Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Progress Sometimes Isn't

This unlandscaped bit of green space is what now sits on the site of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Who would ever guess that this under-resourced park in a nondescript South London neighborhood (near the Vauxhall train station) once attracted the highest in the land and was painted by great artists like Canaletto? Two hundred  years ago, it looked very different. The Gardens were at their best between 1785 (when admission was first charged) and 1840 (when its owners went bankrupt). New owners reopened the Gardens until 1859.

A musical pageant at Vauxhall Gardens;
c.1840 Watercolour, the British Museum
There were once structures for music, dancing and dining. Trees were hung with Japanese lanterns that were lit at night by means of fuses connecting them, making the lighting an amusing spectacle in its own right. Fireworks provided an exciting finale to the evening's entertainments. Many a historical romance heroine was ruined or nearly ruined along its darkened walks (Katherine Huxtable in Mary Balogh's Then Comes Seduction comes immediately to mind).
You can see some wonderful historical images of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens on this Two Nerdy History Girls' Pinterest board and this terrific blog devoted to Early British & American Public Gardens & Grounds.
Now, no trace remains of its former glory. Perhaps someday the London Borough of Lambeth will at least plant some trees and put up a modest gazebo. I hope the construction activity currently going on has something to do with improvements to the park.

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