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.


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

Lady P and Susana Visit Vauxhall Gardens (Part I)

Agatha Tate, Lady Pendleton

Agatha Tate, Lady Pendleton

Susana: Readers, I am elated to report to you that Lady Pendleton has finally granted my wish to travel back in time with her. We are going to Vauxhall—a place that no longer exists in this century—and I am going to actually stroll down the Dark Walks and see for myself what is going on behind the bushes.

Lady P: Now Susana, you will promise to behave as a proper lady would or there will be no trip to the past for you. Ever.

Susana [rolling her eyes]: Whatever you say, your ladyship.

Lady P [inspecting Susana’s clothing]: The gown your mother made you is unexceptionable, I suppose. The hair will have to do since there is no time to have Izzie [her abigail] work her magic on it.

Susana [peering into the mirror]: I think it looks fabulous with the ringlets piece added.

gown427-4Lady P: Of course you do. [Shakes her head.] Now, as for the accent… I suppose I can pass you off as American as I did with Helena [from A Home for Helena], but it would be best if you said as little as possible and allowed me to do the talking.

Susana [eyes widening]: Now wait a minute…

Lady P [straightening her posture]: Do you wish to go or not?

Susana: Yes!

Lady P: Then…

Susana: I promise to follow your lead, my lady. [Aside] This is going to be great! I’ll tell you all about it when I get back!


I wanted to arrive by boat, but her ladyship clearly did not trust me not to overturn it and cause a scandal, so we went by carriage instead. Although it was shiny and black and carried the Pendleton crest, it was nothing like the Dress Coach owned by the Emperor Franz Josef that I saw a few weeks ago at the Carriage Museum here in Florida. The interior was a lovely purple velvet, and the seats were reasonably comfortable, although the ride was definitely jerkier than riding in an automobile. The springs were fairly good; however, I know I’d get nauseous if I ever tried to read anything in one of these things.

Entering a carriage with a long dress and train is not the easiest thing to do, even with a set of steps and coachman to hold your hand. But I assure you that leaving the carriage is even more hazardous. My foot got caught in my train and I ended up falling into the coachman’s arms. He seemed taken aback for a few seconds, and then set me firmly upon the ground and afterward straightened his fine purple and gold coat. Lady P shook her head, looked around quickly to see if anyone was watching, and then took my arm and dragged me to the entrance.

This a photo taken from a scene you can see at the Museum of London. The costumes are too early, of course, but Lady P would not let me bring a camera along.

This a photo taken from a scene you can see at the Museum of London. The costumes are too early, of course, but Lady P would not let me bring a camera along, so you’ll have to imagine 1817 costumes instead.

My first impression of Vauxhall Gardens was the brilliance of the thousands of lanterns in the trees. I briefly wondered how long it took someone to light all those lanterns and how safe it was to have burning flames in trees, but then someone bumped into me and I became aware that the place was teeming with people. People of all sizes and shapes and social classes. Elegantly-dressed ladies and gentlemen with canes and reticules strolled on the same ground as working-class folk in their Sunday best. Some were dancing in front of the orchestra building while others stood on the outskirts chatting and laughing, some leaning on trees. I stood there, mesmerized by the colors, sounds, and smells until her ladyship informed me that she had bespoken a supper-box.

“Are we going to have shaved ham as thin as paper?” I asked eagerly. Everyone knows that the food at Vauxhall was overpriced. That was how they made a profit. Nothing has changed in that regard. In modern times you still pay unreasonable prices for food at airports and amusement parks like Cedar Point.

A nearby gentleman eyed me suspiciously, and Lady P reminded me that I had promised to keep talking to a minimum.

