In the late 1600s, Vauxhall was a rustic village on the south bank of the Thames, with a large plot of trees known as Spring Garden, where locals could wander and seek a refreshing break from the squalor and noise of city life.
By the mid 1700s, Jonathan Tyres, a leather tradesman, had transformed the plot into Vauxhall Gardens — an exotic and verdant space for people to enjoy art, music, and dancing. There were numerous pavilions, grottoes, illuminated pathways, and a Grecian-style grove that could accommodate 3,000 people.
During its heyday, in the late Georgian era, the Prince of Wales and the elite of London society were frequent visitors, and a “silver ticket” or season pass cost one guinea – a huge sum in those days.
But Vauxhall Gardens was open to anyone who could pay the regular one-shilling admission, and all could enjoy the music, singers, dancing, sculptures, and fireworks displays. There were over 100,000 visitors every season.
Henry Fielding wrote, “That delicious sweetness of the place; the enchanting charms of music, and the satisfaction which appears in every one’s countenance, carried my soul almost to heaven.” Amelia (1752)
It must have been an enchanting experience, especially at night — to approach Vauxhall Gardens by river boat just before dusk…then to stroll up the romantic Druid’s Walk, or the winding pathways amidst flowering shrubs and arbours of elms and sycamores…listening to bird song mingled with the strains music from the concert band…and then to take one’s seat in a box in the colonnade at the Orchestra, and sup on a cold collation of thin ham, roast chicken, cheeses, claret, and tarts.
By the Regency period, Vauxhall Gardens was no longer frequented by high society. There were too many hidden paths where ladies and gentlemen could wander unchaperoned, and too many common folk to be exclusive. It was still popular, but considered somewhat tawdry.
In the early decades of the 19th century, the property surrounding Vauxhall grew increasingly more valuable for other purposes. Finally, the owners sold the lease to residential developers, and after the “Last Night Forever” on July 25, 1859, Vauxhall Gardens closed.