Vauxhall Gardens, located 3.1 miles from Grosvenor Street, was established in 1729 by the enterprising businessman, Jonathan Tyers. Considered to be highly innovative for the times, Vauxhall Gardens was the first among pleasure gardens to contain structures dedicated to musical performances. One such musical venue (pictured above) is depicted in The Microcosm of London historical plates, a collection of prints similar to the glossy magazines of London society. The historical prints are now held for preservation purposes at the Bishopsgate Institute.
Built in a classical architectural style, the octagonal orchestra stand pictured above showcased musical performers on a platform to allow park visitors to more easily see and hear the music. The opera structure is believed to be the first of its kind constructed specifically for musical performances in Britain. Not to be outdone by Ranelagh, a neighboring pleasure garden located in Chelsea just outside London, Vauxhall Garden’s owner, Jonathan Tyers, added a rotunda for rainy weather concerts in 1748. The venue hosted musical compositions varying from ballads to country dances depending on popularity at the time.
To increase the appeal of Vauxhall Gardens, the business savvy Jonathan Tyers introduced a variety of entertainments in the 1790s, such as hot air balloon demonstrations, and later added acrobatics in 1816 . These attractions were very popular among the working class, but were not considered to possess high culture appeal. Below is a pamphlet showing the various entertainments to be enjoyed. Be sure to read next month’s installment of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Part III which reveals The Fatal Parachute Descent by which Mr. Robert Cocking Lost His life.
One of the most popular attractions of Vauxhall Gardens was The Cascade, an artificial waterfall that ran for 15 minutes every night.
Grand, and the effect awful; the fall of water is accompanied by a storm, executed with every appearance of reality and nature.May 24, 1787 in Coke, David and Borg, Alan, Vauxhall Gardens, a history (2011).
The highly anticipated attraction first opened in 1752 and was located in the woodland area near the Centre Cross Walk, shown below:
To build excitement, the Cascade was hidden during the day by a screen painted with a landscape. During a break in the musical concert when darkness fell, the screen was removed and a bell rung to announce the nightly performance so visitors could gather and be sure to witness the spectacular event.
A most beautiful landscape in perspective of a fine open hilly country with a miller’s house and a water mill, all illuminated by concealed lights; but the principal object that strikes the eye is a cascade or water fall. The exact appearance of water is seen flowing down a declivity; and turning the wheel of the mill, it rises up in a foam at the bottom, and then glides away. This moving picture attended with the noise of the cascade has a very pleasing and surprising effect on both the eye and ear.An eyewitness report from 1762 in Coke, David and Borg, Alan, Vauxhall Gardens, a history (2011).
At the anointed showtime, a dark curtain rose to reveal a miniature rural scene replete with bridges and a watermill as coaches and wagons crossed the stage in a life-like panorama. The artificial waterfall, a feature of the three-dimensional landscape, used tin sheets and mechanical belts turned by a team of men to make the scene sound realistic. Lighting accompanied by the sound of rushing water and wagon wheels added to the effect and made the waterfall a popular destination. Londoners returned several times to view the Cascade, which was regularly revised to incorporate other natural features to keep visitors returning for more.
At the end of the first act of the grand concert, which is usually about ten o’clock, a bell is rung by way of signal for the exhibition of a beautifully illuminated scene, called the cascade. A dark curtain is then drawn up, which discloses a very natural view of a bridge, a water-mill, and a cascade; a noise similar to the roaring of water is also well imitated; while coaches, wagons, soldiers and other figures, are exhibited crossing the bridge with the greatest regularity. This agreeable piece of scenery continues about ten minutes.From Ackermann, Rudolph and Combe, William, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Vol 3 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904).
The Cascade was later altered to portray the watermill at London Bridge and remained popular until its demolition to make way for the Ballet Theatre in the 1820s.
Pamphlets and artists rendition provide insight into the humor and events at Vauxhall during the period. For example, the top row of the picture below depicts visitors of various backgrounds commenting on the price of admission to Vauxhall Gardens. The bottom row plays on humor by depicting a woman and man in a domestic squabble discussing how to divide their house.
A close-up view of the bottom row (below):
By 1859 in the Victorian era, the taste for such forms of entertainment began to wane and Vauxhall Gardens was closed.
To learn more about Vauxhall Gardens’ promiscuous masquerades and prostitution, and other forms of entertainment, visit the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Part I or The Fatal Descent of Parachute by which Mr. Cocking Lost His life at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Part III (forthcoming).
For those who yearn to learn more about Vauxhall Gardens, you may wish to read Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David E. Cork and Alan Borg.
Ackermann, Rudolph and Combe, William, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Vol. 3, Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904.
Burney, Fanny, Evelina or the history of a young lady’s entrance into the world, 1778.
Coke, David and Borg, Alan, Vauxhall Gardens, a history, 2011.
Darwin, Erasmus, The Collected Letters of Erasmus Darwin, Cambridge University Press, 2007, Letter (56-6).
Feltham, John, The Picture of London, 1802.
Goldsmith, Oliver, The Citizen of the World, 1820.The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 1830.
Royal Airforce Historical Society, Advanced Book Printing, (Journal 37) 2006.
Walford, Edward ‘Vauxhall’, in Old and New London: Volume 6, London, 1878, pp. 447-467.