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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Pleasure’s All Mine—The Sydney Pleasure Gardens

I have been visiting Bath, England for the past couple of days, so I thought it fitting for me to use my blog post here to sing the praises of a less well-known site: The Sydney Pleasure Gardens.

Pleasure gardens were the rage across England in the 18th and into the 19th century. Vauxhall Gardens in London have quite a reputation for scandal and are utilized quite often in Regency romance novels. Unfortunately, the Vauxhall Gardens closed permanently in 1856, although in 2012 some of the land was reopened as a park and called Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. (I was there last week!)

The Sydney Gardens, in Bath, however, are the only 18th century pleasure gardens still in existence today. They are listed as a Grade II on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. I went to view the gardens this morning, marveling at how different/same it was from a scene I had just written a couple of days ago.

The Holborne Museum used to be a hotel through which you entered the gardens. There was/is a path leading straight back toward the Kenet and Avon canal (which figures in my novella, It Happened at Christmas), with very pretty cast iron bridges spanning the water (part of the contract with the park).

At the end of the 18th century, admission to the gardens cost 6d (6 pence). For an additional 6 pence you could have tea brought to you anywhere in the park. The 12 acre park, the largest pleasure gardens outside of London, was the scene of large public breakfasts on Tuesdays and Saturdays, where you could purchase tea, coffee, rolls, and Sally Lunn buns. This cost approximately 2 shillings per person in addition to entrance fees.

Part of the pleasure of the pleasure gardens was the attractions. (I think of the gardens almost as an 18th -19th century Disneyland.) There was a cosmorama (illuminated scenes of village life), a labyrinth, and Merlin’s Medical Swing, an actual boat swing which was supposed to promote good health. The garden was the scene of hot air balloon launches, various concerts, and fireworks displays. By 1831 there was even a menagerie of exotic animals.

Unfortunately, in the mid-19th century, the Great Western Railway bisected the Sydney Pleasure Gardens, reducing many of its popular features, and destroying the labyrinth. The park’s popularity continued to wane until it was sold to the Bath City Council in 1913, who put in tennis courts.

Even today, with most of its splendor behind it, Sydney Gardens can give real pleasure to those who take the time to remember its former glory days.

Pitt, Catherine. The History of Sydney Gardens.
Sydney Pleasure Gardens. Various Plaques in Garden.

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