Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Gardens and Spas - The Eagle

    'How ev'nly!' said Miss J'mima Ivins, and Miss J'mima Ivins's friend, both at once, when they had passed the gate and were fairly inside the gardens. There were the walks, beautifully gravelled and planted - and the refreshment-boxes, painted and ornamented like so many snuff-boxes - and the variegated lamps shedding their rich light upon the company's heads - and the place for dancing ready chalked for the company's feet - and a Moorish band playing at one end of the gardens - and an opposition military band playing away at the other. Then, the waiters were rushing to and fro with glasses of negus, and glasses of brandy-and-water, and bottles of ale, and bottles of stout; and ginger-beer was going off in one place, and practical jokes were going on in another; and people were crowding to the door of the Rotunda; and in short the whole scene was, as Miss J'mima Ivins, inspired by the novelty, or the shrub, or both, observed - 'one of dazzling excitement.' As to the concert-room, never was anything half so splendid. There was an orchestra for the singers, all paint, gilding, and plate-glass; and such an organ! Miss J'mima Ivins's friend's young man whispered it had cost 'four hundred pound,' which Mr. Samuel Wilkins said was 'not dear neither;' an opinion in which the ladies perfectly coincided. The audience were seated on elevated benches round the room, and crowded into every part of it; and everybody was eating and drinking as comfortably as possible. Just before the concert commenced, Mr. Samuel Wilkins ordered two glasses of rum-and-water 'warm with - ' and two slices of lemon, for himself and the other young man, together with 'a pint o' sherry wine for the ladies, and some sweet carraway-seed biscuits;' and they would have been quite comfortable and happy, only a strange gentleman with large whiskers WOULD stare at Miss J'mima Ivins, and another gentleman in a plaid waistcoat WOULD wink at Miss J'mima Ivins's friend; on which Miss Jemima Ivins's friend's young man exhibited symptoms of boiling over, and began to mutter about 'people's imperence,' and 'swells out o' luck;' and to intimate, in oblique terms, a vague intention of knocking somebody's head off; which he was only prevented from announcing more emphatically, by both Miss J'mima Ivins and her friend threatening to faint away on the spot if he said another word.
    The concert commenced - overture on the organ. 'How solemn!' exclaimed Miss J'mima Ivins ...

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1836

Few travellers of any note, who have made the grand tour from Paddington to the Bank, are allowed to pass without notice a large, and by no means undistinguished edifice, somewhat resembling a town-hall, or chamber of commerce, hard by the sweet waters of the Regent's canal, and within view of the ground made classic by the parcel-warehouses of Pickford - that man of mighty fame ; in one of whose north-country waggons we had the honour to make our first appearance in this vast metropolis. This classic structure - we do not allude to the waggon, - is graced with mighty columns supporting a pediment, the pediment supporting the identical “HEAGLE" which gives name to the temple of Bacchus, Clio, and Terpsichore, for to all these deities is this structure dedicated, being at one and the same time a tavern, an opera-house, and a ball-room. Not being conversant with architecture, and having little opportunity to draw comparisons between the interior decorations of great houses, we cannot give the curious reader a detailed description of this delightful place : our own private opinion is, that Devonshire House and Chatsworth are fools to it.
    Plate-glass folding-doors, Spanish mahogany bar-fittings, noble coffee-room, for gents. only ; ball-room, with mirrors extending from floor to ceiling ; imposing-looking waiters running to and fro ; 'pon my word and honour, reader, it is the grandest place I ever was in in my life.
    Out of doors it is all the finer, merrier, and more exhilarating. It is a Saturday afternoon in summer ; all the way from St. Mary Axe, Houndsditch, and Petticoat Lane, troop the pretty Jewesses, 
                    Jewesses sunny bright,
                    With shining gold, and jewels sparkling clere,
as old Ned Spenser has it, who no doubt was many a time and oft at the Eagle in his day. There they come, with their family-likeness noses, their deep flashing oriental eye, their lustrous black hair, their huge ear-drops, necklaces. and brooches, their screwed-up waists, their long dresses sweeping the ground ; all silks, satins, and lutestrings ; none of your printed cottons, or eleven-and-sixpenny mousselines de laine; every stitch the silk-worms have sweated for. With these come the young Moseses, Solomons, Levis, all in the genteelest of black, with waistcoats of velvet, and cataracts of black satin, not to speak of gold chains, rings, and trinketry, in which these young gentlemen greatly delight. These are going to their ball ; but, as they are very exclusive, we prefer to follow the Christian population now swarming into the garden.
    We stop at the pay-office, where with great propriety the door- keeper insists on every churlish cockney, who, neglecting his ''young woman," comes to see the fun in cheerless celibacy, paying double; while the free-hearted young fellow, who trips along with his sweetheart, - doubling his enjoyment by dividing it - is admitted with strict poetical justice, at half-price.
    You enter with your young woman - for I don't take the trouble of writing this description for fellows who go by themselves, - and the full glories of the Heagle burst upon your and your young woman's admiring visual orb. It is a gala night - the little firmament of many-coloured lamps is disposed in twinkling constellations ; the little fountains sputter out of the mouths of little Cupids their halfpint of water per hour ; the little gold fishes swim at top of the ten gallon ponds, o' purpose that your young woman may see them, and flirt their little tails, as much as to say, "we knows what you two are arter." The little shells glitter like bits of silver among the little ferns and water-lilies, that look like little topazes and emeralds ; the little trees put the best side of their little leaves foremost, and the little sparrows, not to be outdone by the orchestra, chirrup, chirrup among the little trees.
    The statues, or, as your young woman chooses to call them, " statures," shine all bright and lively in the open air, and though but plaster of Paris, are as much admired as if they were real Canova ; your young woman, peeping with the curiosity of her sex into a little hole in the wall, cries “Crikey," and calls out, “Joe, look here ; how beau-tiful !" Joe has a peep, beholding his phiz much broader than long, his mouth drawn o' one side, and his eyes leering opposite ways ; your young woman peeping over your shoulder, laughs, crying, " Well, I never! - What a Guy!" 
    You by no means omit a peep at the “Dissolving Views " in a  dark corner; nor a scrutiny of the “statures” upon which a wag has chalked such names as happen to suit his fancy ; by this time the musicians make their appearance in the orchestra - a sort of Chinese edifice - and entertain you with the overture, merrily scraped, to Fra Diabolo. 
    Now a gent, dressed like a high-sheriff, with a tremendous cocked Hat - they wear cocked hats at Vauxhall, and why not at the Heagle ? - comes to the front, and favours you with a sentimental ditty ; then you have a glee for two cocked hats and a chip-bonnet, then a duet for two gipsy hats; and, to conclude this part of the entertainment, a grand chorus by "the strength of the company." 
     Long ere this, if you have been as attentive as you ought to the comforts of your young woman, you will have edged away to the door of the theatre, now closely blockaded by an eager crowd of applicants for front seats. The door opens ; you tumble in; get a comfortable seat, with a bench before, and a high back behind ; exchange your refreshment-ticket for whatever your young woman fancies - rum shrub, probably ; the waiter, eagerly anticipating your eleemosynary penny, places the sweetly, spirituously, acidulously intermingling beverage before you. You light your cigar ; and having taken into custody your young woman's bonnet and pocket-handkerchief, patiently await the opening of LA SOMNAMBULA.
     My blessings on the man that invented this pretty little story of woman's trusting love, suspected, flung away like a faded flower, lamented with the agony of a broken heart, and recovered, restored, triumphant, by the same mysterious means that led to suspicion, jealousy, and despair. Although Frazer is not exactly Rubini, and Miss Forde would not, perhaps, compare herself to Grisi, yet, let me tell you, they play and sing in a style that would not discredit any provincial theatre ; the orchestra is very fair, and the little opera well got up, always considering the moderate price you pay for it. 
    The opera and rum shrub being finished, a glass of “something short " is necessary to cheer up your young woman's heart, a comic song concerning that favourite housewife's assistant, ''hearth-stone," to a popular air in Fra Diavolo contributing thereto. Then you have a pas-de-deuxs, or perhaps a ballet ; after which you return to the garden, where fireworks, and '' God save the Queen," by all the cocked and gipsy-hats, terminate the gala at the Heagle.

