London’s Tea Gardens – part 3
An essay by William B Boulton
Although the records of the Mulberry Garden are somewhat scanty, it had certainly a great vogue during the reigns of both Charleses and the Commonwealth, fc or half the dramatists of the Restoration make their characters move in its walks and arb ours, and eat its 1arts and cakes, and it was of sufficient importance as a place of public resort to give a title to one of Sedley’s comedies. There is historical record of the place also. It was quite like Charles the Second to violate his own proclamation against the drinking of toasts during a debauch at the Mulberry Garden.
Mr. Pepys too was there in 1668, and found it “a very silly place, worse than Spring Garden, and but little company, only a wilderness that is somewhat pretty.” But years later candid Samuel was much better pleased, the circumstances perhaps being more propitious, for entertainment at another’s expense is ever a good softener of criticism.
“To the Mulberry Garden,” says Samuel, “where Shere is to treat us with a Spanish Olio … he did do it mighty nobly, and the Olio was indeed a very noble dish such as I never saw better or any more of. We left other good things I which would keep till night for a collation, and with much content took coach again, meeting The. Turner, Talbot, Batelier and his sister in a coach, and with us to the Mulberry Garden, and thereafter a walk to supper upon what was left at noon, and very good, and we mighty merry.”
It is in such passages as this that the memory of the place is preserved, or in the gossip of contributors to Sylvanus Urban, who remembered “to have eat tarts with Mr. Dryden and Madam Reeve at the Mulberry Garden, when our author advanced to a sword and chedreux wig.” Wycherley, Etherege, Sedley, Shadwell, will tell us of the “pleasant divertissement” of the place; of ‘cheesecakes and tarts and arbours and dinners” in the ‘ dining-room of Mulberry Garden House”; of ladies and gentlemen who made love together till twelve o’clock at night.
The place was closed about 1674, when the alfresco tradition of London passed into the keeping of Vauxhall. It is worthy of note that the soil of Mulberry Garden is still open to wind and sun in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, which gives its memory a distinction rare among these old pleasaunces, which for the most part, as we shall see, lie buried to-day under acres of unlovely bricks and mortar. It was in those two old pleasure gardens of the Stuart times then, as we believe, that the tradition of the London al fresco originated.
But its real development waited upon the times when England, emerging from the troublous days of the civil wars and revolutions, at last found time and opportunities for enjoyment under the more settled rule of Anne and the first Georges. There was feverish enjoyment of a sort for Londoners, of course, during those restless days of the Restoration; but an enjoyment clouded with the shadow of an impending Nemesis which was palpable to the great body of Englishmen as long as there was a full-blooded Stuart on the throne. Mr. Pepys him self felt it at one of those very gardens when the doings of Harry Killigrew and of other” very rogues” made Samuel’s” heart ake,” as we shall see when we come to Vauxhall.
It was only when England settled down under the wise rule of the sagacious Walpole, who first discovered the capacity of the English for managing their own affairs, that London really began to enjoy itself, and one of the first evidences of that welcome change in the national fortune was the multiplication of those popular and innocent places of open air entertainment in and round London. It is quite natural to find the citizen of low lying London lifting his eyes to the hills and turning for solace from his labours chiefly to the pleasant country which then rolled towards the sun from the heights of Hampstead and Highgate.
It is difficult to-day to think of the unpromising districts now covered by Clerkenwell, Pentonville, and Islington, to say nothing of the suburbs farther north, as open country, with pastures, woods, and streams, yet such it was almost within living memory. The New River, which to-day flows into our water pipes, and even the Fleet River, which perhaps helps to flush our sewers, were in the days of which we write streams with fat meadows, and buttercups, and placid cattle, the delight of generations of true cockneys from Holborn and the city. The springs of this upland country sloping to the Thames bubbled up in various places charged with “chalybeate” or “sulphur;” as the doctors of that day believed, and provided an excuse for a dozen or more of ” spas,” and” waters” or “wells,” each with its gardens and long room and special body of patrons, who perhaps accepted the efficacy of its waters, and certainly enjoyed the diversions of the place.
A tea garden occupied the very site of the present underground railway station at King’s Cross; others jostled each other on the spot which is now a very wilderness of railway bridges and shunting grounds behind the great termini in the Euston Road. As time went on such places spread over a tract of country which included Bayswater on one hand and Stepney on the other, stretched out to Kilburn and Hampstead, Hornsey and Dalston, and studded generously the whole district so included with these open-air entertainments, the names of whose springs or proprietors or attractions are yet preserved in the names of the streets which to-day cover their ancient delights.
In the very centre of that grimy district of Clerkenwell, for example, on a spot which has recently been again restored to light and air by the opening of Rosebery Avenue from the Gray’s Inn Road to King’s Cross Road, Was situate a very typical tea garden of the last century, Islington Spa, or the New Tunbridge Wells. The place could boast a respectable antiquity before its end came, for it offered its attractions to the subjects of King James the Second and of Queen Victoria alike, and its doings provided copy for such widely separated historians of their times as Ned Ward and Pierce Egan.