Squidgeworth and the Handel statue that used to sit in Vauxhall Gardens

Squidgeworth and the Handel statue that used to sit in Vauxhall Gardens

The supper-box was simply a covered nook supplied with a table and benches on three sides. The supper-box paintings were long gone, as I knew from having blogged on Vauxhall for nearly a year. I had seen some of them at the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the statue of Handel. I craned my neck to look around for it, but couldn’t remember where it was in 1817, since it had been relocated many times its ±200 years in the gardens. The waiter (nattily dressed in fawn breeches with a turquoise shirt and purple waistcoat) who promptly appeared to take our food order said it was in the eastern alcove on the ground floor of the Orchestra. He seemed surprised to hear that I was interested in seeing it. I guess it was old and boring to people of 1817. I seemed to recall that it was removed from the Gardens soon after. Well, tastes change over time. What attracted people in the 17th century seemed tame by the 19th century. Vauxhall lasted for so much longer than others did primarily because its owners continually sought to re-invest their profits into upgraded facilities and entertainment.

Isaac Cruikshank, A Country Farmer & Waiter at Vauxhall. A farmer in country dress, on his first visit to Vauxhall, has ordered ham in expectation of a plateful of English gammon. When the waiter brings him the notoriously thin slices that were Vauxhall ham, the farmer is furious.

Isaac Cruikshank, A Country Farmer & Waiter at Vauxhall. A farmer in country dress, on his first visit to Vauxhall, has ordered ham in expectation of a plateful of English gammon. When the waiter brings him the notoriously thin slices that were Vauxhall ham, the farmer is furious.

Mr. Jackson (the waiter) was much more eager to tell of us Madame Saqui’s upcoming performance on the tightrope. He told us she had been a personal favorite of the former emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and had even crossed the Seine River on a tightrope. She had been performing at Covent Garden in the past year since the war with France ended, and the proprietors were over the moon to have snagged her for Vauxhall. I wanted to get up and head over to the venue immediately, but her ladyship insisted I remain until the food arrived, since she had been required to pay for it first (Waiters were more like independent contractors. They had to pay for the food themselves when they picked it up from the kitchen.)

We had plates of ham and chicken, cheese, salad, and a plate of cakes and custards, with wine to drink, which I did with good humor, even though I don’t normally drink wine. Any Regency author worth her salt should know that you don’t go around ordering water in that time period, since it wasn’t safe. Since I don’t like the taste of wine, I didn’t mind that it wasn’t of good quality. Lady P winced when she drank it, though. But she said it was definitely better than the cooking wine she had been reduced to drinking in my alcohol-free kitchen in Toledo. [She was quick to learn to pick out the good wines at the nearby liquor store, though.]


The music varied from military tunes to softer ballads and classical music, much by Handel, as Lady P informed me (being not terribly knowledgeable about music). “Cherry Ripe” and “Lass of Richmond Hill” were among them. It was simply fascinating to sit there eating and listening to the music and watching all the people enjoy the atmosphere. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was really there. In Vauxhall Gardens. In 1817. With real Regency-era people. Wow. Just wow.

More next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel!

Lady P and Susana Visit Vauxhall Gardens, Part I

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part II

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part III

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part IV

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part V

Jude Knight: Revealed in Mist

Revealed in Mist and the Sex Trade

In my new release, my heroine is a spy, assigned to work in the house of a courtesan. Courtesans were at the apex of the sex trade: highly-skilled entertainers who traded on their looks and sex appeal to earn a living. The book also includes a visit to a brothel, in the excerpt I share below this historical note.

At the time I write about, according to Dan Cruickshank’s The Secret History of Georgian London, one in five women in London earned income from the sale of sex. He called London:

a vast, hostile, soulless, wicked all-devouring but also fatally attractive place that makes and breaks, that tempts, inflames, satisfies, yet corrupts and ultimately kills.


Sex workers—defined as those who made some or part of their living by selling sex—ranged from those offering a quick bang up against a wall in a slum alley to those accepting gifts from hopeful admirers while mixing on the fringes of Society. And everything in between.

