the Strand or to Covent Garden to see waxworks at Mrs. Salmon’s, or puppet-shows at Mr. Powell’s, or to watch Mrs. Saraband’s dogs and monkeys going through the operations of a siege with toy cannons and scaling-ladders.

Side by side with these innocent simplicities flourished the brutalities which we have examined in our inquiries into the humours of Hockley, the cockpit and the prize-ring, the last two at least of which famous institutions depended upon the support of well-to-do people for their prosperity and development. So too with the great mass of the people, separated in those days much more sharply from the classes than to-day. They delighted, as we have seen, in the primitive joys of Bartholomew’s Fair or the tea gardens, and were always ready to see much fun in the spectacle of a man grinning through a horse-collar. From such innocent diversion they would turn with joy to the horrors of the duck hunt or the cockshy; and a good place of vantage from which to see old Lovat’s head roll on the scaffold at the Tower, or Jack Rann swing into the air at Tyburn Tree, was held worth while spending the previous day to secure.

Whatever else may be said of the modern entertainments which appeal to the tastes and the purses of the London of to-day, it will not be contended that they lack humanity or err on the side of simplicity in execution or design.

“Simple and curious entertainments”

The naïveté of the audiences of the early part of the last century, and the ease with which they were amused, appear very plainly, we think, in the success which rewarded some very simple and curious entertainments of a spectacular character, which, by reason of that success, became serious competitors of the legitimate drama at Drury Lane.

Puppet Shows

Great people flocked to Mr. Powell’s establishment under the Piazza in Covent Garden in numbers which seriously reduced the takings of the patent houses, and hampered the progress of the exotic opera, then lately introduced into England.

These included marionette plays mixing biblical stories with Punch and Judy characters, such as “Punch and Judy dancing in Noah’s ark, Punch subsequently seating himself on the Queen of Sheba’s lap, fighting the Duke of Lorraine, and selling the King of Spain a bargain.”

Mrs. Salmon’s waxworks in Fleet Street near Temple Bar, foreshadowed Madame Tussaud’s.

Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks

M. Bisset astonished the town… with his Cats’ Opera and troupe of other animals; monkeys taking wine together, riding on horses, and dancing minuets with dogs. One of M. Bisset’s hares walked on its hind legs and beat a drum… [He] also induced his six turkeys to walk through the steps of a country dance.

Pantomime, like Opera, crept into England at the beginning of the eighteenth century, “comique masques in the high style of Italie” were announced, and a ballet at Drury Lane of the Loves of Mars and Venus, where the whole story was told by gesture… foreshadowed the real pantomime which soon followed. Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Theatre produced a piece called “Harlequin Executed” in 1717, which is accepted as the first real pantomime by historians of the stage… Even Garrick himself found the pantomime a serious rival, and was wont to reproach his audiences in the prologues and epilogues which he turned so neatly.

GHL33155 Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, 1811

In the “modern” Victorian era, Boulton cites the “silly performances of the medical mountebank. Katerfelto

…took advantage of an epidemic of influenza to work upon the nerves of audiences with magic langterns and fearsome images of microbes and animalculae. His darkened rooms, black cats, and electric machines impressed his visitors hugely, instead of anticipating the fairly obvious fact later established by a magistrate, when his fire balloons set haystacks alight, that he was a rogue and a vagabond.

Dr. Graham, with the help of the lovely Emma, advocated mud-baths and lectured on “perpetual youth and beauty,” with the illustration of “blooming nursemaid… as the ‘Goddess of Health.'” The Celestial Bed held “great attractions for those wanting heirs, the ‘rosy Goddess of Health assisting at the celestial matters… and that sacred Vital Fire over which she watches.’ “With such attractions as these, Dr. Graham contrived to fill his rooms with a mob of silly people at five shillings a head.”

Philip Astley of Astley’s Amphitheatre was a “true pioneer” in the equestrian entertainment business “and should be canonised as the patron saint of all ringmasters. Astley saved George III’s life on Westminster Bridge and received a royal license. See more about Astley’s Amphitheatre in a previous post.

Like Heidegger, Tyers and others, Philip Astley and his son “claim mention here as men whose fortunes were made by devoting their energies to the amusement of the London of their day.”

Then there was cudgel-playing at open spaces like Spa Fields that drew large crowds. In 1768, “an extraordinary battle was fought in the Spa Fields by two women against two taylors for a guinea a head, which was won by the ladies, who beast the taylors in a severe manor.”

At Spa Fields and other places, grinning matches were popular attractions. In 1779, the authorities took advantage of “such assemblies of British manhood” by offering “an ox roasted whole and unlimited beer to the “friends of their king and country,” hinting at the advantages of enlistment. “Some men were enlisted, but more were impressed, as the bloodhounds were on the scent, and ran breast high.”

Boulton feels that Londoners came late to appreciate the value of the Thames as a source of entertainment, although its value for transportation exceeded London roads as late as the Regency.

People did swim in the Thames from Stuart times to George IV, however. “Mr. Benjamin Franklin, has left record of a swim which he took through London from Lambeth to London Bridge in the reign of George the Third.” In 1807, Lord Byron swam from Lambeth three miles with the tide.

The Thames appears to have been used as an opportunity for the common people to express their views without fear of retribution. People of fashion who traveled to Vauxhall by boat would hire musicians, not just for the entertainment value, but also for protection from unruly hecklers. “It was the pride and joy of the average boatload of apprentices from the city to unite the vulgarity of their whole company in an epithet of suitable brevity, and fire it off upon every passing boatload of their betters they encountered on the voyage.

The Folly, the only floating place of entertainment of which there is record, a large hulk moored off Somerset House in the days of the Restoration, and fitted up as a musical summer-house for the entertainment of the quality, sank from a resort of the fashionables “to a receptacle for companies of loose and disorderly people for the purposes of drinking and promiscuous dancing.”

The Ranelagh Regatta of 1775 was the first of many such functions. Later on, the proprietors of Vauxhall Gardens began offering prizes for sailing races, and that spurred on more interest in leisure sailing on the Thames.

Vauxhall Sailing Match, engraving, 1800 (Minet Library, London, Lambeth Archives Department, V. fo. 57). This appears to be the only surviving image of one of the Vauxhall sailing matches.

Then there was the cock-shy, or cock-throwing, which was celebrated on Shrove Tuesday.

On that holy day you might see, in all open parts of the town, cocks or hens tied by the leg, their owners offering sticks at twopence a throw at a range of a chain, or twenty-two yards, just, in fact, as one used to throw at cocoa-nuts at a country fair. The cock had a certain length of strong in which to manoeuvre, and his master had trained him to avoid the knock over, which him the property of his assailant, as long as possible, and so to earn may twopences.

The duck hunt, however, was not limited to a season.

The duck-pond was a small affair, and boarded to the height of the knee round its edges to prevent the excited spectators from falling in in their eagerness to follow the incidents of the sport. These all arose from the movements of a pinioned duck which was put into the water and hunted by a spaniel or spaniels. “It escaped,” we are told, “as long as it was able by diving.”

