28 September 2009

C18th Pleasure Gardens: Love in a Cool Climate

Pleasure gardens in a cool climate could only have been used for a short season each year. In Copenhagen, for example, locals and tour­ists knew exactly the dates when Tivoli Gardens opened and closed each year. Yet I cannot find the definitive seasonal dates for Vauxhaul or Ran­elagh and only one source even suggested an opening date each year (1st May). I will write to Vic at Jane Austen's World for information.

In the meantime, many questions remain:
a] how did potential customers know when the gardens were open? Was there advertising in general newspapers? In more exclusive sites?

b] if it rained or was too cold on a particular summer evening, did the customers not turn up? If they turned up anyhow, were there spaces in­side warm buildings where they could eat, drink and listen to music?

c] if the season each year was too short, how did owners make enough money to keep the gardens fully functioning?

d] only one source mentioned a handsome banqueting room where, pres­umably, people would eat as if it was a large, public restaurant. This was very different from an intimate box for 8 people where Sam­uel Johnson and his intimate friends used to sup together.

e] how did the gardens’ owners maintain a high standard of clientele? Was there a guard at the entrance, asking people in tacky clothing to go home? Was the entrance fee high enough to keep out all but the most comfortable of families.

Ran­elagh Gardens Chelsea, in The Gentleman's Magazine c1760, Published by Sylvanus Urban Gent., London

The Early American Gardens blog provided some useful answers. “Since you have read Green Retreats & other sources, you know that the gardens were usually owned by those who also had a hand in other businesses, especially entertainment enterprises. They factored the weather into their operating expenses.

Audiences in London had been accustomed to going out to entert­ain­ments in large numbers for decades before 1660. In 1600, there were about 200,000 people living in London and its environs. By that year, there were several public playhouses (including The Globe) and per­for­mances at court, plus troupes of transient players passing through. A conservative estimate has over 3,000 Londoners attending the theater each day, 15,000 per week.

The public pleasure garden with its drinks, skits and games would be an additional venue for a public which had a tradition of going out and which had lived under some strict social controls for a while. Seems like 1660 was just the perfect year to open a public pleasure garden and begin celebrating. Emblems in Commercial Pleasure Gardens is interesting reading.

4 comments:

Philip Wilkinson said...

I'm no expert on the London pleasure gardens, but I really like Thomas Hood's poem 'Sonnet to Vauxhall', an amusing account of the dodgy food, pretentious conversation, and fireworks put on for entertainment. This being Britain, those present don't let a mere shower of rain deter them in the rush to see the fireworks. And they put up with 'cold transparent ham' - I seem to remember that one way the proprietor of Vauxhall made his money was by selling overpriced food to the captive clientele. Hood's poem is at:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=184577

BWS said...

Seems to me that most audiences at entertainment venues, whether in the 18th-century or the 21st-century, must anticipate some expensive (and only rarely excellent) "ham."

Hels said...

Philip and BWS,

I discovered pleasure gardens years ago, not via art as you might expect but via literature (Pepys and especially Johnson). Alas I had totally forgotten about Thomas Hood (1799–1845) who really was a funny and insightful bloke. Thanks for the references :)

But here is something I bet you didn't know. Hood was an amateur cartoonist and follower of Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827). Rowlandson, a serious artist, used to sit in Vauxhall Gardens with his artistic materials, sketching the visitors and the facilities.

Life copies literature which copies art!

Hels said...

I wrote to Vic at Jane Austen's World blog, asking:
"I can see you said “short season” but I wonder if the summer season opened and closed on specific dates? And what happened if it rained – did the visitors still turn up and were the entertainments still on offer? Imagine what happened to the beautiful dresses, shoes and hair, if they got caught in the rain".

On October 14, 2009 at 10:08 Vic wrote:

I can only now answer your question. The gardens opened at Easter and closed for the winter. Ranelagh Garden, with its spacious rotunda, could open in February.