These Gardens are situated near the Thames, on the south side, in the parish of Lambeth, about two miles from London. They are opened every [p.354] day, except Sunday, at five o'clock in the evening from May till August, each person paying 1s. admittance. You enter by the great gate upon a noble gravel walk about 900 feet in length, planted on each side with very lofty trees, which form a fine vista, terminated by a landscape of the country, a beautiful lawn of meadow ground, and a grand gothic obelisk. At the corners of the obelisk are painted a number of slaves chained...
To the right of this walk, and a few steps within the garden, is a square, which, from the number of trees planted in it, is called the Grove: In the middle of it is a magnificent orchestra of Gothic construction, ornamented with carvings, niches, &c. the dome of which is surmounted with a plume of feathers, the crest of the Prince of Wales. In fine weather, the musical entertainments are performed here. At the upper extremity of this orchestra, a very fine organ is erected, and at the foot of it are the seats and desks for the musicians, placed in a semi-circular form, leaving a vacancy at the front for the vocal performers. The concert is opened with instrumental music, at six o'clock, which having continued about half an hour, the company are entertained with a song; and in this manner several other songs are performed, with sonatas or concertos between each, till the close of the entertainment, which is generally about ten o'clock.
A curious piece of machinery has of late years been exhibited, about nine o'clock, on the inside of one of the hedges, situated in a hollow on the left-hand, about half way up the walk already described, representing a beautiful landscape in perspective, with a miller's house, a water-mill, and a cascade. The exact appearance of water is seen flowing down a declivity; and, turning the wheel of the mill, it rises up in a foam at the bottom, and then glides away.
Behind the orchestra, in the center of the garden, is a Turkish tent, the dome of which is finely carved, and supported by eight columns of the Ionic order; the outward case stands on twelve columns of the Doric: Between these, both within and without, hang very rich festoons of flowers. The outside of the dome is variously embellished, and surmounted by a plume of feathers. From the center within hangs a large glass chandelier, and four smaller ones at each corner. In it are fourteen tables for the accommodation of company.
In that part of the grove which fronts the orchestra, a considerable number of tables and benches are placed for the company; and at a small distance from them (fronting the orchestra) is a large pavillion of the Composite order: it was built for his late Royal Highness Frederic Prince of Wales. The ascent is by a double flight of stone steps, decorated with balustrades. The front is supported by stately pillars, and the entablature finely ornamented in the doric taste. In the cieling are three little domes, with gilt ornaments, from which descend three glass chandeliers. There are put up in it four large paintings, done by Mr Hayman, from the historical plays of Shakespear, which are much admired.
Behind the pavillion is a very handsome square drawing room, built likewise for the late Prince of Wales.
The space between this pavillion and the orchestra may be termed the grand rendezvous of the company, who constantly assemble in this part, if the weather be fine.
The grove is illuminated in the evening with about fifteen hundred glass lamps; in the front of the orchestra they are contrived to form three triumphal arches, and are all lighted as it were in a moment, to the no small surprize of the spectator.
In cold or rainy weather, on account of sheltering the company, the musical performance is in a great room or rotunda, where an elegant orchestra is erected. This rotunda, which is seventy feet in diameter, is on the left side of the entrance into the gardens, nearly opposite to the orchestra. [p.355] Along the front, next the grove, is a piazza, formed by a range of pillars, under which is the entrance from the grove. Within this room, on the left hand, is the orchestra, which is inclosed with a balustrade, and in the cieling is painted Venus and the Loves: The front of this cieling is supported by four columns of the ionic order, embellished with foliage from the base a considerable way upwards, and the remaining part of the shaft, to the capital, is finely wreathed with a gothic balustrade, where boys are represented ascending it. On the sides of the orchestra are painted Corinthian pillars, and between them, in niches, are represented four deities: At the extremity is the organ, and before it are placed the desks for the musical performers. In the center hangs a magnificent chandelier, containing seventy two lamps in three rows, which, when lighted, add greatly to the beauty and splendor of the place.
