Another epiphany

It dawned on me today that reading David Coke’s beautfiul coffee table style book on the history of the Vauxhall Gardens has solidifed a very abstract idea for me.  Well not an idea more of a skill – a thinking skill.  I mean the ability to read an old document or source and discover things other than what the text actually says.

Coke’s book is written using the same archives that I researched in London and as I have been reading the light globe has gone on several times.  I have recalled reading a particular passage or fact or reference that Coke uses in his book and can see how he has drawn the conclusions that he has.

This mightn’t seem like that big a deal but for an apprentice Historian this is epic!


Is it all just fun?

Several of my friends just can’t believe that I get to play in Second Life for Uni and on the surface it probably looks like its all fun and games, so far I have been laughing off their incredulity but it does beg the question – what educational value does Second Life have for me?  Instinctively I know that it has increased the speed in which I have grasped a way of life from 3 centuries past but how?

Firstly, being a very visual media it suits me – I am a visual learner.  My method of study is to make a diagram out of everything; then it’s in my head for ever, so the process of mapping out the gardens has set it in stone in my brain – not just aesthetically but in a mechanical or logisitcal sense also.  There are reasons behind why buildings and structures are located where they are and these decisions where dictated by various facets of 18thC life; from the technology of the time to social mores all wrapped up in Enlightenment ideals.

The project has also made me more observant and better at scrutinising visual evidence. Looking for suitable textures or details when creating reproductions has made me notice things that I probably wouldn’t have before.  For example the types of table and benches in the supper boxes and that they used table cloths.  That much of the gardens was facade; a visual deception  made with painted canvas and board – in a similar way that I have built my gardens.  Some is just facade and some is interactive.

Making some parts interactive have also made me think about the mechanics or logistics of running the gardens.  How did they keep so many people entertained, occupied or happy?  How did they deal with the English weather?  Lots to think about.

And finally even the technology of SL itself  has helped. When you buy a parcel of land in SL you are allowed a certain amount of objects called prims.  If you want more prims you must pay more, so keeping prims down is crucial when building a large project.  Each thing you create is made of of shapes – prims- the more detailed you make it, the more prims you use.  Its just like juggling a word count in an assignment.  Making decisions about what is important to the project and allowing mulitple prims or what can be facaded – mentioned or represented but not explored in detail.

The Princes Pavillion - reproduction


Texture from engraving Front entrance to the gardens 1751


Back to the Gardens

After a break from SecondLife it’s wonderful to be back in world.  I must admit that at first the idea of creating such a large piece of 18th century London was a little daunting; so I did the “Zen” thing and put it out of my mind.  Worked like a charm, always does.  It came to me suddenly as the Zen thing is supposed to do – create the big picture first then worry about the detail.

First step was to place large general shapes to layout the walks, buildings and boundaries, I call this the “Cubist” phase after the great Cubist painters of the early 20th Century.  It was easy then to just start working on a section at a time.  Which lead me to the next issue…

Nothing remains of the Gardens and there are only 2 photos in existance taken in the 19th Century when the VG was in decline and had certainly been Victorianised.  So what did everything look like?  The answer lay in the numerous engravings that were published in the 18th C.  Printing flourished in this period and the technology to mass print engravings (often reproductions of paintings) meant that multiple images remain from across the century.  So brain wave number 2:  I will use the engravings as textures where possible and combine them with reproductions where not.

So to honour this momentous occassion of breaking ground I had to buy some new outfits, here’s me in my Peacock Queen getup:

Aerial shot of the Gardens so far:

Close up of some of the Supper boxes:




Dr Who, Shakespeare and the Vauxhall Gardens

Off to Belgium via the Eurostar in a couple of days but first a romantic dinner with my husband at Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridges.  We are staying in a beautiful Edwardian hotel in Bloomsbury and I must admit whilst the student accommodation has been great (especially for the price) I am tired of queing for the bathroom.

My investigations here have been a combination of archival research, immersion in place and strangely enough television!  As there is no TV in my room I have been watching the BBC on my laptop and have had access to the plethora of historical documentaries that they make – absolutely brilliant!  They ranged from Dr Lucy Worsley’s series about domestic rooms through to Dan Cruickshank’s lost country homes; all adding to my knowledge and understanding of 18th century society.

