Hi readers! I’m so very excited to welcome author Nicole Clarkston to Austenesque Reviews today! As I’m sure many of you are already aware, Nicole is celebrating her new recent release, a Pride and Prejudice variation titled London Holiday. Which sounds like such a fun and unique adventure! Today, Nicole is sharing some very interesting history about a famous public venue that existed during Jane Austen’s time. We hope you enjoy!
Setting a story in London’s famed Vauxhall Gardens is, at once, a delight and a daunting task. Unlike many of the historical locations we might try to visit from our 21st century armchairs, we do not have to invent facts about Vauxhall. The sheer wealth of information is overwhelming, so much so that a writer embarking on such a research project starts to get cold feet.
Why, you ask? Shouldn’t it be easier, if there is more information available? Not necessarily. One thing I discovered is that when there is a lot of information to be had, it doesn’t all match up!
For instance, take a look at these two maps I found for Vauxhall Gardens. At first glance, and even a second, they look virtually identical. However, imagine that you are trying to narrate a couple turning left there, walking several paces, and seeing a certain sight. The intersection points of walking paths and the details of the attraction placements become more important… and they are not the same.
Part of that is most likely due to the fact that the two maps below are separated by twenty years, but some differences—for instance, the path placements, look to me like errors in one or both maps. If you were to examine map keys from the several different layouts I found, you would see that different attractions were reported in more thanone place. I suppose such inconsistencies are to be expected, when you are examining a place which has passed into legend.
To appreciate the rich and myriad history of the legend known as Vauxhall Gardens, let us go back to the beginning. Vauxhall Gardens first opened in 1661. Covering approximately eleven acres, it would later be named for its original owners, John and Jane Vaux, who operated a vineyard. At the time, it was little more than an inn, with flower beds and groves, where anyone was free to bring their picnic and enjoy the country setting. This was a novelty, because a cultivated garden setting was typically only available to the wealthy on private estates. It was then called the “New Spring Garden at Lambeth,” and hosted several notable historical figures.
Vauxhall was located on the southern bank of the Thames, near Lambeth. London guests arrived by boat, a situation that would not alter substantially until 1816, when the Vauxhall bridge was built. It was said that the water approach, when visitors looked up to the steps leading from the river, was an important part of the experience.
In 1729, Jonathan Tyers, whose family made their living in leather, acquired a lease of the land, and the history of Vauxhall Gardens changed forever. Within five years they had purchased eighty neighbouring acres, and held the lease to 250 more. Jonathan Tyers began advertising his attractions, using beer, food, and music to draw the crowds from London. A typical season at Vauxhall Gardens ran from mid May through mid August, so the venue was a popular way to relax on a hot summer day in London. In 1735, Tyers unveiled his famous Orchestra building, which was to become a landmark for years to come.
Tyers is considered the greatest figure in the history of Vauxhall gardens. A marketing genius, he charged only a shilling for entry so that almost anyone could afford to visit. One who planned to visit often could purchase a season pass for a guinea, which was a metal tag embossed with a mythical figure on one side.
This had the expected effect of drawing from even the lower classes of visitors, but Tyers kept his attractions novel and exciting, so that the wealthy were just as keen to visit the Gardens as everyone else. For thirty-eight years, until his death in 1767, Tyers continued to build more features for his guests. I will talk more about those on another stop on the tour, but Tyers made it his purpose to ensure that as many different people as possible could mingle freely at his venue. Naturally, this was a marketing decision, but it was also a bit of a crack in the glass ceiling of class and status, and it was one of the reasons for setting London Holiday at Vauxhall Gardens. A modest lady and her footman would have attracted less notice there than elsewhere.
The food was an important feature at Vauxhall Gardens. Hungry people do not stay long, so though they may have brought their own picnics in the early years, by the late 1700’s patrons expected to dine during the evening entertainment. The evenings usually began around 7 PM, and guests could seat themselves in one of the supper boxes, where they could partake of the famous “rack punch,” roast chickens of particularly small size, and ham sliced so thinly that it was proclaimed to be “invisible.”
When Tyers died, the attraction passed to his widow Elizabeth and their four children. By the time she died four years later, a family partnership had been established, leaving their son Jonathan Tyers the younger in charge of the daily management of Vauxhall Gardens. Eventually, Jonathan Tyers’ son-in-law, Bryant Barrett, would become the sole proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens.
The Barrett family continued to develop the property, building more supper boxes, colonnades, and obtaining a permit to allow dancing at the venue. In 1798, fireworks became a regular feature (although tea and coffee had been discontinued three years earlier because they cost too much). These were some of the glory years at Vauxhall. Guests were treated at different times to elephants, unmanned fire balloons, and oriental galas. Visiting royalty, grand fetes, and the expansion of attractions all drew crowds hungry for something other than war.