In the middle of this chandelier is represented in plaister of Paris, the rape of Semele by Jupiter; and round the bottom of it is a number of small looking-glasses curiously set: Above are sixteen white busts of eminent persons, ancient and modern, standing on carved brackets, each between two white vases: a little higher are sixteen oval looking-glasses, ornamented with pencil'd candlesticks, or a two-armed sconce: If the spectator stands in the center, which is under the great chandelier, he may see himself reflected in all these glasses. Above are fourteen sash windows, with elegant frames finely carved, & crowned with a plume of feathers. The top is a dome, slated on the outside, and painted within in the resemblance of a shell. The roof is so contrived that sounds never vibrate under it; and thus the music is heard to the greatest advantage.
This rotunda has lately been enlarged by an additional saloon, which is so joined to the building that the whole makes but one edifice: A part of the rotunda opposite the orchestra is laid open for receiving this saloon, and its entrance here is formed and decorated with columns, like those at the front of the orchestra already described. In the roof, which is arched and elliptic, are two little cupolas, in a peculiar taste; and in the summit of each is a sky light, divided into ten compartments; the frames are in the gothic style; each cupola is adorned with paintings; Apollo, Pan, and the Muses, are in one; and Neptune, with the sea-nymphs, in the other: Both have rich entablatures, and something like a swelling sofa. Above each cupola is an arch, divided into compartments; from the center of each, which is a rich gothic frame, descends a large chandelier, in the form of a basket of flowers. Adjoining to the walls are ten three-quarter columns, for the support of the roof: The architrave consists of a balustrade, the frize is enriched with sportive boys, and the entablature supported by termini.
Between these columns are 4 paintings, by Hayman: The first represents the surrender of Montreal, in Canada, to the British army commanded by General Amherst...
The second represents Britannia holding in her hand a medallion of his present Majesty, and sitting on the right hand of Neptune in his chariot drawn by sea horses, who seem to partake in the triumph for the defeat of the French fleet (represented on the back ground) by Sir Edward Hawke, Nov. 10, 1759. The third represents Lord Clive receiving the homage of the Nabob: and the fourth, Britannia distributing laurels to Lord Granby, Lord Albemarle, Lord Townshend, and the Cols. Monckton, Coote, &c.
The first walk, as far as the great room, is paved with Flanders bricks, or Dutch clinkers, to prevent, in wet weather, the sand or gravel from sticking to the feet of the company. In all other places the grove is bounded by gravel walks, and a considerable number of pavillions or alcoves ornamented with paintings from the designs of Mr Hayman and Mr Hogarth, on subjects adapted to the place; and each pavillion has a table in it, that will hold six or eight persons.
The pavillions continue in a sweep, which leads to a beautiful piazza, and a colonnade 500 feet in length, in the form of a semi-circle of gothic architecture, embellished with rays. The entablature consists of a carved frize, with battlements or embrazures over the cornice. In this semi-circle of pavillions are three large ones, called Temples; one in the middle, and the others at each end, adorned with a dome, a pediment, and a beautiful turret at the top; but the two latter are now converted into portals, one as an entrance into the great room, and the other as a passage to view the [p.354] cascade, which are directly opposite to each other: however, the middle temple is still a place for the reception of company, and is decorated with a piece of painting in the Chinese taste, representing Vulcan catching Mars and Venus in a net. This temple is adorned in front with wreathed columns, and other gothic ornaments. On each side of this temple the adjoining pavillion is decorated with a painting; that on the right represents the entrance into Vaux-hall, with a gentleman and lady coming to it; and that on the left, Friendship on the grass drinking. This semi circle leads to a sweep of pavillions that terminate in the great walk.
Proceeding forward, we see another range of pavillions in a different style, adorned with paintings forming another side of the quadrangle, with a grand portico in the center, and a marble statue underneath.
