Cuckoo’s Nest

A Cotswold side at Wimborne

Here we are back from the Wimborne Folk Festival…quite tanned as the weather was glorious! I felt a bit sorry for the dancers as it was really, at times, too hot to dance. The Cotswold tradition sides ( which I used to dance and now just play for ), were not too badly off in their whites but the poor Border morris sides were sweltering in their masks, blacked faces and tattered jackets.

The Wild Hunt Border Morris...very scary!

However, they did tremendously well and the festival was heaving. Poor little Wimborne was straining at the seams!

The High Street with Dorset Buttons, a North West clog side, dancing.

Now we are back home and down to earth, but still with dance tunes ringing in our heads. They really are catchy tunes! With strange names too…like Lad’s a Buncham, Old Woman Tossed up in a Blanket, Jockey to the Fair and one of my favourites – Cuckoos Nest.

All those people crammed into a small space and not an ounce of trouble. It would not have been so in the 17th and 18th centuries, I can tell you!

Today, let’s go into the world of the “Festivals” of the past; those entertainments our ancestors enjoyed. We have explored the 17th century theatre .We have been to a masquerade. Let’s now don our finery and go to the Pleasure Garden.

We could just dig out our Masquerade costume, our Domino and go as we were, when we went to our private party, last week.

The Domino cloak of 1700, by Irene Von Tresko

It was rather chilly in that costume frankly! 😉 see Wish You Were Here

But I fancy getting togged up in my finery this time. This is what you did when you went to the Pleasure Garden. You put on your finest and paraded with everyone else. It was a matter of seeing and being seen!

Now which one shall we go to?

We have several to choose from. There were about a hundred Pleasure Gardens at one stage in London and  its environs.

The most famous were Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne

The Rotunda at Ranelagh

Many of them were huge, sprawling over many acres and contained concert halls or platforms for dancing and music. The smaller types were known as Tea Gardens and one could stroll around in the shrubbery and drink tea in the little pavilions dotted about. All very refined you might think!

They were wonderful, full of arbours and flowers, fairy lights, grassy walks, tinkling fountains and firework displays but they were also, at times, seething with vice and depravity. We shall come to that.

So what shall we wear for our perambulations?

What are the Beau Monde wearing in 1720 or thereabouts when we have chosen to dip into the pleasures of the Public garden.

Well our gentlemen are still wearing the Justaucorps the gathered coat, but a few years on from the turn of the century, it’s slightly less flared and a little more curved. The Gilet or waistcoat is still long but is a little shorter than it has been and is allowed to flap open at the bottom. The cut of the sleeves of the coat are as wide as they are going to get with a turned back cuff which is enormous and reaches the elbow! His breeches still reach the knee but now he might be wearing his stockings over them secured with a garter! ( and you thought Superman was odd wearing his knickers over his tights 😉  }

A PastMastery dummy board 3ft. Private collection in the U.K.

Button manufacturers are coining it in as there are no less than forty on the coat alone. And how beautiful some of them are with enamel and jewels, engraving and inlay. Our gentleman still wears the tricorn hat which is quite high crowned; he may carry a cane and he must have a sword. Not only is this an essential accoutrement for a gentleman but a necessity. It’s still quite lawless out there on the streets despite the appearance of civility and sophistication.

  • Left: PastMastery dummy board artitst’s collection
  • And us ladies? We are still wearing the Manteau of course, or Mantua in England but it has undergone a slight change. It  has developed from cone to dome shape , then gradually flattened in front and back. The smaller fussy patterns have made way for plains and larger blousier designs.The advent of the contouche or sack dress has developed out of deshabille and is less formal and more loose than the previous decade or so.

    Our hair is dressed with lace and ribbons still but now, we have a special little flat hat and the ribbons hang over our shoulder. We wouldn’t go out with our hair being powdered. Fans are still a must and our little shoes are pointy and, like our gentlemen friends, jewelled and buckled.

    Life sized dummy board of a lady c. 1730 private collection in Italy

    Drawings of the saque dress c. 1730

    So we step out into our carriage and are whisked off to the gardens.

    We look in our reticule and fish out a coin of the realm. It costs us a shilling to enter and for this we can have tea with bread and butter!

    Entering the gates we see that there are some persons of quality parading the droves and avenues and the gentleman who owns the gardens, Mr. Johnathan Tyers, is greeting some of them personally. Oh to be so famed!

    Mr Tyers

    There are bowling greens, fountains of every description, grottoes where hermits lurk in the shadows

    The Head of Moses, a late 17thc. ecclesiastical dummy board but he does quite well as the Hermit of the Grotto!

    and tree lined glades with seats and arbours for dalliance. Painted boxes

    PastMastery miniature of Mr. Hogarth 4 inches

    ( some of them painted by the famous  artist Mr. Hogarth ), where we can order supper and dine by the light of thousands of candles and twinkling fairy lights, which are candles stuck into glass jars strung up in the trees. A shower of rain makes us scurry for the shelter of the Rotunda where we wait it out in the relative comfort of the “eternal circle” as we walk round and round meeting and greeting, seeing and being seen.

    Lady Sheffield a Gainsborough dummy board in miniature. 5 ins. She will do for Sir Tenley Knott's mistress!

