Wednesday, May 19, 2010
A Brief History of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens
While researching for a Georgian novel I came across some interesting facts about the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, so often featured in Regencies novels and Georgette Heyer’s work. But they began far earlier than the Regency era.
Vauxhall Gardens, a short distance from Vauxhall Bridge, was a popular public resort from the reign of Charles II. They opened in 1732 and continued until close to the end of the 19th Century. The gardens, called New Spring Gardens were laid out circa 1661. Admission was free and they could only be reached by water via a sixpenny boat ride. That changed when the Westminster Bridge was built in 1750.
Vauxhall was then little more than a few walks and arbors where supper was served. One could commune with nature or be accosted by masked ladies of dubious repute. But later Vauxhall became a fashionable place. With the admission of one guinea, a person could don a mask and domino and enjoy the pleasure of being anonymous, which no doubt produced some pretty ribald displays.
In the summer of 1792, vocal music was introduced and admission was raised to 2 shillings. In 1798 fireworks was added.
The gardens remained pretty much unaltered through the years. The Grand Quadrangle shimmered with thousands of variegated lamps hung among the foliage of the trees. An orchestra played in The Grove, an enclosed a space surrounded with walks and planted with trees. Beneath the colonnades of the Quadrangle were boxes for supper parties, and facing the orchestra stood a pavilion called the Princes's Gallery, in honour of Frederick, Prince of Wales, who had frequently attended the Gardens. The Rotunda held some 2000 persons, and ballets and light theatricals, horsemanship feats and rope dancing could be found there.
On 20 July, 1813, a grand fete was held to celebrate Wellington's victory at Vittoria and was attended by the Prince of Wales and all the Royal dukes, with admission for the night being a staggering two and a half guineas.
The Gardens opened for the last time on the night of Monday, 25 July, 1859.
I write sensual historical romance where heroes meet their match in feisty heroines. Add a dash of adventure, a murder or two, a mystery or intrigue. What better time to set them than the Georgian, Regency and the late Victorian period on the brink of the 20th Century. The Regency was a time of both opulence and abject poverty. Of economic and social change: the Napoleonic wars, the power struggle for the Americas, and the Industrial revolution when people began to desert the country for the cities. Celebrity Lord Byron wrote dark romantic poetry, and Beau Brummell defined and shaped fashion into a period of simplistic elegance. Men abandoned brocades and lace for linen trousers, overcoats with breeches and boots, and women abandoned corsets for high wasted, thin gauzy dresses. A spend-thrift aesthete known for his scandalous affairs, George IV, the Prince of Wales was made Regent in 1811 after his father was declared too mad to rein. Prinny presided over the elegant society of the ton, the so called Upper Ten Thousand, who defined themselves by an incredibly formal etiquette code which set them apart from the rising middle class.