I’ve been wanting to write about this book ever since I bought it. The trouble is, we try to keep these posts short, and it’s hard (for me, at any rate) to keep from raving endlessly. In a nutshell, Vauxhall Gardens: a History, is a wonderfully exhaustive study of Lambeth's famous pleasure gardens, from their beginnings in 1661 as the New Spring Gardens to their demise 200 years later.
Since I hadn't needed to research it, what I knew about Vauxhall was mainly what I’d gleaned from reading traditional Regency romances. I've now learned how much more Vauxhall had to offer in the Regency than taking chances with rakes in dark walks or eating thin ham or dancing at a masquerade.
Here’s a description of the first Vauxhall appearance of Madame Saqui, the tight and slack rope performer, in 1816:
"[She ascended] to a considerable elevation, and running with wonderful velocity upon a rope extending half down one of the walks, in the face of a tempest of fireworks, and a change of blue lights, which suddenly converted the shades of evening to the brightness of noon.”
The book includes an evocative illustration of this feat amid the "tempest of fireworks." You'll find as well engravings of other garden attractions, like the Submarine Cave, balloon ascents (and catastrophes), fetes, and performers. Among other wonderful images is Louis Jullien holding an umbrella while he sings for a packed audience, all under umbrellas. As is the orchestra.
|View online here|
If you want to learn about all the “modern” art that was on display, or see what a season ticket looked like, or learn when Paganini played there, or find out when the Hermitage finally got its hermit, this is the book for you. The appendices offer the kinds of minutiae Nerdy History Persons dote upon: detailed catalog of the paintings and what became of them, a chronology of important events, and—be still my heart—maps of the gardens, with locations of various buildings and features, for 1742, 1751, 1818, and 1850.
With the book’s help, I was able to locate some of the images, which you can find on our Pinterest Pages here, here, and here.
Vauxhall broadside courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 US