London’s Tea Gardens – part 5
An essay by William B Boulton
The programme of amusement at this cockney paradise was very typical of the London al fresco in its prime. In the morning the place was chiefly at the disposal of the invalids who believed in the efficacy of its waters, and who, at the height of its vogue, were to be found at Bagnigge in hundreds. Many of these partook of the early breakfast which was provided for the austere ones, who drank the waters in an orthodox manner on an empty stomach. A good organ, presided over by Mr. Charles Griffiths, provided music in the pump-room for the gouty and the lame: the pumproom with its panelled walls, low ceiling, its armorial bearings, its bust of Nell Gwynn in a niche in the wall, “bordered with festoons of fruit and flowers, moulded in delf earth, and coloured after nature,” and its general pleasant flavour of antiquity.
As the day wore on the invalids withdrew and the place was pre pared for another class of customers. The citizens, their wives and daughters, came for their afternoon outing; the long room if the weather threatened, and the arbours if the sun shone, were filled with sober parties of shopkeepers or with boys and their sweet hearts, drinking tea and eating the bread and butter and the buns baked on the ground for which the place was famous. Negus was another of the products of Bagnigge held in much favour, and there were cider and ale for the more jovial spirits who smoked under the shade of the Fleet willows and watched the games of skittles and Dutch pins which were played in the eastern part of the gardens during the long summer evenings.
It was on Sundays, however, that Bagnigge was seen at its best. Its nearness to the city, its undoubtedly pleasant surroundings, and the quasi-fashionable char acter imparted to the place by the patronage of the well-to-do invalids who drank its waters, made it the paradise of the city matron for a quarter of a century at least.
From May till October, Holborn and Cheapside and Smithfield put on their Sunday best and emptied themselves into Bagnigge as the Sabbath afternoons came round. Half the bad poets of the last half of the century sang one aspect of the place or another. Listen to Mr. William Woby in the “Shrubs of Parnassus” on its springs:
… and stil’d the place
Black Mary’s hole, there stands a dome superb
Hight Bagnigge, where from our forefathers hid,
Long had two springs in dull stagnation slept;
But taught at length by subtle art to flow
They rise; forth from oblivion’s bed they rise;
And manifest their virtues to mankind.
That was one way of saying what the proprietor said much more directly in his daily advertisement. “Mr. Davis takes this method to inform the publick that both the chalybeate and the purging waters are in the greatest perfection ever known and may be drank at 3d. each person, or delivered in the pump-room at 8d. per gallon. They are recommended by the most eminent physicians for various disorders as specified in the hand-bills.” . But there were not wanting versifiers of better equipment. Here is Mr. Churchill, for example, in 1779 with a metrical study quite as convincing as Mr. Davis’s prose
Thy arbour Bagnigge, and the gay alcove
Where the frail nymphs in amorous dalliance rove,
Where ‘prentice youths enjoy the Sunday feast,
And city madams boast their Sabbath best,
Where unfledged Templars first as fops parade,
And new made ensigns sport their first cockade.
The prentice’s song, too, is not without some suggestion of local colour:
Come, prithee make it up, Miss, and be as lovers be,
We’ll go to Bagnigge Wells, Miss, and there we’ll have some tea;
It’s there you’ll see the lady-birds perched on the stinging nettles,
And chrystal water fountains, and shining copper kettles;
It’s there you’ll see the fishes, more curious they than whales,
They’re made of gold and silver, Miss, and wags their little tails.
Finally, Mr. Colman in his prologue to Mr. Garrick’s” Bon Ton” gives the city madam’s view of what then constituted the mode
Bon Ton’s the space ‘twixt Saturday and Monday,
‘Tis riding in a one horse chair on Sunday,
‘Tis drinking tea on summer afternoons
At Bagnigge Wells with china and gilt spoons.
With these varied attractions for various classes of customers, Bagnigge during nearly half a century had a not surprising vogue. There was some attempt at a promenade in fine dresses on Sundays, where aspiring young men about town, who were not quite the mode, graduated in deportment for the brighter glories of Ranelagh and Vauxhall.