Of the 109 square acres of land in the city of Charleston, more than 20% is currently devoted to public parks, while many properties, even in the historic downtown have private gardens. There was a time, however, when a third type of green space was offered to paying visitors who came to enjoy walks, refreshments, and entertainment. named “Vauxhall” or “Vaux Hall” after pleasure gardens developed in London during the reign of Charles II.
The Vauxhall and Vauxhall II collections of traditional lanterns from Lantern & Scroll commemorate Charleston’s old pleasure gardens such as New Vauxhall and Orange Garden on Broad Street and Watsons Garden and Tivoli Garden on Columbus Street.
The Vauxhall Gardens Of London
The name “Vauxhall” derived from the Falkes family, which eventually became “Fauxe,” “Vaux,” or “Fox” plus “hall”, as it was applied to land surrounding a manor. Around 1661, the first garden was opened in London near Trafalgar Square. Common people journeyed down the Thames to visit the gardens which were also frequented by royals, even though they had their own gardens. Eventually renamed Spring Gardens, the Vauxhall Gardens offered music, art displays, fireworks, dancing, rides, and beauty in return for a guinea (about 150 pounds) while refreshments were available for an additional charge. The precursor of the modern amusement park, the gardens were an exciting place to socialize and enjoy nature and amusements.
By the 1850s, the London garden fell into disrepair as new rail lines isolated them from the river while new competitors such as Crystal Palace siphoned off the crowds. The gardens deteriorated and became more noted for their painted prostitutes than their flowers. The garden was closed and the site redeveloped, but ironically, due after extensive bombing damage in World War II, the area was redeveloped as a garden.
The gardens spawned similar types of pleasure gardens in American cities such as Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston, as well as in Canada.
Rise Of The Vauxhall Gardens In Charleston
The first of several Charleston Vauxhall gardens opened on Broad Street in 1795. A person known as Citizen Cornet opened the site where for two dollars, a “gentleman, accompanied or not by ladies” could enjoy French music, supper, and refreshments. On Friday evenings in the winter, he held a sometimes-masked ball and supper. Unfortunately, after a fire devastated much of Broad Street in June 1796, Cornet went back to his former trade of repairing pianos and harpsichords, while restaurant tour William Robinson reopened a gentleman’s dining room and tavern known as Vaux Hall at number 44 Broad Street.
Another Vauxhall Garden was opened in June, 1799 on the northeast corner of Broad and Friend (Legare) Street. The proprietor Alexander Placide was himself an actor, acrobat, tight rope walker, dancer, and theater impresario, and with the help of his singer/actress wife, he opened a summer venue that offered a cold supper and concerts featuring theater vocalists who stayed in Charleston for their off-season. He is troupe of actors, who perform at the French Theater and Church Street Theatgerand then at the Broad Street Theater also toured the northern and southern cities when it was closed.
Within a year, he improved the facility so that it was illuminated allow visitors to come for ice cream and other refreshments even on nights where the stage was dark. Further yearly upgrades included the addition of fireworks after the evening musicale (1801), a small orchestra with singers from the Charleston theater community (1802), and public bathing facilities for warm-or cold baths (1804.)
After Placide died in 1812, his wife operated the property for a few seasons, and then different proprietors maintained the garden, baths, and entertainment businesses separately. Managers from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore circuits, Messrs. Pepin and Breshard, built an amphitheater in the garden in 1812 that lasted until about 1816 at the Vauxhall site.
The Vauxhall Gardens Site Today
The baths at Broad and Friend continued to open every spring until all the properties of the former Vauxhall garden was purchased by the Catholic archdiocese of Charleston in 1821. Today, the site of the former gardens is home to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
The original Cathedral was destroyed in a major fire in 1861, along with 17,000 volumes from the seminary library. The gate and fence of the original structure remains intact, while a permanent replacement for the 27,000 square foot Cathedral was built in 1907.
Lasting Impact Of The Pleasure Gardens
Because a primary activity at Vauxhall Gardens in Charleston and wherever they are located throughout the world was walking about at night, gardens were often well lit with lanterns. Being outdoors about after dark could be dangerous; the gardens, open until an advertised time each night, offered a protective atmosphere for people to enjoy walking, courting, and finding their way to various entertainments.
Even after pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall Gardens fell into decline and closed, the entertainment they represented continues today in amusement parks, county fairs, and even in public parks such as Charleston’s Riley Waterfront Park. This park, opened in 1990, features a waterfront promenade with gardens, plentiful park benches and two large fountains that encourage walking, enjoying the sights, and even sharing the experience with others via social media; Waterfront Park offers free Wi-Fi access throughout the whole park.
Lighting From The Vauxhall Collections From Lantern & Scroll
In a world where electricity enables improved safety any time of night, lights from the Vauxhall collections bring a touch of class to both the interiors and exteriors of private homes and public buildings. Characterized by an ornate spun copper tops and in the case of the Vauxhall II Collection, bottoms, the lights add a regal touch wherever they are used.
The collection is available in post-mount, wall mount, flush mount, hanging, and yoke style fixtures, with gas and electric options and many customizable features. As with all lanterns created by Lantern & Scroll, offerings from the Vauxhall and Vauxhill ll collection are handmade of solid copper so that they can easily be customized to fit your décor. Top-quality materials and workmanship guarantee that these historic placing pieces will withstand the test of time. Once installed, these history-inspired lanterns will create a future of their own.