Vauxhall Gardens is a name that conjures the pleasures of big city life. It reminds us that great towns provide opportunities for communal festivities and concord, as well as the often-stressed potential for urban problems and conflict.
This study by Professor Penelope Corfield explains how Vauxhall emerged as the brand-leader of the urban pleasure garden, from among the ranks of sixty or more rival gardens in post-Restoration London. Vauxhall became fashionable; it was popular; it was brilliantly organised; it was musical; it was entertaining; it had fireworks; it was a meeting place for lovers … it had it all.
Yet the continuing transformation of London brought change in its wake. Vauxhall did not endure for ever. While the new Oval Cricket Ground managed to survive in nearby south London, Vauxhall’s Pleasure Gardens disappeared. It took more than fame and, later, nostalgia to keep a front-rank leisure amenity going on the south bank. By studying Vauxhall’s rise and fall, we can understand the upheavals of the entertainment sector in the ‘modern’ city. A new chapter in this second edition highlights Vauxhall’s justified reputation for sexual glamour – and its legacy of eroticising the leisure industry by linking sex and entertainment.
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