Vauxhall Gardens

Vauxhall Gardens entrance

Many thanks to Nathaniel M. Stein for pointing out that one of the images related to "Marylebone Gardens, which, not at all coincidentally, was designed on a layout quite similar to that of Tyers's Vauxhall, and pictured in quite similar ways".   The offending image has been replaced by Orchestra at Vauxhall Gardens c1790  

The first references to Vauxhall occur in the region of King John. It is recorded that Falkes de Breaute, a Gascon mercenary in the service of King John, built a Manor house-'Falkes Hall'-in the early 13th century. Later records indicate that the Manor was held by the Rivers family who held the title of Earls of Devon. During the sixteenth century a dock at Vauxhall was used by King Henry VII for the purpose of loading stone from the demolished Palace at Kennington for the use in the construction of Whitehall Palace. In 1615, during the region of King James I, a property known as 'Stock-dens', attached to The Spring Gardens (an area of some eleven acres) was held by Jane Vaux who may have been a descendant if Flakes de Breaute. During the 1630's, in the reign of King Charles I, an 'experimental workshop' was set up, probably at Copt Hall (opposite the site of Glasshouse Walk) by Edward Somerset, Marquess of Worchester, with the assistance of Caspar Calthoff, a mechanic form the Netherlands. The Marquess was a profolic inventor, specialising in cyphers, locks and military engineering, and is credited with the first practical use of steam power.

During the Civil War London was fortified by the Parliamentarian forces, a number of forts being erected including a star fort at Vauxhall linked by a chain barrage to Tothill Fields. The workshop at Copt Hall was taken over by the Parliamentary forces. The fort at Vauxhall is known to have survived until the end of the 18th century and is indicated on Lambeth's plan of London, published in 1806, on which it is described as 'Oliver Cromwells Castle', near to the Effra River at the end of Kent Street. Although a supporter of the King, it appears that the Marquess of Worcester was still active during the Commonwealth as in 1650 he is reported as proposing the establishment of a 'College of Artisans' at Vauxhall. In response to the current fashion for members of the aristocracy to be seen walking in the open air King Charles I hand opened Hyde Park to the public in 1635 an with the restoration of the Monarchy under King Charles II in the 1660 public entertainments once more became fashionable and England strove to outdo the extravagances of the French Court. In 1661 the famous garden at Vaux-le-Visconte, designed by Andre Le Notre, was opened with a fete in honour of the young King Louis XIV, and in the same year the 'New Spring Garden' at Vauxhall opened to the public.

Orchestra at Vauxhall Gardens c1790.jpg
Orchestra at Vauxhall Gardens c1790

At first it expected to provide their own entertainment. John Evelyn visited the New Spring Garden on 2nd July 1661, and Samuel Pepys records in his Diary, under 29th May 1662; '� took the boat, and to Fox-hall, where I had not been a great while. To the Old Spring Garden, and there walked long, and the wenches gathered pinks. Here we staid, and seeing that we could not have anything to eat but very dear, and with long stay, we went forth again without any notice taken of us, and so we might have done if we had anything. Thence to the new one,'-the New Spring Garden-' 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, passes out of doors as we did in the other place. In the following year the French traveller, Balthazar Monoconys, describes the 'Jardin Printemps' as '�lawns and gravel walks dividing squares of twenty to thirty yards enclosed with hedges of gooseberry trees within which were planted raspberry bushes, rose bushes and other shrubs, as well with herbs and such vegetables bordered with jonquils, gills flowers, or lillies, led to numerous arbours or little supper boxes where the visitors could partake of a cold collation'. It was also in 1663 that George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, was granted letters patent for the establishment of a glassworks at Vauxhall. The glassworks, which was situated just to the north of the Spring Garden, was under the direction of Venetian craftsmen introduced by the Duke, and among its products were plate glass for the windows of carriages and mirrors glass.