Most prostitutes seem to have been working class girls who, having surrendered their virtue to a man of their own class, sought some profit from their lapse. One woman said:

she had got tired of service, wanted to see life and be independent; & so she had become a prostitute…She…enjoyed it very much, thought it might raise her & perhaps be profitable

Which it was, giving her enough savings to purchase a coffee house and set up in business. For others, prostitution was seasonal, or a temporary reaction to a financial crisis. Many worked for a year or two, then took their savings home, and married or set up in business. Prostitution might also be a way to supplement income from another job; seamstresses and milliners, in particular, were so poorly paid that many of them sold their bodies as well.

Those who worked in wealthier areas, such as the West End, were more likely to find wealthy clients, and those with bit parts in the theatre, who then—as now—might be turned off in a moment if the performance did not please the audience, were well positioned to find a wealthy admirer to keep them in the style to which they would like to become accustomed.

A clever, pretty, talented girl could hope to attract a generous protector, perhaps even an admirer so besotted he would marry her. It happened, though rarely. More commonly, a man would set his mistress up in a house or apartment, and visit her when he was at leisure until he tired of her or she of him.

Many sex workers, if not most, were in less fortunate circumstances. Those running the brothels sought constantly for fresh girls to please the appetites of their customers. A girl who accepted a job, or even a bed for the night, might find herself put to work whether she wished or not, her virginity auctioned to the highest bidder, and her share of the income withheld to pay for her food, board, clothing, and whatever else the brothel-keeper could imagine.

About Revealed in Mist


Their pasts could bring them together or separate them forever.

Prue’s job is to uncover secrets, but she hides a few of her own. When she is framed for murder and cast into Newgate, her one-time lover comes to her rescue. Will revealing what she knows help in their hunt for blackmailers, traitors, and murderers? Or threaten all she holds dear?

Enquiry agent David solves problems for the ton, but will never be one of them. When his latest case includes his legitimate half-brothers as well as the lover who left him months ago, he finds the past and the circumstances of his birth difficult to ignore. Danger to Prue makes it impossible.

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Their first stop was, predictably, a brothel, The Dancing Dove—an expensive brothel, by the youth of the workers and the quality of the fittings, but with the same sickening smells of cheap perfume, sex, sweat, and despair as the others his work had taken him into. He allowed himself to be introduced to a statuesque redhead who was considerably older than she was made up to appear.

“Fanny, show my young friend a good time, eh?” Talbot commanded, and David followed her to one of the rooms.

He had a better use for the bed than the exercise Talbot imagined. He was beginning to feel the loss of a night’s sleep.

“Don’t bother,” he told the prostitute, as she began to unbutton her blouse. “When were the sheets last changed?”

“Maybe three days.” She looked uncertainly at the bed and back at him. “How do you want me then?”

David explained. “What I’d like you to do is sit in the chair over there and wake me in half an hour. Before we leave this room, I’ll give you double what I gave your bawd. And when we get back out there, you’ll pretend to everyone, especially my friend, that we’ve coupled.”

The prostitute frowned. “You’ll pay me. Just to sleep in the bed.”

“On the bed, but yes. Miss Fanny… or is it Miss Frances…? You’re very desirable, but I’m very, very tired, and I’d rather nobody knew…”

She nodded. “It’s Dorothea, really. But Old Hatchet-Face, who owns the place, she said that was not a good name for a whore.”

“Do you have a way to tell the hour, Miss Dorothea?” He’d removed his coat, but he laid it on the bed and stretched out beside it. No point in putting temptation in the woman’s way. He’d wake in an instant if she approached the bed to check his pockets.

She nodded. “I can hear the clock tower down the street. It chimes the quarters. It’ll be just on the half I wake you.”

“Good. Thank you.” His nose wrinkled, but he’d slept in places more rank. Willing his body to relax, he closed his eyes, and Mist was suddenly there stretched beside him. No. He was here to sleep, not to fantasise about the only woman he desired.

“Mister? Mr. Walker?” He woke to the woman’s whisper. “It’s been half an hour.”