    From seven o’clock in the morning , hardy sorts can be seen taking the waters of the chalybeate spring, for one’s health, don’t you know, but between ten and eleven when we arrive, the place is filled with a gay and fashionable throng. It may seem as if we are all persons of quality but the company is extraordinarily mixed. Virtue and vice and fashion and the negation of fashion all have their place. Sir Courtly Nice drives up in his gilt coach. Sir Tenley Knott, brings his mistress and old Sir Boldly Fumble his two daughters.

    PastMastery mini dummy board of Two Sisters after Gainsborough.

    Goodwives and  their children mingle with sempstresses in their tawdry finery and pert shopmen . Lawyers clerks in their gowns dally with flower sellers fragrant with pomades of Jessmine and Orange.

    PastMastery miniature Flower seller. 4 inches after a 19th century dummy board

    The moon rises, the music increases in volume, the light dims in the corners of the gardens, in the arbours and the lovers seats, in the walks behind the Lime trees. Darkness descends on the gravelled paths leading to the grottoes.

    And then…

    *How bright the moon, the air how still….

    In wild confusion there we view,

    Red ribbons grouped with aprons blue;

    Scrapes, curtesies, nods, winks, smiles and frowns,

    Lords, milkmaids, duchesses and clowns

    In all their various deshabille

    Oh.! tiresome….a pair of stockinged legs are sticking out from the bottom of a flowering bush. There’s a ‘bush’ of another kind at the other end which is receiving the attentions of a young ‘prentice. Naughty on two counts……he is supposed to be celibate for the duration of his apprenticeship and could lose his place with his master if found out and well…..I’ll leave you  to work out the other! 😉

    Reminds me of a ballad… you can hear it here sung by the <ahem> lesser folk…..the Cuckoos nest.

    ” There’s a blackthorn bush in our kale yard, a blackthorn bush in our kale yard,

    At the back o thorn bush there lays a lad and lass and they’re busy, busy faring at the cuckoos nest!

    It is thorned and it is prickled, it is compassed all around

    It is thorned and it is prickled and it isn’t easy found. She said young man you blunder and he said it isn’t true. And he left her with the makings of a young cuckoo! 😉

    As I said – A morris tune too!

    19th century dummy board Private collection in the U.S...masquerading as Lord Paltry Weakling!

    Ah …we can see Lord Paltry Weakling and his troupe. How honoured we are to have him visit, in fancy dress too…. on a night when there are light fingered knaves at hand to relieve him of his fine gold repeating watch! 🙂 And in the coffee house we see Mr. Fiddly Business, that noted and wealthy printer and his pretty and elegantly attired wife in fancy dress, Mrs. Prissy Business, about their beverage, unaware that they have just had their purses rifled by a gang of bully boys.

    Life sized 19th century dummy board after Rembrandt's Maria Tripp. Private collection. Mrs Prissy Business perhaps?

    There are sometimes scenes and affrays in the garden and they are favourite hunting grounds of the London pickpocket. We have seen with our very own eyes at the opening of the Ridotto at Vauxhall ( 1732 ) a man steal 50 guineas from a masquerader, but here the watchman was equal to the occasion and the

    ” rogue was taken in the fact”

    On the other hand we can hardly accept without a smile, the statement of a Vauxhall guide book that

    ” even bishops have been seen in this Recess without injuring their character!”

    The Birmingham Bishop 19th c. 3 feet

    19th c. French soldier dummy board Private collection in the U.S.

    And over there a game of Hazard is in progress. We can see the raffling boys from here  some of them, cheating their way to a fortune, ( someone elses) to the strains of an organ playing a piece by Mr. Handel. It may even be the old man playing for us now. A little further along we have a visiting cellist…ah I see it’s Maestro Luigi Boccherini playing his famous minuet in G , for us…

    I see he has an appreciative feline audience. 😉

    There are soldiers placed here and there in the garden. Watching all that is going on and keeping an eye on the rowdy element.

    The Handel statue at Vauxhall Gardens

    Argh!..the relative peace of the garden is rudely broken by the incursion of some rowdy gallants like the Right Honourable young Flipin Bothersome, Member of Parliament for Uppis Ownpiddle in Dorset { near Wimborne don’t you know  ) 😉 and his friends, Sir Noxious Manners and  Captain Downright Peevish. They have been requested not to “smoak on the walks.” Where are the soldiers?

    PastMastery miniature dummy board 4 inches. Theatre figure 19th c. A good one for the Right Honourable Mr. Bothersome?

    Oh dear…they are proving difficult.

    Time to make for the exit I think!

    A very strange place this Pleasure Garden!

    But there is always another day and there are after all, another 99 gardens to visit!


    *All quotations/illustrations are from London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th century by Wroth and Wroth 1896

    Other illustrations are for fun only. PastMastery are not implying that  these actual figures or characters were to be seen at any of the gardens and the post is an amalgamation of features found in several London Pleasure Gardens.

    One Response to “Cuckoo’s Nest”

    1. A Second Career? « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

      […] gardens of that era. We might have seen one or two when we were parading around in the post Cuckoo’s Nest. We can tell they have had a hard life as they are often quite worn and weathered, scratched and […]

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