Another notable personage appeared around this time, and his portrait is nearly as iconic as the orchestra box. His name was Christopher H. Simpson, and he became known as the Master of Ceremonies in 1797. Perhaps the most famous portrait of him shows him greeting Lord Wellington at an event held in his honour, adopting his customary flair. He remained an institution at Vauxhall until his death in 1835, and he was famous for being able to defuse difficult situations among patrons with ease.
By the time Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet took their stroll through Vauxhall Gardens in 1811, the setting was in some decline. The wealthy still visited, to be sure, but the crowd was increasingly rough. Park managers were constantly seeking newer and more startling attractions to keep their clientele coming—among them, of course, were hot air balloon rides, tight rope walkers, covered walks, and more musicians.
Park managers continued building and garnering new attractions for nearly five decades more. However, the tide was against them. The economy was changing, the city was encroaching on the pastoral Gardens, and it became increasingly difficult to turn a profit. In addition the Gardens had developed a slightly seedy reputation, which tended to discourage some of the “better behaved” clientele.
After repeated threats of “The Last Night,” Vauxhall Gardens finally closed its doors on “Positively The Last Night Forever,” on July 25, 1859. On the very next day, demolition began, and the splendour of Vauxhall Gardens, a landmark for over two hundred years, was replaced without a trace by housing developments.
“Vauxhall Gardens, Full Chronology.” Vauxhall Gardens, vauxhallgardens.com/vauxhall_gardens_fullchronology_page.html.
Vic. “A Visit to Vauxhall Gardens by Tony Grant.” Jane Austen’s World, 18 Feb. 2012, janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/a-visit-to-vauxhall-gardens-by-tony-grant/.
“Ranelagh and Vauxhall Gardens.” Eighteenth Century English Music, rslade.co.uk/18th-century-music/ranelagh-and-vauxhall-gardens/.
“Ideal Homes:” Deptford Station, Deptford, 1839 | | Ideal Homes, www.ideal-homes.org.uk/lambeth/lambeth-assets/galleries/vauxhall/vauxhall-pleasure-gardens-1850.
“Discovering the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.” Museum of London Blog, blog.museumoflondon.org.uk/discovering-the-vauxhall-pleasure-gardens/.
Ellis, Susana. “Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Decades, Part II.” Susana’s Parlour, 10 Jan. 2017, susanaellisauthor.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/vauxhall-gardens-the-final-decades-part-ii/.
Excerpts from Chapters Nineteen and Twenty
…They followed up the steps to the main Vauxhall Walk, and he tipped her parasol back so that she could look all above and beyond the heads of those in front of them. They approached the imposing brick edifice which stood as the last barrier before them of the sombre, everyday world, and Darcy drew out his coin purse. A silver tag embossed with the mythical Atlas on the front and his name on the back for himself, and a polished shilling for her. Before she could trouble herself to search within her own purse, he had paid their admission, and in such a casual manner that the bored attendant never bothered to check the name on the back of his tag.
She caught his eye in sweet gratitude, but he directed her gaze forward again. Through that grey portal could be seen an expanse of glittering pavement, bordered by towering elms. “The Grand Walk,” he murmured lowly to her. “And there on the left is the Rotunda, where my father and mother would take in the concerts on occasion.”
She seemed to surge forward, as if she wished to admire everything at once, then, within a few steps, she slowed. They were well inside the gates now, and the passers-by circulated easily around them as her steps drifted to a halt. She turned, looking puzzled and not a little disappointed.
“Miss Elizabeth? Is something amiss?”
“I suppose I had built it up so in my imagination,” she sighed. “It looks… rather tired, does it not? The grass is a little unkempt, that paint there is peeling….”
“I did relate that the Garden is not what it was in its glory days.”
“I ought to have listened!”
“Only think, Miss Elizabeth, how it appears at night. That arch there,” he pointed to the right, “will be adorned with blazing torches, as will the Pavilion there,” he gestured to the distance on the left. “Everything will be cast with mystery and intrigue, and the music will be gay, the entertainment lively. What matter a bit of dead grass and peeling paint? Are they vital to your enjoyment?”
She chuckled. “You begin to sound like me.”
“That is well, for you frightened me when your words sounded a little too much like my own.”
“A travesty, indeed!” she laughed more heartily. “Very well, I shall look beyond superficial appearances and appreciate the venue for what it is; a chance to set my cares aside for a while and to mingle among those I might never meet otherwise. Shall we, William?”
Too late, he caught himself. He looked down into her face, felt the unbridled pleasure beaming from his own and the lump which seemed to swell in his throat. Devil take it. He had never wanted anything more in his life than to please her. An hour. Two, perhaps. Three, at the outside; he would be hers for a short while, and then he would be rational again.
