London comes alive in the Summer, everywhere you go there is something to do, a festival, a performance, a concert, sport, fireworks. With the creation of the 02 Arena and the London Eye entertainment like this could be considered a modern creation. However, if you visited London 400 years ago you would have seen many of the same sights (just with less tech and advertising). For 400 years ago London was at the height of Pleasure Garden entertainment.
Pleasure Gardens were areas of great entertainment, fayres, outdoor theatre, operas, sports, they had it all. Originally designed for nobility in major cities across Europe, they soon became the jaunt of commoners. By the 1700s many of the gardens were closed and sold off for development as the city expanded, however small remnants of gardens can still be found…
London had 6 pleasure gardens over the years, the largest and most famous of these being the Vauxhall Gardens, Ranelagh, and Marylebone.
Vauxhall Gardens (originally named Spring gardens) was one of the first, stretching out along the Southbank of the Thames it opened in 1661 and remained for 200 years. It was famed for its romantic walks and its stunning central Turkish rotunda (pictured above). In 1769 Handle performed in the gardens attracting crowds of up to 12,000. Today a tiny section of the gardens remain as the unassuming Spring Gardens Park.
Ranelagh Gardens Chelsea was also located on the river. It opened in 1746 attracting a more classy clientele, it also had an impressive rotunda, which Canaletto painted in 1754. It was also famous for its masquerade balls which would go on until 4 am. Fulham football club in its early days used the garden as its home ground. Today the gardens still exist but are far less grand. Some of the ground was given over to the Chelsea Hospital, other parts are used for the annual Chelsea Flower show held last month.
Marylebone Gardens was another of the great pleasure gardens, beginning life in the late 1600s the entrance was via the Rose Tavern pub. The gardens were famed for its sport and recreation, most notably cock fighting and boxing (both male and female participants). It was believed highwayman Dick Turpin was also a regular at the grounds. Today nothing exists of gardens, however the entrance to the Rose Tavern is marked by a beautiful period lamppost on Marylebone High Street.
Want to get a feel of London’s olde worlde Pleasure Gardens, head to this year’s Underbelly Festival on Southbank.