It is July , so time for another of George Cruickshank’s delicious monthly ‘snapshots’ of London life from his London Almanac. This month we have a view of Vauxhall pleasure gardens with the orchestra playing and a female singer at the front of the box, music in hand.
Vauxhall Gardens had been a London institution since at least 1661 when the first mention is in John Evelyn’s Diary for 2nd July of that year. They reached their peak of fashion in the 18th century as a haunt of both the fashionable and of anyone else who could afford the admission. Music, promenading, entertainments, dancing, dining on the famous wafer-thin shaved ham with champagne – and all kinds of naughtiness in the secluded groves – made up the Vauxhall experience, starting with the boat trip across the Thames to the candle-lit gardens.
The undated colour print shows the Gardens in their 18th century elegance and several of the features can be picked out in Cruickshank’s depiction of perhaps fifty or sixty years later. The orchestra stand has changed a little but it is just possible to see the tops of the arcades lining the sides of this part of the grounds.
The company is rather more mixed in this view of the 1830s. In the centre, raising his top hat, is Mr C H Simpson. He became the Master of Ceremonies in 1797 and kept control for thirty eight years. He was a definite “character” and was always dressed in the black knee breeches, stockings and coat and frilled shirt as he is depicted here, carrying his elegant cane. He is greeting the Duke of Wellington, distinguished by his prominent hooked nose and with, predictably a young lady on each arm. A much less fashionably-dressed crowd looks on in wonder at these celebrities, with the prominent figure of, perhaps, a merchant with his wife in the centre. Other sightseers rush to view the scene while a waiter hurries along with a bottle and glasses – perhaps for the victor of Waterloo himself.