Yes. The half was still chiming. Half an hour was not enough, but it took the edge off his weariness. He’d cope.

In the main sitting area, Dorothea poured him a glass of wine and perched on the arm of his chair, leaning against him while he waited for Talbot. Her silence money safely in the pocket she had tied to her waist under her skirt, she had obviously decided to throw herself fully into her part.

Talbot arrived some minutes later, buttoning his breeches. His companion was smiling admiringly up at him, but David caught the contemptuous grimace she passed to her companions behind Talbot’s back.

“That’s the ticket,” Talbot said to David, grinning at the way Dorothea was draped over him. “Can’t get enough of you here, can they? They should pay us for servicing them. Hah! That’s a good one. They should pay us, eh?” And he slapped the bottom of his companion with expansive glee.

“You want another round, Walker? Or what about an exotic dance? I know a place where the girls…” he gestured expansively, shaping improbably curvaceous shapes in the air.

“That sounds very exciting, Sir,” David said, back to being suitably grateful. “Is it a place we could get something to eat, Sir? All that exercise…”

“Good lad. Worked up an appetite, eh? Oh, to be young again. Come on, then, lad. The night is young. We’ll stop at a coffee house and then go on to Sultan’s Palace.”

David saluted Dorothea with a kiss on the cheek and received a warm smile in return. “Best half hour I ever spent in this place,” she told him loudly, “and that’s the truth.”

Meet Jude Knight

Jude Knight copyJude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place, where they can enjoy adventure and romance, thrill to trials and challenges, uncover secrets and solve mysteries, delight in a happy ending, and return from their virtual holiday refreshed and ready for anything.

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Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Decades, Part III


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 early 1830’s marked a low period in Vauxhall’s fortunes. The weather was often poor, causing cancellations of particular events, especially fireworks. There seems to have been a lack of cash for either further investment or spectacular displays.

Among the newer attractions were Michael Boai, the ‘celebrated Chin Melodist’; Joel, the ‘Altonian Siffleur’, who imitated birds; the Singers of the Alps; Don Santiago, the Lilliputian King, only 27 inches high; the great Boa Constrictor and Anaconda. Forty thousand attended on September 8, 1830 when the gardens were free all day to celebrate the coronation of William IV.

In 1832, charity events, flower shows, and other special events were held as a way of increasing income.  “Many of these events were run under the leadership of aristocratic or even royal patrons and attracted wealthy visitors.” These included a Ladies Bazaar and Fete Champetre in aid of the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear; a Fancy Fair sponsored by the Duchess of Kent for the cause of restoring the Lady Chapel at St. Saviour’s Church, Southwark; a fete for the abolition of slavery (1834), and the ‘Superb Gala for the benefit of the Distressed Poles’.


Balloon ascents had been taking place at Vauxhall since 1802, but it wasn’t until the 1820’s and Charles Green that regular balloon ascents and rides were held, generating much-needed income to keep the gardens a viable enterprise.

Green’s first flight was from Green Park on 19 July 1821 in honor of William IV’s coronation. Green’s balloons were larger because he used coal gas instead of hydrogen, which was easier and safer to inflate, as well as cheaper and less harmful to the silk canopy.  Green’s

first flights from Vauxhall took place in July 1826. These were the first ever night ascents in Britain and were the climax of the firework displays. The aeronaut could be observed launching rockets and other incendiary devices from the car of the balloon beneath the main canopy.

Not only was Green a serious scientist, but also a skilled showman, which was a winning combination for Vauxhall. “In 1832 he and a ‘scientific gentleman’ went up at 6 p.m. To measure air pressures and carry out other experiments with barometers.”

Balloon ascents were the main reason for daytime opening. For the afternoon openings, Green staged balloon races with his brother and other family members, also giving rides to members of the public. Dickens went to see the spectacle and left a vivid description:

So we retraced our steps to the firework-ground, and mingled with the little crowd of people who were contemplating Mr. Green.

