Tea-gardens, the smaller cousins of the more famous Pleasure Gardens, flourished during the latter half of the 18th century. Mostly in the suburbs they were popular destinations for the Sunday outings of the middle classes. Tea was taken in the tearoom or in the rustic arbors set among lawns, ponds, walks, and statues. Decline set in in the early 19th century with the arrival of the railway. R. L chambers, in his Book of Days (1863) takes us on a tour of the gardens. Our perambulation now takes us west to Marylebone and the delights of the Yorkshire Stingo and then on to Jenny's Whim and Cuper's. En route we have a little tale about the origin of the Dog and Duck.
Turning round the New River head, 'Merlin's Cave,' another tea-garden, wooed the traveller; but if he resolutely crossed the New Road, he came to White Conduit House, on the extreme verge of London, situated on the high land just above the tunnel connecting the Regent's and Paddington canals. It took its name from the contiguous conduit originally constructed for the use of the Charter-house, and once bore the initials of Thomas Sutton, its founder, and the date of 1641. By 1827 the Conduit was in a pitiable state of neglect - denuded of the outer case of stone, a mere core of rubble; the house was a low-roofed building, with a row of clipped trees in front, and a large garden in the rear, well supplied with arbours all round for tea-drinking; and such was its popularity at the commencement of this century, that fifty pounds was taken on a Sunday afternoon for sixpenny tea tickets.
Its bread was as popular as the buns of Chelsea; and "White Conduit loaves" was a London cry, listened for by such old ladies as wished to furnish a tea-table luxury to their friends. On week-days, it was a kind of minor Vauxhall, with singing and fireworks; on great occasions, the ascent of a balloon crowded the gardens, and collected thousands of persons in the fields around. It was usual for London 'roughs' to assemble in large numbers in these fields for foot-ball play on Easter Monday; occasionally 'the fun' was diversified by Irish faction-fights; the whole neighbourhood is now covered with houses. The old tea-garden built upon; and the house destroyed in 1849; a large public-house now marking the site of the older building.
Field-paths, with uninterrupted views over the country, led towards St. Pancras, where another well and public garden invited strollers with its sanitary promises. The way between this place and London was particularly unsafe to pedestrians after dark, and robberies between here and Gray's Inn Lane were common in the early part of the last century. About half a mile to the west, the Jew's Harp Tavern invited wayfarers to Primrose Hill, being situated close to the south of the present Regent's Park Barracks. Maryleborne Gardens was the most important of these north-western places of amusement. It was situated opposite the old parish church, on ground now covered by Devonshire Street and Beaumont Street. It is mentioned by Pepys, two years after the great fire of London, as 'a pretty place' to walk in.
Its bowling-alleys were famous, and here Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, 'bowled time away' in the days of Pope and Gay. The latter author alludes to this place more than once in the Beggar's Opera, as a rendezvous for the dissipated, putting it on a level with one of bad repute already mentioned. He alludes to the dog-fights allowed here in one of his Fables:
'Both Hockley-hole and Marybone After 1740, it became more respectable - a shilling was charged for admission, an orchestra was erected; the gardens were occasionally illuminated, fetes given, and a rivalry to Vauxhall attempted, which achieved a certain amount of success. Balls and concerts were given; Handel's music was played under Dr Arne's direction; Chatterton wrote a burlesque burletta after the fashion of Midas, entitled The Revenge, which was performed in 1770; but after many vicissitudes, the gardens were closed within the next eight years, and the site turned to more useful purposes.
The combats of my dog have known.'
Pursuing the road toward Paddington, The Yorkshire Stingo opposite Lisson Grove, invited the wayfarer to its tea-garden and bowling-green; it was much crowded on Sundays, when an admission fee of sixpence was demanded at the doors. For that a ticket was given, to be exchanged with the waiters for its value in refreshments; a plan very constantly adopted in these gardens, to prevent the intrusion of the lowest classes, or of such as might only stroll about them without spending anything. The Edgeware Road would point the way to Kilburn Wells, which an advertisement of 1773 assures us were then
"in the utmost perfection, the gardens enlarged and greatly improved, the great room being particularly adapted to the use and amusement of the politest companies, fit for either music, dancing, or entertainment. The south-western suburb had also its places of resort. 'Cromwell Gardens,' and 'The Hoop and Toy,' at Brompton; 'The Fun,' at Pimlico, celebrated for its ale; 'The Monster,' and Jenny's Whim, in the fields near Chelsea.
