Vauxhall pleasure gardens, on the south bank of the Thames, entertained Londoners and visitors to London for 200 years. From 1729, under the management of Jonathan Tyers, property developer, impresario, patron of the arts, the gardens grew into an extraordinary business, a cradle of modern painting and architecture, and a music venue vital to the careers of Thomas Arne and George Frideric Handel: the Music for the Royal Fireworks was first played here, in a rehearsal attended by up to 12,000 paying customers. A pioneer of mass entertainment, Tyers had to become also a pioneer of mass catering, of outdoor lighting, of advertising, and of all the logistics involved in running one of the most complex and profitable business ventures of the eighteenth century in Britain. In this extraordinary work of historical reconstruction, David Coke and Alan Borg have collected a vast array of information about the gardens and somehow managed to arrange it into a compelling narrative. The book is almost too heavy to pick up, almost impossible to put down. The illustrations, some 300 in all, are sumptuous: not merely inert accompaniments to the story, they are read with a wonderfully careful attention to what they can tell us about the way, year by year, decade by decade, the gardens were changed, in search of the blend of continuity and novelty that was the secret of Tyers’s success in the glory years of Vauxhall.
more from John Barrell at the TLS here.