Vauxhall Gardens was one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London, from the mid 17th century to the mid 19th century. Originally known as New Spring Gardens, the site was believed to have opened before the Restoration of 1660, the first mention being made by Samuel Pepys in 1662. The Gardens consisted of several acres of trees and shrubs with attractive walks. Initially, entrance was free with food and drink being sold to support the venture.
The site became Vauxhall Gardens in 1785 and admission was charged for its many attractions. The Gardens drew all manner of people and supported enormous crowds. As Jonathan Conlin writes: "By the 1770s, Vauxhall had been open for over a century, and its layout and attractions were well established. The resort was strictly seasonal and nocturnal, only open on summer nights, and, given its alfresco nature, highly dependent on the fickle English weather. All evidence indicates that visitors’ discussions before, during, and after visits circled around this national topic. The Gardens enjoyed a suburban setting on the south bank of the Thames in Surrey, and were best reached by water. As the nearest bridge was down at Westminster, those who attempted to travel by carriage could suffer the indignity of being caught in a traffic jam. Once safely arrived, parties entered through the house on the western edge of the site, where they paid their admission fees and deposited their servants in special holding pens. On the other side, two snaking lines of supper boxes stretched ahead of the visitor, flanking a raised orchestra pavilion surrounded by trees. The rotunda (or “Temple of Pleasure”) and a saloon were on the left.The majority of the site was given over to long allées or “walks”: three running to the eastern edge of the site, bisected by two more running north‐south. The supper boxes, orchestra, and westernmost walks were brightly illuminated with hundreds of lamps, but the “dark walks” clearly lured many visitors to explore the dim reaches of the site. Here lived a mock hermit in his hermitage (where he told fortunes), a marble statue of Milton surrounded by “musical bushes” (a small orchestra hidden in pits dug in the earth), and a small diorama of a village mill powered by a tin cascade—the effect of moving water created by “waves” made of tin mounted on rollers and a synchronized “waterwheel.” This diorama was unveiled only for performances, announced by the ringing of a bell. One of the bisecting walks had trompe l’oeil eye‐catchers at each end: massive canvases painted with fake views of the Roman campagna. Although the musical programming was excellent, the main entertainment offered at Vauxhall was not scripted. It lay in perambulating in groups around these sights, looking at other people and being looked at oneself. Given the popularity of the Gardens with the Prince of Wales, his mistresses, duchesses, actors, and visiting dignitaries (including Native American chiefs), surprises lay around every dimly lit corner.
Much of Vauxhall’s success was owed to Jonathan Tyers, the impresario who took over its management in 1728. As Solkin has shown, in 1732 Tyers relaunched Vauxhall after a well‐advertised cleanup campaign that involved introducing strolling Methodist ministers in an attempt to keep strumpet numbers down. Tyers laid the foundations of the Gardens’s future fame as the nation’s musical shrine by holding the first performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks in 1748 and commissioning J.F. Roubiliac to carve a marble statue of the composer that he placed in the resort’s heart. In 1760 he also commissioned Francis Hayman and other unrecorded artists to produce large paintings illustrative of major moments in British history and literature. These graced the grand chinoiserie rotunda, as well as the supper boxes." J.Conlin, Vauxhall Revisited: The Afterli
The statue depicting George Frederic Handel, erected in the Gardensand is now on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1817, the Battle of Waterloo was re-enacted with 1,000 soldiers participating. The Gardens closed in 1840 after its owners suffered bankruptcy, but re-opened in 1841. It changed hands in 1842, and was permanently closed fifteen years later..
In 1859 the news that Royal Vauxhall Gardens was to be sold to developers came as a shock. Since the late seventeenth century this twelve‐acre suburban garden on the south bank of the Thames had been providing Londoners with a place to promenade, dine, and enjoy music on summer evenings. Journalist Laman Blanchard compared the prospect of a last night at Vauxhall with the sale of the pyramids or the last fall of water over Niagara. His surprise is striking, as the property had changed hands repeatedly during the previous twenty years, with several series of “last nights” being held. When the tickets for the 1859 last night were printed the organizers were at pains to make it clear that this was to be, “positively,” the very last night “for ever.” By the mid‐nineteenth century, the Gardens largely served to remind observers of its heyday as a gilded, polite Georgian paradise haunted by the great and the good—a heyday that many identified with their own youth. For such people, the decay and closure of the Gardens represented the loss of innocence, or, perhaps more accurately, the loss of a willed suspension of disbelief in the illusions that underpinned the pleasure garden’s success.
