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

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Islington Spa; or, New Tunbridge Wells

(Circa 1680-1840)



            * * *

- (To) Islington's renowned Wells,
Where twice or thrice a week most duly,
In the months of May, June, August, July,
            * * *
Lawyers, Divines, Civilians, and Quakers,
The Tradesman and his lovely spouse,
Th' enamour'd Youth and's dear Queen Blouze,
Taylors and other trades, which rack
Invention to adorn the back,
Go there to make their observation
Upon the dresses of the nation,
Of either sex whole droves together,
To see and to be seen flock thither, 
To drink, (yet/and) not to drink the water 
(But/And) here promiscuosly (to/they) chatter.

*The price of admission was threepence each person

    At seven in the morning, though probably opened at six, the company are described as about assembling, women with visors, and the varied costume of the gallants then come under notice.
    The extravagance in the airs of both sexes excited the spleen of the writer, who observes generally:

Their ill-shap'd, unfashion'd cloaths 
May serve as foils to set off Beaus 
So Blacks by ladies standing seen, 
Heighten the Whiteness of their skin.

    The resort of some of the company appears to have been the "raffling shop," whilst others "good luck invoke, at lottery called Royal Oak;" others to the coffeehouse, or room, to read the news:

While others of plebian fashion
Who thither come for recreation,
In Arbours closely shaded o'er
With climbing shrubs and Sycamore,
In mighty state themselves regale
With fly-plumb-cakes and windy ale.

The author proceeds on his walk through the male and female throng, "Saluted by the fragrancy of Powder de Orange, Jessamine, Pulvil," &c., and arrives

- at the rails which hem in,
This famous Well, where two old women
Do kindly give the Water gratis
(What nothing costs, at under-rate is),
There cooling of their brains or blood,
A knot of sparks and ladies stood.
            * * * *

The mode of serving the water appears to have been in half-pint glasses.

The Musick plays, and tis such musick
As quickly will make you or me sick;
But they to give the thing a grace
Had got three trebles and a basse,
With which (as Apes are often seen
To imitate the acts of men)
So vainly they pretend to play
Some lessons in the Opera.
Twas now about the hour of Ten,
Precisely just the minute when
To Wells, the Hackney coaches trot
As fast as wasps to honey-pot.
        * * * * *
Then in gilt coach, with fine device,
Comes the spruce Sir Courtly Nice:

    At eleven the ladies appear to have left the walks, then exposed to the sun, and tired to the dancing-room, where they seated themselves on benches, to be asked by the young sparks to join in country dances; but either from a want of a Master of the Ceremonies, or the bashfulness (?) of the visitants, the ladies do not appear to have met with anything like a gratification of their wishes.
    The withdrawing hour, with the ladies of a certain description, is hinted at as being out eleven.

To such cheap pleasures most can come up,
And therefore it would be strange to rob
Some topping gentry of the mob
Of the diversion ev'ry Monday
To shew clean linen-worn on Sunday.

-NED WARD, 1691.



THE entrance to the Gardens, the author observes, was by

 . . . . . A gate
Where abundance of rabble peeped in at the grate.

And in the walks

Lime trees were placed at a regular distance,
And scrapers were giving their woful assistance.

On going further in quest of amusement, he enters a large shed built for dancing, and visits other buildings

For raffling and lotteries, and such sort of trade 
. . . . . . . .I stood by for a while, 
See the gamesters all frown, and the Lot'ry man smile, 
Some scratching their ears, others biting their nails.

He next describes a Beau, attired in the height of fashion, whose wig, he observes, was

. . . . . . so bushy, so long, and so fair,
The best part of Man was quite covered with Hair,
That he looked (as a body might modestly speak-it)
Like a Calf with a bald Face peeping out of a Thicket
His locks drudg his coat, which such filthiness harbours,
Tho' made of Black Cloth, 'tis as white as a Barber's;
His Sword I may say to the best of belief,
Was as long as a spit for a Sir-loin of Beef
Being graced with a Ribbon of Scarlet or Blue,
That hung from the hilt to the heel of his shoe.
Thus proud, as a Turkeycock spreading his plumes,
He stalks thro' the walks, so enrich'd with perfumes.

In another of the sheds our poet

Saw a parcel of Grave Paralitical Heads,
Sit sipping of coffee and poring on paper;
And some smoaking silently round a wax taper;
Whilst others at Gammon, grown peevish with age,
Were wrangling for Pen'worths of tea made of Sage.
            * * *

-NED WARD, 1699.


