Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C. Shelley

Preface and contents

Part IV: Pleasure Gardens of Old London

Chapter 1: Vauxhall

Numerous and diversified as were the outdoor resorts of old London, no one of them ever enjoyed the patronage of the gardens at Vauxhall. Nor can any pleasure resort of the English capital boast so long a history. For nearly two centuries, that is, from about 1661 to 1859, it ministered to the amusement of the citizens.

At the outset of its career it was known as New Spring Gardens, and it continued to be described as Spring Gardens in the official announcements, till 1786, although for many years previously the popular designation was Vauxhall. The origin of that name is involved in obscurity, but it is supposed to have been derived from a family of the name of Faux who once held the manor.

For the earliest pictures of the resort we must turn to the pages of Pepys, whose first visit to the gardens was paid in May, 1662. On this occasion he was accompanied by his wife, the two maids, and the boy, the latter distinguishing himself by creeping through the hedges and gathering roses. Three years later Pepys went to the gardens on several occasions within a few weeks of each other, the first visit being made in the company of several Admiralty friends, who, with himself, were ill at ease as to what had been the result of the meeting between the English and Dutch fleets. Still, on this, the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, Pepys did not fail to find enjoyment in walking about the garden, and stayed there till nine o'clock for a moderate expenditure of sixpence. Not many days later he was back again, this time alone and in a philosophic mood. The English fleet had been victorious, and the day was one of thanksgiving. So the diarist strolled an hour in the garden observing the behaviour of the citizens, pulling of cherries, and God knows what. Quite a different scene met his gaze on his third visit that year; the place was almost deserted, for the dreaded plague had broken out and London was empty. Then came the year of the Great Fire, and Pepys was in too serious a mood to wend his way to Vauxhall. But he had recovered his spirits by the May of 1667, and gives us this record of a visit of that month:

A great deal of company, and the weather and garden pleasant: and it is very pleasant and cheap going thither, for a man may go to spend what he will, or nothing, all as one. But to hear the nightingale and other birds, and hear fiddles, and there a harp, and here a Jew's trump, and here laughing, and there fine people walking, is mighty divertising. Among others, there were two pretty women alone, that walked a great while, which being discovered by some idle gentlemen, they would needs take them up; but to see the poor ladies how they were put to it to run from them, and they after them, and sometimes the ladies put themselves along with other company, then the other drew back; at last, the last did get off out of the house, and took boat and away. I was troubled to see them abused so; and could have found in my heart, as little desire of fighting as I have, to have protected the ladies.

But a time was to come, on a later visit, when Pepys found himself in the company of a couple who were just as rude as the gentlemen he had a mind to fight. For on a May evening the next year he fell in with Harry Killigrew and young Newport, as very rogues as any in the town, who were ready to take hold of every woman that comes by them. Yet Pepys did not shake their company; instead he went with the rogues to supper in an arbour, though it made his heart ake to listen to their mad talk. When sitting down to his diary that night he reflected on the loose company he had been in, but came to the conclusion that it was not wholly unprofitable to have such experience of the lives of others. Perhaps he really enjoyed the experience; at any rate, he was back again the following evening, and saw the young Newport at his tricks again. Nor was that rogue singular in his behaviour. Pepys had other illustrations on subsequent visits of the rudeness which had become a habit with the gallants of the town.

By the numerous references which may be found in the comedies of the Restoration period it is too obvious that Vauxhall fully sustained its reputation as a resort for the rogues of the town. But, happily, there are not lacking many proofs that the resort was also largely affected by more serious-minded and respectable members of the community. It is true they were never free from the danger of coming in contact with the seamy side of London life, but that fact did not deter them from seeking relaxation in so desirable a spot. There is a characteristic illustration of this blending of amusement and annoyance in that classical number of the Spectator wherein Addison described his visit to the garden with his famous friend Sir Roger de Coverley. As was usual in the early days of the eighteenth century, and for some years later, the two approached the garden by water. They took boat on the Thames, at Temple-stairs, and soon arrived at the landing-place. It was in the awakening month of May, when the garden was in the first blush of its springtime beauty. When I considered, Addison wrote,

the fragrancy of the walks and bowers, with the choirs of birds that sung upon the trees, and the loose tribe of people that walked under their shades, I could not but look upon the place as a 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. You must understand, said the knight, there is nothing in the world that pleases a man in love so much as your nightingale. Ah, Mr. Spectator, the many moon-light nights that I have walked by myself, and thought on the widow by the music of the nightingale! He here fetched a deep sigh.

But the worthy old man's fit of musing was abruptly broken by too tangible a reminder that this was indeed a kind of Mahometan paradise.

Up to 1732 Vauxhall appears to have been conducted in a haphazard way. That is, no settled policy had been followed in its management or the provision of set attractions. The owner seems to have depended too much on the nightingales, and the natural beauties of the place. From the date mentioned, however, a new regime began. At that time the garden passed into the control of Jonathan Tyers, who introduced many alterations and improvements. A regular charge was now made for admission, and season tickets in the shape of silver medals were instituted. Several of these were designed by Hogarth, in recognition of whose services in that and other ways Mr. Tyers presented him with a gold ticket entitling him to admission for ever. Among the improvements dating from this new ownership was adequate provision of music. An orchestra was erected, and in addition to instrumental music many of the most famous singers of the day were engaged. The innovations of Mr. Tyers have left their impress on the literature of the place in prose and verse. A somewhat cloying example of the latter is found in an effusion describing the visit of Farmer Colin in 1741:

Oh, Mary! soft in feature,
I've been at dear Vauxhall;
No paradise is sweeter,
Not that they Eden call.

"Methought, when first I entered,
Such splendours round me shone,
Into a world I ventured,
Where rose another sun:

"While music, never cloying,
As skylarks sweet, I hear:
The sounds I'm still enjoying,
They'll always soothe my ear.

Ten years later Mr. Tyers was paid a more eloquent tribute by the pen of Fielding. Perhaps he took his beloved Amelia to Vauxhall for the purpose of heightening his readers' impression of her beauty, for it will be remembered that she was greatly distressed by the admiration of some of the rogues of the place; but incidentally he has a word of high praise for the owner of the garden. To delineate the particular beauties of these gardens would, indeed, the novelist writes, require as much pains, and as much paper too, as to rehearse all the good actions of their master, whose life proves the truth of an observation which I have read in some ethic writer, that a truly elegant taste is generally accompanied with an excellency of heart. But Fielding does not quite dodge his responsibility to say something of the place itself, only he is adroit enough to accentuate his words by placing them in the mouth of the fair Amelia. The delicious sweetness of the place, was her verdict, the enchanting charms of the music, and the satisfaction which appears on every one's countenance, carried my soul almost to heaven in its ideas. That her rapture should have been spoilt by the impertinents who forced themselves on the little party later, is a proof that the evils which Pepys lamented were still in evidence at the middle of the eighteenth century.

And another proof may be cited to show that Vauxhall was at the time in high favour with the smart set. It occurs in a letter to Lord Carlisle of July, 1745. The correspondent of the peer thinks he will be interested in a piece of news from Vauxhall. One of the boxes in the garden was, he said, painted with a scene depicting a gentleman far gone in his cups, in the company of two ladies of pleasure, and his hat lying on the ground beside him. This appealed so strongly to a certain marquis as typical of his own tastes that he appropriated the box for his own use, stipulating, however, that a marquis's coronet be painted over the hat. Notwithstanding the high character attributed to him by Fielding, Mr. Tyers agreed to the proposal, and the waiters were given authority to instruct any company that might enter that box that it belonged to the marquis in question, and must be vacated if he came on the scene.

