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!
Across from the Prince’s Pavilion, mentioned in last week’s post, stood the open-air bandstand known as the Orchestra, which opened on 3 June 1735.
There is built in the Grove of the Spring-Gardens at Vaux-Hall, an Octagon Temple, intended to serve as an Orchestra, for a Band of our finest Instrumental Performers; who will play (beginning at Five every Evening during the Summer-Season) the compositions of Mr. Handel, and other celebrated Masters. Upon Trial, the Concert had a wonderful Effect, the Sounds spreading through every Part of this delightful Garden; so that Gentlemen and Ladies, whether walking, or sitting in the Alcoves, may hear it to the greatest Advantage. Though there has not yet been any Thing of this kind exhibited among us, and the Master of the Gardens has put himself to a considerable Expence upon this Occasion, yet nothing will be requir’d for this innocent and elegant additional Entertainment, which will begin Tomorrow at the Hour above-mentioned.
This building, with a base of large blocks of roughened masonry, supported an upper floor, an octagonal room enclosed by eight arches illuminated by a central chandelier. The outer area of the first (second) floor was bounded by a low balustrade.
Although the opening night was plagued with poor weather, a good audience was in attendance.
Yesterday being so rainy, little no Company was expected in the Spring-Gardens at Vaux-Hall, for which reason the Concert was to have been put off till this Evening; but a great Number of Coaches and Persons of the best Fashion coming in, the Concert was open’d; several very fine musical Compositions were perform’d, to the great Satisfaction of the Hearers, and especially of the Judges of Musick, many of whom were present on this Occasion. The Gardens, tho’ so very pleasant in themselves, were yet greatly improv’d by the Harmony, which had different Effects (but all delightful) in the various parts of the Garden; so that all the elegant Company seem’d very desirous of encouraging this rural kind of Opera, which pleas’d no less from the Execution than from the Novelty of it.
As popular as the orchestra music became, it was soon clear that the large number of trees were a detriment to the acoustics. Tyers lost no time in removing “a great Number of Trees… from the Thicket joyning to the Orchestra,” and placing “several Tables and Seats fixed at proper Distances, in the Openings” so that visitors could enjoy refreshments while listening to the music.
The Orchestra itself was able to accommodate, on its upper level, as many as thirty seated and standing musicians. The building’s actual dimensions… judging from the numerous visual sources… measured over 20 feet in diameter and about 25 feet in height to the tip of the conical slated roof—quite a small building, but certainly large enough for its purpose.
Between September of 1735 and April 1736, during the off-season, more improvements were made.
The Improvements in the Spring-Gardens at Vaux Hall (which have employ’d upwards of 100 Hands ever since last August) being now finish’d, and a Band, consisting of above thirty of the ablest Performers provided, the Musical Assembly will be open’d next Wednesday [19 May]. The Grove, which is considerably enlarged and finely laid out in Gravel Walks, is embellish’d with a great Number of Colonades [the supper-boxes]; and in the Centre is an Edifice, in the Form of a Temple, for the Band, who will play the favourite Pieces of the most eminent Masters. The whole is so advantageously dispos’d, that 3000 Persons may sit at ease, and see one another during the Entertainment. In the Grove, above 300 Glass Lights are set up, all which are illuminated in half a Minute, and have a beautiful Effect on the Verdure. For the better Conveniency of the Company, a great Number of Waiters, &c., are provided; and in order that this innocent and agreeable Entertainment may be conducted with such a Decency, as many induce the politest Persons, and those of the most serious Character to honour it with their Presence, a proper Guard will attend to keep out all lewd and disorderly Persons. —Notwithstanding the very great Expence the Master has been, and must necessarily be at, during the Season, yet it was his intention to have admitted all Persons into his Gardens in the same Manner as last Summer; but as Numbers resorted thither who were no ways qualify’d to intermix with Persons of better Fashion; for this Reason he has been persuaded to let none enter but with Tickets (to be given out at the Door) at One Shilling each, which Ticket will be afterwards taken at the Entertainment in the Gardens, as One Shilling, if desir’d.
The old arbors and rickety supper-boxes in existence before Tyers came upon the scene were tossed away in favor of new and orderly ones arranged outside of the Orchestra. The Vauxhall Fan, which was produced and sold for three consecutive years (1736-8) as new features were introduced (only the first of which still exists) shows the view from the entrance, looking down the Grand Walk, with the Orchestra building on the right.
Many of the trees carry a globe lamp on a bracket, and more lamps hang on lamp-posts and from the ceiling of each supper-box. The edition of 1737 added the organ building behind the Orchestra, and in 1738 Roubiliac’s new statue of Handel was included.
In such a manner,Tyers made use of the popularity and intriguing “language” of the fan as a clever marketing tool.
The north and south ranges of supper-boxes… made up of more than twenty boxes each, were almost 300 feet long and about six to eight feet deep. A shorter range of eight boxes on the far side of the Grove between the two parallel walks, was around 100 feet long, making each box about 12 feet wide. The boxes themselves were initially open on all sides, with only a rail dividing adjacent supper parties from each other, leading to unwonted intimacies between friends and strangers alike. From 1741 or ’42 solid walls divided every box from its neighbour, and each one was roofed with waxed cloth and had a fixed bench around three sides of its table.
The layout of the Grove was remarkably formal and austere, like an ancient Greek agora. Through his arrangement of the boxes Tyers discouraged overtly immoral or intemperate behavior by providing a setting where there were no hidden corners and where the privacy enjoyed by Pepys and his contemporaries was difficult to achieve.
The exact number of supper-boxes in the years before 1751 is difficult to estimate, but it must have been around fifty-five. This rose sharply to over 130 in 1751, reaching a maximum of about 140 around 1800, before falling back to about 90 in the 1840’s.
The many additions to the number of boxes demonstrate that dining space was always at a premium, and that Tyers was under constant pressure to provide additional seating for his visitors wherever he could. This not only boosted his profits from food sales, but also helped his staff earn additional tips by finding more private seating for parties of visitors.
Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series
- 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
Really interesting post about the gardens. When I was in London last year we stayed only a few hundred metres from the site of the gardens. It is now a park with a small coffee shop and quite close to Vauxhall train station. There is a sign and two large markers but nothing else to show what used to be at the site. I wonder how many people pass by that spot every day on their way to work and do not know what an amazing place this once used to be.
I love these posts! I wish I could have seen that in all of it’s glory.