Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Gardens - Tea Gardens

    Let us turn now, to another portion of the London population, whose recreations present about as strong a contrast as can well be conceived - we mean the Sunday pleasurers; and let us beg our readers to imagine themselves stationed by our side in some well-known rural 'Tea-gardens.'
    The heat is intense this afternoon, and the people, of whom there are additional parties arriving every moment, look as warm as the tables which have been recently painted, and have the appearance of being red-hot. What a dust and noise! Men and women - boys and girls - sweethearts and married people - babies in arms, and children in chaises - pipes and shrimps - cigars and periwinkles - tea and tobacco. Gentlemen, in alarming waistcoats, and steel watch-guards, promenading about, three abreast, with surprising dignity (or as the gentleman in the next box facetiously observes, 'cutting it uncommon fat!') - ladies, with great, long, white pocket-handkerchiefs like small table-cloths, in their hands, chasing one another on the grass in the most playful and interesting manner, with the view of attracting the attention of the aforesaid gentlemen - husbands in perspective ordering bottles of ginger-beer for the objects of their affections, with a lavish disregard of expense; and the said objects washing down huge quantities of 'shrimps' and 'winkles,' with an equal disregard of their own bodily health and subsequent comfort - boys, with great silk hats just balanced on the top of their heads, smoking cigars, and trying to look as if they liked them - gentlemen in pink shirts and blue waistcoats, occasionally upsetting either themselves, or somebody else, with their own canes. 
    Some of the finery of these people provokes a smile, but they are all clean, and happy, and disposed to be good-natured and sociable. Those two motherly-looking women in the smart pelisses, who are chatting so confidentially, inserting a 'ma'am' at every fourth word, scraped an acquaintance about a quarter of an hour ago: it originated in admiration of the little boy who belongs to one of them - that diminutive specimen of mortality in the three-cornered pink satin hat with black feathers. The two men in the blue coats and drab trousers, who are walking up and down, smoking their pipes, are their husbands. The party in the opposite box are a pretty fair specimen of the generality of the visitors. These are the father and mother, and old grandmother: a young man and woman, and an individual addressed by the euphonious title of 'Uncle Bill,' who is evidently the wit of the party. They have some half-dozen children with them, but it is scarcely necessary to notice the fact, for that is a matter of course here. Every woman in 'the gardens,' who has been married for any length of time, must have had twins on two or three occasions; it is impossible to account for the extent of juvenile population in any other way. Observe the inexpressible delight of the old grandmother, at Uncle Bill's splendid joke of 'tea for four: bread-and-butter for forty;' and the loud explosion of mirth which follows his wafering a paper 'pigtail' on the waiter's collar. The young man is evidently 'keeping company' with Uncle Bill's niece: and Uncle Bill's hints - such as 'Don't forget me at the dinner, you know,' 'I shall look out for the cake, Sally,' 'I'll be godfather to your first - wager it's a boy,' and so forth, are equally embarrassing to the young people, and delightful to the elder ones. As to the old grandmother, she is in perfect ecstasies, and does nothing but laugh herself into fits of coughing, until they have finished the 'gin-and-water warm with,' of which Uncle Bill ordered 'glasses round' after tea, 'just to keep the night air out, and to do it up comfortable and riglar arter sitch an as-tonishing hot day!'
    It is getting dark, and the people begin to move. The field leading to town is quite full of them; the little hand-chaises are dragged wearily along, the children are tired, and amuse themselves and the company generally by crying, or resort to the much more pleasant expedient of going to sleep - the mothers begin to wish they were at home again - sweethearts grow more sentimental than ever, as the time for parting arrives - the gardens look mournful enough, by the light of the two lanterns which hang against the trees for the convenience of smokers - and the waiters who have been running about incessantly for the last six hours, think they feel a little tired, as they count their glasses and their gains.

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1836


The character of these places have, with the habits of the people, experienced a very considerable change, and tea, formerly the chief article of consumption here, has been supplanted by liquors of a more stimulating character. At some of these, concerts, of an inferior description, are performed; and other attractions are added that generally detain the company, always of a miscellaneous character, till the approach of midnight. The following are the principal in the vicinity of the metropolis: - New Bagnigge Wells, Bayswater; New Bayswater Tea Gardens; Bull and Bush, Hampstead; Camberwell Grove House; Canonbury House, Islington; Chalk Farm, Primrose Hill; Copenhagen House, Holloway Fields; Eel-pie House, or Sluice House, on the New River, near Hornsey: St. Helena Gardens, near the Lower Road, Deptford ; Highbury Barn ; Hornsey Wood House, the grounds of which include a fine wood and an extensive piece of water; Jack Straw's Castle, Hampstead Heath; Kilburn Wells, Edgeware Road; Mermaid, Hackney; Montpelier, Walworth; Mount Pleasant, Clapton; the Eagle, City Road; the Red House, Battersea Fields; Southampton Arms, Camden Town; Union Gardens, Chelsea; White Conduit House, Islington; and Yorkshire Stingo, Lisson Green,

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844