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
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.
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
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
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
- Vauxhall Gardens: A History
- Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight”
- Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
- Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
- Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
- Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
- Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
- Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
- Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
- Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
- Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever
I love hearing about Vauxhall and look forward to more.
I love the part about the solid gold garden pass!
I had no idea that there was a building which was part of the public part of the gardens, I assumed all the entertainments took place outside
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That was the main idea, but a few buildings were added later. The Orchestra, where the band played. The Rotunda, for dancing and banquets and looking at great paintings. And a few others as the years passed.
I knew about the Orchestra, the Rotunda and that sort of thing, it was the house with its ballroom and 20 bedrooms etc which surprised me. Were the rooms for hire for the night or only for special guests of the owner?
I never heard of people staying overnight at Vauxhall Gardens, other than the proprietors and family and maybe their guests and servants on the 2nd floor the Proprietor’s House.
thanks, I have to say I did wonder! is the ballroom where the notorious masquerade balls take place? I have added the book to my wishlist and then got diverted into buying a secondhand copy of ‘Magnificent Entertainments: temporary architecture for Georgian Festivals’ instead.
As to that, I’m not sure the Prince’s Pavilion was used for anyone but Prince Frederick, during his lifetime. I think Vauxhall had masquerades mainly outdoors. The Rotunda was used for banquets and dancing. But that’s a good question: what happened to the Prince’s Pavilion after the Prince died? Hmm.