still kneeling, hands clasped upon the chair at his
morning devotions ; the restless brain released at
length from the long burthen of its self-appointed
task, and the poor tired body freed from the frailty
of the flesh and the haunting terror of the mad-
house ; swiftly and mercifully taken, without illness
or decay, "in God's time, which is the best time.
Here all the Loves and all the Graces smile.
E'en pedant Learning smoothes her wrinkled brow,
E'en Johnson strains his neck and tries to bow.
. . . Meanwhile in Ranelagh behold a Fane
Which even the Thunderer might not disdain.
Here, night by night, thy Priests in mystic round
With weary footsteps print the hallow'd ground.
All ranks revolving in their several spheres,
Kings, Nobles, Commoners, and Irish Peers.
. . . And now no single fools for notice call,
For see that groupe, the epitome of all !
They first explained immortal Chatham's thesis,
" The more we owe, the more our wealth increases."
Compress the waist, the hips and breast extend
Till, like the hour-glass, swoll'n at either end,
The emblematic fair appears to chide
Our waste of time and minutes misapplied.
To them, sole arbiters of taste and wit,
Cooks, Antiquarians, Taylors, Bards submit.
— From "Ranelagh, A Poem," 1777.
When I read about Ranelagh, I am always a little
surprised that its vogue should have lasted, as it
did, for over half a century.^
1 Mr. Warwick Wroth, in his interesting account of the
" London Pleasure Gardens," says " more than a hundred and
84 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
It was out of the town, and approached by a
road notoriously unsafe, for which the proprietors
had to maintain a nightly " Horse Patrole."
Apart from the Rotunda, its inherent attractions
were few, and its Gardens very formal and not
very extensive. It was a fashionable and indeed
made some efforts to be an exclusive resort ; and
one imagines fashion as essentially transient and
fickle. Yet it survived, season after season, with
varying fortunes but with considerable vitality, to
the end of the eighteenth century ; and was the
scene of at least two bright entertainments in the
nineteenth, before its portals were finally closed
on 8th July, 1803. Such a record, in those days,
when London was a much more definite city, when
artificial light was primitive, moving about difficult
and unsafe, and spectacular amusement limited in
many ways, gives a special interest to the story of
the Pleasure Gardens round London in general,
and of Ranelagh, for me, in particular.
Descriptions of the place, more or less detailed
and more or less flamboyant, are to be found in
almost all the eighteenth century guides and sur-
veys of London and its environs ; one of the most
circumstantial, perhaps, being in " The Ambulator
sixty years," but this is obviously a mistake. The Rotunda
was built in 1741, and the place' was^closed in 1803, having
been little visited during the previous ten years.
■ I i '"!'"'*■■ •'■3 ?. '-•'■ «» i ,
RANELAGH NIGHTS 85
or the Stranger's Companion in a Tour Round
Views of the Gardens, of the Exterior and In-
terior of the Rotunda, of the Chinese House on
the Canal and of the Company at Breakfast or
Masquerade, are also plentiful, both plain and (all
too gorgeously) coloured. Horace Walpole, Fanny
Burney, Smollett, and other contemporaries have
recorded or epitomised some of the great evenings
at Ranelagh. The picture of the place, indeed, has
been left to us in fullest outline by the pen and
pencil of those who had often visited and could
well depict and describe it ; but eighteenth century
prints and documents, less readily available, add
many details and characteristic touches which help
to fill in the canvas with movement, colour, and
reality ; and some of these it may be worth while
to string together here by way of completing the
delineament of a very famous place of pleasure.
With John Rocque's great Plan of London and
Westminster in front of one the position of the
Gardens is exactly located, and it seems clear that
the only carriage road from town to Ranelagh, in
1 76 1, was that which branched off from the main
road to Pimlico from Hyde Park Corner, a little
below the King's Private Road. This carriage way,
with a hedge on one side and a bank and ditch on
the other, traversed the Five Fields, that notorious
86 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
haunt of footpads and highwaymen, about on the
line of the present Ebury Street, and proceeded
by Five Fields Row and Jews Row to Chelsea
Hospital, whence the river-side and Cheyne Walk
were reached by Paradise Row. At Jews Row,
an avenue leading off on the left, called Wilderness
Row, brought you to the entrance to Ranelagh
House, built for himself about 1690, by Lord
Ranelagh, Paymaster-General of the Forces, con-
veniently close to the veteran's great hospital,
where his offices were. It must have been a
charming house, "not large but very convenient,"
all the rooms wainscoted with Norway oak, all the
chimneys adorned with carvings, and the staircase
with paintings by Noble. It was here that in
August, 1 715, Lord Ranelagh s daughter, Lady
^ Catherine Jones, entertained George I. and a very
distinguished river party, for whom Handel, with
an orchestra of fifty in one of the City barges,
conducted his exquisite "Water Music."