David Coke and Alan Borg, Vauxhall Gardens: A History , Yale University Press, 2011
Jonathan Conlin, Vauxhall Revisited: The Afterlife of a London Pleasure Garden, 1770-1859, Journal of British Studies, Vol.45. No.4, October 2006
Scott, Walter Sidney, Green Retreats; The Story of Vauxhall Gardens, 1661–1859. London: Odhams Press, 1955
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol. 10, Issue 262, July 7, 1827
Solkin, David H., Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-century England. New Haven; London : Yale University Press, 1993
Jonathan Tyers and His First Two Decades at Vauxhall, 1729-1750
Canaletto, Vauxhall Gardens, The Grove and Grand Walk, oil on canvas, c. 1751
Lucy Askew, Model of the Vauxhall Gardens, 1984, Victoria and Albert Museum
J.S.Muller after S.Wale, The Triumphal Arches, Mr Handel’s Statue, etc, in the South Walk of Vauxhall Gardens, c1840 (David Coke collection).
J.S.Muller after Canaletto, A View of the Temple of Comus etc, in the Vauxhall Gardens, c. 1751, engraving (David Coke collection).
Louis Francois Roubiliac, George Frideric Handel, Carrara marble, 1738, Victoria and Albert Museum
A.C. Pugin and J. Bluck after T. Rowlandson, Vauxhall Gardens, 1809, from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London III, pl.88.
Anonymous, A Vauxhall Masquerade, c.1840, British Museum
J. Maurer, A Perspective View of Vaux Hall Garden, 1744
Smith, The Citizen at Vauxhall, published by Harrison & Co, 1784
George Cruikshank, Tom, Jerry and Logic, making the most of an Evening at Vauxhall, engraving (David Coke's collection), 1821
Madame Saqui at Vauxhall, engraving, c.1816-20
Robert Cruikshank, C.H. Simpson Esq. M.C.R.G.V., engraving, 1833
Poster, June 1835
Final Decades of the Gardens, 1820-1859
The Grounds of the Gardens in the 1940s and 50s
Social housing on the grounds of today's Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens as it looked in 1969 and described by Gabriel Gbadamosiin his book Vauxhall. The view is from Glyn Street SE11 (with Kennington Lane behind the camera), looking towards Tyers Street with the pointed roofs of Vauxhall Primary School visible in the background.The houses were demolished in the 1970s.
One can just make out the turrets of Vauxhall Primary school all the way in the background, which one can compare with today's view.
The same view today
The new entrance to the park represents phase 2 of the master plan commissioned by the Friends in 2006. The existing entrance was extremely run down especially after a bus had rammed into it, so the Friends and Lambeth Council commissioned the architectural team at DSDHA to design a new entrance. They submitted several proposals, of which the most radical and innovative included two 18 m. monumental cement columns. The boldness of the design won everyone over and the building of the new entrance started in 2010 and the finished project was delivered in 2011.
The Entrance was officially opened by Paul O' Grady aka Lily Savage. He joined leader of Lambeth Council, Cllr Steve Reed, local MP Kate Hoey and Chair of the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Eamonn McMahon, in cutting a ribbon to mark the restoration.
The ceremony also marked the name change from “Vauxhall Spring Gardens” to the restored ”Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens”.
The Artwork on the columns
In 2013 Lambeth Council commissioned artist Paola Piglia to produced two sculptures to go on top of the 18m cement columns at the entrance to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The new artwork depicts the figures of a lady in 18th century garb being offered a flower from a young man from the present-day. The sculptures show a representation of a silent conversation between the past and present in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.
The fabricator, Mike Smith Studios, have laser cut and welded the steel outlines to create the two finished sculptures. The graphic style allows the openness of the figures to contrast with their backdrop, suggestive of drawings in the sky.
The underlying message of a dialogue between the past and present is what makes the Pleasure Gardens so unique. In the 18th century the Pleasure Gardens had been a main London attraction; the new artwork reprises this tradition for celebrating the arts while raising awareness for the garden’s glorious past for local residents, Londoners and beyond.