Survival of the Fittest

Of the amusements of our ancestors in London which we have examined in our inquiry, how many have survived to our times. Practically one, and one only, the theatre, which to-day perhaps fills a greater place than ever amongst the diversions of the town… Parks, of course, remain, but they are no longer the playground of fashion which London made of them in the days of the Ring or the Mall. The tea gardens and Vauxhall were features of the London of other days, which all who have studied their old delights must regret… We may congratulate ourselves upon the change in taste and manners which has rendered the excsses of the play tables impossible in these days. No one regrets the disappearance of Hockley in the Hole, or the closing of cockpits and prize-rings… Speaking generally, Londoners of all ranks have exchanged most of their former joys for diversions in which bodily exercise takes a chief part; the man who formerly lost his fortune at hazard or faro at White’s or Brooks’s now spends it in healthy forms of sport which take him over the country, and indeed, over the globe for its gratification. Men of a lower station play cricket and football or ride bicycles when they are young, and look on at others doing the same when age overtakes them. And London and England have surely gained by the change.

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: Clubs and Coffee-houses

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 origin of the gentleman’s club can be traced to the introduction of “the bitter black drink called coffee,” as described by Samuel Pepys, during the last years of William III. Boulton points to “a humble establishment which was opened for the sale of coffee in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, in the year 1652, as the parent of institutions of such superfine male fashion as White’s, the Turf, or the Marlborough Clubs of our day.”

Coffee-house in Istanbul

Mr. Edwards, a Turkey merchant, who was accustomed to travel in the East, acquired the Oriental habit on his travels, and brought home with him to London from Ragusa… a youth who acted as his servant and was accustomed to prepare Mr. Edwards’ coffee for him of a morning. “But the novelty thereof,” says Mr. Oldys the antiquarian, “drawing too much company to him he allowed the said servant with another of his son-in-law to set up the first coffee-house in London at St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the coffee-houses in the town were so increased in numbers that they were reckoned at 3000 by Mr. Hatton in his “New View of London,” and the coffee-house had already taken its place as one of the most remarkable among the social developments of modern England.

For by the time that Queen Anne came to the throne all London had arranged itself into groups of patrons for one or other of the different coffee-houses. City merchants went to Garraway’s in Change Alley, Cornhill, a house which combined business with pleasure, and had an auction-room on the first floor… Much of the gambling in connection with the South Sea Bubble of 1720 was conducted at Garraway’s. Jonathan’s, also in Change Alley, was another famous house of business devoted to stock-jobbers. Lloyd’s, the great organisation of the shipping interest… is the development of a coffee-house of the same name… The doctors had their meeting-house at Batson’s at the Royal Exchange, where physicians used to meet the apothecaries and prescribe for patients they were neer to see. The clergy, from bishops downwards, went to Child’s in St. Paul’s Churchyard or the Chapter Coffee-house in Paternoster Row.  Leaving the city and proceeding westward, Nando’s, the house at Temple Bar…; Dick’s…; Serle’s…; the Grecian…; and Squire’s… were all houses near the various Inns of Court and were much haunted by lawyers.

Lloyd’s

Then there were the coffee-houses for men of a certain intellectual interest.  “The great Dryden” held court at Wills’s, on the corner of Bow and Russell Streets. Dean Swift, along with Mr. Addison and Mr. Steele, took over the literary tradition after Dryden’s death at Button’s, on the other side of Russell Street. The Bedford in Covent Garden was the haunt of Foote, Fielding, Churchill, Hogarth, Dr. Arne, and Goldsmith.

Further west still can be found the birthplace of the social club, those clubs

supported by lounging men of fashion, the “pretty fellows” of Anne and the Georges, and by the adventurers and sycophants who had fortunes to push in such fine company. The most fashionable of these houses were clustered in or near the parish of St. James’s, taking their tone, as was natural, from the neighbourhood of the court. Many of these places had a political cast, but all were meeting-places of men of birth and condition.

Rowlandson: A Mad Dog in a Coffee-house

The St. James coffee-house was primarily Whig. The Cocoa Tree at Pall Mall “gathered the Tories and those discontented gentlemen who looked askance at the Hanoverian king at St. James’s, and drank furtive healths to the Pretender.” White’s Chocolate House (the true origin the social club) “was a meeting place for the more fashionable exquisites of the town and the court, and for the followers who lived upon them.

Mr. Mackay describes the coffee-houses in “Journey Through England” (1714).

About twelve o’clock, the beau monde assemble in several coffee and chocolate houses, the best of which are White’s Chocolate-house, the Cocoa Tree, the Smyrna, and the British coffee-houses, and all these so near one another, that in less than hour you see the company of them all. You are entertained at piquet or basset at White’s, or you may talk politics at the Smyrna or St. James’s,”

Tea, coffee, and chocolate, and wine were purveyed at these houses, with light viands like biscuit and sandwiches; set meals were supplied only at the taverns—houses of a different type in which… the sale of liquor was the chief object. “But the general way here,” says Mr. Mackay, “is to make a party at the coffee-house to go to dine at the tavern, except you are invited to dine at the table of some great man.”

Boulton suggests that the development of the coffee-houses was

the expression of a feeling of security among all classes of Englishmen after the troubled days of the seventeenth century… Men now for the first time for a hundred years saw opportunities both for business and relaxation which had been impossible during the period of civil and religious tumult… which was only attained by the Act of Settlement and by the acceptance of the Hanoverian dynasty. A period of social prosperity and expansion was then beginning which leveloped later under the wise rule of the sagacious Walpole, and made possible amenities of social life which had been unknown in England since the days of Elizabeth.

The Kit Kat Club was “the very expression itself of the security and beneficence of the new order of things under the wise Whig rule.

Dean Swift, who organized the Brothers Club, stated that “the end of our club is to advance conversation and friendship, and to reward learning without interest or recommendation.”

The Royal Society and the Dilettante Society were the two clubs devoted to scholarship as well as social intercourse. Notable members of the latter were Reynolds, Fitzwilliam, Charles Fox, Garrick, Colman, and Windham, but not Horace Walpole, who failed to be admitted and was fond of saying that “the nominal qualification is having been to Italy, and the real one being drunk.”

The tradition of the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, which included such men as William Hogarth, Francis Hayman, Churchill, Mr. Wilkes, Lord Sandwich, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Chase Price, and the Prince of Wales, was “nothing more than the joviality arising from these meetings to eat beefsteak and drink port wine, the only viands allowed by its rules.”

The Literary Club was “[t]he most notable… of all these famous gatherings which were the solace of the leisure of men of distinction throughout the eighteenth century.” That choice society was so exlusive that it blackballed bishops and Lord Chancellors, and kept its own friends waiting for years for admission to its charmed circle because they expressed too much confidence of joining.

White’s Chocolate-house

Founded in 1693 by a man called Francis White, White’s was the parent of the English social club. It was here where gaming became fashionable, “Mr. Heidegger issued his tickets for the masquerade,” and where lost things, such as a sword or a lady’s lapdog, were returned in exchange for a reward.

White’s early 18th century

“The club, in its origin, was aristocratic, a lounging-place for the leisure of a lazy society.” But its reputation for nearly a century was as a location for serious gaming. The Earl of Orford called it “the bane of half the English aristocracy.”

Although it was “the club of the great noble, of the courtier and the statesman,” it wasn’t known for politics. Members included Sir Robert Walpole and William Pulteney, William Pitt and Henry Fox, Charles James Fox, and representatives from “most of the great families of that day, Russells, Churchills, Pelhams, Stanhopes, Herveys, and Cavendishes.”

Social distinction, in fact, was the chief qualification for membership… and its pretensions as an appanage of the aristocracy were never better described than by Horace Walpole, who declared that when an heir was born to a great house, the butler went first to White’s to enter his name in the candidates’ book, and then on to the registry office to record the birth.

White’s was the only club, according to Boulton, until Almack’s and Boodle’s came into to existence in the time of George III.

Member elections at White’s occurred so seldom that in 1743, certain gentlemen with aspirations to join started a second club, in its own rooms, calling itself “The Young Club at White’s (the first one thus becoming known as the “Old Club.”

The elders seem to have looked upon the junior concern with a mild and benevolent eye, and although, as we say, quite separate, with rules and a cook of its own, the Young Club at White’s was ultimately accepted by those potentates as a place of purgatory or probation, where the young man might, by the blessing of Providence, become purged from all contamination of intercourse with ordinary people, and worthy of communion with their own charmed circle.

Occasionally a candidate for the Old Club passed quickly from the Young Club, but he was invariably a man of parts and possessed of great influence; young Mr. Charles Fox, for instance, was elected to both clubs at White’s in the same year, owing no doubt to the efforts of his father, Lord Holland, who was a noted member of the Old Club. His friend George Selwyn, on the other hand, waited eight years in the junior concern, and another typical clubman of the same set, Lord March, was consistently rejected year after year, and only joined the old society when the two clubs were merged in the year 1781.

The famous betting-book contains many outrageous wagers such as the time when a man dropped dead in the doorway and the members made wagers as to whether he was alive or dead, but the most common wagers dealt with births, marriages, and deaths among the prominent society members.

On the 4th of November 1754, there was entered… the following wager: “Lord Montfort wagers Sir John Bland one hundred guineas that Mr. Nash outlives Mr. Cibber.” The bet refers, of course, to the aged poet laureate Colley Cibber, and to the equally venerable Beau Nash, for so many years a prominent figure at Bath. Below this entry is the very significant note in another handwriting (quite possibly Horace Walpole’s, who noticed the wager): “Both Lord Montfort and Sir Bland put an end to their own lives before the bet was decided.”

White’s betting-book

At the ascension to the throne of George III, who openly disapproved of gaming, White’s “became a place of meeting for serious men of affairs, the old gaiety and revel… sadly curtailed under the new dispensation… [A]nd the careless youth of the period began to look out for a place more to their liking.”

Almack’s (now known as Brooks’s)

[T]he origin of Almack’s was, as we say, a revolt of the gay youth of 1764 against the ordered decorum of White’s, and an effort to discover another place of meeting where the old rites of hazard and faro could be continued unmaimed. Almack’s assumed from the outset the greatest pretensions to fashion; the young Dukes of Roxburghe, Richmond, Grafton, and Portland were among its original members, aand its early elections included most of the famous young men about town of those days, Mr. Crewe, Sir Charles Banbury, Richard Fitzpatrick and his brother Lord Ossory, both the young Foxes, their cousin Lord Ilchester…, and the young Lord Carlisle, who seems to have been a typical pigeon of the play tables. A little later came Selwyn and Horry Walpole, Gilly Williams and March…; later still young Mr. Sheridan and the Whigs like Burke, Erskine, and Lord Holland, and the intellectuals like Gibbon, Reynolds, and Garrick; last, but not least, his Royal Highness George Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.

Brooks’s Club

Boulton claims Almack’s (Brooks’s) resembled the earlier White’s, although he says that “play revived at Brooks’s in a splendour which quite surpassed all the early glories at White’s, and was perhaps only equalled by the doings at Crockford’s during the first half of the [nineteenth] century.”

The most prominent member of Brooks’s, and its most reckless gamer, was Mr. Charles James Fox.

Charles James Fox

Mr. Fox’s first notable efforts in public life had taken the form of rather lighthearted revolts against his header, Lord North, whom he had opposed on such measures as Royal Marriage Bills, and in so doing had deeply offended the king. His Majesty had written to Lord North that he considered “that young man had cast off every principle of honesty,” and the royal scruples were increased fourfold by the reports which reached him of the excesses of wine and hazard at Brooks’s, in which Mr. Fox was the most eminent figure. Worst of all, the Prince of Wales, who was eager from the day he reached manhood to embrace every opportunity of making himself disagreeable to his Majesty, was pleased to humour Mr. Fox with his particular friendship and countenance, and to announce his intention of joining his friend’s favourite club. From that time forward Brooks’s was taboo at court, and party politics were introduced into club life for the first time.

The young Mr. Pitt, when he came into public life, realized that as long as George III was in power, any political effort that included Charles Fox was doomed. Therefore, he chose to join White’s instead, “and as long as those two great personalities remained in public life, the stormy politics of their times raged about the two clubs, and were directed from each.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, gaming-houses sprung up all over the West End, and the attraction of both of these clubs turned to the “extraordinary cult of male fashion” known as the Dandies.

The Dandies

The whole movement was the assumption by a small coterie of men of fashion of a social superiority above their fellows, and the supporting of their pretensions by an arrogance which had been unknown in polite society before their day. The inspiration was supplied by that pattern of fine gentlemen the Prince Regent, at a time of life when the charm of his youth has disappeared, and it was imparted to such among the younger men in St. James’s Street as were found worthy by the incomparable Mr. Brummell.

Brummell in 1815, the year he insulted the Prince Regent

Boulton finds it unaccountable that a man of middle-class origin who exhibited such rude and obnoxious behavior as he did, could have been made the “male fashion of an entire generation.”

The men who followed Mr. Brummell… made club life at White’s and Brooks’s well-nigh unendurable to any but their own set… Their savage blackballing decimated the club during a period of twenty years, and at least rendered necessary an alteration of rules which placed the ballot in the hands of a committee in order to save the club from extinction.

With White’s and Brooks’s off the list of possibility for most gentlemen of leisure, other clubs were established, such as the Alfred Club, for men of letters, judges, and bishops; the Travellers’ Club, founded by Lord Castlereagh, for men who had travelled “five hundred miles from London in a straight line;” and military and naval clubs, as well as others.

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: The Parks

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.”

From Henry VIII’s Land Grab to a Public Park: Hyde Park

As the King’s most Royal Majesty is desirous to have the games of hare, partridge, pheasant and heron preserved in and about the honour of his palace of Westminster for his own disport and pastime, no person, on the pain of imprisonment of their bodies and further punishment at his Majesty’s will and pleasure, is to presume to hunt or hawk from the Palace of Westminster to St. Giles’ in the Fields, and from thence to Islington, to our Lady of the Oak, to Highgate, to Hornsey Park, and to Hampstead Heath.

With this proclamation, the abbot and monks of the Convent of Westminster were packed off to the provinces, and Hyde Park was established, encompassing at the time St. James’s, Green, and Regent’s Parks in addition to the present Hyde Park, in addition to additional square miles of land in the western and northern suburbs of London. The area remained a private royal park until Charles I opened it up to the public, dedicating Hyde Park to the enjoyment of the people “for ever.”

A few years later, the park was sold by the House of Commons “for ready money,” in three lots for £18,000.  The new owners

…imposed a price for admission. Londoners still drove their coaches and rode their nags in Hyde Park in the spring, grumbled sadly, but paid their shillings and sixpences nevertheless, and flocked there as usual to flirt and ogle in its drives, or to watch the horse matches and chariot races, the foot races and the games of hurling, which had a surprising vogue from the very year the gates were opened to the public. There was little real interruption of the gaiety of which Hyde Park was the chosen retreat, and the traditions of the Restoration were in no way violated when the enterprising purchasers of the royal property found their titles treated as null and void by the courts of law.

That same epoch of the Restoration marks the first great period of Hyde Park as a public pleasure-ground. All classes had been quick to appreciate the value of a breezy open place, where fashion, jaded in the stuffy rooms and playhouses of the London of the day, could forgather in its chariots or on its horses, exchange its repartees, and gaze over an open country right on to the hills of Surrey and Kent on the one hand, and to the northern heights of London on the other.

The Ring Road

The Ring Road was a circular space some three hundred yards in diameter, around which was a carriage road, “enclosed in a rough fence of stakes and rails.” Along this road, horses and vehicles traversed in two circles, both running in opposite directions so that the visitors could pass each other. The idea was “to exchange witticisms with the acquaintances you saw for a moment,” without stopping, which was only allowed for King Charles II, “as he often did when the proper lady appeared in the other circle.”

Samuel Pepys says “the Dukes of York and Gloucester haunt the place much,” which, along with the “simpering beauties of Lely taking a turn in the Ring—Castlemaine, Stewart, Hamilton, Chesterfield, and the rest,” gave him a significant motivation for wanting to put in an appearance there himself. He comments on “the origin of the lady’s riding-habit, which first appeared in the Ring on the fair persons of the “Amazones,” as he calls them; “ladies with coats and doublets and deep skirts,” says Samuel, “just for all the world like mine, and their doublets buttoned up their breasts, with periwigs and with hats, so that only for along petticoat dragging under their men’s coats nobody would take them for women in any point whatever.”

Riding Habit, 1720

By the time England had settled down under Anne and the first George a fashionable turnout in the Park had become a serious undertaking. The private coach of that day was a sprawling structure as large as a modern hearse, its ugly body hung on straps between widely separated legs, and its team no less than six grey Flanders mares. Its panels bore the quarterings of the coats-of-arms of its owners on a generous scale, and its coachmen and footmen were in liveries of a splendour which survives only to-day in those of the Mansion House. It was only the magnate of an assured position who could turn out in proper style in the Ring; the aspiring man of fashion of modest income, if he were wise, confined his equipage to the more modest proportions of a well-groomed hack, and made up for the modesty of his stable by the fineness of his wardrobe and the gallantry of his bear.

The Military Displays

During the public feeling of unrest which preceded the Jacobite rising of 1715, General Cadogan marched the Life Guards and Horse Grenadiers, the Duke of Argyll’s regiment of foot, and three battalions of Foot-guards, with field pieces and ammunition waggons, from the Tower into the Park, encamped them under canvas on the south side, just within the wall along Knightsbridge and Kensington Gore, and London was regaled with the first of those military displays which later became one of the chief attractions of Hyde Park. There were great doings on the 1st of August, the anniversary of the king’s accession. The Guards were paraded in their new uniforms to the admiration of the people, and the day concluded with fireworks and illuminations. There followed reviews by the king, the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of Marlborough at intervals during two months, and as the weather broke up in October, the troops went into winter quarters by exchanging their canvas tents for wooden huts, and wooden stables were provided for the horses. When the Prince of Wales’ birthday came round in November there were prodigious rejoicings. The officers commanding gave great presents to the troops. We read of the Duke of Montague providing five hundred pounds of pudding, two hogsheads of wine, two of ale, and an ox to be roasted whole at the head of the first troop standard. We can imagine the joy of the open-mouth Londoner at such proceedings, at the terrific huzzas as they drank his royal highness’s health in illuminated circles at night, at the volleys of cannon and small arms which followed each toast. The Ring was deserted, and one immediate result of the presence of the soldiers was the unwonted safety of the Park for passengers, the footpads being quite disconcerted.

Military Encampment, 1785

In 1722, again, no less than 7000 men, with a field train, took up their position in Hyde Park… The whole town flocked to the Park, and the popularity of the meeting was so great that a full-blown fair arose on the skirts of the camp, with dancing saloons, puppet-shows, and billiard-tables and dice for the people of quality.

No wonder that the Ring was deserted, and the ladies, from duchesses to nurserymaids, flocked to the camp. They even adopted military habits, and red cloaks were much in vogue out of compliment to the soldiers. Grub Street grew furious at the luxury of the officers’ quarters, at the tea-parties, and the invitations to drink ratafia, at the gravel walks and gardens laid out round the marquees of the higher officers… The floors of the tent were boarded and carpeted, and the camp beds adorned with green and red curtains.

By 1780, however, the military presence became seen as a threat to personal liberty, and George III was persuaded to move them out of the park for the summer.

Rotten Row

Hyde Park, as a resort of fashion gained greatly by the adoption of Kensington Palace as one of the royal residences. William the Third gave London the first experience of a well-lighted road when he placed lamps along the carriage-way leading to Kensington Palace through the Park, and a new name to that road itself, which was called the King’s Road. “Route du Roi,” some hold, supplies the derivation of the modern “Rotten Row.”

Queen Caroline
(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Queen Caroline’s ambitious plans for expanding the gardens at Kensington Palace included taking three hundred acres from Hyde Park, as well as adding the Ring Road and even St. James’s Park. When she asked Sir Robert Walpole what it would cost, his answer was “Three Crowns, your Majesty.” She did, however, spend massive amounts of money in the park, convincing her husband that it was coming from her own funds and not the Privy Purse. The creation of the Serpentine is one example of her accomplishments.

St. James’s Park

As previously mentioned, the land acquired by Henry VIII included St. James Park, which still consisted of swampy meadows frequently flooded by the river, where he built his palace of St. James.

But St. James’s Park remained a wild boggy tract fit for little but the flushing of herons until the Stuarts were well established, and the first tradition of social pleasure in St. James’s was established only when the young princes, the Prince of Wales and Charles, and their companions, set up a tilting-ring and made a playground in the fields. Then the Park gradually became a walk for the courtiers, people of condition were afterwards admitted, and the tenants of the houses on the Westminster side obtained leave of entrance, a privilege afterwards extended to the general public.

The whole Park, indeed, was a menagerie and an unfailing attraction for Londoners at a time when Zoological Gardens were unknown, and a taste for wild creatures could only be gratified by a visit to the mangy collections of the Tower.