Some half-dozen men were restraining the impetuosity of one of the balloons, which was completely filled, and had the car already attached; and as rumors had gone abroad that a Lord was ‘going up’, the crowd were more than usually anxious and talkative. […] Just at this moment all eyes were directed to the preparations which were being made for starting. The car was attached to the second balloon, the two were brought pretty close together, and a military band commenced playing, with a zeal and fervor which would render the most timid man in existence but too happy to accept any means of quitting that particular spot on earth on which they were stationed. Then Mr. Green, sen., and his noble companion entered one car, and Mr. Green, jun., and his companion the other; and then the balloons went up, and the aerial travelers stood up, and the crowd outside roared with delight, and the two gentlemen who had never ascended before, tried to wave their flags, as if they were not nervous, but held on very fast all the while.

The Royal Vauxhall balloon

The proprietors of the gardens financed part of this balloon, which was intended by Green to be three times bigger than any previous gas ballon.

Measuring 150 feet in circumference and 80 feet high when inflated, it consisted of 2000 yards of raw Italian skill, dyed crimson and white and made up by Mssrs Soper of Spitalfields. Alternate 90-foot lengths were then stitched and glued together, producing a striking striped effect. The whole surface was coated in a varnish devised by Green himself and encased in a net of ropes. The car… was made of wickerwork, oblong in shape, with a bench seat all round the inside. On the exterior there were large gilded eagles at either end, and the sides were draped with purple and crimson velvet, richly embroidered. The cost of the whole machine was put at £2100, but since members of the public were charged for flights at the rate of £21 for gentlemen and £10 10s for ladies, this was soon recouped… Despite the cost, the public demand for flights was insatiable, as Benjamin Disraeli commented in 1837: ‘There is no news today: everything is rather flat and the room is thin as the world have gone to see the monster balloon rise from Vauxhall.

The Great Balloon of Nassau

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Hollins, A Consultation prior to the Aerial Voyage to Weilburgh, oil on canvas, 1836. Green is seated on the right, discussing the voyage with Robert Holland; between them stands Thomas Monck Mason, while the group by the window comprises (left to right) Walter Prideaux, Hollins himself and Sir William Melbourne James. The balloon is visible in the gardens behind them. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

On 7 November 1836—without any prior notice—Thomas Monck Mason, Robert Holland, and Green took off in an attempt at a long-distance record. Financed by Holland, the provisions included 40 pounds of ham, beef and tongue, 45 pounds of fowls, as well as preserves, sugar, bread, and biscuits—not to mention two gallons each of sherry, port and brandy, and a device for heating coffee using quicklime.

Carried along on a north-westerly breeze, they passed Canterbury at 4 p.m., dropping a message for the mayor by parachute. Night fell after their Channel crossing between Dover and Calais so they sat down to a substantial supper.… Once it was light Green began seeking a landing site and brought the balloon safely to earth at 7:30 a.m., near the town of Wilbur in the Duchy of Nassau. The aeronauts had flown 480 miles in eighteen hours, easily setting the world record for the longest balloon flight.

More Balloons

Balloons with parachutes had been done since the 1790’s, and Robert Cocking developed a theory of aerodynamics that unfortunately led to his death. Besides the fact that his theory was faulty, the parachute was far too large and heavy. Green and others tried to dissuade him, but he was adamant, and when the parachute was detached from the balloon, it sunk like a stone, and Cocking died within ten minutes of landing from a serious head wound. Vauxhall held a benefit night for Cocking’s widow and Queen Victoria sponsored a public subscription to raise funds for her as well.

cocking's parachute

The tragedy of Cocking’s upside-down parachute

The plan for a lion tamer and a Bengali tiger to ascend never came to fruition, banned by the magistrate. “In 1850 Green went up on horseback, with his unfortunate mount locked onto a wooden platform by its hooves.

Handbill advertising Green's ascent on horseback, 31 July 1850 (Museum of London, A8955). This appears to be a complimentary ticket issued by Green himself. The flight did take place, with the horse firmly locked in place by the hooves.