Sir Samuel Morland, Master of Mechanics to King Charles II, who had earlier acquired the old Manor House of Vauxhall, demolishes it and built himself a new house on the site. In 1665 he acquired the Spring Garden, adjoining Copt Hall. John Aubrey, writing in Antiquities of Surrey, records that Morland �built fine room at Vauxhall the inside all of looking-glass, and fountains very pleasant to behold; which is much visited by strangers. It stands in the middle of the garden, covered with Cornish slate. Doctor Jonathan Swift visited the Garden on 17th May 1711, and Addison, writing in The Spector of Tuesday 20th May, 1712, describes a visit to Vauxhall in the company of Sir Roger de Coverley: 'As I was sitting in my chamber, and thinking on a subject for my next Spector, I heard two or three irregular bounces on my landladys door:; and at the opening of it, a loud cheerful voice inquiring whether the philosopher was at home. I immediately recollected that it was my good friend Sir Roger's voice, and I had promised to go with him on the water to Spring Garden, in case it proved a good evening. We were sooner come to the Temple Stairs, but we were surrounded by the crowd of having seated himself, and trimmed the boat with his coachman, who, being a very sober man, always serves as ballast on these occasions, we made the best of our way to Fauxhall. We were now arrived at Spring Garden, which is exquisitely pleasant at this time of year. When I considered the fragrancy of the walks and bowers, with the choir of birds that sung upon trees, and the loose tribe of people that walked under their shades. I could not but look upon the place as kind of Mahometan paradise. Sir Roger told me it put him in mind of a little coppice by his house in the country, which his chaplain used to call an aviary of nightingales" While musing there 'a mask who came behind him gave him a gentle tap on the shoulder, and asked him if he would drink a bottle of mead with her, but the knife, being startled at so unexpected a familiarity� told her she was a wanton baggage, and bid her go about her business. We concluded our walk with a glass of Burton ale and a slice of hung beef. As we were going out of the garden, my old friend, thinking himself obliged, as a member of the quorum, to animadvert upon the morals of the place, told the, mistress of the house, who sat were more nightingales and fewer strumpets.

Vauxhall Gardens by Johann Sebastian Muller

In 1728 Elizabeth Masters granted a lease of the twelve acres of the Spring Garden to Jonathan Tyres, of'Denbies', Dorking Surrey, for thirty years at �250 per annum. William Hogarth, the painter, who had recently married, moved to lodgings in South Lambeth in the following year and met Tyers. Together they devised the spectacular re-opening of the Garden-the Ridotto al fresco-on the evening of Wednesday 7th June 1732. The doors were opened at 9.00pm and tickets were one guinea each. A report in the press of the time state that '�there were about a hundred soldiers planted, with their bayonets fixed, at the outward doors and along the avenues to the house, to prevent any disturbance. The chief of the company went in between nine and eleven; the dresses for the most part were no dominoes and lawyer's gowns, though one third of the company had no dresses or masks. It is reckoned there were about four hundred people there, but about ten men to one woman. The company broke up between there and four on Thursday morning, and about five soldiers crossed the water to returned morning, and about five the soldiers crossed the water to return home. His Royal Highness, '-Frederick Prince of Wales, who had arrived in England a few years previously on the accession of his father, George II - 'attended by several noblemen and gentle men, &c.., went in about ten, and staid about two hours and then returned with his company. 'The Daily Advertiser of 21st June, 1732, gives a somewhat different account: On Wednesday night, June 7, at the Ridotto al Fresco at Vauxhall, there was not half the company as amongst whom were several persons of distinction, but more ladies than gentlemen; and the whole was managed with great order and decency, a detachment of one hundred of the foot guards being posted round the garden. A waiter belonging to the house having got drunk, put on a dress, and went to Fresco with the rest of the company; but being discovered, he was immediately turned out of doors. After the first night, the admission charge was reduced to one shilling per person and season tickets in the form silver or bronze medallions were issued. Hogarth, who was responsible for the design of the medallions, was given a life ticket in gold to admit 'a coachful' and bearing the inscription'in perpetuam beneficii memoria'.

