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Laura Porter

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens & Foundling Museum

By May 21, 2012

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The Foundling Museum's latest exhibition - The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729-1786 - may initially seem an unusual choice for a museum dedicated to London's first home for abandoned children but the artist William Hogarth connects the two.

The Foundling Museum and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens gave Hogarth, Handel and their contemporaries a public platform on which to promote their work. Hogarth turned Vauxhall Gardens into the first great gallery of modern British art and some original artworks that were displayed then are in this exhibition.

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were the idea of Jonathan Tyers who transformed a disreputable tavern and grounds into an "earthly paradise". Anyone and everyone could go if they had one shilling for a ticket so there was a real mix of society from royalty to maids. People came to see and be seen at Vauxhall and with the gardens laid out for promenading with tree-lined walks, pavilions, grottos, and lawns, it was considered elegant and innocent entertainment.

There is gentle background music at the exhibition as music was used to heighten emotions for visitors to the Gardens which was a great contrast to the metal-rimmed carts on cobbled London streets that Samuel Pepys described as a "roar". These heightened emotions created a strong mix of morality and virtue and the Vaux Hall Demi-Rep - more of an educated escort than a prostitute - helped to keep order by entertaining groups of single men.

I had heard before that food and drink at the Pleasure Gardens was expensive with notoriously small portions but I didn't know the waiters had to pay the kitchen when collecting food to serve and hope customers would pay them plus a decent gratuity.

Do admire the wonderful model of the gardens that was created for the V&A in 1984, and the Canaletto painting of the gardens c 1751. Look for the 'Press Here' button to light the lamps of the Gardens in a wonderful picture. The lamps were fueled by whale oil and eventually reached around 30,000 which would explain why smoking was banned.

By the end of the 1850s train travel meant we went further afield and the land was needed for suburban housing, and by 1865 there was no trace left on the site of the Gardens. The land is now a park again including a City Farm and riding school. The exhibition at the Foundling Museum is on until 9 September 2012.

As an interesting aside, this summer, a new site in east London will become the London Pleasure Gardens with hopefully not as much debauchery and better priced food and drink. You can also experience a re-creation of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens at the Museum of London.
May 25, 2012 at 5:24 am
(1) Pete Stean says:

Laura, probably the best thing about the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens today is what sits alongside them – the Vauxhall City Farm.. The pigs have been taught to obey the ‘sit’ command – I can attest to the fact because I witnessed it on my visit!

May 25, 2012 at 5:30 am
(2) Laura @AboutLondon says:

Pete, that’s brilliant! I really must go and visit Vauxhall City Farm soon. Fantastic tip!

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