I am formulating an  idea about Vauxhall, it came to me watching Much Ado About Nothing starring the most gorgeous David Tenannt (The best Dr Who ever!!!!) and the wonderful Catherine Tait (one of the Doctor’s companions) and it comes from one of Shakespeare’s lines: “All the world’s a stage”.  It’s from a different play but hearing all that wonderful Shakespearian dialogue made it pop into my  head.  And there is an excellent episode of Dr Who where the Doctor and Martha (another companion) visit Shakespeare and the Doctor says: “all the world’s a stage” and Shakespeare quickly replies; “Oo I might use that.”

Looking into the line a bit more Shakespeare uses this quote as a metaphore for life and the seven stages or ages of man:  infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and second childhood.  I think the Gardens could be examined in the same way.  It occurs to me that the Vauxhall Gardens were a stage perhaps reflecting each phase of of the birth of Modernity.

Will keep you posted.


The Vauxhall Affray of 2011

My latest expedition was to the amazing Victoria & Albert  Museum – one of my favourite places on Earth.  They had a large exhibition on the Gardens in 2008 and still have a small corner in the 18th century section dedicated to all pleasure gardens and Vauxhall in particular.  Handel’s statue, the bust of Jonathan Tyres and three of Hayman’s paintings are on display.

After wondering around the V&A  I thought I should go to Vauxhall to see what was left if anything.  So I headed south of the Thames and alighted at Vauxhall tube station – what is left is called the Spring Gardens -the original name – and is on a busy intersection of bridge, railway and tube stations and road.  But I only stayed about 1 minute; as there was some kind of fracas going on with people who looked like soccer hooligans being arrested all around me!

Maybe things haven’t changed that much!  There were many fracas’ and affrays documented, commented upon and scrutinised during the 18th Century but they all involved Gentlemen, insults and appointments for duels not soccer hooligans but then again maybe the Macaroni where the seeds of discontented youth in the 18th century.

Anyway I won’t being there again.

London Museum

Had a wonderful trip to the archive at the London Museum.  Sally Brooks the Librarian was so helpful delivering the four large volumes of documents concerning the Vauxhall Gardens.  Much of it was the same as the British Library and the Lambeth Archive but what they do have is an amazing volume filled with prints from engravings – many I have never seen before; views of the gardens and the people who frequented them.

It struck me looking through the volume of play bills that from around 1825 (not the 1840s) and the gardens are no longer under any influence from the Tyres family there is a change in the feel of the entertainment.  It is like they had to keep uping the anti to keep people coming – the entertainments become more and more like circus performers and freak shows.

Even the actual advertising changes; from rather discreet public announcements in the press inviting all to partake of the festivities, to large and increasingly gawdy bills that would have been posted all around London.  And it certainly seems that Royalty and the nobility attend less – in fact it appears they only attend when an event is actually held in their honour or for their benefit.  The press of their attendance goes from an after the fact report in the papers to advertisements heralding their attendance and for all to along.

Sound familiar?  It appears like most popular culture the Gardens had to be at the fore front of mass entertainment to keep the “bums on seats” and in the end may have been its undoing.

Lost in Lambeth

It would be easier to follow google map instructions if the streets had signs, thankfully a lovely local lady pointed me in the right direction but not after walking around and around.  I headed off to Lambeth today to view another archive of old Vauxhall Gardens documents.

This archive consisted of a set of newspaper cuttings and a bound volume of the playbills for the Gardens.  Fortunately it had a different set of cutting in particular several who speak directly about the crowds.  The British Magazine whose writer calls
himself “The Visitor” talks of “… people of all ranks.” and later “not while
every cook, maid and barber’s apprentice were gaping and staring at them.”

What does become evident is that as the century ages the makeup of the crowd tips from being mainly the upper classes with the few of the middling and lower that can afford the entrance fee to more middling and lower.  In 1787 the Morning Chronicle talks about the crowd being large rather than splendid.  The way in which the crowd is referenced changes to the “first rank” and then “first rank and fashionables” and by 1800 it is mainly the “fashionables”.

