Competing Pleasure Gardens

The most famous pleasure gardens of the eighteenth century were undoubtedly those in London. However, other towns and cities established similar gardens, amongst which Norwich had, perhaps, the most and some of the longest-lasting. At one time, five main gardens were competing for business in a city whose population at the time was perhaps little more than 30,000 people.

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the rivalry between them could be fierce, especially on days when a large turn-out of people might be expected, such as on the king’s birthday.

All of them provided walks and areas for seeing and being seen. Most provided places to eat and drink, often with accompanying music. However, what drew the crowds was the prospect of some definite spectacle, such as the ascent of a balloon or a major firework display. Newspaper advertisements would then be used to announce the event and the presence of especially noted performers stressed

In 1781, two of the Norwich gardens, Bunn’s and Quantrell’s could be found listing competing attractions in the Norfolk Chronicle for the evening of of June 4th.

At BUNN’s Pantheon, On Monday, June 4, 1781, (being his Majesty’s Birth-day) will be performed a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music. First violin Mr REEVE. The Vocal Parts by Mr KEYMER (for the Night only) and Mr BUNN.

Act.1. By Desire, “An Invitation to Comus’s Court, “ Mr KEYMER.—A Song, Mr KEYMER.

Act 2. “The Wandering Sailor, “Mr BUNN.— A Song called “The Camp,” Mr KEYMER.

After the Concert will be exhibited in the Temple of Curiosity, Several Miscellaneous Miniature Paintings, designed and painted by Mr BUNN; in which will be introduced some well-known Prospects, and a curious Representation of the Neptune Society returning from their Annual Water-Frolic.

To conclude with an elegant Display of Fire-works, by Sig. Baptista PEDRALIO, in a Variety of Designs, in Brilliant, Chinese, Rayonant, Gold, Blue, Red, and Yellow Fires, particularly a curious Sun-Piece, forming a brilliant Glory to the Letters G.R.

Note: Admittance One Shilling.

Not a bad evening for one shilling (about £10 in today’s terms). A concert, an art exhibition and a firework display. Quantrells’, however, promised more.

On Monday, June the 4th (being his Majesty’s Birth-day), QUANTRELL’s Gardens will be most elegantly illuminated in the Evening, and a Concert of Instrumental Music, and a grand Collection of Fireworks will be exhibited by Sig. Antonio BATALUS. The evening to conclude with a capital Firework, called Harlequin from the Globe, With a Dance of Furies; And Sig. Antonio BATALUS will fly across the Garden with Fire from different Parts of his Body.

To finish with a great Eruption of Mount Aetna, etc.

Note: Admittance One Shilling. — Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc etc.

No art exhibition and instrumental rather than vocal music; perhaps no singers of the same ability of Messers Keymer and Bunn were available. However, this seems more than made up for by the prospect of seeing Signor Batalus flying across the garden with different parts of his body on fire and — no less — the eruption of Mount Aetna.

Best of all, after paying your shilling, you got half of it back in liquor!

Note that both of the displays of fireworkswere to be presented by Italians. They and the French dominated the early use of fireworks throughout Europe, sometimes producing spectacles of truly vast size. The technique was not so much to have actual fireworks much larger than usual, but to erect wooden frameworks decorated with statues and pictures, then set off a large number of relatively small actual fireworks all over them to produce the necessary effect of size and splendour.

By this time in the eighteenth century, such showmen were skilled at constructing elaborate, richly decorated ‘scenery’ representing temples or palaces, with translucent areas illuminated from the inside. The exterior would be decorated with plaster statuary, gilding, floral and other decorations. The fireworks proper were displayed on these erections and the effects accomplished by the repetition of many small fireworks set off all over this façade, while skyrockets were sent up above. Where possible, the grand set piece would be situated by a body of water to reflect and enhance the whole display.

About William Savage

Independent researcher and author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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2 Responses to Competing Pleasure Gardens

  1. Lynden Wade says:

    Interesting. I’d assumed the firework displays were like ours today for Fireworks Night and New Year’s Eve.

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  2. Cynthia says:

    Reading about this brings to mind the Beatles song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, which was inspired by a poster that John Lennon found in an antique shop. I have copied this short summary from an article: On 31 January that year, John Lennon walked into a Sevenoaks antique shop where a poster advertising a February 1843 benefit for Mr Kite — “celebrated somerset thrower, wire dancers, vaulter, rider etc etc”, pictured balancing on his head on a 12-foot-tall pole, playing a trumpet, of course — by Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal caught his eye. Thank you for sharing this story about the Pleasure Gardens of London.

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