Walpole, in one of his letters says that at Vauxhall he 'picked up Lord Granby, arrived very drunk from Jenny's Whim.' Angelo in his Pic-nic or Table-talk, describes it as 'a tea-garden, situated, after passing a wooden bridge on the left, previous to entering the long avenue, the coach-way to where Ranelagh once stood.' This place was much frequented from its novelty, being an inducement to allure the curious by its amusing deceptions, particularly on their first appearance there. Here was a large garden, in different parts of which were recesses; and treading on a spring, taking you by surprise, up started different figures, some ugly enough to frighten you; like a Harlequin, Mother Shipton, or some terrific animal. In a large piece of water, facing the tea-alcoves, large fish or mermaids were shewing themselves above the surface. This queer spectacle was kept by a famous mechanist who had been employed at one of the winter theatres.'
The water served less reputable purposes in 1755, when, according to a notice in The Connoisseur, it was devoted to 'the royal diversion of duck-hunting.' This disgraceful 'diversion' gave celebrity to a house in St George's Fields, which took for its sign 'The Dog and Duck,' though originally known as St George's Spa. It was established, like so many of these places, after the discovery of a mineral spring, about the middle of the last century. 'As a public tea-garden,' says a writer in 1813, 'it was within a few years past a favourite resort of the vilest dregs of society, until properly suppressed by the magistrates.' The site forms part of the ground upon which the great lunatic asylum, known as New Bethlehem Hospital is now stands; [Now the Imperial War Museum.] and in the boundary-wall is still to be seen the sculptured figure of a seated dog holding a duck in his mouth, which once formed the sign of the tea-garden.
The 'sport' consisted in hunting unfortunate ducks in a pond by dogs; the diving of the one, and the pursuit of the others, gratifying the brutal spectators, who were allowed to bring their dogs to 'the hunt' on the payment of sixpence each; the owner of the dog who caught and killed the duck might claim the prize.
Closer to London, but on the same side of the Thames, was Lambeth Wells, were concerts were occasionally given; 'The Apollo Gardens' (on the site of Maudsley's factory, in the Westminster Road), with an orchestra in its centre, and alcoves for tea-drinking, the walls of which were covered with pictures - a very common decoration to these wooden boxes in all these gardens, giving amusement to visitors in examining them.
Cuper's Gardens were opposite Somerset House, the present Waterloo Bridge Road running over what was once its centre. They were called after the original proprietor, a gardener, named Boydell Cuper, who had been in the service of the famous collector, Thomas, Earl of Arundel, whose antique marbles are still at Oxford. Cuper begged from him such as were mutilated, and stuck them about his walks. In 1736, an orchestra was added to its attractions; it subsequently became famed for its fireworks; but ultimately most so for the loose society it harboured, and for which it was deprived of its license in 1753.
In addition to these the inhabitant of Southwark might disport in 'Finch's Grotto,' situated in Gravel Lane, Southwark; 'The Jamaica Tavern,' or 'St Helena Gardens,' Rotherhithe; so that London was literally surrounded with these popular places of resort; as alluded to by the Prussian D'Archenholz, who, in his account of England (published toward the close of the last century), observes:
"The English take a great delight in the public gardens, near the metropolis, where they assemble and drink tea together in the open air. The number of these in the neighbourhood of the capital is amazing, and the order, regularity, neatness, and even elegance of them are truly admirable. They are, however, very rarely frequented by people of fashion; but the middle and lower ranks go there often, and seem much delighted with the music of an organ, which is usually played in an adjoining building." Now, owing to the altered taste of the age, scarcely one of them exists, and they will be remembered only in the pages of the topographer.