The Mall, St. James’s Park, 1741

A big attraction was, of course, the opportunity to mingle with the king himself and his court. His ministers and everyone but the king himself was fearful of some lunatic with a knife, but “the king, as he told his brother, was certain that they would not kill him to make James king, and continued his walks in the Park… and encouraged the troops of his subjects who followed him about, to their huge delight.

The Park, indeed, was a great place for the loafer, then as now. It was an appanage of the court which was free from the tyranny of the king’s writ, and anyone guilty of a crime less heinous than high treason was safe in its precincts from bailiff or Bow Street officer. This immunity brought together a constant population of unpromising individuals, who sunned themselves on the grass, filled the benches, begged alms or told fortunes, and picked pockets. Their only enemy was the press-gang, which enjoyed privileges denied to the officers of the law, and swooped down at intervals to make hauls of as many as 150 in one day.

Pall Mall

Charles II planted elm trees along the road from Spring Gardens to Buckingham Palace, added walks with avenues on each side, and played the game of Pall Mall there until the game was moved to St. James’s Park.

Pall Mall seems to have been a species of croquet, on a heroic and athletic scale. The game required a long straight course, finely kept, down which a wooden ball could be driven with a mallet, and through a bridge of iron at either end. Players scored by the fewness of their strokes, as at golf, and the driving of the ball a long distance in a proper direction was one of the qualifications for success, qualifications possessed by the king and his brother James in an eminent degree.

Green Park

About 1786 fashion left its shades and avenues to the middle-classes, the city ladies, and the country cousins, and moved off unaccountably to the Green Park. The Green Park, since Charles the Second enclosed it about 1660, had been little more than a hunting-ground for footpads and a duelling-ground for drunken or quarrelsome combatants…[until in 1780] it suddenly became the habit of the well-bred to make their evening promenade up the Queen’s walk and round the reservoir which filled the north-eastern corner of the Green Park… Here for a few seasons fashionable London displayed itself in its evening dress after dinner, and incidentally and accidentally gave a great value to the houses on the west side of Arlington Street… The view across the Green Park at that time was very impressive. There was no building in Pimlico or Belgravia; the Thames could be seen from these windows; Lambeth was a marsh with pastures, ponds, willows and cattle, recalling a Dutch landscape, and behind all rose the hills of Sydenham, covered with wood unspoiled by building and unclouded by smoke.

Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

Driving in the parks became the fashion, and there, as the present century opened, might be seen those strange vehicles from which all modern carriages have been evolved. The phaeton of that day was a spider-like arrangement with four sprawling wheels, four horses, and holding but two persons. There was the curricle, an invention of more sanity, but still requiring three horses and carrying only two persons. The gig was the father of the tilburies, whisks, and all other two-wheeled vehicles, many of which still survive. The horses, as we learn, were of a heavy breed, “Cleveland blacks and long-tailed bays,” approaching in type those used for light drays and omnibuses to-day.

Spider Phaeton

With materials such as these the youth of both sexes of the Regency and George the Fourth superseded the old promenades of the Mall, and revived the tradition of equestrianism and equipage of Hyde Park which survives in our own day, and has produced such organisations as the Four-in-Hand Club.

In addition to social opportunities for the fashionable, people were known to skate on the ice of the canal at St. James’s and on the Serpentine. An early form of cricket was played by Frederick Prince of Wales and other men of station. Also popular were prize-rings improvised on the premises, and duels to be ogled.

Skating in Hyde Park, 1782

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: The Fairs

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.”

In a country such as England that drew much more of its income from agriculture than manufacturing in this time period, it is interesting to note that the most popular time for holidays and festivities was late summer and autumn, when farming activities intensified. Just at the time when gentlemen itched to be in the country at their hunting and field sports, the peers were called to London for the rise of Parliament.

And yet it was in those months that this instinct of the English taught them to lay aside their cares and get what enjoyment they could from the means nearest at hand. Before the era of railways and cheap travelling the great mass of the population of London never went twenty miles from St. Paul’s, and the sport they enjoyed took the form of the delights provided by Hockley in the Hole, the Ducking Ponds, and the Cockpits… And yet, as the summer passed away, and the dog-days raised a heat from the cobblestones which drove the dogs themselves into the shade of alley and entry, the common people of London, instead of panting for the water-brooks or the sea-shore, prepared themselves for the great carnivals which were prepared for their delight in one or other of the great fairs of the town.

These annual gatherings followed each other in quick succession in the hot months of the year in the not very promising surroundings of Smithfield, or Southwark, or Westminster. The glory of these entertainments was at its zenith at the beginning of the eighteenth century…

…[T]heir origin was religious, their development commercial, and their apotheosis an unrestrained indulgence in pleasure or license…

The St. Bartholomew Fair

(see more on the origins of the fair on another blog post)

In the late seventeenth century, amidst all the rope dancers, jugglers, and puppet shows, a well-known actor by the name of Penkethman set up a theatrical booth. A plethora of theatrical entertainers followed, including Doggett (a comedian famous from the annual waterman’s race on the Thames), Miller (from Drury Lane), Bullock, Simpson, Colley Cibber (poet laureate and member of White’s), Quin, Macklin, Woodward, Shuter, and many more. “The theatrical movement, in fact, became so pronounced that as time went on most of the favourite actors of the day did not disdain to tread the boards in the temporary booths of the fair.”

Colley Cibber, bust now at the National Portrait Gallery

Colley Cibber, bust now at the National Portrait Gallery

The dramatic entertainments which were in fashion at the fairs… consisted almost invariably of some prodigious long-winded scheme dealing with such portentous subjects as “The Loves of the Heathen Gods,” “The Creation of the World,” “The Siege of Troy,” “Jephthah’s Rash Vow,” “Tamerlane the Great,” lightened up with much comic relief, in which an eccentric English character took a part totally irrelevant to the particular epic comprised in the plot. These productions came to be called “drolls,” and you may trace int hese drolls the germs of many forms of variety entertainment popular to-day, including, perhaps, that of English pantomime… The puppet-shows… followed the dramatic taste set by the actors.

Bartholomew Fair indeed became so great a nursery of dramatic talent that many actors afterwards famous obtained their first chance at Smithfield. The fair became a sort of theatrical exchange, where managers during their annual visits were often able to find the valuable recruits, and where strolling players from the provinces were accustomed to attend in the hope of engagements with regular companies.

Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding

…[T]he managers of the great theaters found it profitable to close their houses altogether… and take their companies to Smithfield, where they found they could earn more money from the audiences who flocked to their shows during the whole day than from the single performances of the patent theatres… Mr. Henry Fielding, for instance, fresh from Eton and Leyden, but without a guinea in his pocket… set up a booth, and for ten years provided an entertainment for the people at the fair… Fielding produced “The Beggars’ Opera” at Smithfield, occasionally trod the boards himself, and received the honour of a visit from the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1732, who were much delighted with his historical drama of “The Fall of Essex.”

Unfortunately, the activities of the fair were periodically harassed by “persecution from the puritanical busybodies… [who] frequently succeeded in closing the booths, and left the fair to the gin-stalls, gaming-tables, and jugglers, diversions which were presumably less vicious in their eyes…” Sometimes the “puritanical spirits” would persuade the city government to disallow the booths on the night before the fair. “The ordinary attractions of the fair would then be enlivened by a riot of first-class dimensions, which always resulted in assault and battery, and sometimes in sudden death.”