Apparently the upkeep, lighting, and protection
of the Five Fields Road were left to the proprietors
of Ranelagh ; and one may gather from the frequent
mention in their advertisements of the Horse
Patrole, the additional lamps provided, the repair
of the road, etc., that getting to and from Ranelagh
was occasionally an uncomfortable and rather risky
undertaking ; whilst owing to the crowd of coaches
and chairs, delays and dust were plentiful.
RANELAGH NIGHTS 87
In later years, and in fine weather, the approach
by barge or wherry to Ranelagh steps at the
bottom of the Gardens, must have been infinitely
pleasanter, and was largely made use of ; and the
more so, perhaps, as the Patrole itself appears, on
occasion, to have been much more liberal in its
potations than was in accord with good guidance.
The road-entrance was through Ranelagh House,
and down some steps into the Garden ; but for
wet weather a covered corridor was constructed
from the house to the Rotunda portico, which
could thus be reached, dry shod.
Admission prices varied from a shilling, during
the day-time, to two guineas for the masquerade
tickets ; but the usual charge was half a crown,
which included tea or coffee, rolls and butter ; and
on ordinary nights these seem to have been the
only refreshment available.
The Rotunda has been compared to the Pantheon
at Rome, the Albert Hall, and the British Museum
Reading Room ; but what, of course, differentiated
it from any of these was the great central octagonal
group of the roof-supporting columns, in which the
orchestra was at first housed, but which was after-
wards converted into a huge four-faced fireplace — a
very welcome institution for wet and chilly evenings,
or at the Ranelagh Breakfasts, when, in early spring,
" a hot blazing red cloth bench by the fire " was
the coveted place.
88 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
Entering from the dimly lighted corridor, one
can imagine that the first glimpse of the Rotunda
was memorable, on one of its gala nights. Lighted
by a thousand wax candles suspended in bell
chandeliers from the ceiling, warmed by the mighty
central brazier, echoing to the music of Festing's
orchestra, or the noisier interludes of the " Horns
and Drums," the great circular area bore its
revolving crowd of gay humanity, swishing end-
lessly to and fro over the rush-matted floor, and
surrounded by groups and festive supper parties
filling the fifty-two encircling boxes — each of
which had its door giving direct access to the
Gardens — perhaps even overflowing into the cor-
responding tier above, which was reached by stair-
ways from the four porticoes.
In these great pillared entrances the flower girls
used to congregate and proffer to the gentlemen
" a gift for your fair " ; and some one has recounted
the consternation of a wealthy but not extravagant
Nabob, who, arriving with some ladies, gave a girl
sixpence for three roses, and was greeted by " God
bless your honour, they are half a crown a piece at
this season ! "
Refreshments obtainable in the Rotunda varied
according to the scale of the evening's entertain-
ment. Tea and coffee, rolls and butter were always
procurable, and were, I think, as a rule included in
the price of the admission ticket ; whilst on more
RANELAGH NIGHTS 89
ceremonious occasions according to the advertise-
ments : " The Company are desired to come early.
The doors will be opened at six. The Amphitheatre
will be lighted with Wax. There will be Horse
Patrole and additional Lights on the Road. The
best French and other Wines with variety of Sweet-
meats are provided for the Sideboard and Beaufets,
which will be opened at eleven and shut up at two."
The concerts at Ranelagh, with a garden prom-
enade to the accompaniment of horns and clarinets
" between the Acts," were the standing entertain-
ment of the place. In the earlier years they took
place at noon, in conjunction with public breakfast-
ings ; but these were prohibited by the magistrates
as tending to seduce the city apprentices from their
counting houses ; and the evening hours of 6.30 or
7 o'clock thereafter adopted.
The elegant and vivacious Dr. Burney, who did
not himself disdain to take the post of organist at
Ranelagh, speaks of Festing as a popular and suc-
cessful conductor, though himself a poor musician,
and mentions Caporale the cellist and other leaders
of the orchestra.