        * * *
My muse these Observations having made,
Her distant Eye New Tunbridge Wells survey'd
Where that notorious Game the Royal Oak,
In times of Yore so many Hundred broke,
        * * *
And where dejected Scrapers us'd to tune
Their Catcall-Instruments from Six to One,
Thrash their smooth Cats-guts with unrozen'd Bows,
Begin in one Key, in another close,
Whilst Punks and Cullies danc'd their Waters down,
To cool those Flames they'd kindl'd in the Town:
But as I stood to take a full survey
Of these fam'd Wells, which near the River lay,
Methought the fading unfrequented Shade,
Like an old wither'd Strumpet, look'd decay'd,
Its ancient drooping Trees unprun' d appear'd,
No Ladies to be seen, no Fiddles heard;
No Rabble crowding at the Grate without,
To see the Beaus and Beauties frisk about,
No other Objects that my eyes could find,
Than Water in the Front and Wood behind.
    So looks the Garden of a Spendthrift's Seat,
    Whose Lands are mortgag'd and himself in Debt,
That in his Walks and Walks the World may see
The Symptoms of approaching Poverty.
A naked Fabrick next to this I view'd,#*
 Which in the midst of flowing Waters stood, 
Unarm'd against the North, as if design'd, 
When edify'd, to brave the fiercest Wind.

Near this, around that Bason which supplies
The droughty Town and pleasures humane Eyes,
Some Odd-look'd Mortals here and there appear'd,
Girt in Great-Coats, and each a frowzy Beard,
With Baskets by their Sides, and in their Hands
Extended Angles, like Magicians' Wands,
Themselves appearing ghastly, pale and lean,
Like Wizards rather than like Fishermen,
Who thither come from some disturb'd abode,
To conjure Ghosts into the peaceful Flood,
All fix'd like Statues on the River's brink
As if they wanted Life to Speak or Think,
Alike intent in Body and in Mind,
Upon the Sport they hop'd in vain to find,
Viewing the Fish that play'd around the Hook,
But shun'd the Bait that did so tempting look.
So beauteous Dames, too cunning to be catch'd,
By Am'rous Sportsmen are pursu'd and watch'd,
Who, where the Nymphs resort, admiring stand,
And only wish for what they can't command.
From thence I turn'd my Eyes upon the Spaw,**
Where in Welch Mugs, good English Ale they draw,
Balsamick Liquor that will heal the Lungs,
Inspire our Brains and actuate our Tongues.
Thither declining mortals flock'd in shoals,
To heal their Bodies and revive their Souls;
Some to force Urine and relieve the Stone
Or Gout, whose rigid Pains they long had known;
Some to repair their Tenements of Clay,
By Physicks and Consumptions worn away;
Others, more youthful, to delight their Taste,
And husband well that Health they fear'd to waste,
Also to fillip Nature with a Mug,
And o'er their liquor preach, like Peter Lug,
Whilst Tradesmen and their Wives step'd in by Pairs,
In Cakes and Ale to bury Nuptial Cares,
And Lovers with their Mates to sit unseen,
In Am'rous Bowers cover'd close with Green.
That soothing Draughts might make the Damsel kind,
And prompt the bashful Youth to speak his mind;
For, next to Wine, good Nappy will remove
Desponding Fear, and prove a Friend to Love.
        * * *

* The New River Water House.
** The London Spaw in Ducking Pond Fields close by.

-NED WARD, 1714.



    * * *
WHENCE comes it that the shining Great,
To titles born and awful state,
Thus condescent, thus check their will
And send away to Tunbridge Wells,
To mix with vulgar Beaux and Belles?
Ye sages, your famed glasses raise,
Survey this meteor's dazzling blaze, And say, portends it good or ill?

Soon as Aurora gilds the skies,
With brighter charms the ladies rise,
To dart forth beams that save or kill.
No homage at the toilette paid
(Their lovely features unsurvey'd),
Sweet Negligence her influence lends,
And all the artless graces blends, 
That form the tempting Dishabille.

Behold the walks, a chequer'd shade,
In the gay pride of green array'd,
How bright the Sun the air how still
In wild confusion there we view,
Red ribbons grouped with aprons blew,
Scrapes, curtsies, nods, winks, smiles and frowns,
Lords, milkmaids, dutchesses, and clowns, 
In their all-varied Dishabille.

Thus in the famous Age of Gold
(Not quite romantick, though so old)
Mankind were merely Jack and Gill;
On flow'ry banks, by running streams,
They tatl'd, walk'd, had pleasant dreams,
But dress'd, indeed, like aukward folks,
Not steeple-hats, surtouts, short cloaks, 
Fig leaves the only Dishabille.
        * * *

-The Humours of New Tunbridge Wells at Islington:
A Lyric Poem by
Mr. LOCKMAN, 1734.