The end of the theatrical entertainments at Smithfield came about when the powers-that-be limited the fair from fourteen days to three. Three days didn’t pay an actor or manager enough to make it worthwhile. At that point, the attractions changed to such things as menageries of wild beasts, or spectacles such as the “double-cow” or the “mermaid.” As the nineteenth century approached and the audiences became less naïve, the entertainments became slightly more sophisticated, with lion tamers putting their heads in the lion’s mouth, rope-dancing, magicians, peep-shows, etc. Just the chance of rubbing shoulders with nobles and even royalty was enough to draw people to St. Bartholomew’s.

It was no uncommon sight at St. Bartholomew’s, to see an exquisite like Chesterfield, or a great minister like Sir Robert Walpole, with his star on his breast, tasting the diversions of the fair alone and on foot. Parties of bloods from White’s and Almack’s were not above exchanging humorous badinage with the fruit-sellers, or the prettier of the strollers or acrobats, or even chucking them under the chin.

Southwark Fair

The Southwark Fair, on St. Margaret’s Hill near Southwark Town Hall, originated in the year 1550 and continued for more than two hundred years.

As the 7th of September came around in each year, the same gin stalls, gaming-tables, gingerbread stalls, and theatrical booths which had delighted Smithfield were packed up, taken across the river, and displayed in all their attractiveness to new audiences of South Londoners at Southwark.

Although smaller in scale than the fair in Smithfield, the acrobat and rope-dancing acts excelled at Southwark, primarily because of the more laissez-faire attitude of the local government. Mr. Cadman, who used to swing his way on a rope across the street from St. George’s Church tower to the mint, eventually “came to a sad end in attempting a bold flight across the Severn at Shrewsbury.”

southwarkall

The humours of Southwark Fair inspired Mr. Hogarth in one of his finest efforts, wherein are reflected so admirably the life of his times, and that excellent plate of Southwark Fair is as good an illustration as need be of the importance of the festival among the popular diversions of the middle of the eighteenth century. The greatly daring acrobat on the rope stretching from the church tower to the Mint, which is out of the picture, is the great Mr. Cadman himself; the artist on the slack rope on the other side of the picture is a back view of the Violante. Mr. Figg, the famous “Master of the Noble Science of Self-defence,” displays his honourable wounds on the right. His booth is round the corner and he is riding through  the fair with very martial aspect to gather clients to witness a set-to between himself and some other bald-pated hero of the sword or quarter-staff. On the right of the pretty girl with the drum and the black page, who is effectively advertising the show which she represents, is Tamerlane the Great in full armour, being arrested by a bailiff. The enormous posters of the background, which almost blot out the church, and display the attractions of the Fall of Troy, the Royal Waxworks, and the wonderful performance of Mr. Banks and his horse, are all quite typical of the London fair, and Mr. Hogarth’s grim humour appears to perfection in the title of the show which he represents as tumbling into the street on the right, with its actors and orchestra and monkey on the pole, the “Fall Bagdad.” Note too the peep-show and the hag presiding over the gaming-table, and the pleasant glimpse of open country between the houses.

May Fair

See more about the May Fair here:

The End of the Great Fairs

These fairs mostly came to an end around the mid-eighteenth century, when the crowd became wilder, the entertainments more tawdry, and the patrons (such as the “great people of St. James’s”) harder to find. The days of when people could be entertained by simple things like tea gardens and fairs disappeared into the annals of history.

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

Amusements of Old London: The Play and the Opera

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 Restoration and King Charles II

The puritanical opposition to everything connected with the drama… was now exchanged for the patronage of those in high places. There has perhaps never been so good a friend to the actor and to the theatrical interest generally as his Majesty King Charles. The king, by granting a patent to Mr. Tom Killigrew at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, established that principal of monopoly in things dramatic which lasted till well on in the present reign. The actors of Drury Lane were the king’s servants and a party of the royal household under the administration of the Lord Chamberlain; a certain number of them indeed wore his Majesty’s uniform of red cloth and silver lace, and ranked as Gentlemen of the Chamber. The king’s brother, the Duke of York, had his own company at the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in Portugal Street, or at Sir Christopher Wren’s house in Dorset Gardens under Davenant, with privileges scarcely less valuable, including a patent to which theatrical historians will trace back all the subsequent glories of the great house in Covent Garden. It was under his Majesty’s auspices that women’s parts were first played by women, and he was good enough, as we know, to honour the profession by forming very intimate alliances with some of those ladies. Lastly, there has never been a more assiduous playgoer than his Majesty King Charles himself.

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Relying on diarists such as Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Mr. Boulton states

The theatre of the Restoration was in reality much more of a social resort than the play or the opera as we know them. The pit of the playhouse of the Restoration was a social exchange, where the young man of condition displayed his graces and exchanged pleasantries with his fellows; where the man of wit discharged his carefully-prepared impromptus; and where the actors and actresses, not actually engaged on the stage, were accustomed to keep themselves in evidence by mixing freely and ostentatiously with the audience. The stage-door and the green-room, too, were attractions for a large class of men whose attentions to the actresses became a source of embarrassment to the management… Finally, the patronage which Charles the Second gave to both the theatres of his time, and the nature of his relations with some of his subjects who appeared with him in the royal box, gave an interest to a visit to the play of those days which is lacking in later and more sedate times.

Theaters of the time consisted of the pit on the ground floor, rows of continuous boxes on the first, open seats and a few boxes on the second, and the shilling gallery on the third. “The stage ran out a distance of several feet… into the body of the theatre, and was thus exposed on three of its sides to the spectators who occupied the pit.”

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes, 1763

The prices for each sector divided the spectators into social classes. A half-crown would get you into the pit. A shilling would get an apprentice to the gallery. A box on the second floor cost eighteen pence, and the best seats in the lower section would cost about four shillings. Although you could purchase tickets for all the seats in the box for your party, if you did not, you might well find yourself sitting next to strangers.

The only manner of reserving seats in this period was to send someone ahead to pay for your ticket and hold your seat. Footmen quite frequently performed this duty for their masters and mistresses, after which they were admitted to the upper gallery to watch the play.  Boulton says that “they became a very noisy, and consequently, a very important part of the audience.”

Pepys records seeing women on the stage in 1661; prior to that, women’s parts were played by men. He complains about having to spend outrageous amounts on oranges (at sixpence each) for the ladies in his company. The seats in the pit were rows of benches without backs.

I was sitting behind in a dark place, and a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady I was not troubled at it all.

Ah, but Pepys did have a fondness for a pretty face!