The Prince Of Wales, who, as Duke of Cornwall, was Lord of the Manor of Kennington in which the Garden was situated, became an enthusiastic patron and frequent visitor to the Garden. On 6th July 1735, just a month after the opening of the covered orchestra loggia, he went to Vauxhall by water from his house at Kew. In the following year, a newspaper report of 16th August records that 'On Monday evening, His Royal Highness the Prince, with Viscountess Torrington, Lord Baltimore, and several other noblemen and gentlemen of distinction, took water at Whitehall, and about seven oclock came to the Spring Gardens, Vauxhall, where after taking several turns, and viewing the pavilions, the musical temple, and illuminations, they retired into the grand pavilion, the inside of which was lighted with chandeliers on that occasion. They drank tea and coffee; after which they again walked into the grove, and returning to the grand pavilion, supped there. His Royal Highness and his company were so well pleased with the splendour of the entertainment, that they did not leave the garden till one next morning.

Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson 1784

By the mid- 1730s the layout of the Garden, including the broad tree-lined avenues was well establishes. The raised Orchestra building was central feature, enhanced by the installation of an organ in 1737. The 1738 season opened on 26th April with the issue of one thousand tickets at twenty-four shillings a piece-each ticket containing silver to the value of three shillings and sixpence. The same year saw the erection of a life-size statue of the composer, George Fredrick Handel, executed by Louis Francois Roubiliac at a reputed cost of three hundred pounds. This is believed to be the first recorded instance of a statue being erected to a living celebrity.] The establishment, by Hagarth Francois Gravelot brought together a talented group of students included the young Gainsborough, a number of whom carried out paintings for the decoration of the 'supper boxes' at Vauxhall. A number of these were executed by Francis Hayman, a theatrical scenic artist, who worked from designs by Hogarth.

1743 saw the erection of the e rotunda or 'umbrella room', designed by George Michael Mose, and executed in stucco-work by French and Italian craftsmen. Then had a diameter of some seventy feet and is described in a contemporary account as ' edifice framed in the highest delicacy of taste'. The ceiling was adorned with painted festoons of flowers terminating in a point, and resembled the dome of an august royal tent. The roof was contrived so that 'sounds never vibrate under it; by which means, music is heard to the greatest advantage'. There were sixteen sash windows, each framed with elegant carving, and crowned by a plume of feathers-the crest of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales-as were the frames of the sixteen oval looking-glasses which interspersed them so that a spectator standing in the centre of the rotunda might see himself reflected in each. Under the windows, set on brackets between twin white vases, were sixteen fine white busts portraying eminent personages, ancient and modern. In the centre hung the magnificent chandelier, eleven feet in diameter, with three rows of arms carrying a total of seventy-two candles. The inside of the doorway was framed by a rail supporting wax candles held by artificial roses.

1745 saw the introduction of vocal music with performances by Mrs Arne, wife of the resident composer Dr Thomas Arne. By 1748 the charge for a season ticket for two persons had risen to two pounds. One of the most popular events ever to take place at Vauxhall Gardens was the rehearsal for Handels 'Music for the Royal Fireworks' on 21st April 1749. Although the rehearsal was without the fireworks, around one hundred musicians were employed and the spectators are reported to have numbered some twelve thousand . The following year 1750, saw the opening of Westminster Bridge and as the new Kennington Road was not yet built, Tyers purchased and demolished a number of old houses in Red Lion Yard, opposite Lambeth Church in order to provide access to a coach-way to Vauxhall. Such was the novelty of visiting the gardens by coach that on the first night the coaches reached all the way from Vauxhall to beyond Lambeth Church, a distance of nearly a mile.

In 1751 the Gardens' great patron, Fredrick Prince of Wales, died, to be succeeded by Prince George, later to become King George III. It was feared at the time that this event would have lessened public enthusiasm for the Gardens, but this does not appear in any way to have interrupted it. The orchestra building was rebuilt it 1757 'in 'Moorish' Gothic style, and in the following year Tyres became the sole proprietor of the Gardens.

The Dark walks' at Vauxhall acquired come notoriety during the latter pert of the eighteenth century, and in 1763 they were closed by order of the magistrates, though they were reopened in the following year after lighting was provided. In 1767 Jonathan Tyers died and ownership of the Gardens passed to his sons, Thomas and Jonathon. A further 'Ridotto Al Fresco' was held on 10th June 1769 attended by some ten thousand visitors. For this event a covered collonade was erected in the Grove and the whole garden was illuminated by around five thousand lamps. Music continued to play an important role in the programme of entertainment's provided at Vauxhall and many well-known singers and musicians were engaged to perform there. The singer, Mrs Weichsell, was a frequent performer and James Hook was appointed as organist in 1774.

