In Stroke of Genius, my heroine and her family visit Vauxhall, the public pleasure gardens famous for its romantic Dark Walks and intrigueing statuary.
Originally opened in 1661, the early days of the Restoration of the monarchy, the gardens were a return to the country for city dwellers. The alehouse surrounded by gardens was approached by a boat trip across the Thames, which was considered an important part of the experience. Revelers were sailing into a special world as they crossed the water. The entertainments were simple, often by street performers or spontaneous singing and dancing by the visitors themselves. It was popular with families but it was also a place where young men and women could meet informally without many of society's constraints.
Because the gardens were not exclusively for the upper crust, they were an ideal business environment for the working girls of London. Sir Roger de Coverley, who was shamelessly approached by a masked prostitute in 1712, told the proprietress of the alehouse "if there were more Nightingales, and fewer Strumpets" he'd be a better patron of the gardens.
Vauxhall Gardens was open for business for two centuries. By the time, the Makepeace family from STROKE OF GENIUS visits it during the Regency era, the gardens were lit by 15,000 gas lamps by night, had countless pavillions and was accessible by a new bridge across the Thames. Concerts were formal affairs and the supper boxes a premier place to see and be seen.
Admission was originally one shilling, though by the time of the Regency, it was 3 and 6 pence. Season tickets could be purchased for one guinea. Around twenty different patterns of these silver tickets survive, dating between 1737 and the late 1750s. Classical mythological scenes were on one side, with the subscriber's name engraved on the other.
In addition to the price of admission, the owners of the gardens made money selling food. The most famous item on the menu was ham, which was cut so thin that my heroine Grace Makepeace's father complains that he can "read a newspaper through it." Besides cold meats, salad, and cheese, Vauxhall also offered custards, tarts, cheesecakes and other puddings.
My heroine, who's led a pretty sheltered existence, is chiefly interested in seeing "the Dark Walks" (also known as the Druid Walks). This overgrown portion of the garden was known for being a trysting place and the scene of more bachanalian revels. The poet John Keats titled one of his works, "Sonnet to a Lady Seen for a Few Moments at Vauxhall." I doubt those few moments were filled with behavior beyond reproach.
Vauxhall Gardens closed on June 25, 1859 after the property had become increasingly run-down, tawdry and disruptive to the respectable neighborhoods which had grown up around it. The lease was sold and the property divided into hundreds of building sites. However, the garden was not gone forever. During WWII, the site was razed by the Blitz. It is now once again a park and conservation area.
Vauxhall has been featured in lots of books besides my STROKE OF GENIUS. One that comes to my mind is Jo Beverley's SOMETHING WICKED. Can you name a romance with a scene set in the pleasure garden? Or in any garden for that matter? What is it about green, growing things that turns our thoughts to love?