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar's Opera

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera

He is in continual ecstasy about the beauty of one or the other of those ladies of the Court, most constant, however, to the Castlemaine, but appreciative of the Stewart, “with her little Roman nose,” or “pretty witty Nell,” or Mrs. Middleton “with a very excellent face, and body I think.” If neither Hart nor Nell nor Knipp [Mary Knep] were there the play, however good, would not please him. With Knipp present he would enjoy the worst of pieces even by the side of Mrs. Pepys. “But it is pretty to observe,” he says, “how I did look up and down and did spy Knipp, but durst not own it to my wife, who do not like my kindness to her.” Little wonder, indeed, for Mrs. Pepys surely had much to put up with. Samuel was decorum itself by her side, but when she was away he would find himself sitting in front of Knipp and Pierce, “who pulled me by the hair, so I addressed myself to them.” Knipp sang a song in the flies at the King’s House which pleased Samuel mightily, “where Knipp, after her song in the clouds, came to me in the pit.” Finally, the shameless rogue had the conscience to put on record his feelings at the performance of the “Virgin Martyr,” where “the wind musique when the angel comes down is so sweet that it ravished me, so that it made me realy sick, as I have formerly been when in love with my wife.”

Joseph Addison by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison of The Spectator tells about the ladies of fashion in 1711 who took the notion of wearing patches on the right or left side of the forehead to indicate their adherence to a certain political party. Addison “tells us of Rosalinda, a famous Whig partisan, who had unfortunately a very beautiful mole on the Tory part of her forehead, which misled several coxcombs “to converse in the wrong strain, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected fire which sunk them all at once.” Then there was Nigranilla too, “unhappy in a pimple, which forces her against her inclinations to patch on the Whig side.”

The Trunkmaker of the Upper Gallery

Addison’s immortal paper begins:

It has been observed that of late years there has been a certain person in the upper gallery of the playhouse, who, when he is pleased with anything on the stage, expresses his approbation by a loud knock upon the benches or the wainscot which may be heard over the whole house.

The Trunkmaker was a large black man whom nobody knew, who was never seen to smile, “but upon hearing anything to please him takes up his huge oaken plank and laid it upon the next piece of timber that stood in his way with exceeding vehemence. If the audience does not concur with him, he smites a second time, and if the audience is not yet awakened, looks round him with great wrath, and repeats the blow a third time, which never fails to produce the clap. …[H]e seldom went away from any tragedy by Shakespeare without leaving the wainscot completely shattered. The players cheerfully repair at their own cost whatever damages he makes… [T]he actors valued no applause which had not the sound of the oak plank in it.

During this time, it was common for certain fashionable braggadocios to linger on the stage and distract the audience from the play. Although Queen Anne issued a royal proclamation against it in 1711, but it was obviously not enforced, as can be seen in Mr. Hogarth’s painting of the Third Act of The Beggars’ Opera, where, in addition to the actors on the stage can be seen in the box on the right, the “Duke of Bolton ogling Vinnie Fenton, who he will presently remove from the stage and marry…” and the crowd of spectators on the stage in 1727.

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar's Opera

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar’s Opera

As Boulton has stated, the activities of the stage were only part of the entertainment. Observing the other audience members—particularly the noble ones—was a particular interest of Samuel Pepys. A rejected swain might get his revenge by throwing rubbish at a pretty actress on the stage. A particular target for disgruntled audience was the harpsichord, but if the play or grievance was really bad, the benches and seats and other furnishings might be destroyed as well.

Opera at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket

Opera was first patronized by King George I, who “gave a subscription of £1000, as well as his own name, to the Opera House.”

Farinelli

Farinelli

Fashionable London was so fond of opera in 1735 that it paid £5000 a year to Farinelli, and when that incomparable singer was at the Haymarket an enthusiastic lady in the boxes was heard to exclaim in her ecstasy, “One God, one Farinelli.” Then singers and their competing merits were a continual joy to generations of noble patrons, and their preferences for one singer or another often inspired ladies of high fashion with very unfashionable feelings. Thus when the rival warblers Cuzzoni and Faustina were appearing at the opera in 1726, they each had a party of thick and thin supporters in distinguished circles. There was the Countess of Pembroke at the head of her party in a box, who was prepared to go all lengths for Cuzzoni; the Countess of Burlington and Lady Delaware, with their train of young men in another, were fierce and determined on behalf of the Faustina. So when Cuzzoni came on the noble faction which supported Faustina hissed her into silence, when Faustina appeared she was shrieked off the stage by the devoted band at the back of my Lady Pembroke.

By the early nineteenth century,

…there was a cult of deportment which developed in social London, and constituted a tyranny under which society groaned for a couple of generations. Beau Brummell and his set at the clubs in St. James’s Street represented the male element of this autocracy of fashion, the lady patronesses at Almack’s in King Street the feminine; and at the opera they both united their forces… There was the peerless Mr. Brummell, with his satellite exquisites in Fop’s Alley, the interest of the whole mankind of the house, we are asked to believe, centred in the question of his raiment for the evening… The ladies of the grand tier, we are told, including the chaperons, were more anxious for his notice than for that of the Prince Regent. The opera, in fact, like Almack’s, was a social function which entirely outclassed anything of the sort at Court after the retirement of the poor blind King George the Third. There was no question of getting in by the mere payment of money, a committee of ladies supervised the issue of every ticket, and a man or a lady went to the opera or did not, according as their social position was or was not considered worthy of that honour by the Lady Patronesses… who controlled London society from the time of the Regency until her Majesty came to the throne. [They] were accustomed to sit in conclave upon all the young men about to enter life, and decide as to whether or not they were eligible for admission such stately functions as Almack’s and the opera.

Interior of theater at Sadler's Wells, 1810

Interior of theater at Sadler’s Wells, 1810

 

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: The Play Tables

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.”

Hazard & White’s

Hazard, the precursor of crap) was a game of pure chance where all players had a fairly equal chance of winning. But as it spread into the lower classes, “organized cheating at low taverns and gaming-houses became a regular profession.” Loaded dice was one way, but there were plenty of other ways. The often violent responses to cheating are illustrated in Rowlandson’s “Kick up at a Hazard Table.”

rowlandson-kickup-at-hazard-table

The game of hazard first became popular in the late 17th century at  the coffee-houses, such as (Mrs.) White’s Chocolate House and The Cocoa Tree. Early in the next century, the more fashionable gentlemen at White’s, wishing to avoid the card sharps and other unpleasant types that were inevitably present at these places, formed a more exclusive, private club, “where they could lose fortunes to each other in all privacy and decorum.” Considered by critics to be a “pit of destruction,” White’s saw many fortunes change hands at the turn of a dice.

Young Mr. Harvey of Chigwell, for instance, lost £100,000 to Mr. O’Birne, an Irish gamester. “You can never pay me,” said O’Birne. “Yes, my estate will sell for the money,” was the spirited reply. “No,” said O’Birne, “I will win but ten thousand, and you shall throw for the odd ninety.” They did so and Harvey won, lived to become an admiral, and to fight under Nelson at Trafalgar.

The Georges and Gaming at Court

It was a necessary qualification of a courtier of George the Second to be prepared to sit down with that monarch and the Suffolks and Walmodens and the other picturesque appanages of the court and lose a comfortable sum. Twelfth Night was always a fixture for a sitting of more than ordinary importance at St. James’s. On one of these occasions luck was in favour of Lord Chesterfield, who won so much money that he was afraid to carry it home with him through the streets, and was seen by Queen Caroline from a private window of the palace to trip up the staircase of the Countess of Suffolk’s apartments. He was never in favour at court afterwards.