Elizabeth had not long to suffer in dismay over the dandelions or the drooping elms, for within a very few steps, their promenade had carried them to the heart of the Gardens. To her right was a square, planted all round with towering giants and dominated in the centre by an orchestra stand, which was, at present, still vacant. She marvelled for a moment at the detail and splendour in the construction, even if the paint was somewhat faded. She could easily close her eyes and imagine the classical frontage ablaze with the glow of coloured glass lanterns and candles, and made ethereal by the music it hosted. If only they could stay long enough for her to hear just one melody!
As if he had read her mind, William spoke at her elbow, “The orchestra tends to start a little earlier than the supper. Within an hour or so, the musicians will arrive.”
“Are you suggesting that we might stay so long?”
“At what time of the day does your uncle typically return from his warehouse?”
She frowned. “That is just the trouble. He is not usually there all day, nor even half of it. Today must have been a very bad one for him, so I cannot tell you what we ought to expect. I should not think him much later than six or seven in the evening, for he will wish to eat his supper with my aunt.”
“Then if we have no word sooner, we should time our arrival to coincide with his. Any earlier would seem nonsensical, for you would be entering the house again without protection from your….” He cleared his throat and stopped.
“He is not my betrothed, nor, I hope, shall he ever be,” she clarified firmly.
“I am relieved to hear it. He did seem an audacious sort of fellow to make such a proclamation when the lady’s intentions are not similarly engaged.”
Elizabeth dipped her face down and away from him, but some outspoken nerve tasked her not to keep silent as her good sense would have allowed. “He has reason to think that he has a chance of success.” Then she stopped herself, turned and tilted her head, so that shade of the parasol fell over her eyes. “Let us talk no more of Mr Collins, please.”
He inclined his head, and there was a stately serenity to his countenance when he suggested, “Perhaps you would like to view the supper boxes or the Temple of Comus?”
She looked in half-interest over his shoulder at the larger of the two dished colonnades, this one graced with a Rococo spired pavilion, then smilingly shook her head. “If our time is to be limited, I think I should like to see the arches I have heard of. Are they not there?”
“Indeed, the southerly walk parallels this one. Some parts of it are also called the Italian Walk, for the architecture. We may cross over here and walk the length of the Grove, then we should have an ideal prospect of the arches.”
Elizabeth’s eyes feasted on every facet as they slowly wandered the few steps in that direction. At the edge of the Grove, a few acrobats cavorted about, plying the late afternoon revellers for a few pence in appreciation for their efforts. She laughed outright as one flipped directly into her path and tumbled into what appeared to be a clumsy bow. He then snapped upright again, only to snatch the hat worn by her tall, sombre companion and cartwheel away with it in his teeth. William’s exclamations of dismay in the face of such effrontery were lost in the general approval of the sparse audience. The tomfool landed several paces away, twirling the plain chapeau about his finger and grinning daringly at Elizabeth.
“Allow me to redeem your lost item, my good fellow,” she chuckled, gesturing for her escort to remain at peace. She felt the rather fine lady, paying to recover the dignity of her “servant,” and laughed merrily when the acrobat accepted her penny with a flourish and a gallant kiss to the tip of her glove. The hat was returned in much the same manner that it had been pilfered, and the colourfully dressed fellow whirled away in search of more good-humoured guests.
“Are you quite recovered?” she asked of him.
“It seems the heavens have today determined that I possessed a bit more pride than was good for me,” he grumbled, but not without something of a twinkle in his eye as he took in her own amusement. “It is doubtful that I will ever be recovered, but I believe I shall survive the ordeal.”
Oh, fascinating post, Nicole! Thank you so much for sharing! It is so sad that Vauxhall Gardens no longer exists. I’d love to visit it and imagine how Jane Austen and her characters may have enjoyed the entertainments and pleasures there! And thank you for sharing such lovely excerpts, I love seeing how you used what you learned about Vauxhall Gardens in your story!
Connect with Nicole
Nicole is generously giving away 8 ebook editions of London Holiday in conjunction with this blog tour!! Woot woot!
Commenting on this post and entering through the rafflecopter widget on this blog enters you in a chance to win!
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Nicole!
- This giveaway ends June 20th!
~ London Holiday Blog Tour ~
Thank you to Janet Taylor and Nicole Clarkston for making this blog tour possible! Click the links below to check out the rest of the tour!
June 7 ~ So little time… ~ Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
June 8 ~ Diary of an Eccentric ~ Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
June 9 ~ Just Jane 1813 ~ Review, GA
June 10 ~ My life journey ~ Review, GA
June 11 ~ From Pemberley to Milton ~ Vignette, GA
June 12 ~ My Jane Austen Book Club ~ Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
June 13 ~ Half Agony, Half Hope ~ Review, Excerpt, GA
***June 15 ~ Austenesque Reviews ~ Guest Post, Excerpt, GA***
June 16 ~ My Love for Jane Austen ~ Vignette, GA
June 18 ~ Obsessed with Mr. Darcy ~ Review, GA
June 19 ~ My Vices and Weaknesses ~ Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
June 20 ~ A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life ~ Guest Post