John Fisher Murray, The Physiology of London Life , in Bentley's Miscellany, 1844

Victorian London - Publications - History - Views of the Pleasure Gardens of London, by H.A.Rogers, 1896

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Eagle Tavern Pleasure Grounds


"Up and down the City Road
In and out the Eagle
That's the way the money goes;
Pop goes the Weasel.
        - OLD SONG


PROPRIETOR, Mr. T. ROUSE.- Unrivalled Galas, with brilliant fireworks, and splendid illuminations, and a series of superior amusements, every Monday and Wednesday. To attempt a description of the numerous and varied sources of entertainment at this unrivalled establishment would be vain. Concert in the open air, dancing and vaudeville in the Saloon, set paintings, cosmoramas, fountains, grottos, elegant buildings, arcade, colonnade, grounds, statuary, singing, music, &c.; render it a fairy scene, of which a due estimate can only be formed by inspection. Open every evening. On Thursday a Benefit, for the Laudable Pension Society, Bethnal Green. See bills.
    The whole under the direction of Mr. Raymond. Brilliant Discharge of Fireworks, By the inimitable British Artist Thomas Brock.
    A Band will be stationed in the Temples, To play during the Evening.

Admission 2s.
The Doors will open at Five o'clock.

- Advertisement, 1838.

EAGLE TAVERN, CITY ROAD. A place of public entertainment, frequented by the lower orders, and licensed for theatrical purposes pursuant to Act 25 Geo. II. It stands on the site of "The Shepherd and Shepherdess," a tea-house and garden, noted some sixty years since. Taverns of this description has seriously injured the minor theatres, as at houses like the Eagle, with both a music and a spirit licence, people can see, hear, and drink; at theatres they can only see and hear.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

see also J. Ewing Ritchie in The Night Side of London - click here

Grecian Theatre, City-road. —Formerly the “Eagle Tavern”, and still connected with the garden of that house. A local theatre, to which, however, visitors from the West-end have of late years been attracted in considerable numbers by the extraordinary performance of the late proprietor, Mr. George Conquest, who as an acrobatic actor is probably unequalled. His Christmas pantomimes, written b himself, and by no means without merit, have always contained some striking parts, dwarf, giant, monkey, or such like, in which his peculiar talents could be shown to advantage ; one scene in particular being always given up to a breathless series of leaps, dives, &c., from which it seemed impossible that he could emerge with life. NEAREST Omnibus Routes, City-road and New North road. 

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

GRECIAN THEATRE, City-rd. - This old establishment and popular East End Theatre, known long ago as the "Eagle Tavern and Grecian Saloon," has for some time closed its doors as a place of public amusement. The lease of the property was acquired years ago by "General" Booth, of the Salvation Army, and is used as one of their centres of work.

Charles Dickens Jr. et al, Dickens Dictionary of London, c.1908 edition
(no date; based on internal evidence)