George III, on the other hand, banished gaming at court and even White’s gambling became quite tame, which is why Almack’s (later Brooks’s) was opened as a venue for serious gamesters, such as Charles James Fox, who was known for playing carelessly “for the excitement alone,” without any concern for the consequences. On one particular day in 1771, after playing hazard for twenty-two hours and losing £11,000, he gave a speech at Westminster, went to White’s and drank until seven in the morning, and then to Almack’s, where he won £6,000, and later in the afternoon took off for Newmarket. A week later, he was back in London and lost £10,000.

Faro

The game of Faro evolved from a game called “basset,” played in the Stuart courts.

Faro was played between the dealer or keeper of the “bank” and the rest of the company, and, like hazard, it gave excitement to as many people as could find room round the table… Each of the company placed his stake upon any card of the thirteen he chose, and when the stakes were all set the dealer took a full pack and dealt it into two heaps, one on his right hand the other on his left, two cards at a time. He paid the stakes placed on such cards as fell on the right-hand pack, and received those of such as fell on his left hand. The dealing of each pair of cards was called a “coup,” and the dealer paid or received such stakes as were decided after each coup… [t]he odds were enormously in favour of the dealer. He claimed all ties, that is, when the same card appeared on both packs, the last card but one of the pack delivered its stake to him upon whichever hand it fell, and there was the impalpable but very real advantage of which was known as the “pull of the table” in his favour.

At Brooks’s, where faro reigned supreme, Charles James Fox and Richard Fitzpatrick (a Whig associate) had a very successful partnership. Lord Robert Spencer’s partnership with Mr. Hare enabled him to win £100,000, whereupon he gave up gambling entirely and purchased an estate in Sussex. “The success of the faro banks at Brooks’s was such that it led to the game being forbidden at White’s by a special rule of the managers.”

Faro, however, was played at many of the great houses and by women of fashion, who would “hire a dealer at five guineas a night to conduct operations, and to suggest that the profits of the table went to him and not to the hostess… to disguise the commercial nature of the transaction…”

Following the 1797 public scandal in the courts where three society ladies were each fined £50 for playing at a public gaming-table—and the popularity of Mr. Gillray’s prints, such as “Pharaoh’s daughters in the pillory and at the cart tail”—the game lost much of its following.

faros-daughters-gillray

E.O.

E.O., a type of of roulette with a ball and a special table, called roly-poly, from the Continent, found at race meetings, country fairs, and the streets of London, lent itself well to cheating. Colonel O’Kelly, the eventual owner of Eclipse set himself up in business by winning at E.O.

Gaming Houses and the Damage They Caused

Cheap gaming houses all over town featured hazard, roulette, rouge et noir, and macao for small stakes. Frequent raiding did not discourage them, since fines were easily paid.

A hazard table at Crockford's

A hazard table at Crockford’s

The mischief these places did is almost incalculable; bankruptcies, embezzlements, duels, and suicides resulting from gaming were of weekly occurrence, and it would seem that half the tradesmen and clerks of London were before the magistrates or the coroners of the last years of [the 18th] century and the first quarter of [the 19th].

Hazard and faro had gone out of the older clubs, and club gaming of the [early 19th century] was represented by extremely deep play at whist at White’s and Brook’s. Macao flourished for a while at Wattiers, where the members lived on each other for some eight or ten years until their estates disappeared and the club expired by the flight of its supporters to Boulogne.

Such were the houses in which round games flourished after their decline at the great clubs. They steadily drained the pockets of the aristocracy of England for nearly half a century, and there is scarcely a great family to-day which does not still feel the effects of the play that went on within their doors sixty years ago.

Crockford’s Club

crockford_william_npgthomasjonesWilliam Crockford, a fishmonger who had a shop in the Strand near Temple Bar, made a killing on a turf transaction and rose from partnerships in shady gaming establishments to spending £94,000 to open his own fashionable club, Crockford’s Club, in 1827.

There is one thing, and one only, to be said in favour of Mr. Crockford’s enterprise, which, is that this establishment did away with the practice of gentlemen playing against each other for large sums. At Crockford’s, the game was one of Gentlemen versus Players, the players being always Mr. Crockford’s officials at the French hazard table, and the sole object of his business was to win the money of his patrons.

A committee of gentlemen was given charge of accepting and rejecting members, with the effect of making “entry to Crockford’s as difficult as to White’s or Brooks’s.” The price of subscription to Crockford’s establishment was low, but “in exchange for the princely accommodation of his house, and such fare as was unobtainable at any other club, Crockford asked for nothing in return that gentlemen should condescend to take a cast at his table at French hazard.” This incarnation of the old game required a fee called “box money” and “the pull of the table” that went directly into the coffers of the house.

crockfords-club

The men who walked into Crockford’s with their eyes open to encounter these odds were the pick of the society of the day, the men who had fought the battles of the country under Wellington, and men who were making great reputations at Westminster, as well as mere butterflies like the Dandies who loafed through life at White’s. They were most of them men of exceptional parts, and distinguished for shrewdness and ability in one walk of life or another, and yet in the short space of ten years, between the opening of the club in 1827 and the succession of her Majesty, their losses converted Mr. Crockford into a millionaire at least. There is absolutely no record of any considerable sum of money ever won at the place by a player.

The second Earl of Sefton lost £200,000 in his lifetime. His son, after paying off the debt, lost another £40,000. Sir Godfrey Webster lost £50,000 at a sitting. Other losers of enormous sums: Lord Rivers, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Anglesey, Lord D’Orsay.

Even before the Gaming Act of 1845, Crockford, having pretty much won all the money to be won, started consolidating and concealing his assets with a view toward retirement. When called to give evidence, he claimed that increasing age caused him to give over the management to the committee of gentlemen tasked with running the membership of the club.

“High play in England, as we believe, burnt itself out in those orgies at Crockford’s.”

The Scandal at Graham’s Club

Another reason for the decline of serious gaming in England was the cheating scandal at Graham’s Club in St. James’s Street.

…a man of an old and honoured name was detected cheating at whist, and was denounced as a dishonest trickster in a newspaper, the Satirist. He brought an action against his accusers, failed in it, went abroad, and died… the details of the trial disclosed ugly features in the circumstances which had much interest for thoughtful people, and undoubtedly tended to bring the whole institution of play for high stakes between gentlemen into great disrepute.

Witnesses at the trial testified that they had witnessed him cheating in any number of ways a hundred times and more, and not only did not turn him in, but continued to sit down with him to play at private clubs. Undoubtedly, many of them were cheating themselves, and thus had no wish to have their play scrutinized. Packs of his marked cards were produced in court. His hacking cough, which always resulted in producing a king of trump, became known as “—’s king cough.”

Since those days of Crockford’s and Graham’s and the Gaming Act, high play has ceased to be any considerable part of the social life of London at clubs or elsewhere.

The Gaming Act of 1845

made a wager unenforceable as a legal contract and stood as law, though amended, until 2007.

Crockford's today is an exclusive casino in Mayfair

Crockford’s today is an exclusive casino in Mayfair

 

Amusements of Old London series