Vauxhall Gardens

Last week I wrote a version of this blog for my Harlequin Historical Authors Blog, but I thought some of our readers here might have missed it. I wrote about a book I thought so wonderful, I wanted to be sure everyone interested in the Regency heard about it. My thanks to the Beau Monde member who mentioned it first (Isobel Carr/Kalen Hughes, perhaps?).

The book is a new research book, Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg, a coffee-table sized volume brimming with everything you’d want to know about these historical pleasure gardens. It was worth every penny I spend on it and I spent a lot of pennies!

I think of Vauxhall Gardens as the Disneyland of its time, a place people of all walks of life and social classes flock to for recreation, to see wonders that thrill, amaze, or simply entertain them. Things like fireworks and tightrope walkers, musical performances, frescos made so real you felt transported to a different land, spooky dark walks featuring a hermit at the end. There was food special to the place, just like the special foods we find at amusement parks or State Fairs. Paper-thin slices of ham, tiny whole chickens, orgeat (the soft drink of the day), poor quality wines, cider and ale.

Jonathan Tyers opened Vauxhall Gardens in 1729 and from the first made no distinctions between the classes. Everyone paid the same price of admission, so from the first, the classes mixed in the various entertainments like a Venetian Carnival. Throughout the years Vauxhall Gardens entertained visitors with music, a mix of performances from serious styles of music to light-hearted popular tunes of the day. A grand organ was included. Handel was featured. Popular vocalists appeared.

Artwork was always a part of the gardens, including paintings by Hogarth and sculpture. A statue of Handel came to personify Vauxhall and remained in the gardens most of its almost 200 years.

Other entertainments appeared, some from the beginning and some as years went on. Fireworks. Fountains. Lamps which were lit all at once. A rope dancer named Madame Saqui. I once mentioned Madame Saqui in one of my books and received a letter from a reader in the UK whose last name was Saqui. She’d not known of this possible ancestor until reading of her in my book

I love using Vauxhall Gardens as a setting in my books. Flynn, my hero in Innocence and Impropriety became smitten with Rose as she sang at Vauxhall Gardens. In A Reputable Rake, Morgana brought her courtesan students to Vauxhall Gardens to practice their lessons. A masked Graham Veall chose Vauxhall Gardens as a place to meet Margaret and hire her as a temporary mistress in my homage to Phantom of the Opera, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh.

I’m using Vauxhall Gardens again in Leo’s story, the last of the Welbourne Manor books, due to be released in 2012. This book is set in 1828 and I was delighted that my new research tome could give me detailed information of what happened at Vauxhall Gardens that year.

New was the Grand Hydropyric Exhibition, consisting of cascades of colored fire and water. A new vaudeville called The Statue Lover was introduced, as well as a short comic ballet called The Carnival of Venice. Even though there had been complaints of excessive noise the previous year, a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo took place on the battle’s anniversary. They also introduced a lottery with dozens of different prizes.

I may not use any of those new entertainments in the book, but I did learn that Vauxhall Gardens did not open until June 4 of 1828. I’d set my story in May of that year, but now have moved it to the end of the London Season (because I like to be as faithful to history as I can be)

We’re all probably thinking of fall holidays instead of summer amusement parks like Vauxhall, but Vauxhall’s Dark Walk to visit the hermit could be akin to a ghost ride on Halloween. Or a Hay Ride, because a lot of hanky-panky went on on the Dark Walk.

Are you planning any Fall holiday outings? This Friday I’m going to the Library of Congress to hear my friend Carol Brown talk about costuming for places such as Dragoncon or the Renaissance Fair (12 noon in the Pickford Theatre and open to the public for any of you in Washington, DC)

On Halloween, Risky friend Michelle Willingham has gotten a bunch of us to have a Trick or Treat contest. Deb Marlowe is one of the “houses” for Trick or Treat, and my friend Darlene Gardner who writes for Superromance. We’ll all have prizes. Hey, Halloween is my next blogging day! I’ll have to try to find a Regency connection to Halloween. Check my website soon for complete details.

I also have a new contest going on my website. My September book, Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy, is still available online, and don’t miss my October 2011 Undone short estory, The Liberation of Miss Finch.

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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