Handbill advertising Green’s ascent on horseback, 31 July 1850 (Museum of London, A8955). This appears to be a complimentary ticket issued by Green himself. The flight did take place, with the horse firmly locked in place by the hooves.

George Cruikshank’s Comic Almanac for 1851

Would you want to have lived near Vauxhall with all these stunts taking place? The following piece purports to be from a disgruntled local resident:

Sir, I reside near a place of popular amusement ‘al fresco’. I am of a cheerful though quiet disposition, and should be perfectly happy but for one circumstance. During the entire summer season I am in a continual state of terror from balloons.

It was in my front garden that the Ourang-outrang descended in a parachute in 1836. I then said nothing of the annoyance caused by the mob rushing into my lawn and scrambling for fragments of the machine, of the destruction effected among my crockery by the animal attempting to escape through my scullery, nor of the alarm which his sudden appearance in the Dining room excited in the bosoms of myself and my family. I thought the balloon mania had reached its highest pitch—no such thing, Sir. After that came the Nassau Balloon which used to take a dozen people up at once exactly over my house, about once a week; till a terrible dream haunted me of seeing the whole party discharged into my premises.

Then Balloons with fireworks, waking me up every other night, and gazing at one of which, out of a window, I received a sudden blow in the eye from a firework case, descending fifteen hundred feet perpendicularly. My next alarm was occasioned by a hamper of champagne, which during a ‘perilous descent’, when a valve gave way, some intrepid aeronaut pitched through my roof at midnight.

Now folks go up on horseback. Can I walk at ease in my garden and know that the veteran Green is three miles above me, performing equestrian feats in the air? Pray, Sir, exert your influence in my behalf, or we shall shortly hear of a ‘Terrific Ascent in a cab,’ to be eclipsed by ‘First ascent of the Monster Balloon, taking up the Pimlico Omnibus.’.

not in my backyard

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever

Bliss Bennet: A Man Without a Mistress

The Real Regency Scandal Sheets?

by Bliss Bennet

Plotlines featuring scandal sheets have become a staple of the Regency-set historical romance, mirroring the current-day popularity of magazines and television shows devoted entirely to celebrity gossip. But did newspapers devoted to spreading tittle-tattle about the high and mighty really exist during the Regency period?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “scandal sheet” did not enter the lexicon until the first decade of the twentieth century. And an advanced search of Google Books reveals only a slightly earlier date, with citations from no earlier than the 1890s. But perhaps “scandal sheet” was simply not the term in use during the period for newspapers or magazine devoted to scandal?

In his book Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip, Roger Wilkes sets the date for the publication of what we might today call full-fledged scandal sheets a good bit earlier than the existence of the term itself. But still not in the Regency. Gossip columns appeared in English newspapers as early as 1704 (when Daniel Defoe, known today for his novel Robinson Crusoe, created the informal “Advice from the Scandalous Club” for his new paper, Review), and gossip pamphlets on specific subjects were also published during the eighteenth century. But newspapers devoted entirely to scandalmongering did not begin to be published until the 1820s.

I’ve been wondering, then, if a more historically accurate analog to today’s People, Entertainment Tonight, and National Enquirer might be a “scandal sheet” of an entirely different sort than a newspaper: the popular satirical print. The period between 1760 and 1820 is often referred to as the “Golden Age of Caricature,” in part because of the prints satirizing the British Royal family that proliferated during this period. But many high-ranking political and social figures besides King George and his relations found themselves the butt of a satirical print’s pointed humor. The audience for such prints was wide, just as it is for today’s scandal sheets; the middling sorts as well as aristocrats could afford a sixpence for a plain folio mezzotint, or a shilling for a colored one, the typical price for a print in the late eighteenth century.

The Jersey Smuggler

The Prince Regent, caught in bed with his mistress, Lady Jersey, by his wife

[James Gillray, The Jersey Smuggler Detected; —or—good causes for discontent [separation]. 1796. British Museum.]