Photograph of fountain in Vauxhall Gardens. Image Source : Lambeth Archives

The behaviour of those frequenting the gardens was not always what might have been wished and in 1773 The Vauxhall Affray attracted much adverse publicity whilst in the following year, it is recounted that on 4th September 'fifteen foolish bucks were detained for breaking lamps and causing other damage. There was no police force patrolling the Gardens at this time, but order was maintained by a detachment of soldiers. A constant topic of conversation was the exorbitant cost and the diminutive portions of the refreshments provided there and the sliced ham was particularly notorious. In one account it was claimed that a newspaper could be read through a slice of Tyerss ham or beef, and it is reputed that a certain carver was employed on his promise to cut a ham so thin that the slices would cover the whole garden like a carpet of red white. A Report, 'in The Connoisseur of 1775, describes a family visit to the Gardens and the father, they are half-a-crown a piece and no bigger than a sparrow.' At which his wife retorted. 'You are so stingy, Mr Rose, there is no bearing you. When one is out a party of pleasure, I love to appear somebody, and what signifies a few shillings one in a way, when a body is about it?' Encouraged by their mother, the young ladies asked for ham also upon its arrival their father lifted a slice on his fork and pronounced: A shillingsworth here weighs an ounce-that is sixteen shillings for a pound-a reasonable profit, surely. If ham weighs thirty pounds, why your master makes twenty-four pounds on every ham, and if he buys the best and salts them himself they cost him ten shillings apiece.

Visits by celebrities and members if the aristocracy played an important part in the social life at Vauxhall: the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Camberland on 25th June 1781 attracted some eleven thousand visitors and 1784 saw a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Fredrick Handel. Rowlandsons well-known drawings of the Gardens at around this time shows how many famous personalities of the period, including Dr Johnson, James Boswell and Mrs Thrale, The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of leader of the orchestra, James Hook the organist, and a number, of the other players. In 1785, Tom Tyers sold his interest in the Gardens to his brother, Jonathan, who became manager. The 1786 season saw a Jubilee Ridotto to celebrate the twenty-fifth year of the reign of King George III, for which a further fourteen thousand lamps were provided to enhance the illuminations. A supper-room was added, to the left of the rotunda, and Handels statue repositioned at the rear of the Orchestra.

Photograph of Rotunda in Vauxhall Gardens. Image Source : Lambeth Archives

On the death of the younger Jonathan Tyers in 1792 ownership of the Gardens passed to Bryan Barret, High Sherrif of Surrey, who was married to Tyers daughter Elizabeth. A Masked Ball was held on 31st May, contemporary accounts describing the Gardens as a Blaze of Light. Admission charges were raised to two shillings, or three shillings on Gala nights. Toward the end of the century new forms of entertainment were introduced, with fireworks first exhibited in 1798 and Balloon ascents, by M. Garnerin and his two companions, in 1802. In 1809 ownership passed to George and Jonathan Barratt and during the following years many of the fine trees were cut down to permit the building of a collonade. A banquet was held at the Gardens on 20th June 1813 in celebration of the victories of the Duke of Wellington. Vauxhall Bridge opened in 1816, providing more convenient access to the Gardens and it was in the year that the tightrope walker, Mme Saqui, was engaged to perform at a fee of one hundred guineas per weak.