Arne's pastoral, *' Acis and Galatea," and Thorn-
ton's burlesque, " Ode on St. Cecilia's Day," a skit on
certain foreign music, which won Dr. Johnson's ap-
proval, were given at special performances ; Handel
composed music for the fireworks ; Mozart, at the
age of eight, played his own compositions here on
90 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
harpsichord and organ ; and " Comus' Court," the
" Ephesian Matron," and the " Recruiting Sergeant "
were popular performances. Tenducci, Dibdin, and
Beard were among the principal singers ; and we
find many of Mr. Beard's favourite Ranelagh bal-
lads printed, with their music, in the " Gentleman's
Magazine," and other periodicals; "Fair Hebe,"
•' Hobbinol," " Maiden of Twenty," " Sing Tanta-
rarara. Masks all," and similarly appropriate ditties,
which had been "received with great applause."
I had always regarded the industrious author of
the " History of Music," Fanny Burney's father, as a
respected and amiable professor, and the composer
of some esteemed Church Music, who sold his
daughter to Queen Charlotte for ;^2oo a year ; and
I confess it was with something of a shock that I
discovered him orchestrating the burlesque Ode for
" the salt-box, marrow bones, cleavers, hum-strum,
hurdy-gurdy " and other obscure and unusual in-
struments ; but Mr. Beard made a great success
of the salt-box song ; " while Skeggs played on
the broomstick as bassoon," thus adding to the
gaiety of nations and even diverting Samuel John-
son, for whom Ranelagh provided " an expansion
and gay sensation never experienced anywhere
So far it must be conceded that our entertain-
ment is, at least, harmless enough ; and indeed
Ranelagh, on its programme, never presented any-
RANELAGH NIGHTS 91
thing which could have alarmed an Evelina ; who,
indeed, voted it dull.
But Fashion having adopted the place as her pet
resort, it became necessary for her votaries as well
as her leaders to see and be seen there ; and it was
hardly to be supposed that the young bucks and
bloods of the day would be indefinitely satisfied
with Mr. Beard's romantic ballads, or even with
orchestral antics upon the salt-box and the hum-
strum. Their high spirits were irrepressible, and
found vent in ogling the ladies, in poking their in-
quisitive noses under every bonnet, and in chaffing
the worthy citizens, whose wives insisted on their
wearing swords, but who did not know how to
carry them in a crowd.
I was reading Lord Monson's memoir of George
Elers the other day, and came across a typical
Ranelagh incident, recorded by Elers of a military
friend who was evidently eighteenth century " hot
stuff," to use appropriate twentieth century diction.
Aston, he tells us, was walking one evening in the
Rotunda with some men of fashion, when they met
FitzGerald, whose accent and queer, unfashionable
appearance caught the mischievous eye of Aston.
The latter bowed low to him each time they met,
inquiring with much solicitude how he left all his
friends in Ireland. The Irishman, nonplussed,
stopped and stared, declaring upon his conscience
that he had never set eyes on this gentleman
92 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
before ; upon which his companions enlightened him
that he was being quizzed by Harvey Aston.
FitzGerald, naturally enraged, became "saucy,"
and showed fight ; whereupon Aston gave him a
most dreadful beating, and finally held him aloft
towards the lights for inspection, and remarked
that "he would do." The big Irishman of course
called him out ; and in the ensuing duel shot Aston
through both cheeks, carrying away one of his
double teeth ; upon which he facetiously observed
that "now he would do."
Another unrehearsed episode occurred on the
evening of 6th May, 1752, and was the subject of
two clever cartoons, "A Night Scene at Rane-
lagh " and " Le Malade Imaginaire," which adorn
my Chelsea portfolio. That prolific charlatan, Dr.
John Hill, who was inclined to call himself Sir
John — the clever quack who attacked Fielding,
Garrick, and others, and was the subject of Chris-
topher Stuart's "Hilliad" — underwent a caning
in the Rotunda at the hands of another Irishman
named Brown whom he afterwards sued for
damages. The eminent physicians called in ap-
pear to have been unable to discover any damages,
save possibly to his professional reputation, if he
had any ; which Garrick's epigram would incline
us to doubt : —
For physic and farces his equal there scarce is,
His farces are physic, his physic a farce is.
\ 1 (. IIT Si KN'K.ii li \M:LA(i|| .m \VriIii..r«lnv 6* of May 1752
/-■/ ,>r V //• -.v-J // y-r/r^
<./i - v trfciprd /f. v., .
ea/racr jrrfji f/t£- Cmcut Oflrdru Journal. , .A^Mf^^.^'r^-^"
h"^'M„ B^ « *» 4:^j//i/^yA- i;tt/./n .• . 'ii'i^iA/^fu*!f A/y.-^atf^ttM t-^f'^^ijttvue /rt; v/B(/y yi<^ J/^re/^ .
