Let’s Party!

Ycba-VGAndrea here, madly scribbling away on Wrexford & Sloane Book 8, which is due in mid-August. Yes, yes, I know, Book 7 isn’t out until the end of September, but deadlines are set WAY in advance of publication . . . and I need to switch on jet propulsion to get to the finish line on time. (Oh, wait, there was no jet propulsion in the Regency era! Do you think my editor will accept the excuse that steam engines are to blame for not huffing and puffing hard enough? Heh, heh.) (image courtesy of Yale British Art Center)
 
Getting back to the plot-in-progress, as the action was heating up, I needed somewhere a little different for a meeting of several conspirators. Neither a fancy Mayfair mansion nor a gritty slum was quite right. So I began perusing my historic map of London and the solution quickly jumped out at me . . .



Vauxhall_Gardens 1The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens! As its names implies, it was not designed as a tranquil spot for the quiet contemplation. Instead it was loud, gaudy outdoor enclave that offered raucous evening entertainments to both the highest and lowest circles of society. Vauxhall was the most famous of the pleasure gardens in England, but the concept was popular throughout Britain. Let’s take a quick peek inside its gates to see  what went on within the colorful pavilions and formal walkways and its famous Dark Walk . . . (Image: commons.wikimedia.org. Vauxhall Gardens by Samuel Wales)
 
The first mention of Vauxhall Gardens occurs around the 1660s, with records noting the existence of a pleasant planted space where the public could stroll without paying an entrance fee. The proprietor made money selling refreshments to the crowds. All that changed in 1729, when Jonathan Tyers took over ownership of the gardens. A savvy entrepreneur and entertainment empressario, Tyers also was a marketing genius and soon created an fantastical world unto itself. 
 
Entrance to Vauxhall GardensDespite its pastoral name, Vauxhall Gardens was teeming with all sorts of entertainments—eating, drinking, dancing, bands of roving jugglers and acrobats to amuse the crowds. It also held spectacular fireworks extravaganzas, concerts, operas, illuminations and balloon ascents. (In 1817, it staged a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo with a cast of 1,000 soldiers!) (image courtesy of the Museum of London-watercolor by Thomas Rowlandson)
 
Anyone who could purchase a ticket was welcome to pass through its gates. The poor would scrouge up enough for a rare night of pleasure, but one of the reasons pleasure gardens became so popular in the Regency was that a rising middle class with money in their pocket wanted to have the chance to rub shoulders with the rich and enjoy the same fun as they did.
 
A big part of the attraction of Vauxhall was the fact that risqué behavior was de rigeuer. One was expected to drink too much, laugh too loud, and engage in naughty behavior—with the understanding that a blind eye was turned on what happened within its leafy confines.

Ycba-Rowlandson 1
I learned a lot about Vauxhall Gardens by studying the prints and drawings of Thomas Rowlandson, one of the most famous satirical artists of the era who clearly spent a great deal of time there partaking of the myriad pleasure. His casual sketches capture the spirit of revelry, and his more formal watercolors show the aristocracy at play. One of them shows a Who’s Who of late Georgian Society enjoying a night out on the Town. Standing in front of the sumptuous dining pavilions—which served shaved ham and arrack punch to those who could pay for such pleasure—is the Duchess of Devonshire, her sister Lady Bessborough, (in the blue and white gowns, slightly to the left of center)along with leading politicians and movers and shakers of Polite Society. (image courtesy of Yale British Art Center-watercolor by Thomas Rowlandson))

The exquisite pavilions themselves showcased the latest trends in architecture, allowing the patrons to stroll along the formal walkways and admire the grand designs. Art by William Hogarth graced the supper rooms, and the music played during the evenings was composed by some of the leading names in Europe. (During the mid-1700s, Handel was a de facto composer-in-residence.) So a visit was a cultural experience as well as an interlude for revelries.
 