Image Source : Lambeth Archives

The Barrett family, sold their interest in the Gardens in 1821 to Messers T.Bish, F.Gye, and R.Hughes for a reputed figure of �30,000, and on 3rd June the following year they re-opened, by permission of King George IV, as The Royal Gardens, Vauxhall. Although the admission charge was then raised to three shillings and sixpence it is recorded that 133,279 visitors were admitted during the 1823 season and 120,00 in the 1826 season when the charge persons paying for admission on any one night that year was 20,137 though this was probably later exceeded when the Gardens were opened free of charge on the occasion of the Coronation of William IV. Spectacular displays were popular and re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo with fireworks and one thousand horses and foot soldiers were major attraction in 1827. 1883 saw a decline in the quality of the clientele and on August 2nd a One shilling night attracted 27,000 visitors, Later on August 19th, a benefit night was held in honour of Mr Simpson who had acted as Master of Ceremonies for thirty-six years, a central feature being a forty-five effigy of Simpson executed in coloured lights. The Balloonist, Charles Green, made an ascent from the Gardens in 1835, remaining airborn for the duration of the night. In the following year, on the afternoon of 7th November, he lifted off in company with Messrs Monk and Holland in a giant balloon, later named Nassau, which descended of nearly Coblentz the following morning, a distance of nearly five hundred miles having being covered in eighteen hours.

Assent of the Nassau Balloon from Vauxhall Gardens June 1850 Image Source : Lambeth Archives

In July 1837 Mr Green and the Nassau were involved in an unfortunate experiment which resulted in the death of Mr Cocking planned to descend from the balloon by means of a parachute suspended some forty feet below it, watched by a vast crowd at the band of the Surrey Yeomenry played the National Anthem. Mr Gye, the proprietor of the Gardens, had tried to dissuade Mr Cocking from the experiment but Mr Cocking had wind and the parachute held the balloon steady as it rose perpendicularly for about ten minutes before being obscured by cloud. Mr Green said he had asked to ascend to 8,000 feet but had not been able to rise beyond 5,000, as it was difficult to throw out ballast without it falling into the parachute. Mr Gyes son , following the Cocking fallen instantly. The effect of the parachute detaching itself from the balloon had caused the balloon to rise suddenly to a height of nearly five miles during which ascent Mr Green and his companion, Mr Spencer, were almost overcome by only by the use of tubes connected to a bag containing air that they managed to survive, and the Nassau eventually landed close to the village of Offham, near Malling, in Kent. In 1840 the Gardens closed but they re-opened in July 1841. Mr Alfred Bunn, the stage manager, published a periodical pamphlet entitled Vauxhall Papers with anecdotes about the Gardens which appeared three times per week at sixpence a copy, but this folded on 23rd August after only sixteen issues. The Gardens again closed on 8th September and the following day they were auctioned but bought in at �20.000, though the furniture and fittings were sold, including a couple of dozen painting by Hayman at around thirty shillings apiece.

Image Source : Lambeth Archives

The Gardens re-opened yet again in 1845 with twelve MCs and 40,000 lamps and the following year the oil lamps were replaced by gas lightening. 1947 saw the spectacle of A view of Venice with imitation water and a Grand Venetian Carnival was held in 1849 with 60,000 lamps. There were further balloon ascents, but the building of the railway viaduct from Nine Elms Waterloo, cutting the Gardens off from the river and smothering them with a pall of black smoke, together with the rival attractions of the Crystal Palace at Sydnham Hill eventually brought about the demise of one of Londons most enduring places of entertainment after more than two hundred years. The final 'Last Night' was on the 25th July 1859, following which the site and its contents were sold by auction on August 22nd , realising the sum of �800. The building of St Peter's Church commenced in 1863 and it was consecrated the following year. The adjoining vicarage, St Peter's House at 308 Kennington Lane, is the only remaining structure to survive from the time when the Gardens flourished.

Click here for a list of famous people associated with the gardens

The diversions of the times are not ill suited to the genius of this incongruous monster, called the public. Give it noise, confusion, glare, and glitter; it has no idea of elegance and propriety--. . . Vauxhall is a composition of baubles, overcharged with paltry ornaments, ill conceived, and poorly executed; without any unity of design, or propriety of disposition. It is an unnatural assembly of objects, fantastically illuminated in broken masses; seemingly contrived to dazzle the eyes and divert the imagination of the vulgar--Here a wooden lion, there a stone statue; in one place, a range of things like coffee-house boxes, covered a-top; in another, a parcel of ale-house benches; in a third, a puppet-shew representation of a tin cascade; in a fourth, a gloomy cave of a circular form, like a sepulchral vault half lighted; in a fifth, a scanty slip of grass-plat, that would not afford pasture sufficient for an ass�s colt. The walks, which nature seems to have intended for solitude, shade, and silence, are filled with crowds of noisy people, sucking up the nocturnal rheums of an aguish climate; and through these gay scenes, a few lamps glimmer like so many farthing candles.

When I see a number of well-dressed people, of both sexes, sitting on the covered benches, exposed to the eyes of the mob; and, which is worse, to the cold, raw, night-air, devouring sliced beef, and swilling port, and punch, and cyder, I can�t help compassionating their temerity, while I despise their want of taste and decorum; but, when they course along those damp and gloomy walks, or crowd together upon the wet gravel, without any other cover than the cope of Heaven, listening to a song, which one half of them cannot possibly hear, how can I help supposing they are actually possessed by a spirit, more absurd and pernicious than any thing we meet with in the precincts of Bedlam?

Matthew Bramble

I no sooner entered, than I was dazzled and confounded with the variety of beauties that rushed all at once upon my eye. Image to yourself, my dear Letty, a spacious garden, part laid out in delightful walks, bounded with high hedges and trees, and paved with gravel; part exhibiting a wonderful assemblage of the most picturesque and striking objects, pavilions, lodges, groves, grottoes, lawns, temples, and cascades; porticoes, colonades, and rotundos; adorned with pillars, statues, and painting: the whole illuminated with an infinite number of lamps, disposed in different figures of suns, stars, and constellations; the place crowded with the gayest company, ranging through those blissful shades, or supping in different lodges on cold collations, enlivened with mirth, freedom, and good-humour, and animated by an excellent band of musick. Among the vocal performers I had the happiness to hear the celebrated Mrs. -----, whose voice was so loud and so shrill, that it made my head ake through excess of pleasure.

In about half an hour after we arrived we were joined by my uncle, who did not seem to relish the place. People of experience and infirmity, my dear Letty, see with very different eyes from those that such as you and I make use of--

Lydia Melford

Text Source :
Benjamin Silliman Image Source :
(from Benjamin Silliman's (1779�1864), A Journal of Travels in England, Holland, and Scotland...1805 & 1806)

In the evening, I went with a party of Americans to Vauxhall gardens. They are situated about a mile and a half from London, on the south side of Lambeth, on the Surry side of the river. The gardens cover a number of acres, the whole surface is perfectly smooth, free from grass, and rolled hard. Avenues of lofty trees are planted every where, and the confines are filled with shrubs. I came to the gardens with the impression that I was about to see something excelling all other splendid objects which I had hitherto beheld. Nor was I disappointed. For, as we entered, a scene presented itself splendid beyond description, exceeding all that poets have told of fairy lands and Elysian fields.

From the trees, even to their very tops and extremities, from the long arched passages, open at the sides and crossing each other in geometrical figures, from the alcoves and recesses which surround the whole, and from the orchestra and pavillions, such a flood of brightness was poured out from ten thousand lamps, whose flames were tinged with every hue of light, and which were disposed in figures, exhibiting at once all that is beautiful in regularity, and all that is fascinating in the arrangements of taste and fancy--that one might almost have doubted whether it were not a splendid illusion which imagination was playing off upon his senses. Do not suspect me of exaggeration, for, what I have now written can give you but a faint idea of this abode of pleasure.

The arched passages to which I just now alluded, cross the gardens at right angles with each other, and yet, not in such a manner as to obscure the trees. In the recesses which bound the gardens on several sides, and also beneath the trees, tables are placed, furnished with cold collations, confectionaries and other refreshments. Transparent paintings rendered conspicuous by lights behind them, terminate several of the avenues, and all the arbours and walks are painted in a splended manner.

The rotunda is a magnificent room; it is finely painted, its walls are covered with mirrors and gilding, and two of the principal arched passages cross each other here. The flags of several nations are suspended within, accompanied by paintings characteristic of the several countries.

The orchestra is erected nearly in the centre of the gardens. It is in the form of a Grecian temple; the second story is open in front, and there the musicians are placed.

About 10 o'clock, thousands of well dressed people thronged the gardens. The first entertainment consisted of vocal and instrumental music from the orchestra, and then a noble company of musicians, in number about thirty, most splendidly dressed, and known by the name of the Duke of York's band, performed in a very superior style. The orchestra itself is one of the most beautiful objects that can be imagined. It is a Grecian temple of no mean size, and it is illuminated with such a profusion of lamps arranged in the lines of the building that its appearance is extremely splendid. These lamps are simple in their form but very beautiful in their effect. They are somewhat spherical, open at the top and suspended by a wire. The wick floats in the oil, and the whole forms a little illuminated hall.

The entrance to the gardens presents you with double rows of these lamps arranged in perpendicular lines on the pillars, and then with other rows, corresponding with the form of the roof of the arched passage under which you enter. Along the concave of this roof, extending a great way into the gardens, other lamps are suspended so as to represent the starry heavens. Conceive farther that these lamps are are thus disposed in every part of the gardens, in very various and beautiful forms, among the trees and green leaves, in the alcoves, recesses, and orchestra, and that some are green, others red, others blue, &c. thus transmitting rays of these colours only, and you may then form some idea of the gardens of Vauxhall.

Our little party in the gardens was under the direction of an American captain, who was familiar with the place. As soon as the band had finished performing, he told us to run after him, which we did with all possible speed, and we saw every body running that way, although we knew not why. Having reached the end of one of the arched passages, the captain, in language perfectly professional told us to haul our wind and lay our course for the fence. This we did, and the mystery was soon explained. For, down in a dark wood, we perceived a curtain rise, which discovered London bridge, and the water-works under it nearly as large as the original. The scene was produced by a combination of painting and mechanism. An old woman was sitting and spinning at the foot of the bridge; the mail and heavy coach passed over into town, and a fierce bull followed driving before him an ass. The thing was very well done, and it was at once so odd, unexpected and puerile, that it afforded us more diversion then a fine strain of wit could have done.

After this exhibition there was music again from the orchestra.

It was not past eleven o'clock, and the bell rung for the fire-works. These were exhibited from the bottom of a long dark avenue, terminated by a grove. They were very splendid, and as the night was uncommonly dark, they produced their full effect. It is impossible to give any adequate idea of them by description.

After the fire-works there was an intermission, while every body that was disposed sat down to the cold collation. Our party had engaged a table in one of the boxes, as they are called. They are, in fact, little apartments without doors, closed on three sides, and opening into the gardens. I was now no longer at a loss for the meaning or propriety of the proverbial expression, a Vauxhall slice; for the ham was shaved so thin, that it served rather to excite than to allay the appetite. We sat, until the music, beginning again, animated the company to new feats.

Beside the musicians in the orchestra, several other bands now appeared in different parts of the gardens, seated on elevated platforms, railed in, and covered with splendid canopies. Music now broke out from various quarters, and a new entertainment was opened to the company. The assemblies in these gardens always include a crowd of genteel people, among whom are, frequently, some of the nobility, and occasionally, even the king and queen and royal family appear at Vauxhall.

But, in addition to these, no small part of the crowd is composed of courtesans. They are of that class who dress genteely, and whose manners are less indecorous than is usual with persons of their character. The renewal of the music was, it seems, a signal for them to commence dancing. This they did in several groups in various parts of the gardens, and the young men readily joined them. There was among these dancing females a large share of beauty and elegance, and some of them could not have been more than fifteen or sixteen years of age. Their manners and modes of dancing, while they were not so gross as necessarily to excite disgust, were such as I ought not to describe. I can hardly believe what I heard asserted, that some respectable ladies, of more than common vivacity, and less than common reflection, occasionally, in a frolic, mix in these dances. However this may be, it is certain that both ladies and gentlemen, and little misses and masters, are always spectators of these scenes, and I saw numerous instances where young men would leave ladies who were under their care, and join the dances, and then return to their friends again.

This scene continued till half after one o'clock in the morning, when our party came away, and I was told that it would probably continue till three o'clock.

Text Source :

Link to the David Coke's new and excellent Vauxhall Gardens site.

Link to Poetry and Prose about the gardens. Source: Victorian London