London – Public Gardens – 1700s – Ranelagh
The ancient sports and pastimes of the citizens of London have already been noticed. When the more chivalrous, but less refined, of these amusements had passed away, and a love of music and the drama had succeeded, a new species of entertainment sprung up, which, to these attractions, united those of sociability and an indulgence in the pleasures of the table. These were obtained at the public gardens, which, in the early part of the last century, were so numerous in the metropolis. The entertainments usually consisted of music, vocal and instrumental; fire-works and transparencies were displayed, and sometimes burlettas, or other dramatic pieces performed. Of these once popular places of amusement, Vauxhall is the only one that retains its original character, the others having either entirely disappeared, and their sites been occupied with buildings, or they have sunk into common tea-gardens, where the humbler classes of society relax on a Sunday evening in summer, and indulge themselves with a glass of “home-brewed ale,” or their wives and families with a cup of tea.
The most celebrated, and one of the most recent of these gardens was Ranelagh, near Chelsea, once the seat of a nobleman of that name. On his death, in 1733, the estate was sold, and fell into the hands of some speculative gentlemen, who determined on forming it into a place of public amusement, similar to Vauxhall, which had just risen into popularity. In the fitting up the gardens, a magnificent rotunda was erected, a hundred and fifty feet in diameter, in which was an orchestra, with numerous boxes and seats for the audience. The entertainments principally consisted of vocal and instrumental music. The rotunda was opened with a public breakfast, in April 1742, which was followed by a concert. The inhabitants of London are, however, too much occupied to assemble in sufficient numbers for entertainments in the day; and the morning concerts at Ranelagh were soon relinquished for evening amusements. For some years the tide of fashion set strong in favour of Ranelagh, which was one of the most attractive resorts of the gay world; but afterwards ceasing to be popular, the proprietors, in , raised the building to the ground, and sold the materials. The price of admission was half-a-crown.
Mary-la-Bonne Gardens occupied the site of Manchester-square; they were not formed into a place of regular amusement until the year , when Mr. Gough, the proprietor, who had before kept them gratuitously open, charged a shilling to each person, who in return received a ticket, which enabled him to have victuals or liquor to the full amount of the money paid on entering the gardens. Charles Dibdin and Charles Bannister made their debut, when youths, in Mary-la-Bonne Gardens, where very splendid fetes were frequently given, particularly on the birth-day of his late majesty. Fire-works, and a representation of Mount Etna, were among the amusements. A sort of fair was once held in the gardens, which were on that occasion fitted up with numerous shops and booths.
Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery
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