A NIGHT SCENE AT RANELAGH.
Sir John Hill caned.
RANELAGH NIGHTS 93
Horace Walpole, who was of course a frequent
visitor, writes from Chelsea in July, 1742: "I
carried Sir Robert the other night to Ranelagh
for the first time — my uncle's prudence or fear
would never let him go before. It was pretty
full, and all its fulness flocked round us ; we
walked with a train at our heels like two chair-
men going to fight, but they were extremely civil
and did not say the least impertinence. I think
he grows popular already."
Apart from occasional and unexpected little in-
cidents such as these, or a lively fracas among the
flunkeys and gentlemen's gentlemen who hung
about the porticoes (till a separate " amphitheatre "
was allotted for their use), it is to be confessed that
ordinary Ranelagh nights were inclined to be dull,
and that a good many of its visitors, besides Evelina
and Captain Mir van, had the temerity to say so.
We English, I suppose, entertain ourselves, as
the Scots are said to joke, " wi' deeficulty ". Cli-
mate, British phlegm, abhorrence of abandon, class
intolerance, innate objection to making fools of
ourselves, except in liquor, obstinate reluctance to
letting ourselves go — all these things are apt to
dash the success of alfresco amusement ; and the
roofed Rotunda, intended to obviate some at least
of our insular drawbacks, was voted too hot or too
cold, too stuffy or too round, and only served to
" put the lid on " its patrons' boredom.
94 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
Foreign visitors, of course, were relentlessly
dragged to these celebrated Pleasure Gardens, to
be shown how gay and frolicsome we British could
be ; and they have not failed to render faithful
account — when they had politely suppressed their
Monsieur Monnet, writing in 1749, says, for in-
stance : " Renelagh, Vauxhall, Maribone; on s'en-
nuie dans le premier avec de la mauvaise musique,
du the et du beurre ; dans le second on s'enrhume ;
dans le dernier on s'enivre et on s'endoit."
Others made unkind references to " the eternal
circle, following one another's tails like asses in a
mill " ; to Dante's purgatory ; to the Bread and
Butter Manufactory ; to the hot water called tea,
and the scarcity of an advertised supper.
But here I may as well transcribe from another
French contemporary chronicler, an impression that
has at least made an effort to be honestly apprecia-
tive, though it ends upon a note of rather chilly
candour : —
" We had no sooner quitted the Park but we
found ourselves in a road full of people, illuminated
with lamps on each side. The Dust was the only
inconvenience, but in half an hour we found our-
selves at a Gate where Money was demanded, and
paid, for our admittance ; and immediately my eyes
were struck with a large building of an orbicular
figure, with a row of windows round the attic story.
RANELAGH NIGHTS 95
through which it seemed to be liberally illuminated
within ; and altogether presented to the eye such
an imagfe as a man of a whimsical imatrination would
not scruple to call a Giant's Lanthorn.
" Into this enchanted Place we entered with more
haste than ceremony ; and at the first glance I, for
my part, found myself dumb with surprize and
astonishment, in the middle of a vast Amphi-
theatre ; for structure Roman, for decorations of
paint and gildings, gay as the Asiatic ; four grand
portals in the manner of the ancient arches, and
four times twelve boxes in a double row, with
suitable pilasters between, form the whole interior
of this wonderful fabrick ; save that, in the middle
a magnificent Orchestre arises to the roof; from
which depend several large branches which contain
a great number of candles, enclosed in chrystal
glasses at once to light and adorn this spacious
*' Groupes of well-dressed persons were dispersed
in the boxes ; numbers covered the area ; all
manner of refreshments were within call ; and
Music of all kinds echoed, tho' not intelligibly,
from every one of those elegant retreats, whither
Pleasure seemed to beckon her wanton fol-
lowers. . . ,
" I have acknowledged myself charm'd at my
entrance ; you will wonder therefore when I tell you
that satiety followed ; in five minutes I was familiar
96 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
with the whole and every part, in the five next, in-
difference took place, in five more my eyes grew
dazzled, my head grew giddy, and all night I
dreamed of Vanity Fair."
And that little note of unsatisfied expectation,
bordering on boredom, is audible again and again
in the rather perfunctory gaiety of the records of
Ranelagh. Cremorne Gardens — Chelsea's nine-
teenth century effort in the same direction — never
aspired to be fashionable in the Ranelean sense.