But the real draw of Vauxhall Gardens were the lush formal gardens and narrow footpaths that wound through them. At night, the grounds were shrouded in shadows designed to hide all manner of sins and seductions. Some paths were had a bit of illumination from hanging lanterns. Bu the Dark Walk was famous for its impenetrable blackness. Respectable ladies were warned not to stray anywhere near it . . . (image courtesy of the Museum of London)
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This passage from the Museum of London’s section on Vauxhall Gardens is a perfect summary of its irresistible allure: “It was a place where the glittering world of wealth, fashion and high culture showed off its seedy underside; where princes partied with prostitutes, and the middle classes went to be shocked and titillated by the excess on display. Simultaneously an art gallery, a restaurant, a brothel, a concert hall and a park, the pleasure garden was the place where Londoners confronted their very best, and very worst, selves.”
 
So what about you? Would you have liked to have spent an evening partying at Vauxhall Gardens? I’m trying to think of a modern day equivalent . . . Disney World? Coachella? A rock concert? What do you think—any suggestions?

65 thoughts on “Let’s Party!”

  1. Yes I would have loved a visit to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, it sounds like great fun! Especially when there were fireworks. Can’t really think of a modern day equivalent. Great post Andrea!

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  2. Yes I would have loved a visit to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, it sounds like great fun! Especially when there were fireworks. Can’t really think of a modern day equivalent. Great post Andrea!

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  3. Thanks, Christina! I would have loved to see the spectacle of Vauxhall Gardens, too. Sounds like quite an experience.
    It’s interesting that we can’t think of any modern-day equivalent. Maybe there are just so many places for people to let off steam, especially in big cities, there no one iconic place.
    Actually, I just thought of Studio 54, which in the ’80s of New York City was THE place to go for both celebrities and anyone else who could wangle a way past the bouncers. The stories of what went on there are legendary!

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  4. Thanks, Christina! I would have loved to see the spectacle of Vauxhall Gardens, too. Sounds like quite an experience.
    It’s interesting that we can’t think of any modern-day equivalent. Maybe there are just so many places for people to let off steam, especially in big cities, there no one iconic place.
    Actually, I just thought of Studio 54, which in the ’80s of New York City was THE place to go for both celebrities and anyone else who could wangle a way past the bouncers. The stories of what went on there are legendary!

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  5. I’d like to go with a group of friends. I always wonder if I have the correct pronunciation. Is the x silent?

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  6. I’d like to go with a group of friends. I always wonder if I have the correct pronunciation. Is the x silent?

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  7. I don’t think there is a modern equivalent for Vauxhall Gardens.
    If I was in a group of people I could trust, I would be okay to attend an evening there.

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  8. I don’t think there is a modern equivalent for Vauxhall Gardens.
    If I was in a group of people I could trust, I would be okay to attend an evening there.

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  9. I have trouble picturing Wrexford letting loose at Vauxhall. Oh I’d love to see that!
    A modern equivalent might be a music festival. Maybe.

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  10. I have trouble picturing Wrexford letting loose at Vauxhall. Oh I’d love to see that!
    A modern equivalent might be a music festival. Maybe.

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  11. Ham question – every visit to Vauxhall seems to mention “thin-sliced ham” – most of the time in a positive sense (how could they slice the ham so thin?). Yet, in a few other books (older 90’s era regencies?), its seems to be written as “those cheapskates.”
    Tell me about this ham, please.

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  12. Ham question – every visit to Vauxhall seems to mention “thin-sliced ham” – most of the time in a positive sense (how could they slice the ham so thin?). Yet, in a few other books (older 90’s era regencies?), its seems to be written as “those cheapskates.”
    Tell me about this ham, please.

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  13. So, what happens at Vauxhall, stays at Vauxhall, I’m guessing! Akin to what happens at Vegas….
    Thanks for a fun post, Andrea. And now I’d like some ham!

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  14. So, what happens at Vauxhall, stays at Vauxhall, I’m guessing! Akin to what happens at Vegas….
    Thanks for a fun post, Andrea. And now I’d like some ham!

