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London’s Tea Gardens – part 6

London’s Tea Gardens – part 6

There came of course the usual hangers-on of respectability, the ladies of doubtful reputation, the” bloods of humour,” copper captains, and even on occasion famous highwaymen, like the eminent John Rann, or Sixteen-stringed Jack, who was wont to display his hectoring graces in the gardens. Such incidents, however, gave a pleasant adventurous interest to a visit to Bagnigge; a highwayman, so long as he escaped the justices, was a not unpopular character, and the ordinary citizen lost no caste in taking a glass with one of these heroes at a tea garden or a tavern. It is recorded, however, that this particular hero gave such offence at Bagnigge on a certain Sabbath afternoon in July of 1774, that he was incontinently pitched out of the windows of the Long Room by the outraged citizens, a fall which preceded his final overthrow by Jack Ketch at Tyburn by just four months.

It is not surprising to find the artists busy with a place which attracted so much of the life of the time. There was the excellent publisher, Carrington Bowles, who preserved so much for us of the social life of the century, who has left two or three excellent mezzotints among his series. One, the Bread and Butter Manufactory, shows the fashionable Sunday parade in the long room; another, the typical citizen Mr. Deputy Dumpling and his family enjoying an afternoon in the gardens. The place is figured in the frontispieces and illustrations of many parish histories and London guide-books of a past day. Men like Sanders painted it, and engravers like I. R. Smith transferred its beauties to the copper.

Finally its amenities provided subjects for many able amateurs whose sketches and drawings enrich great collections like those of Mr. Crace and the Guildhall Museum. On the extensive piece of ground which is to-day enclosed more or less roughly by Marylebone Road, High Street, Marylebone, Weymouth Street, and Harley Street, was the other notable public garden of the northern district of London, famous for half a century as Marylebone Gardens. We make no apology for reminding the modern Londoner that Marylebone remained a rural village until well on in the reign of George the Third, a village separated by fields from the Oxford Road, and receiving much benefit from the attractions of these gardens, which came to be much appreciated by the well-to-do and respectable people who began to build and occupy the good houses of Portman and Cavendish Squares. As in the case of the great majority of the London alfresco establishments, the later prosperity of the garden was reared upon the small beginnings of a tavern or public-house.

The Rose of Normandy was a small place of this sort on the eastern side of the High Street, famous since Stuart times for its bowling-greens. Those same bowling-greens were acquired from the gardens of the Marylebone Manor House, which stood till 1791 on the site of the present Devonshire Mews. People of condition played bowls at the Rose until well on in the eighteenth century, and left their substance at its gaming-tables. Mr. Pepys found the Rose “a pretty place” in 1668, and Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, as Mr. Pope reminds us, spent much of his time on its pleasant lawns, dined there once a year with his friends, and was accustomed to wind up the annual proceedings with the genial toast, “Mayas many of us as remain unhanged meet here again next spring.”

There were occasional illuminations too at the Rose, and concerts of music on the king’s birthday, acrobatic exhibitions, and flying men, all of which foreshadowed features of the management of the later gardens of which the Rose was the forerunner. It was only, however, in the summer of 1738 that the proprietor of the tavern, Mr. Daniel Gough, realising its capabilities, threw the place open to the public as an al fresco entertainment, and first made a regular charge of admission to what he called his “Marybone Gardens,” much increased then and later by additions from the grounds of the Manor House.

The venture seems to have been quite successful from the first. The evening entertainment of good music, which continued the tradition of the place, was apparently much appreciated, for in the three following years there is record of the building of a substantial garden orchestra, an organ by Bridge, and the “House or Great Room” for balls and suppers. The place attained almost immediately the dignity of the silver token or season ticket, admitting two people for the whole summer, and there is evidence of the increasing prosperity of the establishment in the progressive prices, from twelve shillings to a couple of guineas, charged for these relics, which are still to be seen at the British Museum and in other collections.

There is a very pleasant flavour of sober reasonable enjoyment by worthy and respectable people suggested by the numerous records of these old gardens – of their early years at least; of simple rational amusement in pleasant surroundings widely different from the fiercer joys of some other establishments we shall notice in the course of our inquiry.

The peace-loving public who gave the place its vogue disported themselves among the ancient trees and parterres in the old garden of the Manor House; shady elms and planes, some of which still give dignity to the houses south of the Marylebone Road, made a pleasant retreat where they could eat their syllabubs and cake, and listen to the music of Handel and Arne. On the west they looked right on to pretty Harrow-on-the-Hill; northward their view was bounded by the wooded heights of Hampstead and Highgate, and on the east there was nothing but green fields and open country between the gardens and the rising moon.

There were surely worse conditions in which to hear “Where the Bee Sucks,” or “Blow, Blow thou Winter Wind,” for the first time, than surrounded by pretty faces in Marylebone Gardens in the early days of George the Third; and London has gained little, one imagines, by the exchange of these simple pleasures for some of its amusements to-day. Music, as we have said, was one of the great traditions of the place.


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