Entrance to VauxhallAlthough changes were made from time to time, the general arrangement of Vauxhall remained as it existed at the height of Mr. Tyers' tenancy. The place extended to about twelve acres, laid out in formal walks but richly wooded. The principal entrance led into what was known as the Grand Walk, a tree-lined promenade some three hundred yards in length, and having the South Walk parallel. The latter, however, was distinguished by its three triumphal arches and its terminal painting of the ruins of Palmyra. Intersecting these avenues was the Grand Cross Walk, which traversed the garden from north to south. In addition there were those numerous "Dark Walks" which make so frequent an appearance in the literature of the place. Other parts of the garden were known as the Rural Downs, the Musical Bushes, and the Wilderness. In the farthest removed of these the nightingales and other birds for which Vauxhall was famous contributed their quota to the attractions of the place.

In addition to the supper-boxes and pavilions, which were arranged in long rows or in curving fashion, the buildings consisted of the orchestra and the Rotunda, the latter being a circular building seventy feet in diameter. It was fitted up in a style thought attractive in those days, was provided with an orchestra where the band played on wet evenings, and was connected with a long gallery known as the Picture Room. The amusements provided by the management varied considerably. Even at their best, however, they would be voted tame by amusement-seekers of the twentieth century. Fireworks took their place on the programme in 1798, and nearly twenty years later what was deemed a phenomenal attraction was introduced in the person of Mme. Saqui of Paris, who used to climb a long rope leading to the firework platform, whence she descended to the accompaniment of a tempest of fireworks. One of the earliest and most popular attractions was that known as the Cascade, which was disclosed to view about nine o'clock in the evening. It was a landscape scene illuminated by hidden lights, the central feature of which was a miller's house and waterfall having the exact appearance of water. More daring efforts were to come later, such as the allegorical transparency of the Prince of Wales leaning against a horse held by Britannia, a Submarine Cavern, a Hermit's Cottage, and balloon ascents. The most glorious of these attractions presented a sordid sight by daylight, but in the dim light of the countless lamps hung in the trees at night passed muster with the most critical.

The Citizen at VauxhallEnough evidence has been produced to show how the "rogues" amused themselves at Vauxhall, but the milder pleasures of sober citizens have not been so fully illustrated. Yet there is no lack of information on that score. There is, for example, that lively paper in the Connoisseur which gives an eavesdropping report of the behaviour and conversation of a London merchant and his wife and two daughters. The Connoisseur took notes from the adjoining box.

After some talk, Come, come, said the old don, it is high time, I think, to go to supper.
To this the ladies readily assented; and one of the misses said, Do let us have a chick, papa. Zounds! said the father, they are half-a-crown a-piece, and no bigger than a sparrow.
Here the old lady took him up, You are so stingy, Mr. Rose, there is no bearing with you. When one is out upon pleasure, I love to appear like somebody: and what signifies a few shillings once and away, when a body is about it?
This reproof so effectually silenced the old gentleman, that the youngest miss had the courage to put in a word for some ham likewise: accordingly the waiter was called, and dispatched by the old lady with an order for a chicken and a plate of ham. When it was brought, our honest cit twirled the dish about three or four times, and surveyed it with a very settled countenance; then taking up the slice of ham, and dangling it to and fro on the end of his fork, asked the waiter how much there was of it.
A shilling's worth, Sir, said the fellow.
Prithee, said the don, how much dost think it weighs? An ounce? A shilling an ounce! that is sixteen shillings per pound! A reasonable profit truly! Let me see, suppose now the whole ham weighs thirty pounds; at a shilling per ounce, that is, sixteen shillings per pound, why! your master makes exactly twenty-four pounds of every ham; and if he buys them at the best hand, and salts and cures them himself, they don't stand him in ten shillings a-piece.
The old lady bade him hold his nonsense, declared herself ashamed for him, and asked him if people must not live: then taking a coloured handkerchief from her own neck, she tucked it into his shirt-collar (whence it hung like a bib), and helped him to a leg of the chicken. The old gentleman, at every bit he put into his mouth, amused himself with saying, There goes two-pence, there goes three-pence, there goes a groat. Zounds, a man at these places should not have a swallow as wide as a torn-tit.

But having been launched on a career of temporary extravagance, the honest citizen grew reckless. So he called for a bottle of port, and enjoyed it so much as to call for a second. But the bill brought him to his senses again, and he left Vauxhall with the conviction that one visit was enough for a lifetime.

So long as Vauxhall existed the thinness and dearness of its plates of ham were proverbial. There is a legend to the effect that a man secured the position of carver on the understanding that he was able to cut a ham so thin that the slices would cover the entire garden. Writer after writer taxed his ingenuity to find metaphors applicable to those shadowy slices. One scribe in 1762 declared that a newspaper could be read through them; Pierce Egan decided that they were not cut with a knife but shaved off with a plane; and a third averred that they tasted more of the knife than anything else.

Of course Goldsmith made his philosophical Chinaman visit Vauxhall, the other members of the party consisting of the man in black, a pawnbroker's widow, and Mr. Tibbs, the second-rate beau, and his wife. The Chinaman was delighted, and, by a strange coincidence, Addison's metaphor crops up once more in his rapturous description.

The illuminations began before we arrived, and I must confess that, upon entering the gardens, I found every sense overpaid with more than expected pleasure; the lights everywhere glimmering through the scarcely moving trees; the full-bodied concert bursting on the stillness of the night; the natural concert of the birds, in the more retired part of the grove, vying with that which was formed by art; the company gaily-dressed looking satisfaction, and the tables spread with various delicacies, all conspired to fill my imagination with the visionary happiness of the Arabian lawgiver, and lifted me into an ecstasy of admiration. Head of Confucius, cried I to my friend, this is fine! this unites rural beauty with courtly magnificence: if we except the virgins of immortality that hang on every tree, and may be plucked at every desire, I do not see how this falls short of Mahomet's paradise!

But the Celestial rhapsody was interrupted by Mr. Tibbs, who wanted to know the plan of campaign for the evening. This was a matter on which Mrs. Tibbs and the widow could not agree, but an adjournment to a box in the meantime was accepted as a compromise. Even there, however, the feminine warfare was continued, to the final triumph of Mrs. Tibbs, who, being prevailed upon to sing, not only distracted the nerves of her listeners, but prolonged her melody to such an extent that the widow was robbed of a sight of the water-works.

No account of Vauxhall however brief should overlook the attractions the place had to the sentimental young lady of the late eighteenth century. From the character of the songs which the vocalists affected it might be inferred that love-lorn misses were expected to form the bulk of their audience. Perhaps that was so; for the Dark Walks were ideal places in which to indulge the tender sentiment. The elder daughter of the Connoisseur's citizen confessed a preference for those walks because they were so solentary, and Tom Brown noted that the ladies who had an inclination to be private took delight in those retired and shady avenues, and in the windings and turnings of the little Wilderness, where both sexes met and were of mutual assistance in losing their way.

Smollett, however, made his impressionable Lydia Melford sum up the attractions of Vauxhall for the young lady of the period. It is a tender picture she draws, with the wherry in which she made her journey, so light and slender that we looked like so many fairies sailing in a nutshell. There was a rude awakening at the landing-place, where the rough and ready hangers-on of the place rushed into the water to drag the boat ashore; but that momentary disturbance was forgotten when Miss Lydia entered the resort.

Imagine to yourself, my dear Letty, she wrote,

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, grottos, lawns, temples, and cascades; porticos, colonnades, and rotundas; adorned with pillars, statues, and paintings; 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.