The Prince Regent ridiculed as a blockhead, along with many other famed political leaders of the day

[George and Isaac Cruikshank, Blockheads. Frontispiece from A Political Lecture on Heads, Alias Blockheads!!! 1819.]

Gillray_-_Sir_Richard_Worse-than-sly,_exposing_his_wife's_bottom;_-_o_fye! copy

A major Regency scandal: the Worsley crim com trial, which brought to light shameful details of Sir Richard’s voyeuristic sexual tendencies, details which satirist Gillray did not shy away from skewering

[James Gillray, Sir Richard Worse-than-Sly, exposing his wife’s bottom; — O fye! 1782.]

Regency-era satirical prints have their roots in both visual caricature and in literary satire. In the late 16th century, Italian brothers Annibale and Agostino Carracci applied the words carico and caricare (to load, or to exaggerate) to some of the exaggerated portraits they drew, starting a trend for caricatures on the Continent. During the seventeenth century, art collectors and young men on the Grand Tour brought many examples of Italian caricatures back to England, some of which caught the eye of English publisher Arthur Pond. In 1736, Pond printed a collection of drawings by Annibale Carraci and other Italian caricaturists, which proved immediately and widely popular with London audiences. Noting the high sales of Pond’s collection, English artists soon began combining the exaggeration of the visual caricature with the biting satire of the period’s literature to create their own home-grown prints. Thus beginning a craze for satiric prints in England that lasted well into the nineteenth century.

Miss Macaroni

One of the earliest prints to feature a print shop, reputedly the Darlys’s shop on the Strand

[John Raphael Smith, Miss Macaroni and her gallant at a print shop. 1773. Guildhall Library, Corporation of London.]

During the seventeenth century, St. Paul’s and Fleet Street were where one would go to find shops devoted entirely to selling individual prints, right alongside booksellers and printers. Most sold both art prints and comic ones, although by 1762, satiric prints had grown so popular that Mary and Matthew Darlys, known as the “Fun Merchants” (at 39 Strand) opened a shop devoted entirely to comic prints. By the early 1800s, print shops had branched out westward along Fleet Street and the Strand, to the new developments around St. James’s in Westminster. John Bowles (under the sign of the Black Horse in St. Paul’s Churchyard), James Bretherton (134 Bond Street) and Mrs. Humphreys (in St. James’s) were some of the more popular purveyors. Publishers William Holland and Samuel William Fores even set up exhibition rooms that featured only prints, and charged entry fees to viewers. “In Holland’s Caricature Exhibition rooms may be seen, the largest Collection of Prints and Drawings in Europe,” claimed Holland’s advertisements; “The most complete Collection. Ever exposed to public View in this Kingdom,” countered Fores’s.

Given the often lewd, rude, and even pornographic nature of many of the era’s prints, it’s hardly surprising to discover that many Regency commentators bemoaned the open display of satirical prints in shop windows. Take for example, John Corry’s “Caricature and Printshops,” from his 1801 Satirical View of London:

Dandy Pickpockets

Satiric print depicting the dangers of print shop gazing!

[Isaac Robert Cruikshank, Dandy Pickpockets, Diving. 1818. Hand colored etching. Museum of London.]

Casualties of streetwalking copy

Satiric print depicting the dangers of print shop gazing!

[Anonymous, Casualties of London Street Walking: A Strong Impression. 1826. Guildhall Library, Corporation of London.]