It was a much more vulgar resort, and in conse-
quence, at its best, much jollier.
There would seem to have been a certain amount
of more or less impromptu dancing during the
regular Ranelagh evenings. So, at least, one
gathers from the following reminiscences of the
Gardens included by Robert Gleig, the chaplain of
the Royal Hospital and author of " The Subaltern,"
in his book on the " Traditions of Chelsea Col-
" An evening at Ranelagh was accounted by the
noblest and the fairest of England's sons and daugh-
ters one of the most agreeable interludes in a life,
whether of business or pleasure. . . . Drawn round
a stack of solid chimneys, which formed a centre to
the pile, and in some degree supported it, the
Rotunda was distributed internally, into two circles,
both of them filled up with boxes, on either side of
a broad avenue ; and both exhibiting, at measured
RANELAGH NIGHTS 97
intervals, their orchestras for the accommodation of
musicians ; for music and dancing were the sports
of the hour, of which the latter was pursued exclus-
ively within an open space round which the inner
circle ran ; where, gazed at by crowds of well-
dressed people of all ranks, the beau and belle of
their day showed off their graceful figures in a
minuet. Meanwhile, serenaded by a dozen bands,
groups of pedestrians promenaded round and round
each charmed ring till the sound of a bell gave
notice that some favourite singer was about to per-
form ; or weariness, or the recognition of friends in
one of the side boxes, drew them away to some
new and more agreeable occupation. Neither were
such as preferred the cool airs of heaven to the
heated atmosphere of the Rotunda without their
resources. From the branches of the trees that
shaded every walk, festoons of coloured lamps hung
down ; and beneath their canopy, bright eyes made
answer to the tale which is seldom told with more
effect than in the intervals of music and danc-
" The hour of assembly was from eight to nine
o'clock, that of departure about eleven or twelve,
while land and water alike furnished a highway to
such as made ' Pleasure's Temple ' their point of
attraction. They, whose habits induced them to
adhere to the solid earth, passed from Piccadilly or
St. James' Park through open fields, and were set
98 THE WONDERFUL VILLAGE
down, opposite to the Chelsea Bun House, before
a fine old Elizabethan mansion of which not a frag-
ment now (1837) remains. ...
" Meanwhile the bosom of the Thames was covered
with barges and wherries, all of them laden with the
most distinguished fashionables of the day ; and all
steering their course from Westminster-stairs, the
ordinary point of embarkation, to a quay or landing
place below the Rotunda, to which an avenue of
sycamores communicated. The avenue still re-
mains, but both Rotunda and quay are gone, and
with them habits of life which, whether for good or
for evil, brought the higher classes more frequently
than they come now into contact, during their
hours of relaxation and amusement, with the classes
Opinions varied as to the effect of this democratic
melange. Rogers' description suggests a somewhat
depressing sobriety in which "persons of inferior
rank mingled with the nobility, and were so quiet
that you could hear the whish of the ladies' dresses
as they walked round the Rotunda."
But from other accounts it is pretty evident
that such decorous dulness was by no means in-
variable, and that at later hours, when "burgundy
and champaign " had encouraged the " military
sparks and city coxcombs," much livelier scenes
might be witnessed. " Nymphs in loose and antick
robes," and forward young ladies with "cocked
RANELAGH NIGHTS 99
hat and the masculine air" would, "Amazon like,
attack their gallants " ; and frolics ensued in which,
as Fanny Burney records of Vauxhall, "there is
such squealing and squalling, and all the lamps are
broke, and all the women run scimper scamper."
Walpole says of Ranelagh and Vauxhall that
" one produces scandal and t'other a drunken
quarrel " ; and in his vivacious account of the
Venetian Fete in 1749 he wickedly remarks,
" when you entered you found the whole garden
filled with masks and spread with tents, which re-
mained all night very commodely."
The entertainments, however, for which Rane-
lagh became distinctively famous, and with which
its name will always be associated, were the
Ridottos, Bals Pares, or Masquerades, as they
were successively entitled ; and the attraction of
these was, of course, the freedom and anonymity
supposed to be conferred by the wearing of masks
and fancy dress.
The programmes, hours, and details of these
evenings varied more or less from season to
season, but the main features — plentiful music,
lavish illumination, droll costumes, a liberal supper
solid and liquid, a little dancing, some songs, and
a good deal of promiscuous flirtation, "quizzing,"
and mild buffoonery — remained much the same,
year after year ; and the following not altogether