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  15. The thinly shaved ham seems to have been a specialty at Vauxhall Gardens. Perhaps it just became in a sense the “signature dish” and was enjoyed as a novelty. Slicing it thinly wouldn’t have been a problem. Think cavalry sabers! Blade making in the era, both in Britain and Europe was very good.

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  16. The thinly shaved ham seems to have been a specialty at Vauxhall Gardens. Perhaps it just became in a sense the “signature dish” and was enjoyed as a novelty. Slicing it thinly wouldn’t have been a problem. Think cavalry sabers! Blade making in the era, both in Britain and Europe was very good.

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  17. Las Vegas is the perfect example of a modern day Vauxhall Gardens. There are fountains, music, dancing eating drinking—and plenty of hanky panky going on!
    Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  18. Las Vegas is the perfect example of a modern day Vauxhall Gardens. There are fountains, music, dancing eating drinking—and plenty of hanky panky going on!
    Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Reply
  19. If Rowlandson should happen onto a modern Vauxhall, those prints would be filled with people stumbling around with eyes on their smartphones! More zombie than frenetic. I don’t think I’d enjoy that much so I’ll pass. Now, if I could time-tap back to the original … I’d probably be curious enough to try it.

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  20. If Rowlandson should happen onto a modern Vauxhall, those prints would be filled with people stumbling around with eyes on their smartphones! More zombie than frenetic. I don’t think I’d enjoy that much so I’ll pass. Now, if I could time-tap back to the original … I’d probably be curious enough to try it.

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  21. Añdrea-thanks for introducing us to Vauxhall Gardens. I’m sure Regency readers have often wondered.As for me, if I were going to spend all night at a venue, it certainly wouldn’t be at a rock concert. I’d prefer being locked into a well-stocked bookstore with comfy furniture and great lighting. Remember the midnight HRry Potter parties when a new book came out? That’s my kind of party. Only for ne, the books would be romance novels. I’d also have my favorite classical music playing. And there would be a yummy buffet with all kinds of delectable. Hey, it’s my party, and I can read if I want to! Just sayin ‘…

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  22. Añdrea-thanks for introducing us to Vauxhall Gardens. I’m sure Regency readers have often wondered.As for me, if I were going to spend all night at a venue, it certainly wouldn’t be at a rock concert. I’d prefer being locked into a well-stocked bookstore with comfy furniture and great lighting. Remember the midnight HRry Potter parties when a new book came out? That’s my kind of party. Only for ne, the books would be romance novels. I’d also have my favorite classical music playing. And there would be a yummy buffet with all kinds of delectable. Hey, it’s my party, and I can read if I want to! Just sayin ‘…

    Reply
  23. I’d prefer champagne with my shaved ham, rather than arrack punch, but other than that I’ve always loved the idea of dancing under the stars and the lights of Vauxhall!
    Many years ago, we were visiting a friend in London who surprised us with an evening at Glyndebourne. While not offering fireworks, it was a magical evening – very fancy picnics on the lawn, strolling musicians before the concert, people dressed to the nines, champagne and ices at intermission, and a wonderful opera. I don’t remember which opera, but I remember the rest of the evening in great detail! I have no idea what it’s like these days, but if it’s still the same, Glyndebourne would get my vote for a modern pleasure garden.

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  24. I’d prefer champagne with my shaved ham, rather than arrack punch, but other than that I’ve always loved the idea of dancing under the stars and the lights of Vauxhall!
    Many years ago, we were visiting a friend in London who surprised us with an evening at Glyndebourne. While not offering fireworks, it was a magical evening – very fancy picnics on the lawn, strolling musicians before the concert, people dressed to the nines, champagne and ices at intermission, and a wonderful opera. I don’t remember which opera, but I remember the rest of the evening in great detail! I have no idea what it’s like these days, but if it’s still the same, Glyndebourne would get my vote for a modern pleasure garden.