This humorous mode of satirising folly is very prejudicial to the multitude in many respects: — in the loss of time to those who stop to contemplate the different figures; the opportunities given to pickpockets to exercise their art; and that incitement to licentiousness occasioned by the sight of voluptuous painting. The indecent attitudes obscene labels, and similar decorations, must have a powerful effect on the feelings of susceptible youth; and it is an authenticated fact, that girls often go in parties to visit the windows of printshops, that they may amuse themselves with the view of prints which imbue the most impure ideas. Before these windows, the apprentice loiters unmindful to his master’s business. And thither prostitutes hasten, and fascinating glances endeavor to allure the giddy and the vain who stop to gaze on the Sleeping Venus, the British Venus and a variety of seductive representations of naked feminine beauty. (75-77)

Mrs. Humphreys copy

Mrs. Humphrey’s print shop, published by Mrs. Humphrey herself; the caption translates as “Shame on he who thinks evil of it”

[Anonymous. Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense, published by G. Humphrey. 1821. Colored etching. Guildhall Library, Corporation of London.]

Wouldn’t you love to attend one of those print shop-gazing parties? I know I would. In fact, it was after reading this passage that I had the idea to include a scene set outside a shop that peddles satirical prints in my latest historical romance, A Man without a Mistress. In the window of Bretherton’s (an actual print shop of the period), Sir Peregrine Sayre spies a print of the recently deceased Lord Saybrook cavorting with an obviously diseased courtesan. To keep the fast-approaching daughter of Lord Saybrook, Sibilla Pennington, from catching sight of the scandalous print (and thereby discovering the true cause of her father’s death, venereal disease), Sayre is forced to make a bet with her, a bet that will only entangle him further with the headstrong young woman whom he’d promised himself he’d stay far away from. And, of course, further scandal ensues . . .

Man Without a Mistress eBook Cover Large copy

If you’re interested in finding out more about Regency era satirical prints, check out these resources:

Baker, Kenneth. George IV, A Life in Caricature. London: Thames and Hudson, 2005.

Bills, Mark. The Art of Satire: London in Caricature. London: Philip Wilson/Museum of London, 2006.

Donald, Diana. The Age of Caricature: Satirical Prints in the Reign of George III. New Haven: Yale UP, 1996.

Cindy McCreery, The Satirical Gaze: Prints of Women in Late Eighteenth Century England. London: Oxford UP, 2004.

Roger Wilkes, Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip. London: Atlantic Books, 2002.

About A Man Without a Mistress

A man determined to atone for the past

For seven long years, Sir Peregrine Sayre has tried to assuage his guilt over the horrifying events of his twenty-first birthday by immersing himself in political work—and by avoiding all entanglements with the ladies of the ton. But when his mentor sends him on a quest to track down purportedly penitent prostitutes, the events of his less-than-innocent past threaten not only his own political career, but the life of a vexatious viscount’s daughter as well.

A woman who will risk anything for the future

Raised to be a political wife, but denied the opportunity by her father’s untimely death, Sibilla Pennington has little desire to wed as soon as her period of mourning is over. Why should she have to marry just so her elder brothers might be free of her hoydenish ways and her blazingly angry grief? To delay their plans, Sibilla vows only to accept a betrothal with a man as politically astute as was her father—and, in retaliation for her brothers’ amorous peccadillos, only one who has never kept a mistress. Surely there is no such man in all of London.

When Sibilla’s attempt to free a reformed maidservant from the clutches of a former procurer throw her into the midst of Per’s penitent search, she finds herself inextricably drawn to the cool, reserved baronet. But as the search grows ever more dangerous, Sibilla’s penchant for risk taking cannot help but remind Per of the shames he’s spent years trying to outrun. Can Per continue to hide the guilt and ghosts of his past without endangering his chance at a passionate future with Sibilla?

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About the Author

DSC_0682 1 x 2Bliss Bennet writes smart, edgy novels for readers who love history as much as they love romance. Despite being born and bred in New England, Bliss finds herself fascinated by the history of that country across the pond, particularly the politically-volatile period known as the English Regency. Historical Novel Society’s Indie Reviews praised her first book, A Rebel without a Rogue, deeming it “a sparkling debut.”

Bliss’s mild-mannered alter ego, Jackie Horne, writes about the intersection of gender and genre at the Romance Novels for Feminists blog. (

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