Next is a piazza of five arches, which open into a semi-circle of pavillions, with a temple and dome at each end, and the space in front decorated with trees. In the middle of the piazza, which preserves the line and boundary of the grove, is a grand portico of the doric order; and under the arch, on a pedestal, is a beautiful marble statue of the famous Mr Handel, in character of Orpheus, playing on his lyre, done by the celebrated Roubiliac.
In the pediment above is represented St Cecilia, the Goddess of Musick, playing on the violoncello, which is supported by a Cupid, while another holds before her a piece of musick.
Here ends the boundary of the grove on this side; but, turning on the left, we come to a walk that runs along the bottom of the gardens: On each side of this walk are pavillions, and those on the left hand are decorated with paintings.
On the opposite side is a row of pavillions, with a gothic railing in the front of them; and at the extremity of this walk is another entrance into the gardens from the road. At the other end of the walk, adjoining to the Prince's pavillion, is a small semi-circle of pavillions, defended in front by a gothic railing, and ornamented in the center, and at each end, with gothic temples; in both the latter are fine glass chandeliers and lamps; the former is ornamented in front with a portico, and the top with a gothic tower, and a handsome turret.
From the upper end of the walk last described, a long narrow vista runs to the top of the garden; this is called the Druid's, or Lover's Walk, and on both sides of it are rows of lofty trees, which, meeting at the top, form a canopy. This walk in the evening is dark, which renders it more agreeable to those who love to listen to the distant music in the orchestra, & view the lamps glittering thro' the trees.
From the statue of Handel, up the garden, appears a noble vista, which is called the grand south walk, of the same size as that seen at our first entrance, and running parallel with it. It is adorned by three triumphal arches; the prospect is terminated by a large painting of the ruins of Palmyra, which has deceived many strangers, and induced them, at first sight, to imagine they really saw a pile of ruins at some distance.
Near the center of the garden, is a cross gravel walk, formed by stately trees on each side. On the right hand it is terminated by the trees which shade the lover's walk, and at the extremity on the left, is a beautiful landscape painting of ruins and running water. -------- From our situation to view this painting is another gravel walk, that leads up the garden, formed on the right by a wilderness, and on the left by rural downs, in the form of a long square, fenced by a net; with several little eminences in it, after the manner of a Roman camp. The downs are covered with turf, and interspersed with cypress, fir, yew, cedar and tulip trees. On one of the eminences is a statue of Milton, nearly surrounded with bushes, and seated on a rock, in a listening posture.
At the upper end of these downs is a gravel walk, formed on each side by lofty trees, which runs across the gardens, and terminates them this way.
In this walk is a beautiful prospect of a fine meadow, in which the obelisk stands: This prospect is made by the trees being opposite the grand walk (which runs from the entrance into the gardens) and a ha ha is formed in the ditch, to prevent the company going into the field. At each end of this walk is a beautiful painting; one is a building, with a scaffold and ladder before it, which has often deceived the eye; the other is a view in a Chinese garden.
The principal part of these walks forms the boundaries of wildernesses, composed of trees, which shoot to a great height, and are all inclosed and espalier, in the Chinese taste.
Gentleman's Magazine XXXV August 1765, p 353-356
William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English artist, pictorial satirist, and social critic who probably conferred with Vauxhall Gardens owner Jonathan Tyers about using contemporary visual art in his garden decorations.
Theatrical scene painter Francis Hayman (1708-1776). Hayman became Tyers's artistic director for more than 2 decades, designing painted decorations for each of the 50 or more "supper-boxes" created within the colonnades that bordered the Grove, and producing at least 8 large oil paintings to decorate 2 of Tyers's main buildings – 4 Shakespearean scenes in the Prince's Pavilion, and 4 huge canvases of British victories in the Seven Years' War in the Pillared Saloon. All of these paintings were intended to show aspects of the British way of life – its rural games, its theater and literature, its urban amusements, its traditions, and its military prowess. Many of the paintings, also carried a concealed moral message.