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  25. The closest modern equivalent I can think of would be Central Park on a concert night, where there would be a crowd by the entertainment but you could wonder off into a shaded part of the park…
    As for the thinly shaved ham, once upon a time I was living in a small town in Italy, and the butcher, a young man quite proud of his skills, could with a knife shave the prosciutto every bit as thin as a slicing machine. I was truly impressed.

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  26. The closest modern equivalent I can think of would be Central Park on a concert night, where there would be a crowd by the entertainment but you could wonder off into a shaded part of the park…
    As for the thinly shaved ham, once upon a time I was living in a small town in Italy, and the butcher, a young man quite proud of his skills, could with a knife shave the prosciutto every bit as thin as a slicing machine. I was truly impressed.

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  27. H, a ha! SO drew! Or snapping shots of the indiscretions to plaster all over the internet! But I confess, I would LOVE a time trvale pat app on my phone. That would be very cool.

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  28. H, a ha! SO drew! Or snapping shots of the indiscretions to plaster all over the internet! But I confess, I would LOVE a time trvale pat app on my phone. That would be very cool.

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  29. I think that it would be a really terrific place to visit. I would like to have a seat by the gate and watch everyone who came in. Seeing the clothes, the smiles and the wonderful people would entertain me. But, I think that would probably be it for me. Well maybe the concerts would draw me back.

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  30. I think that it would be a really terrific place to visit. I would like to have a seat by the gate and watch everyone who came in. Seeing the clothes, the smiles and the wonderful people would entertain me. But, I think that would probably be it for me. Well maybe the concerts would draw me back.

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  31. This is a great look at Vauxhall Gardens Andrea and I would definitely love to have visited. I think I would like to have gone to one of the masquerade balls that way no one would know what I got up to:):)
    I would be hoping to meet Wrexford!!
    Great post!

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  32. This is a great look at Vauxhall Gardens Andrea and I would definitely love to have visited. I think I would like to have gone to one of the masquerade balls that way no one would know what I got up to:):)
    I would be hoping to meet Wrexford!!
    Great post!

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  33. Thank you for the pictures, Andrea! I’ve read of Vauxhall so many times over the decades of reading; but I never realized the dining pavilions were stacked! Sure hope they were sturdy!
    I can’t tell you which book but I remember some comment made about the person who organized the party had made arrangements for food to be ready at home afterwards since the servings at Vauxhall were notoriously small–speaking of the super thinly sliced ham and strawberries, and the men in the party were very relieved to hear it. But I don’t remember them being described as cheapskates–Almack’s on the other hand–stale cakes & weak lemonade seems to ring a bell…

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  34. Thank you for the pictures, Andrea! I’ve read of Vauxhall so many times over the decades of reading; but I never realized the dining pavilions were stacked! Sure hope they were sturdy!
    I can’t tell you which book but I remember some comment made about the person who organized the party had made arrangements for food to be ready at home afterwards since the servings at Vauxhall were notoriously small–speaking of the super thinly sliced ham and strawberries, and the men in the party were very relieved to hear it. But I don’t remember them being described as cheapskates–Almack’s on the other hand–stale cakes & weak lemonade seems to ring a bell…

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  35. If you have ever been to an evening concert at caramoor in Katonah, NY, that is very similar. Gardens to wander, picnics and also an area with tables. Quite enchanting.

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  36. If you have ever been to an evening concert at caramoor in Katonah, NY, that is very similar. Gardens to wander, picnics and also an area with tables. Quite enchanting.

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  37. You put me somewhat in mind of the Burning Man event [Don’t call it a festival!] in Nevada. According to the Reno Gazette Journal:
    Burning Man resembles a festival, but the event can better be described as a countercultural arts event spanning about nine days. Burning Man is a surreal, dusty and quirky party in the desert of northwestern Nevada. The event is known for its eccentric displays of art and expression, including fantastical, arty vehicles; towering metallic sculptures; and whatever else its devotees can dream up. Burning Man is also well-known for its more hedonistic aspects, including sex, nudity and drug use.
    From the reports I’ve heard, you can find people from all financial and social walks of life, anyone who can scrounge up the entrance fee and some sort of a crib.

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