Sunday, October 30, 2016

Finding Relief in the Lady's Garden at Vauxhall, 1788

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Isabella reporting,

As interesting as all life in the past is to us now, it's the common aspects that our readers seem to find most interesting. Forget riding in a coach or dancing in hoops. Where and how did our heroines answer nature's call before indoor plumbing? This explains why a six-year-old blog post on the necessary bourdaloue remains one of our all-time most popular - and why this 18thc satirical print will probably be both amusing and informative. As always, please click on the image to enlarge it.

The pleasure gardens at Vauxhall were among the most popular entertainment spots in Georgian London. Several generations of Londoners of every rank put on their finery (and the occasional mask) and came to stroll, dance, dine, and flirt beneath the legendary lights. With its tree-shaded paths, Chinese-inspired pavilions, popular music, and statues and paintings by famous artists, there was much to amuse - and plenty of places to find mischief, too.

But even Vauxhall's glamorous settings had a baser side.  It had to, after all that drinking and dining. Or as Christopher Smart observed in a popular journal:

   "In sweet Vaux-hall I love to stray:
    But wish it were completely gay:
    In splendid Scenes we drink and eat:
    In sordid Huts – evacuate."*

Apparently many visitors of both sexes didn't bother to seek out the "sordid Huts", but chose to take advantage of the shadowy paths and bushes to relieve themselves. For ladies who were a fraction more fastidious, there was also the "Lady's Garden", shown in this 1788 print.

Apparently being reserved for the use of ladies didn't mean the facilities had much in the way of amenities or privacy. Along two walls is a bench forming a communal latrine, with four women in various stages of relief and distress, their fashionable skirts gathered up around them. Keep in mind that there would have been no "flushing" mechanism beneath the women, and imagine what the smell must have been by the end of a busy evening.

The towering plumes on the women's hats and in their powdered hairstyles come dangerously close to the open flames of the candles in wall sconces behind them, offering one more hazard. Discarded on the floor are a nosegay, an unmatched glove, and an advertisement sheet - which probably would have been used in place of modern toilet paper - for Dr. Leak's pills, a popular quack venereal remedy and a sly jab at the sexual assignations that often occurred at Vauxhall.

To the right sits one woman ostentatiously retying her garter, perhaps a potential customer for Dr. Leake, while another is freshening her makeup at a looking glass. This tall woman, detail right, is believed to be Lady Sarah Archer, an aristocratic widow famous for her independence, her love of gambling, and her interest in politics and outdoor sports (she drove her own phaeton and rode to the hounds.) In the eyes of misogynistic 18thc caricaturists, however, her greatest sin was being over forty with a fondness for makeup and fashion. She is always cruelly drawn with florid cheeks and an exaggerated hooked nose to accentuate her supposedly unfeminine appearance - and what better way to mock her further than to show her painting her face in a communal outhouse?

* From the wonderful Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke & Alan Borg. See Loretta's post about this book here.

Above: The inside of the lady's garden at Vauxhall Drawing attributed to Henry Kingsbury; published S.W. Fores, 1788. The British Museum.

7 comments:

Sarah said...

fascinating, thank you! I am one of those people who are fascinated by ... shall we say, drainage, and have gone to some efforts to find the more everyday usages, such as the reason for the ladies withdrawing from dinner was to allow the gents to use the po in the sideboard and the ladies to retire behind the screen in the withdrawing or drawing room to use a jordan or close stool there. I can imagine them queueing up in various stages of extremis. of course even up to the 1930s many houses had an outhouse with a 'double dweller' for more than one person in the household to go at once. I suspect this is the origin of the female habit of continuing conversation in the toilet that still pertains today, shouting over the stall walls.

Sarah said...

forgot to tick the follow up box sorry

marylee stephenson said...

yech-- loved it-- not to speak of the filth of their underwear-- only I believe that was known as "linens." Samuel Johnson speaking of which, he said he himself had no love of clean linens. I think I'm going to be sick! oh, and someone had to wash these things at some time or another (probably mostly "another." And that is if you were rich and had someone else to do it. And now for something on menstruation hygiene!! love you nerdy grown women!!

Sarah said...

hey, Marylee, and they bleached the linens by soaking them in urine

marylee said...

just wrote a brilliant reposte and lost it. of course, we use white vinegar to clean just about everything these days -- better for the environment, etc. Acid is acid, I guess. Then there is the toilet paper issue. Though clam shells are efficacious for those with access to them. At least for posterior extrusions.

Sarah said...

hehe urine is alkaline ... I use household salt on blood, and for most cleaning solutions as you say white vinegar or bicarbonate of soda or for stubborn toilet limescale, both at once.
Toilet paper is at least biodegradable ... and I always used terry towelling nappies not disposables. Not sure I could have coped with rags for periods though, not with a 9 day very heavy flow. cotton wool is biodegradable though, and the cardboard tubes.

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