Lydia has a word, too, for the musical charms of the place, and seems pleased to have heard a celebrated vocalist despite the fact that her singing made her head ache through excess of pleasure. All this was enhanced, no doubt, by the presence of that Mr. Barton, the country gentleman of good fortune, who was so particular in his attentions,

Scene at VauxhallPerhaps the best proof of the place Vauxhall occupied in popular esteem is afforded by the number of occasions on which the garden was chosen as the scene of a national event. This was notably the case in 1813, when a pretentious festival took place in the grounds in celebration of the victory achieved at Vittoria by the Allies under Wellington. An elaborate scheme of decoration, both interior and exterior, was a striking feature of the occasion, while to accommodate the numerous dinner guests a large temporary saloon became necessary. This was constructed among the trees, the trunks of which were adorned with the flags of the Allies and other trophies. The Duke of York presided over the banquet, and the company included, in addition to Wellington, most of the royal and other notables of the day. Dinner, whereat the inevitable ham appeared but probably not so finely cut, lasted from five to nearly nine o'clock, at which hour the ladies and general guests of the evening began to arrive. Vauxhall outdid itself in illuminations that night. And the extra attractions included a transparency of the King, a mammoth picture of Wellington, a supply of rockets that rose to a superior height, and innumerable bands, some of which discoursed music from the forest part of the garden, presenting some idea of soldiers in a campaign regaling and reposing themselves under the shade. In fact, the whole occasion was so unusual that the electrified reporter of the Annual Register was at his wit's end to know what to praise most. For a moment he was overpowered by the exalted rank of the leading personages, and then fascinated by the charms and costumes of the ladies, only to find fresh subjects for further adjectives in the fineness of the weather, the blaze of lights that seemed to create an artificial day, and the unity of sentiment and disposition that pervaded all alike.

At this date, of course, the Tyers of Fielding's eulogy had been dead some years. He was succeeded by his two sons, one of whom, Tom, was a favourite with Dr. Johnson. At the Vittoria fete the resort was still controlled by the Tyers family, but it passed out of their possession in 1821, and had many owners before the end came in 1859.

Another Amelia, however, was to visit Vauxhall before its gates were closed for the last time, - the Amelia beloved of all readers of Vanity Fair. Naturally, she does not go alone. Thackeray had too much affection for that gentle creature to make her face such an ordeal. No, there was the careless, high-spirited George Osborne, and the ever-faithful Dobbin, and the slow-witted Jos Sedley, and the scheming Rebecca Sharp. That Vauxhall episode was to play a pregnant part in the destiny of Becky. Such an auspicious occasion would surely lead to a proposal from the nearly-captured Jos. For a time it seemed as though such might be the case. Becky and her corpulent knight lost themselves in one of those famous Dark Walks, and the situation began to develop in tenderness and sentiment. Jos was so elated that he told Becky his favourite Indian stories for the sixth time, giving an opening for the lady's Horn I should like to see India! But at that critical moment the bell rang for the fireworks, and at the same time tolled the knell of Becky's chances of becoming Mrs. Jos Sedley. For the fireworks somehow created a thirst, and the bowl of rack punch for which Jos called, and which he was left to consume, as the young ladies did not drink it and Osborne did not like it, speedily worked its disastrous effects. In short, as we all know, Jos made a fool of himself, and when he came to himself the following morning and saw himself as Osborne wished he should, all his tender passion for Becky evaporated once and for all.

Perhaps these visitors to Vauxhall who never had an existence are more real to us to-day than all the countless thousands of men and women who really trod its gravel walks. But the real and the unreal alike are of the past, a memory for the fancy to play with as is that of Vauxhall itself.

Chapter 2: Ranelagh

During the latter half of the eighteenth century Vauxhall had a serious rival in Ranelagh. No doubt the success of the former was the cause of the latter. It may have been, too, that as the gardens at Vauxhall became more and more a popular resort without distinction of class, the need was felt of a rendezvous which should be a little more select.

No doubt exists as to how Ranelagh came by its name. Toward the end of the seventeenth century the Earl of Ranelagh built himself a house at Chelsea, and surrounded it with gardens which were voted the best in England for their size. This peer, who was Paymaster-General of the Forces, seems to have taken keen pleasure in house-planning and the laying out of grounds. Among the manuscripts of the Marquis of Ormonde are many letters written by him to the bearer of that title in the early eighteenth century, which show that he assumed the oversight of building operations at Ormonde's London house at that time. The minute attention he gave to all kinds of detail's proves that he had gained experience by the building of his own house not many years before.

But Ranelagh house and gardens had a short history as the residence and pleasance of a nobleman. The earl died in 1712, and in 1730 it became necessary to secure an act of Parliament to vest his property at Chelsea in trustees. Three years later a sale took place, and the house and larger portion of the grounds were purchased by persons named Swift and Timbrell. It was at this stage the project of establishing a rival to Vauxhall first took shape. The idea seems to have originated with James Lacy, that patriotic patentee of Drury Lane theatre who raised a band of two hundred men at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. He it was, also, who afterwards became a partner with David Garrick. But, however successful he was to prove as an organizer of volunteers, Lacy was not to shine as the founder of a rival to Vauxhall. For some unexplained reason he abandoned his share in the Ranelagh project, and eventually the matter was taken in hand by Sir Thomas Robinson, who soon secured sufficient financial support to carry the plan to a successful issue. Sir Thomas provided a considerable share of the capital of sixteen thousand pounds himself, and took a leading part in the management of Ranelagh till his death in 1777. His gigantic figure and cheery manners earned for him the titles of Ranelagh's Maypole and Gardand of Delights.

As the gardens were already laid out in a handsome manner, the chief matter requiring attention was the planning and erection of a suitable main building. Hence the erection of the famous Rotunda, the architectural credit of which is given to one William Jones. But that honour is disputed. It is claimed that no less a person than Henry VIII was responsible for the idea on which the Rotunda was based. That king, according to one historian, caused a great banqueting-house to be erected, eight hundred feet in compass, after the manner of a theatre. And in the midst of the same banqueting-house, continued the historian,

was set up a great pillar of timber, made of eight great masts, bound together with iron bands for to hold them together: for it was a hundred and thirty-four feet in length, and cost six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence to set it upright. The banqueting-house was covered over with canvas, fastened with ropes and iron as fast as might be devised; and within the said house was painted the heavens, with stars, sun, moon, and clouds, with divers other things made above men's heads. And above the high pillar of timber that stood upright in the midst, was made stages of timber for organs and other instruments to stand upon, and men to play on them.

Such, it is asserted, was the model the architect of the Rotunda at Ranelagh had in view.

And really there appears to be good ground for laying this charge of constructive plagiarism against the memory of William Jones. It is true the building was on a scale somewhat smaller than that erected at the order of Henry VIII, for its circumference was limited to four hundred and fifty feet, while its greatest diameter was but one hundred and eighty-five feet. But the planning of the interior of the Rotunda bore a suspicious likeness to the royal banqueting-house. The central portion of the building was a square erection consisting of pillars and arches, and seems to have been a direct copy of those eight great masts. Nor did the parallel end there. In the Rotunda at Ranelagh as in the king's banqueting-house, this central construction was designed as the place for the musicians. And even the ceiling was something of a copy, for that of the Rotunda was divided into panels, in each of which was painted a celestial figure on a sky-blue ground.

