Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Gardens and Spas - Soyer's Symposium


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In our Journal of last week we noticed the opening of this novel retreat, which has an abundance of visitors during the past week, at the Exhibition tariff.
    Our Artist has chosen for illustration the al fresco ingenuities which M. Soyer has unsparingly provided for the delectation of his myriad visitors. The grounds comprise a very pretty landscape-garden, and a large park-like meadow, added by M. Soyer, and named by him Le Pré d'Orsay; altogether eight acres in extent.
    Stepping from one of the French windows of the grand saloon (the salle des noces de Danae), we are on "the Banqueting Bridge (a la Rialto), or the Doge's Terrace" with a double staircase descending at each extremity to the garden, decidedly Italian. "Imagine," says our Amphitryon, "a delightful summer's evening on this Venetian appendage to the Symposium. Imagine the elite of all nations - the French gentilhomme, the Italian cavaliere, the Spanish hidalgo . . . 
    Descending the staircase at the western extremity of the terrace, we find the under part of the Banqueting Bridge fitted up as a monster American bar for sherry cobblers, mint juleps, egg noggs, brandy smash, et hoc genus omne, to the number of forty.
    Conspicuous among the embellishments of the garden are grassy pyramids supporting Watteau-like statuettes; the Gipsey Dell, with it sybil fortune-teller; and the impenetrable Grotto of Ondine, shown in the centre of the Illustration.  This is a little pavilion of many-hued stalactites, the ceiling of dazzling crystal, through which are seen myriads of gold and silver fish. The grotto is surmounted with a statuette of Hebe, who, from her enchanted cup, dispenses to mortals through the shafts of the temple artfully concealing liquors. In the centre of the lawn is a marble fountain group, of classic design; and to the right is the Baronial Banqueting Hall, in which the Sanatory Commission and her friends are feasted right royally this very day. The exterior is castellated; the roof is entirely of stained glass; the walls are hung with crimson drapery, and oil paintings by Madame Soyer; there are elegant statuettes and vases of fragrant flowers; a music gallery, a dais for the chairman, &c.
    Adjoining the garden is the Pré d'Orsay, with six grassy pyramids, surmounted by vases filled with flowers; at the extremity is "Le Pavilion monstre d'Amphitryon; or, the Encampment of all Nations" - a regular dining saloon, to accommodate 1500 persons.

Illustrated London News, Jan.-June, 1851


    In the early part of 1851 he [Alexis Soyer] took Gore House, the famous home of Lady Blessington at Kensington, and fantastic skill and showy decoration soon made the old-fashioned stucco-fronted building the wonder of a London as yet unfamiliar with palatial restaurants. The newspapers and a prospectus printed on satin paper with green-tinted edges announed the advent of 'Soyer's Universal Symposium,' a single ticket for which was to cost a guinea, and a family ticket - your family might consist of five - three guineas. Every room in the house was provided with a seductive name : the Blessington Temple of the Muses; the Salle des Noces de Danae; the glittering Roscaille of Eternal Snow; the Bower of Ariadne; and the Celestial Hall of Golden Lilies.
    The grand staircase had its wall painted with a 'Macédoine of all Nations,' a monstrous medley of animals, politicians, and artists, the chef d'oeuvre of George Augustus Sala, who for a time acted as Soyer's assistant.
    The Cabinet de Toilette a la Pompadour (Lady Blessington's boudoir) led to the Danae saloon, which was embossed in gold and silver with showers of 'tears' or 'gems'. The Bower of Ariadne was painted with vines and Italian landscapes, and the Celestial Hall was in the Chinese taste.
    The garden - a delightful adjunct to a London restaurant - contained some fine trees, walnut and mulberry trees among them . . . The meadow or 'park' of the domain - really a grazing-meadow hired from a Kensington cow-keeper - was adroitly stlyed the Pre D'Orsay and here was erected the Encampment of All Nations, which was the public dining-hall, 400 feet long, 'with a monster table-cloth, 307 feet long, of British manufacture.'
    The garden, reached by flights of steps from the back of the house, had natural beauties of its own - Lady Blessington's great rose-tree and Wilberforce's thick-foliaged trees. Soyer added fountains and statuary, a grotto of Ondine, a little pavilion of many-hued stalactites with a crystal roof, and a statue of Hebe dispensing ambrosial liquours through the shafts of the temple. Here also stood the Baronial Hall, a building (not unsuggestive of Rosherville) 100 feet long, with a stained-glass roof. It was hung with pictures by Soyer's wife (Emma Jones) and with the more interesting crayon portraits by Count D'Orsay. The American Bar and the Ethiopian Serenaders were perhaps more suited to Cremorne.
    The Symposium opened on May 1, 1851, and the Metropolitan Sanitary Association and other festively inclined societies began to banquet in its halls. The average attendance was 1000 a day, and the taking amounted to £21,000, but none the less the great chef was £7000 out of pocket, and the Symposium closed suddenly and for ever on October 14, 1851. There had, in fact, been many complaints of bad dinners and imperfect management. . . . In February 1852 the place was dismantled, and the Hall and the Encampment sold by auction. The Gore estate was purchased the same year by the Commissioners of the Exhibition, and the grounds in later years formed part of those of the Royal Horticultural Society.* (*The house (pulled down in 1857) was about 150 yards to the east of the Albert Hall. The Imperial Institute and Imperial Institute Road are now on the site of the Horticultural Gardens)

Warwick Wroth, Cremorne and the later London Gardens, 1907