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Views of London : Gardens

 Vauxhall Gardens

Johann Sebastian Muller, Vauxhall Gardens, c1755.

Tom Brown, Amusements Serious and Comical, around 1700, writes:

We have divers sorts of Walks about London; in some you go to see and be seen, in others neither to see nor be seen, but, like a noun substantive, to be felt, heard, and understood.

The ladies that have an inclination to be private take delight in the close walks of Spring Gardens, where both sexes meet and mutually serve one another as guides to lose their way; and the windings and turnings in the little wildernesses are so intricate that the most experienced mothers have often lost themselves in looking for their daughters.

Von Uffenbach, London in 1710, writes as follows about Vauxhall Gardens:

From here (Lambeth Wells) we drove further along this side of the Thames to Foxhall (Vauxhall), where there is a large garden of matchless elegance called the Spring Garden, because it is most agreeable in spring, when vast quantities of birds nest and sing there. It consists entirely of avenues and covered walks where people stroll up and down, and green huts, in which one can get a glass of wine, snuff and other things, although everything is very dear and bad. Generally vast crowds are to be seen here, especially females of doubtful morals, who are dressed as finely as ladies of quality, most of them having a gold watch hung round their neck.

Addison, writing in The Spectator of Tuesday 20th May, 1712, describes a visit to Vauxhall in the company of the fictitious Sir Roger de Coverley. 

We were now arrived at Spring–Garden, which is exquisitely pleasant at this time of the year. When I considered 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, says the Knight, there is nothing in the world that pleases a man in love so much as your nightingale. Ah, Mr. Spectator! the many moonlight nights that I have walked by myself, and thought on the widow by the musick of the nightingale! He here fetched a deep sigh, and was falling into a fit of musing, when a mask, who came behind him, gave him a gentle tap upon the shoulder, and asked him if he would drink a bottle of mead with her? But the Knight, being startled at so unexpected a familiarity, and displeased to be interrupted in his thoughts of the widow, told her, She was a wanton baggage, and bid her go about her business.

We concluded our walk with a glass of Burton ale, and a slice of hung beef. When we had done eating ourselves, the Knight called a waiter to him, and bid him carry the remainder to the waterman that had but one leg. I perceived the fellow stared upon him at the oddness of the message, and was going to be saucy; upon which I ratified the Knight’s commands with a peremptory look.

As we were going out of the garden, my old friend thinking himself obliged, as a member of the Quorum, to animadvert upon the morals of the place, told the mistress of the house, who sat at the bar, that he should be a better customer to her garden, if there were more nightingales, and fewer strumpets.

Kielmansegge (Diary of a Journey to England in 1761-1762) writes:

Vauxhall was originally a village close to London, on the other side of the Thames, in the parish of Lambeth. The garden in question is the first which had ever been fitted up for this kind of entertainment. In the centre is a large orchestra with an organ, where the band and singers perform. The boxes round are so arranged that you can hear the music very well. In most of them are said to be paintings by Hayman, which are removed in winter, especially the four large and fine pieces representing scenes from Shakespeare's plays, which are in the large pavilion. The avenues and trees are all planted in good taste, with vistas of fine high trees and hedges between them. Some of these vistas end with representations of old ruins amids landscapes, and others are decorated with triumphal arches. Amongst the statues is an especially good one by Roubillac, of Handel with a lyre, representing the figure of Orpheus. There is also a large saloon and a ballroom with an orchestra, to be used in bad weather. Here we saw several pictures which had been taken down, but one had been left on the wall, representing English magnanimity, in the person of General Amherst, raising the inhabitants of Canada, who had thrown themselves at his feet.

The garden must be a wonderful sight when the greater part of it is lighted up with nearly 1500 glass lamps. At one end of an avenue, when a curtain is withdrawn, a landscape is to be seen illuminated by hidden lamps, the principal feature being a miller's house, with an artificial cascade. You fancy that you see water driving the mill, and that you hear the rush of the water, though in reality there is none. It is managed just as these things are arranged in theatres and pantomimes, but though it never lasts long, it is supposed to be far better and more cleverly done. When the garden is open to the public, tea, coffee, cold dishes, bread and butter, etc., are procurable by any one who pays for them.'

Chamberlaine writing in 1769 in the History and Survey of London:

These gardens are large, well planted with lofty trees that afford a delightful shade, with woodbines and underwoods, which furnish a safe asylum for the birds.

From the great gate through which you enter into the gardens, is a noble gravel walk, 900 feet in length, planted on each side with very lofty trees, which is terminated by a landsacpe of the country, a beautiful lawn of meadow ground, and a grand Gothic obelisk.

To the right of this walk, as you enter, is the grove; in the middle of it is a magnificent orchestra, the dome of which is surmounted with a plume of feathers, the crest of the prince of Wales. In fine weather the musical entertainments are performed here. It has a very fine organ, with seats and desks for the musicians, and a vacancy at the front for the vocal performers. The seats or boxes round the orchestra are disposed to the best advantage for hearing the music.

In most of the pavilions are pictures, painted from the designs of Mr Hayman and Mr Hogarth, on subjects admirably adapted to the place. In the ground pavilion are four pictures of Hayman's own hand, from the historical plays of Shakespear, that are universally admired.

At some distance are several noble vistas of very tall trees, where the spaces between each are filled up with neat hedges; and on the inside are planted flowers and sweet smelling shrubs.