On the general idea of the banqueting-house, however, Mr. Jones made a number of improvements. The entrances to the Rotunda were four in number, corresponding with the points of the compass, each consisting of a portico designed after the manner of a triumphal arch. The interior of the building presented, save for its central erection, the aspect of a modern opera-house. Around the entire wall was a circle of boxes, divided by wainscoting, and each decorated with a droll painting and hung with a candle-lamp. Above these was another tier of boxes, similarly fitted, each of them, fifty-two in number, having accommodation for seven or eight persons. Higher up was a circle of sixty windows. Although the building itself was constructed of wood, it could boast of a plaster floor, which was covered with matting. Scattered over that floor were numerous tables covered with red baize whereon refreshments were served. Such was the general arrangement of the Rotunda, but one alteration had speedily to be made. It was quickly discovered that the central erection was ill adapted for the use of the orchestra, and consequently it was transformed into four fireplaces, which were desirable locations in the cold months of the year.

Perhaps no surprise need be felt that Ranelagh was not ready when it was opened. What public resort ever has been? The consequence was that there were at least two opening ceremonies. The first took the form of a public breakfast on April 5th, 1742, and was followed by other early repasts of a like nature. One of these, seventeen days later, provided Horace Walpole with the subject of the first of his many descriptions of the place. I have been breakfasting this morning at Ranelagh Gardens; he wrote,

they have built an immense amphitheatre, with balconies full of little ale houses; it is in rivalry to Vauxhall, and costs above twelve thousand pounds. The building is not finished, but they get great sums by people going to see it and breakfasting in the house: there were yesterday no less than three hundred and eighty persons, at eighteen pence a piece.

About a month later another inaugural ceremony took place, which Walpole duly reported.

Two nights ago Ranelagh Gardens were opened at Chelsea; the prince, princess, duke, much nobility, and much mob besides were there. There is a vast amphitheatre, finely gilt, painted, and illuminated; into which everybody that loves eating, drinking, staring, or crowding is admitted for twelve pence. The building and disposition of the gardens cost sixteen thousand pounds. Twice a week there are to be ridottos at guinea tickets, for which you are to have a supper and music. I was there last night, but did not feel the joy of it. Vauxhall is a little better, for the garden is pleasanter, and one goes by water.

In time, however, Walpole was converted to the superior attractions of the new resort. Two years later he confessed that he went every night to Ranelagh, that it had totally beaten Vauxhall, and that it had the patronage of everybody who was anybody. Lord Chesterfield bad fallen so much in love with the place that he had ordered all his letters to be directed thither.

Venetian Masquerade at Ranelagh, 1749Many red-letter days are set down in the history of Ranelagh during the sixty years of its existence, but its historians are agreed that the most famous of the entertainments given there was the Venetian Masquerade in honour of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle on April 26th, 1749. For the most spirited narrative of that festival, recourse must--be had to the letters of Walpole. Peace was proclaimed on the 25th, and the next day, Walpole wrote,

was what was called a Jubilee Masquerade in the Venetian manner, at Ranelagh; it had nothing Venetian in it, but was by far the best understood and prettiest spectacle I ever saw; nothing in a fairy tale even surpassed it. One of the proprietors, who is a German, and belongs to the Court, had got my Lady Yarmouth to persuade the King to order it. It began at three o'clock, and about five people of fashion began to go. When you entered you found the whole garden filled with masks and spread with tents, which remained all night very commodely. In one quarter was a Maypole dressed with garlands and people dancing round it to a tabor and pipes and rustic music, all masqued, as were all the various bands of music that were dispersed in different parts of the garden; some like huntsmen with French horns, some like peasants, and a troop of harlequins and scaramouches in the little open temple on the mount. On the Canal was a sort of gondola adorned with flags and streamers, and filled with music, rowing about. All round the outside of the amphitheatre were shops filled with Dresden china, Japan, etc., and all the shopkeepers in mask. The amphitheatre was illuminated, and in the middle was a circular bower, composed of all kinds of firs in tubs, from twenty to thirty feet high; under them orange trees with small lamps in each orange, and below them all sorts of the finest auriculas in pots; and festoons of natural flowers hanging from tree to tree. Between the arches, too, were firs, and smaller ones in the balconies above. There were booths for tea and wine, gaming tables and dancing, and about two thousand persons. In short it pleased me more than anything I ever saw.

But there was another side to all this. Vauxhall evidently looked on with envious eyes, and those who were interested in the welfare of that resort managed to engineer opposition to the Venetian fete in the form of satirical prints and letterpress. Perhaps they did more. At any rate it is a significant fact that shortly afterwards the justices of Middlesex were somehow put in motion, and made such representations to the authorities at Ranelagh that they were obliged to give an undertaking not to indulge in any more public masques. This, however, did not prevent the subscription carnival in celebration of a royal birthday in May, 1750, when there was much good company but more bad company, the members of which were dressed or undress'd as they thought fit.

Ranelagh was evidently an acquired taste. It has been seen that Walpole did not take to the place at first, but afterwards became one of its most enthusiastic admirers. And there was a famous friend of Walpole who passed through the same experience. This was the poet Gray, who, three years after the resort was opened declared that he had no intention of following the crowd to Ranelagh.

I have never been at Ranelagh Gardens since they were opened, is his confession to a friend. They do not succeed: people see it once, or twice, and so they go to Vauxhall.
Well, but is it not a very great design, very new, finely lighted?
Well, yes, aye, very fine truly, so they yawn and go to Vauxhall, and then it's too hot, and then it's too cold, and here's a wind and there's a damp.

Perhaps it is something of a surprise to find the author of the Elegy interested in public gardens at all, but given such an interest it would have been thought that Ranelagh was more to his taste than Vauxhall. And so it proved in the end. Like his Eton friend Walpole, he became a convert and so hearty an admirer of the Chelsea resort that he spent many evenings there in the August of 1746.

Other notable visitors to Ranelagh included Goldsmith and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Dr. Johnson and Tobias Smollett. It seems more than likely that Ranelagh with the first couple figured largely in that round of pleasures which kept them from the meetings of The Club to 'the disgust of Beauclerk, but Goldsmith might have justified his visits on the plea that he was gathering local colour for that letter by Belinda which he introduced into the Citizen of the World. No doubt he saw many a colonel there answering to that irresistible fellow who made such an impression on Belinda's heart. So well-dressed, so neat, so sprightly, and plays about one so agreeably, that I vow he has as much spirits as the Marquis of Monkeyman's Italian greyhound. I first saw him at Ranelagh: he shines there: he is nothing without Ranelagh, and Ranelagh nothing without him. Perhaps Sir Joshua would have excused his idling at Ranelagh on the ground of looking for models, or the hints it afforded for future pictures.

With Dr. Johnson it was different. Ranelagh was to him a place of innocent recreation and nothing more. The coup d'oeil was the finest thing he had ever seen, Boswell reports, and then makes his own comparison between that place and the Pantheon.

The truth is, Ranelagh is of a more beautiful form; more of it, or rather, indeed, the whole Rotunda, appears at once, and it is better lighted. However, as Johnson observed, we saw the Pantheon in time of mourning, when there was a dull uniformity; whereas we had seen Ranelagh, when the view was enlivened with a gay profusion of colours.

No small part of Johnson's pleasure during his visits to Ranelagh was derived from uncomplimentary reflections on the mental conditions of its frequenters. Boswell had been talking one day in the vein of his hero's poem on the Vanity of Human Wishes, and commented on the persistence with which things were done upon the supposition of happiness, as witness the splendid places of public amusement, crowded with company.

Alas, Sir, said Johnson in a kind of appendix to his poem,

these are all only struggles for happiness. When I first entered Ranelagh, it gave an expansion and gay sensation, to my mind, such as I never experienced any where else. But, as Xerxes wept when he viewed his immense army, and considered that not one of that great multitude would be alive a hundred years afterwards, so it went to my heart to consider that there was not one in all that brilliant circle, that was not afraid to go home and think; but that the thoughts of each individual there would be distressing when alone.