The sculpture were installed in July 2015 and there'll follow an official opening later in the year.
An early rendition of the sculptures by artist and Friend Paola Piglia
Rendition of the artwork on top of the columns at night
The RVT green wall realised by Vauxhall One in 2013
The metal sign for the newly renamed Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens
The columns under construction in 2011
The Cherry Walk
The Cherry Walk was designed by renowned landscaper designer Todd Longstaff-Gowen and includes ornamental flowering trees planted in clusters. It represents a mix of native and exotic varieties to ensure maximum impact of colour variations, flowering times and sequencing to prolong the flowers. This not only maximises the visual effect but also benefit pollinators throughout the spring and summer and allow for grater biodiversity. The project resolved the ongoing flooding of the path by raising and rebuilding it, as well as creating a swale gardens where the water is redirected and absorbed by a cluster of willow trees. It was funded by the Friends after they received a donation of £ 250,000.00 from the Basaveshwara Foundation donated in view of erecting a bust of Basaveshwara on the embankment side of the gardens.
The donation was intended for planting and general improvements to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens distributed a questionnaire to its members and the local community as to what improvements were most needed or wanted. The three items most commonly mentioned were: 1. the improvement of a diagonal path that gets often flooded in winter. 2. More planting of trees and shrubs and their maintenance . 3. More planting of flowers and their maintenance. The FOVPG used part of the Basaveshwara donation to tackle those three demands by commissioning a new diagonal path surrounded by cheery trees.
The Cherry Walk, planted in the autumn of 2016 was officially inaugurated on the 8th of May 2017 with Sean Rafferty cutting the ribbon and unveiling the commemorative plaque. It is very well liked and has greatly enhanced an area of the park previously neglected.
The Hugo Bugg Garden
Hugo Bugg's Gold medal winning garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2014 (Waterscape category) was installed in the Pleasure Gardens in autumn of the same year. The enchantingly simple yet sophisticated garden was created around a theme of sustainability.
The initiative was spearheaded by Vauxhall One, in co-operation with LB Lambeth, the Royal Bank of Canada and Hugo Bugg.
The Hugo Bugg Garden was officially opened in Vauxhall by Cllr Jenny Brathwaite (Cabinet Member for the Environment) onFriday 26th September, along with a Royal Bank of Canada planting day, in which Bank employees got to help plant the garden.
Since the Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) was installed in 2010, the facility has become a place where the local community and youth can safely enjoy sports such as football and basketball. In 2013 Vauxhall Trust instituted the 'Maureen Johnston Memorial Tea Cup', a five-a-side yearly football tournament that takes place in the MUGA. The tournament encourages healthy competition and has already a large body of fans and followers.
Starting in 2014 and for the winter months, the MUGA has been transformed into an ice skating rink. This initiative, promoted by local business consortium VauxhallOne, has been very successful with the local community and, on top of the ticket sales, three thousand tickets have been donated to local schools. The ice rink also hosted hockey games and will be back next year.
For what concerns the main lawn, the park is now seen as a safe and family friendly Open Space, where various sports take place, from football to tai chi and boxing. The Gardens also see frequent fitness lessons for office workers, mothers and local residents. It would be great if the Gardens had a fitness trail for older people, but we re working on it.
And then of course there is the annual GMFA/RVT Sports Day organised by the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on August Bank Holiday Monday, when noble sports like egg race and tug-of-war are played by many wonderful and colourful teams.This even has always generously raised money for both the Friends and Vauxhall Farm.
Recently The London Petanque Club has been playing their game near the MUGA , they play every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon and the game is open to all . They hold a tournament every first Saturday of each month. For info contact londonpetanque.co.uk and follow them on twitter at @LondonPetanque
Football in the MUGA
The 'Maureen Johnston Memorial Tea Cup' five-a-side tournament teams
Maureen Johnston's mother with the 5-a-side footballers winners of the Tea Cup trophy named in Maureen's honour
Fitness class at lunchtime
Give me a 100 push-ups boys!
The RVT August Sports Day's tug-of-war
The RVT August Sports Day-ers bouncing way
Around the Gardens
Buildings on or around the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Include: