I recently bought a new research book, Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg, a coffee-table sized volume brimming with everything you'd want to know about these historical pleasure gardens. It was worth every penny I spend on it and I spent a lot of pennies!
I think of Vauxhall Gardens as the Disneyland of its time, a place people of all walks of life and social classes flock to for recreation, to see wonders that thrill, amaze, or simply entertain them. Things like fireworks and tightrope walkers, musical performances, frescos made so real you felt transported to a different land, spooky dark walks featuring a hermit at the end. There was food special to the place, just like the special foods we find at amusement parks or State Fairs. Paper-thin slices of ham, tiny whole chickens, orgeat (the soft drink of the day), poor quality wines, cider and ale.
I love using Vauxhall Gardens as a setting in my books. Flynn, my hero in Innocence and Impropriety became smitten with Rose as she sang at Vauxhall Gardens. In A Reputable Rake, Morgana brought her courtesan students to Vauxhall Gardens to practice their lessons. A masked Graham Veall chose Vauxhall Gardens as a place to meet Margaret and hire her as a temporary mistress in my homage to Phantom of the Opera, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh.
I'm using Vauxhall Gardens again in Leo's story, the last of the Welbourne Manor books, due to be released in 2012. This book is set in 1828 and I was delighted that my new research tome could give me detailed information of what happened at Vauxhall Gardens that year.
New was the Grand Hydropyric Exhibition, consisting of cascades of colored fire and water. A new vaudeville called The Statue Lover was introduced, as well as a short comic ballet called The Carnival of Venice. Even though there had been complaints of excessive noise the previous year, a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo took place on the battle's anniversary. They also introduced a lottery with dozens of different prizes.
I may not use any of those new entertainments in the book, but I did learn that Vauxhall Gardens did not open until June 4 of 1828. I'd set my story in May of that year, but now have moved it to the end of the London Season (because I like to be as faithful to history as I can be)
We're all probably thinking of fall holidays and entertainments instead of amusement parks. Halloween and Thanksgiving are right around the corner, but backtrack a bit and tell me what "pleasure garden" you visited during the summer. (The closest I came to an amusement park this year was Times Square in New York City!)
My September book, Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy, is still available online, and don't miss my October 2011 Undone short estory, The Liberation of Miss Finch. Check my website on Halloween for a fun Halloween contest including other Harlequin Historical authors, all awarding prizes.