Smollett, like Goldsmith, made good use of his visits to Ranelagh. With the enterprise of the observant novelist, he turned his experiences into copy. And with that ubiquity of vision which is the privilege of the master of fiction he was able to see the place from two points of view. To Matt. Bramble, that devotee of solitude and mountains, the Chelsea resort was one of the worst inflictions of London.

What are the amusements of Ranelagh? he asked.

One half of the company are following one another's tails, in an eternal circle; like so many blind asses in an olive-mill, where they can neither discourse, distinguish, nor be distinguished; while the other half are drinking hot water, under the denomination of tea, till nine or ten o'clock at night, to keep them awake for the rest of the evening. As for the orchestra, the vocal music especially, it is well for the performers that they cannot be heard distinctly.

But Smollett does not leave Ranelagh at that. Lydia also visited the place and was enraptured with everything. To her it looked like an enchanted palace

of a genio, adorned with the most exquisite performances of painting, carving, and gilding, enlighted with a thousand golden lamps, that emulate the noon-day sun; crowded with the great, the rich, the gay, the happy, and the fair; glittering with cloth of gold and silver, lace, embroidery, and precious stones. While these exulting sons and daughters of felicity tread this round of pleasure, or regale in different parties, and separate lodges, with fine imperial tea and other delicious refreshments, their ears are entertained with the most ravishing music, both instrumental and vocal.

If the management of Ranelagh had been on the lookout for a press agent, they would doubtless have preferred Smollett in his Lydia mood.

Only occasionally was the even tenor of Ranelagh amusement disturbed by an untoward event. One such occasion was due to that notorious Dr. John Hill who figures so largely in Isaac Disraeli's Calamities and Quarrels of Authors. Few men have tried more ways of getting a living than he. As a youth he was apprenticed to an apothecary, but in early manhood he turned to botany and travelled all over England in search of rare plants which he intended drying by a special process and publishing by subscription. When that scheme failed, he took to the stage, and shortly after wrote the words of an opera which was sent to Rich and rejected. This was the beginning of authorship with Hill, whose pen, however, brought more quarrels on his head than guineas into his pockets. And it was his authorship which connected him with the history of Ranelagh. One of Hill's ventures was to provide the town with a daily paper called The Inspector, in the pages of which he made free with the character of an Irish gentleman named Brown. Usually the men Hill attacked were writers, who flayed him with their pens whenever they thought there was occasion. Hence the conclusive epigram with which Garrick rewarded an attack on himself:

For physic and farces, his equal there scarce is,
His farces are physic, his physic a farce is.

The assault on Dr. John Hill at RanelaghBut Mr. Brown was a man of action, not words. So he sought out his assailant at Ranelagh on the night of May 6th, 1752, and caned him in the Rotunda in the presence of a large company. Here was excitement indeed for Ranelagh, and the affair was the talk of the town for many a day afterwards. Of course Hill did not retort in kind; on the contrary he showed himself to be an abject coward and took his thrashing without any bodily protest. That he made loud vocal protest seems likely enough. Hence the point of the pictorial satire which was quickly on sale at the London print-shops. This drawing depicted Hill being seized by the ear by the irate Mr. Brown, who is represented as exclaiming, Draw your sword, libeller, if you have the spirit, of a mouse.
The only reply of Hill was, What? against an illiterate fellow that can't spell? I prefer a drubbing. Oh, Mr. P----, get me the constable, for here's a gentleman going to murder me!
Mr. P----, who is seen hastening from behind a pillar of the Rotunda, replies: Yes, sir, yes. Pray young gentleman don't hurt him, for he never has any meaning in what he writes.

Hill took to his bed, raised an action against Mr. Brown for assault, and proclaimed from the housetops that there was a conspiracy to murder him. This brought forth a second print, showing Hill in bed and attended by doctors, one of whom, in reply to the patient's plea that he had no money, responds, Sell your sword, it is only an encumbrance.

Another lively episode disturbed the peace of Ranelagh on the night of May 11th, 1764. Several years previously some daring spirits among the wealthier classes had started a movement for the abolition of vails, otherwise tips, to servants, and the leaders of that movement were subjected to all kinds of annoyance from the class concerned. On the night in question the resentment of coachmen, footmen and other servants developed into a serious riot at Ranelagh, special attention being paid to those members of the nobility and gentry who would not suffer their employees to take vails from their guests. They, began, says a chronicle of the time, by hissing their masters, they then broke all the lamps and outside windows with stones; and afterwards putting out their flambeaux, pelted the company, in a most audacious manner, with brickbats, etc., whereby several were greatly hurt. This attack was not received in the submissive spirit of Dr. Hill; the assaulted gentry drew their swords to beat back the rioters and severely wounded not a few. They probably enjoyed the diversion from the ordinary pleasures of Ranelagh.

How gladly the frequenters of the gardens welcomed the slightest departure from the normal proceedings of the place may be inferred from the importance which was attached to an incident which took place soon after 1770. Public mourning was in order for some one, and of course the regular patrons of Ranelagh expressed their obedience to the court edict by appropriate attire. One evening, however, it was observed that there were two gentlemen in the gardens dressed in coloured clothes. It was obvious they were strangers to the place and unknown to each other. Their inappropriate costume quickly attracted attention, and became the subject of general conversation, and, such a dearth was there of excitement, Lord Spencer Hamilton aroused feverish interest by laying a wager that before the night was out he would have the two strangers walking arm in arm. The wager taken, he set to work in an adroit manner. Watching one of the strangers until he sat down, he immediately placed himself by his side, and entered into conversation. A few minutes later Lord Spencer left his new friend in search of the other stranger, to whom he addressed some civil remark, and accompanied on a stroll round the gardens. Coming back eventually to the seat on which the first stranger was still resting, Lord Spencer had no difficulty in persuading his second new acquaintance to take a seat also, The conversation of the trio naturally became general, and a little later Lord Spencer suggested a promenade. On starting off he offered his arm to the first stranger, who paid the same compliment to stranger number two, with the result that Lord Spencer was able to direct the little procession to the vicinity of his friends, and so demonstrate that the wager was won. So simple an incident furnished Ranelagh with great amusement for an entire evening!

What the management provided by way of entertainment has been partially hinted at. Music appears to have been the chief stand-by from the first and was provided at breakfast time as well as at night. Many notable players and singers appeared in the Rotunda, including Mozart, who, as a boy of eight, played some of his own compositions on the harpsichord and organ, and Dibdin, the famous ballad singer. Fireworks were a later attraction, as also was the exhibition named Mount Etna, which called for a special building. Occasional variety was provided by regattas and shooting-matches, and balloon-ascents, and displays of diving.

No doubt Ranelagh was at its best and gayest when the scene of a masquerade. But unfortunately those entertainments had their sinister side. Fielding impeaches them in Amelia by their results, and the novelist was not alone in his criticism. The Connoisseur devoted a paper to the evils of those gatherings, deriding them as foreign innovations, and recalling the example of the lady who had proposed to attend one in the undress garb of Iphigenia. What the above-mentioned lady had the hardiness to attempt alone, the writer continued,

will (I am assured) be set on foot by our persons of fashion, as soon as the hot days come in. Ranelagh is the place pitched upon for their meeting; where it is proposed to have a masquerade al fresco, and the whole company are to display all their charms in puris naturalibus. The pantheon of the heathen gods, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and Titian's prints, will supply them with sufficient variety of undressed characters.

A cynic might harbour the suspicion that this critic was in the pay of Vauxhall.

