Vauxhall Gardens: A History
David Coke & Alan Borg
The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can! The photos are fabulous!
The Organ Building
In 1737, the Organ Building was built, after numerous delays related to “the acoustics and audible range of the organ in this outdoor setting, as well as the damping of the building itself to ensure that no structural vibrations spoiled the sound.”
This square structure was the same width as the Orchestra, and was on three levels; a heavy lower storey supported the first floor where a short bridge joined the two buildings together. This first floor, at the same level as the first floor of the Orchestra, was partly taken up by the organ console and pipes, and partly by a covered open space running all around it. The building then rose to the ‘belfry’, which had louvred semicircular openings on all four faces to project the sound of the organ around the gardens… The lower storey, totally unrelieved by any surface decoration, was pierced by a triple arch on each of its four plain faces, one taller arch flanked by two smaller; the taller central arch on each face was a hybrid triform arch which gave the building a real visual strength and presence.
Vauxhall and the Weather
The typical rainy English weather, especially on opening day every spring, was a significant problem for an outdoor business such as this one. In 1740, due to the loss in business caused by the poor weather of 1739, Tyers announced “several considerable Additions and Improvements,” which were later described as “Conveniences for receiving Company in cold or rainy Weather,” whatever that means.
Weather-related jokes at Vauxhall’s expense were commonplace; especially popular was the one about a farmer waiting to see when the gardens were going to open, so he would know when to plant his crops, a good few days of drenching rain being assured.
The regularity of rain on Vauxhall’s opening night increased in the nineteenth century; so much so that, at one stage, announcements advertising the forthcoming opening were carried around town printed on umbrellas.
The Three “Tents”
In 1742 Henry Fielding described his impressions on entering the gardens. The first structures he saw there were ‘two similar Tents’ under the trees of the Grove, ‘of such a Contrivance and Form, as a Painter of Genius and Judgement would chuse to adorn his Landscape with.’ If these were, in fact, the shelters that Tyers had announced two years earlier offering protection from cold and wet weather, their position was certainly appropriate, between the Orchestra and the Prince’s Pavilion, and only a few yards from the entrance and the servery. The word ‘tent’ did not specifically apply to a canvas structure; indeed, it could refer to almost any temporary building, especially in a garden.
A “Turkish Tent” was built as an undercover dining area for visitors who could not get a supper-box or wanted to have a more entertaining party. “Its exotic style, more closely associated with Venetian festivals… allowed visitors to act the part of Eastern potentates relaxing on their magnificent bed under a grande baldacchino.
The design of this structure is clearly more informal and frivolous than the strictly classical styles favored by Tyers in his earlier buildings.
In the 1740’s, other entrepreneurs jumped into the pleasure gardens business, the most successful of which were Ranelagh and Marylebone Gardens.
In the face of serious competition from such places and in view of the unreliable British summer, Tyers was under constant pressure to introduce regular improvements whenever adequate funding was available. At the end of the 1740s he went one step further, and, playing the proprietors of Ranelagh at their own game, installed a major new structure as a grand assembly room and concert hall for use by the band when the weather was too wet or windy.
Variously called the ‘Umbrella Room’, the ‘Music Room’, the ‘Great Room’ or simply the Rotunda, Tyers’s building, with its orchestra stand and organ, was capable of accommodating as many musicians as its outdoor equivalent.
The most remarkable feature of the original Rotunda was undoubtedly the chandelier described by Lockman as having been designed by a gentleman amateur. This chandelier, 11 feet across and with 72 candles, must have been one of the largest in the country, a hugely impressive piece of furniture, and its grandeur was considerably enlightened sometime later by the addition of a plaster sculpture, the Rape of Semele by Jupiter.
The Rotunda was redecorated at intervals… The modelled floral decoration of the ceiling was stripped out in 1765, and the roof re-painted ‘in the resemblance of a shall. For the opening gala of Tuesday 18 May 1790, the Rotunda, growing ever more exotic, was fitted up in imitation of a Persian divan. It was then redecorated several times, becoming by turns a garden tent, a Roman military pavilion, an Indian garden-room and, finally, a circus hippodrome, with two tiers of audience boxes, a proscenium stage and a central ring for displays of horsemanship and circus acts.
Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series
- 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 want this book! I’ve been scoping it out online, but was trying to be a good kid and not buy it. It’s too late, your posts have made it to tempting!
Evil chuckle from the devil on your left shoulder!
It’s a little pricey, but maybe one day it will grace my own coffee table 🙂
The Chelsea Vestry conducted a vigorous campaign against this and the Cremorne in the mid Victorian period…and both finally closed … shame!
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