The pavilions continue in a sweep, which leads to a beautiful piazza, and a colonnade, 500 feet in length, in the form of a semi-circle. This semi-circle leads to a sweep of pavilions that terminate in the great walk.

At one end of the cross gravel walk is a beautiful landscape painting of ruins and running water. At each end of another walk is a beautiful painting; one is a building, with a scaffold and a ladder before it; the other is a view in a Chinese garden.

There are also several statues, in particular one in marble, by Mr Roubiliac, of the late Mr Handel playing on a lyre in the character of Orpheus; and another of Milton, erected on a rock, almost surrounded with bushes, in a sweet lawn adjoining to the garden, as if listening to music arising from the ground.

In cold or rainy weather the musical performance is in a rotunda, in which is an orchestra, with an organ. This rotunda is seventy feet in diameter.

In the center hangs a magnificent chandelier, eleven feet in diameter, containing seventy-two lamps in three rows.

In the roof, which is arched and elliptic, are two little cupolas, in a peculiar taste, each cupola is adorned with paintings; Apollo, Pan, and the muses are in one; and Neptune, with the sea nymphs in the other.

Adjoining to the walls are ten three quarter columns.

Between these colums are four paintings, by Hayman; the first represents the surrender of Montreal in Canada to the British army commanded by general Amherst. On a commemorating stone, at one corner of the piece, is this inscription : "Power exerted, Conquest obtained, Mercy shewn! 1760."

The second represents Britannia holding in her hand a medallion of his present majesty, and sitting on the right hand of Neptune in his chariot drawn by sea horses, who seem to partake in the triumph for the defeat of the French fleet (represented on the back ground) by Sir Edward Hawke, November 10, 1759. The third represents Lord Clive receiving the homage of the Nabob; and the fourth, Britannia distributing laurels to Lord Granby, Lord Albemarle, Lord Townshend, and the Colonels Monckton, Coote, &c.

The concert is opened with instrumental music, at six o'closk, which having continued about half an hour, the company are entertained with a song; and in this manner several other songs are performed, with sonatas or concertos between each, till the close of the entertainment, which is generally about ten o'clock.

A curious piece of machinery is exhibited about nine o'clock, (notice whereof is given by ringing a bell) in a hollow, on the inside of one of the hedges near the entrance into the vistas: by removing a curtain, is shewn a very fine landscape, illuminated by concealed lights, in which the principal objects that strike the eyes are the cascade or waterfall, and miller's house. 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.

After day-light is closed, the garden near the orchestra is illuminated, almost in an instant, with about 1300 glass lamps; which, by their glittering among the trees, render it exceeding light and brilliant. And everything is provided in the most elegant manner for the entertainment of those who chuse to sup in the garden.

Vauxhall Gardens 1785

Robert Pollard, Vauxhall after T. Rowlandson, aquatinted by F. Jukes 1785.

The flamboyant sentimentalist, Nikolai Karamzin (Letters of a Russian Traveller 1789-1790), gave the following description:

On arriving there at ten in the evening, we found ourselves in a kind of magic land! Just picture to yourself endless walks, entire forests, brightly illuminated galleries, arcades, pavilions, alcoves, beautifully painted and adorned with the busts of great men - and amid all this foliage, triumphal arches ablaze with light, beneath which an orchestra thunders. Everywhere throngs of people; everywhere tables for feasting, bedecked with flowers and leaves.

My blinded eyes sought the darkness. I went into a narrow, covered walk, and was told that it was the Walk of the Druids. I continued and saw a wilderness with small hills here and there, the very picture of a Roman camp, On one knoll sits Milton in marble, listening to music; farther on there is an obelisk, then a Chinese garden, and, finally, the end of the road. I returned to the music.

If you have guessed, then you know that I have been describing the famous English Vauxhall, which other countries have tried in vain to imitate. This is a beautiful evening resort, worthy of an intelligent and wealthy people!

The orchestra plays for the most part, favourite folk songs. Actors and actresses of the London theatres sing here, and the spectators, as a sign of their pleasure, often throw them money.

Suddenly a bell rang, and everybody rushed toward one spot. I ran too, not knowing why or whither. Then a curtain rose, and we saw, in flaming letters, the words, 'Take care of your pockets!' (This is because the London pickpockets, quite of few of whom frequent Vauxhall, make use of this moment.) At the same time there appeared a transparency of a rustic scene.

'Good,' I thought. 'But hardly worth all this mad rushing and crowding.'

The London Vauxhall brings together people of every social standing - lords and lackeys, fine ladies and harlots. Some come here as actors, others as spectators. I visited all the galleries and looked at all the pictures, whose themes have been taken either from Shakespeare's dramas or from recent English history. The walls of the large rotunda, where music is given in rainy weather, are covered with mirrors from floor to ceiling. Wherever you look, you see ten living portraits of yourself.

At about twelve o'clock supper was served in the pavilions, and horns sounded in the groves. Never in my life have I seen so many people seated at table. It looked like some kind of magnificent feast. We chose a pavilion, too, and ordered chicken, anchovies, cheese, butter, and a bottle of claret. This cost about six rubles.

Vauxhall is two miles from London, and in summer is open every evening. One pays forty kopecks to enter. I returned home at dawn, completely satisfied with the whole day.


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