Even he, however, did not utter the worst about the amusements of Ranelagh. The truth was known to all but confessed by few. The outspoken Matt. Bramble in the indictment cited above gave emphatic utterance to the fact that the chief recreation at Ranelagh was worse than none at all. One may be easily tired of the place, was the verdict of a noble lord in 1746; it is always the same. And to the same effect is the conclusion reached by a French visitor, who was delighted for five minutes, and then oppressed with satiety and indifference. When the visitor had made the promenade of the Rotunda, there was practically nothing for him to do save make it again. Hence the mill-round of monotony so aptly expressed by the Suffolk village poet, Robert Bloomfield, who was lured to Ranelagh one night shortly before its doors were finally closed.

To Ranelagh, once in my life,
By good-natur'd force I was driven;
The nations had ceas'd their long strife,
And Peace beam'd her radiance from Heaven.

What wonders were there to be found,
That a clown might enjoy or disdain?
First, we trac'd the gay ring all around;
Aye -and then we went round it again.

A thousand feet rustled on mats,
A carpet that once had been green,
Men bow'd with their outlandish hats,
With corners so fearfully keen!

Fair maids, who, at home in their haste,
Had left all their clothes but a train,
Swept the floor clean, as slowly they pac'd,
Then - walked round and swept it again.

The music was truly enchanting,
Right glad was I when I came near it;
But in fashion I found I was wanting -
'Twas the fashion to walk, and not hear it.

A fine youth, as beauty beset him,
Look'd smilingly round on the train,
The King's nephew, they cried, as they met him.
Then - we went round and met him again.

Huge paintings of heroes and peace
Seem'd to smile at the sound of the fiddle,
Proud to fill up each tall shining space,
Round the lantern that stood in the middle.

And George's head too; Heaven screen him;
May he finish in peace his long reign:
And what did we when we had seen him?
Why - went round and saw him again.

That poem ought to have killed Ranelagh had the resort not been near its demise at the time it was written. But there was to be one final flare-up ere the end came. On a June night in 1803 the Rotunda was the scene of its last ball. The occasion was the Installation of the Knights of the Bath, and produced, on the authority of the Annual Register, one of the most splendid entertainments ever given in this country. The cost was estimated at seven thousand pounds, which may well have been the case when the guests ate cherries at a guinea a pound and peas at fourteen shillings a quart. That fate was practically the last of Ranelagh; about a month later the music ceased and the lamps were extinguished for ever. And the struggles for happiness of sixty years were ended.

Chapter 3: Other favourite resorts

Prior to the eighteenth century the Londoner was ill provided with outdoor pleasure resorts. It is true he had the Paris Garden at Bankside, which Donald Lupton declared might be better termed a foul den than a fair garden. It's a pity, he added, so good a piece of ground is no better employed; but, apart from two or three places of that character, his al fresco amusements were exceedingly limited. It should not be forgotten, however, that the ale-houses of those days frequently had a plot of land attached to them, wherein a game of bowls might be enjoyed.

But the object-lesson of Vauxhall changed all that. From the date when that resort passed into the energetic management of Jonathan Tyers, smaller pleasure gardens sprang into existence all over London. By the middle of the eighteenth century they had grown so numerous that it would be a serious undertaking to attempt an exhaustive catalogue. As, however, they had so many features in common, and passed through such kindred stages of development, the purpose of this survey will be sufficiently served by a brief history of four or five typical examples.

How general was the impression that Vauxhall had served as a model in most instances may be seen from the remark of a historian of 1761 to the effect that the Marylebone Garden was to be "considered as a kind of humble imitation of Vauxhall." Had Pepys' Diary been in print at that date, and known to the proprietor, he would have been justified in resenting the comparison. For, as a matter of fact, the diarist, under the date of May 7th, 1668, had actually set down this record: Then we abroad to Marrowbone, and there walked in the garden, the first time I ever was there, and a pretty place it is. At a first glance this entry might be regarded as disposing of the charge of imitation on the part of Marylebone Gardens. Such, however, is not strictly the case. It is true there were gardens here at the middle of the seventeenth century, but they were part of the grounds of the old manor-house, and practically answered to those tavern bowling-alleys to which reference has been made. The principal of these was attached to the tavern known as the Rose, which was a favourite haunt of the Duke of Buckingham, and the scene of his end-of-the-season dinner at which he always gave the toast: May as many of us as remain unhanged next spring meet here again.

What needs to be specially noted in connection with the history of this resort is, that it was not until 1737 - five years after the opening of Vauxhall under Tyers - that the owner of Marylebone Gardens, Daniel Gough, sufficiently put the place in order to warrant a charge for admission. In the following year the place was formally advertised as a resort for evening amusement, that announcement marking a definite competition with Vauxhall. The buildings at this time comprised a spacious garden-orchestra fitted with an organ, and what was called the Great Room, an apartment specially adapted for balls and suppers.

Marylebone GardensMany singers, some famous and other notorious, entertained the patrons of Marylebone Gardens. From 1747 to 1752 the principal female vocalist was Mary Ann Falkner, who, after a respectable marriage, became the subject of an arrangement on the part of her idle husband whereby she passed under the protection of the Earl of Halifax. She bore two children to that peer, and so maintained her power over him that for her sake he broke off an engagement with a wealthy lady. Another songstress, fair and frail, was the celebrated Nan Catley, the daughter of a coachman, whose beauty of face and voice and freedom of manners quickly made her notorious. She had already been the subject of an exciting law suit when she appeared at Marylebone at the age of eighteen. Miss Catley had been engaged by Thomas Lowe, the favourite tenor, who in 1763 became the lessee of the gardens, and opened his season with a "Musical Address to the Town," sung by himself, Miss Catley and Miss Smith. The address apologized for the lack of some of the attractions of Vauxhall and Ranelagh, but added -

Yet nature some blessings has scattered around;
And means to improve may hereafter be found.

Presuming that Lowe kept his promise, that did not prevent failure overtaking him as a caterer of public amusement. He lacked enterprise as a manager, and a wet summer in 1767 resulted in financial catastrophe.

More serious musical efforts than ballad concerts were attempted at Marylebone from time to time. That this had been the case even before Dr. Samuel Arnold became proprietor of the gardens is illustrated by an anecdote of Dr. Fountayne and Handel, who often frequented the place. Being there together on one occasion the great composer asked his friend's opinion of a new composition being played by the band. After listening a few minutes, Dr. Fountayne proposed that they resume their walk, for, said he, it's not worth listening to - it's very poor stuff. You are right, Mr. Fountayne, Handel replied, it is very poor stuff. I thought so myself when I had finished it.

Fireworks were not added to the attractions until 1751, and even then the displays were only occasional features for some years. In 1772, however, that part of the entertainment was deputed to the well-known Torré, whose unique fireworks were the talk of London. He had one set piece called the Forge of Vulcan, which was so popular that its repetition was frequently demanded. According to George Steevens, it was the fame of Torré's fireworks which impelled Dr. Johnson to visit the gardens one night in his company. The evening had proved showery, wrote Steevens in his account of the outing,

and soon after the few people present were assembled, public notice was given that the conductors of the wheels, suns, stars, etc., were so thoroughly water-soaked that it was impossible any part of the exhibition should be made. That's a mere excuse, says the Doctor, to save their crackers for a more profitable company. Let us both hold up our sticks, and threaten to break these coloured lamps that surround the orchestra, and we shall soon have our wishes gratified. The core of the fireworks cannot be injured; let the different pieces be touched in their respective centres, and they will do their offices as well as ever. Some young men who overheard him immediately began the violence he had recommended, and an attempt was speedily made to fire some of the wheels which appeared to have received the smallest damage; but to little purpose were they lighted, for most of them completely failed.