It appears the upper classes become bored or tired with such amusements.  Which leads me to the amusements; at the start of Tyers rule the entertainments are eating, drinking, dancing, music and most importantly seeing and being seen.  By the 1840s the list of entertainments has grown to include all kinds of diversions and in particular foreign diversions.  The peak of the empire demands that entertainments must be from far off places – exotic, perhaps unobtainable. All of which are about the crowd being entertained by some external force.  The upper classes only appear to attend when the whole event is either in their honour or someone close to them.

There is a theory that the gardens were about voyeurism and auto voyeurism – watching and being watched.  Another theory saws it is because the court of the Georges is just
boring and the aristocracy wanted a diversion.  I think its both but in the end it becomes a chore or duty to appear for the lesser classes.  And like any addiction, the lesser classes need more and more to appease them.

Tomorrow is photograph day,  need some shots to build the Gardens in SL and I have seen a couple of vistas in Hyde Park that should do nicely.  Plus Blackstone (from SL) would like some brick textuers.  So I will be the strange one taking photos of bricks.

Attitude adjustment

After my trips to the British Library I have been pondering how to assess the social interaction of the different classes and as I mentioned in the last post I was afraid it would be omissions that would end up more relevant than what was documented.  Of course studying omissions can only lead the suppositions and not conclusions.

There is a definite trend in the writings published over the 18th century.  At the start of the century the writers are more columnists – they are about gossip and who is doing what to who and where and when.  as the century draws on there is a growing news journalism style evolving.  The articles become more about facts and figures rather than social comment and actually become less informative for my purposes.

I read a piece printed in The Connoisseur where the writer talks about the crowd on a particular evening; “The groups of figures, varying in age, dress, attitudes and company…”  age, dress and company is quite straight forward but attitudes.  Mmmm.  Then the light globe called epiphany switched on; the use of language.  What was meant by attitude in the 18th century, why is it used in this manner to define a group of people.  Is it a euphemism for class?

I don’t know at this stage but when I get back home I will investigate the etymology of the word.

It’s still raining

I have become a supreme tuber!  Not the vegetable kind or the musical instrument either but a master of the underground or the tube.  What a fabulous system – Australia has nothing like it.  I love that I can get to most parts of London within such a short space of time and with realitve ease, although the number of people does still over whelm me at times.  Must have something to do with personal space – something us Aussies (especially WA ones) need a lot of!

Made my first trip to the British Library today to start my Vauxhall Gardens research.  What an amazing place. I spent 5 hours reading through the Jacob Burn collection of documents dating from 1646 through to 1859.  I can’t believe they actually let you touch them.  Again I think it is an Aussie thing – we don’t have that many old things and we certainly don’t have written records that span such a gulf of time.  I love London!

So what did I discover today; my focus has been to see what evidence (if any) there is to explain how the social classes mixed at this prominent pleasure garden, as most popular culture events were either exclusively for one class or another, even if different classes did attend an event together – like going to the the theatre – they were separated.  So how and why?  I am already suspecting that it won’t be what’s recorded but rather what’s not recorded – the omissions that  will give clues to class interaction.  So how can I read omissions?  Mmmmm.  Something to ponder.

Guess what – its raining

I love travelling but Perth is just so far away from everything; I was completely shattered by the time I got to my digs in Notting Hill.  Besides being shattered I am freezing – although it is summer here London its actaully colder than Perth at this moment.  I think the three pairs of shorts I packed was a bit ambitious.

I’m staying in a beautiful street filled with Victorian era town houses  – student accommodation that comprises of three townhouses joined together with many small rooms.  The more I walk around this area the more I realise that much of this Victorian image of money and position was somewhat a facade.  Whilst the houses look grand from the street they are deceptively narrow, not very deep and only faced with the beautiful white stone that adorns the street front the rest of the building is in London brick.  Those that are private residences (many appear to be either small hotels or hostels) are often divided into apartments.

Another thing that struck me is the sameness.  Whilst it makes for an imposing sight, these grand facades that we appreciate from another century, it is exactly what offends me with modern suburb landscapes – their sameness and the lack of individuality.  Yet it doesn’t deter from the architecture and maybe that is exactly the answer – the nature of sound architecture allows for repetiton in a way that modern suburb architecture doesn’t.

I will keep walking the streets and reporting but right now my feet hurt.