Apparently that was not the only occasion when the management failed to keep faith with the public. In July, 1774, the newspaper severely criticised the proprietors for having charged an admission fee of five shillings to a Fête Champètre, which consisted of nothing more than a few tawdry festoons and extra lamps, and another mentor of an earlier date had dismissed the whole place as nothing more than two or three gravel roads, and a few shapeless trees. Altogether, popular as Torre's fireworks were when they went off, it is not improbable that they had a considerable share in terminating the existence of the gardens. Houses were increasing fast in the neighbourhood, and the dwellers in those houses objected to being bombarded with rockets. At any rate, six years after the renowned Torré began his pyrotechnics, the site of the gardens fell into the hands of builders and the seeker of out-door amusement had to find his enjoyment elsewhere.

White Conduit HousePerhaps some of the frequenters of Marylebone Gardens transferred their patronage to the White Conduit House, situated two or three miles to the north-east. Here again is an example of a pleasure resort developing partially from an ale-house, for the legend is that the White Conduit House was at first a small tavern, the finishing touches to which were given, to the accompaniment of much hard drinking, on the day Charles I lost his head.

Unusual as is the name of this resort, it is largely self-explanatory. There was a water-conduit in an adjacent field, which was faced with white stone, and hence the name. The house itself, however, had its own grounds, which were attractively laid out when the whole property was reconstructed somewhere about 1745. At that time a Long Room was erected, and the gardens provided with a fish-pond and numerous arbours. The popularity of the place seems to date from the proprietorship of Robert Bartholomew, who acquired the property in 1754, and to have continued unabated till nearly the end of the century. Mr. Bartholomew did not overlook any of his attractions in the announcement he made on taking possession; For the better accommodation of ladies and gentlemen, so the advertisement ran,

I have completed a long walk, with a handsome circular fish-pond, a number of shady pleasant arbours, inclosed with a fence seven feet high to prevent being the least incommoded from people in the fields; hot loaves and butter every day, milk directly from the cows, coffee, tea, and all manner of liquors in the greatest perfection; also a handsome long room, from whence is the most copious prospects and airy situation of any now in vogue. I humbly hope the continuance of my friends' favours, as I make it my chief study to have the best accommodations, and am, ladies and gentlemen, your obliged humble servant, Robert Bartholomew. Note. My cows eat no grains, neither any adulteration in milk or cream." It is obvious that Mr. Bartholomew's enthusiasm made him reckless of grammar, and that some of his ladies and gentlemen might have objected to have their butter hot; but it is equally plain that here was a man who knew his business.

And he did not fail of adequate reward. Six years after the publication of that seductive announcement the resort had become so popular, especially as the objective of a Sunday outing, that its praises were sung in poetry in so reputable a periodical as the Gentleman's Magazine. The verses describe the joy of the London 'Prentice on the return of Sunday, and give a spirited picture of the scene at the gardens.

His meal meridian o'er,
With switch in hand, he to White Conduit House
Hies merry-hearted. Human beings here
In couples multitudinous assemble,
Forming the drollest groups that ever trod
Fair Islingtonian plains. Male after male,
Dog after dog succeeding - husbands, wives,
Fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, friends,
And pretty little boys and girls. Around,
Across, along, the gardens' shrubby maze,
They walk, they sit, they stand. What crowds press on,
Eager to mount the stairs, eager to catch
First vacant bench or chair in long room plac'd.
Here prig with prig holds conference polite,
And indiscriminate the gaudy beau
And sloven mix. Here he, who all the week
Took bearded mortals by the nose, or sat
Weaving dead hairs, and whistling wretched strain,
And eke the sturdy youth, whose trade it is
Stout oxen to contund, with gold-bound hat
And silken stocking strut. The red arm'd belle
Here shows her tasty gown, proud to be thought
The butterfly of fashion: and forsooth
Her haughty mistress deigns for once to tread
The same unhallow'd floor. - `Tis hurry all
And rattling cups and saucers. Waiter here,
And waiter there, and waiter here and there,
At once is call'd - Joe - Joe - Joe - Joe - Joe -
Joe on the right - and Joe upon the left,
For ev'ry vocal pipe re-echoes Joe.
Alas, poor Joe! Like Francis in the play
He stands confounded, anxious how to please
The many-headed throng. But shou'd I paint
The language, humours, custom of the place,
Together with all curts'ys, lowly bows,
And compliments extern, 'twould swell my page
Beyond its limits due. Suffice it then
For my prophetic muse to say, 'So long
As fashion rides upon the wings of time,
While tea and cream, and butter'd rolls can please,
While rival beaux and jealous belles exist, So long,
White Conduit House, shall be thy fame.

More distinguished members of the community than the London 'prentice and the red arm'd belle frequented the gardens now and then. About 1762 the place was a favourite resort with Oliver Goldsmith, and was the scene of a typical episode in his life. While strolling in the gardens one afternoon he met the three daughters of a tradesman to whom he was under obligation, and of course must needs invite them to take tea as his guests. But when the time of reckoning came he found, characteristically enough, that his pocket was empty. Happily some friends were near to rescue him from his difficulty, but the crucial moment of the incident was to be perpetuated in all its ludicrous humour by an artist of a later generation, who, in the painting entitled An Awkward Position, depicted the poet at the moment when he discovered his pockets were empty.

Later in its history the White Conduit House became known as the Minor Vauxhall and was the scene of balloon ascents, fireworks, and evening concerts. Gradually, however, it fell on evil days, and in 1849 it passed permanently into the history of old London.

No one traversing that sordid thoroughfare known as King's Cross Road in the London of to-day could imagine that that highway was the locality in the mid-eighteenth century of one of the most popular resorts of the English capital. Such, however, was the case. At that time the highway was known as Bagnigge Wells Road, and at its northern extremity was situated the resort known as Bagnigge Wells. The early history of the place is somewhat obscure. Tradition has it that the original house was a summer residence of Nell Gwynne, where she frequently entertained her royal lover. It has also been stated that there was a place of public entertainment here as early as 1738.

Bagnigge WellsWhatever truth there may be in both those assertions, there is no gainsaying the fact that the prosperity of Bagnigge Wells dates from a discovery made by a Mr. Hughes, the tenant of the house, in 1757. This Mr. Hughes took a pride in his garden, and was consequently much distressed to find that the more he used his watering-can, the less his flowers thrived. At this juncture a Dr. Bevis appeared on the scene, to whom the curious circumstance was mentioned. On tasting the water from the garden well he was surprised to find its flavour so near that of the best chalybeates, and at once informed Mr. Hughes that it might be made of great benefit both to the public and himself. The next day a huge bottle of the water was delivered at Dr. Bevis's house, and analysis confirmed his first impression. Before he could proceed further in the matter, Dr. Bevis fell ill, and by the time he had recovered notable doings had been accomplished at Bagnigge Wells.

For Mr. Hughes was not wholly absorbed in the cultivation of flowers. Visions of wealth residing in that well evidently captured his imagination, and he at once set to work fitting up his gardens as a kind of spa, where the public could drink for his financial benefit. A second well was sunk and found to yield another variety of mineral water, and the two waters were connected with a double pump over which a circular edifice named the Temple was constructed. Other attractions were added as their necessity became apparent. They included a spacious banqueting hall known as the Long Room, provided with an organ, and the laying out of the gardens in approved style. No doubt the curative qualities of the waters speedily became a secondary consideration with the patrons of the place, but that probably troubled Mr. Hughes not at all so long as those patrons came in sufficient numbers.

That they did come in crowds is demonstrated by the literature which sprang up around the gardens, and by many other evidences. On its medicinal side the place was celebrated by one poet in these strains:

Ye gouty old souls and rheumatics crawl on,
Here taste these blest springs, and your tortures are gone;
Ye wretches asthmatick, who pant for your breath,
Come drink your relief, and think not of death.
Obey the glad summons, to Bagnigge repair,
Drink deep of its waters, and forget all your care.

The distemper'd shall drink and forget all his pain,
When his blood flows more briskly through every vein;
The headache shall vanish, the heartache shall cease,
And your lives be enjoyed in more pleasure and peace
Obey then the summons, to Bagnigge repair,
And drink an oblivion to pain and to care.

Twenty years later the muse of Bagnigge Wells was pitched in a different key. The character of the frequenters had changed for the worse. Instead of gouty old souls, and rheumatics, and asthmaticks, the most noted Cyprians of the day had made the place their rendezvous. So the poet sings of

Thy arbours, Bagnigge, and the gay alcove,
Where the frail nymphs in am'rous dalliance rove.

Concurrently with this change the gentlemen of the road began to favour the gardens with their presence, chief among their number being that notorious highwayman John Rann, otherwise known as Sixteen-String Jack from his habit of wearing a bunch of eight ribbons on each knee. But he came to Bagnigge once too often, for, after insisting on paying unwelcome attentions to a lady in the ball-room, he was seized by some members of the company and thrown out of a window into the Fleet river below.

Notwithstanding this deterioration, the proprietor of the place in 1779 in announcing the opening for the season still dwelt upon the invaluable properties of the waters, not forgetting to add that "ladies and gentlemen may depend on having the best of Tea, Coffee, etc., with hot loaves, every morning and evening." But nothing could ward off the pending catastrophe. Bagnigge Wells, wrote the historian of its decline,

sported its fountains, with little wooden cupids spouting water day and night, but it fearfully realized the facilis descensus Averni. The gardens were curtailed of their fair proportions, and this once famous resort sank down to a threepenny concert-room.

It struggled on in that lowly guise, for a number of years, but the end came in 1841, and now even the name of the road in which it existed is wiped off the map of London.

More fortunate in that respect was the Bermondsey Spa, the name of which is perpetuated to this day in the Spa Road of that malodorous neighbourhood. This resort, which, like Bagnigge Wells, owed its creation to the discovery of a chalybeate spring, is bound up with the life-story of a somewhat remarkable man, Thomas Keyse by name. Born in 1722, he became a self-taught artist of such skill that several of his still-life paintings were deemed worthy of exhibition at the Royal Academy. He was also awarded a premium of thirty guineas by the Society of Arts for a new method of fixing crayon drawings.

But thirty guineas and the glory of being an exhibitor at the Royal Academy were hardly adequate for subsistence, and hence, somewhere about 1765, Keyse turned to the less distinguished but more profitable occupation of tavern-keeper. Having purchased the Waterman's Arms at Bermondsey, with some adjoining waste land, he transformed the place into a tea-garden. Shortly afterwards a chalybeate spring was discovered in the grounds, an event which obliterated the name of the Waterman's Arms in favour of the Bermondsey Spa Gardens. The ground was duly laid out in pleasant walks, with the usual accompaniments of leafy arbours and other quiet nooks for tea-parties. The next step was to secure a music license, fit up an orchestra, adorn the trees with coloured lamps, organize occasional displays of fireworks, and challenge comparison with Vauxhall if only on a small scale. One of the attractions reserved for special occasion was a scenic representation of the Siege of Gibraltar, in which fireworks, transparencies, and bomb shells played a prominent part. Keyse himself was responsible for the device by which the idea was carried out, and the performance was so realistic that it was declared to give a very strong idea of the real Siege.

Hearty as were the plaudits bestowed upon the Siege of Gibraltar, there is not much risk in hazarding the opinion that Keyse took more pride in the picture-gallery of his own paintings than in any other feature of his establishment. The canvases included representations of all kinds of still life, and, thanks to the recording pen of J. T. Smith, that enthusiastic lover of old London, it is still possible to make the round of the gallery in the company of the artist-proprietor. Mr. Smith visited the gardens when public patronage had declined to a low ebb, so that he had the gallery all to himself, as he imagined.

Stepping back to study the picture of the Greenstall, I ask your pardon, said I, for I had trodden on some one's toes. Sir, it is granted, replied a little, thick-set man with a round face, arch looks, and close-curled wig, surmounted by a small three-cornered hat put very knowingly on one side, not unlike Hogarth's head in his print of the Gates of Calais. You are an artist, I presume; I noticed you from the end of the gallery, when you first stepped back to look at my best picture. I painted all the objects in this room from nature and still life Your Green-grocer's Shop, said I, is inimitable; the drops of water on that savoy appear as if they had just fallen from the element. Van Huysun could not have pencilled them with greater delicacy. What do you think, said he, of my Butcher's Shop? Your pluck is bleeding fresh, and your sweetbread is in a clean plate. How do you like my bull's eye? Why, it would be a most excellent one for Adams or Dolland to lecture upon. Your knuckle of veal is the finest I ever saw. It's young meat, replied he; any one who is a judge of meat can tell that from the blueness of its bone. What a beautiful white you have used on the fat of that Southdown leg! or is it Bagshot? Yes, said he, my solitary visitor, it is Bagshot, as for my white that is the best Nottingham which you or any artist can procure at Stone and Puncheon's, Bishopsgate Street Within Sir Joshua Reynolds, continued Mr. Keyse, paid me two visits. On the second, he asked me what white I had used; and when I told him, he observed, It's very extraordinary, sir, that it keeps so bright. I use the same. Not at all, sir, I rejoined: the doors of this gallery are open day and night; and the admission of fresh air, together with the great expansion of light from the sashes above, will never suffer the white to turn yellow.

And then the enthusiastic artist and his solitary patron walked out to the orchestra in the gardens, sole auditors of the singer who had to sing by contract whether few or many were present. It is a pathetic record, portending the final closing of Bermondsey Spa but a few years later.

Finch's Grotto, SouthwarkOn the return journey to Southwark, the Southwark of Chaucer's Tabard, the pilgrim among these memories of the past may tread the ground where Finch's Grotto Gardens once re-echoed to laughter and song. They were established in 1760 by one Thomas Finch, who was of the fraternity of Thomas Keyse, even though he was but a Herald Painter. Falling heir to a house and pleasant garden, encircled with lofty trees and umbrageous with evergreens and shrubs, he decided to convert the place into a resort for public amusement. The adornments consisted of a grotto, built over a mineral spring, and a fountain, and an orchestra, and an Octagon Room for balls and refuge from wet evenings. The vocalists included Sophia Snow, afterwards as Mrs. Baddeley to become notorious for her beauty and frailty, and Thomas Lowe, the one-time favourite of Vauxhall, whose financial failure at Marylebone made him thankful to accept an engagement at this more lowly resort. But Finch's Grotto Gardens were not destined to a long life. Perhaps they were too near Vauxhall to succeed; perhaps the policy, of engaging had-been favourites was as little likely to bring prosperity in the eighteenth as in the twentieth century. Whatever the cause, the fact is on record that after a career of less than twenty years the gardens ceased to exist.

As has been seen in an earlier chapter, the great prototype of the pleasure gardens of old London, Vauxhall, outlived all its competitors for half a century. But upon even that favourite resort the changing manners of a new time had fatal effect. As knowledge grew and taste became more diversified, it became less and less easy to cater for the amusement of the many. To the student of old-time manners, however, the history of the out-door resorts of old London is full of instruction and suggestion, if only for the light it throws on these struggles for happiness which help to distinguish man from the brute creation.