London, Volume 1
It were a curious study to trace the progress of the public taste in matters of amusement, and to endeavour to investigate the causes of the variety of changes it has undergone. The latter, however, would, we suspect, be a difficult task to accomplish satisfactorily. Take, for instance, the once prosperous as well as famous places of entertainment mentioned at the head of this paper-and how should we explain the fact that has long since disappeared, whilst the other, having made bankrupts of its latest proprietors, is now about, most probably, to give place to the formidable array of bricklayers and carpenters, who already look upon its beautiful groves as their own, and can neither listen to the melodies of the birds nor to the glorious harmonies of the mightier human performers, for the ringing blows of the axe and the crash of the falling trees, which they hear as it were by anticipation? We shall regret this destruction, if be destroyed, as we regret the fall of Ranelagh, were it only for the length of time both places have existed, and the agreeable link they made between ourselves and the generations that have passed away; but they have claims to favourable remembrance of a more important character. What reader of Addison, of Fielding, of Goldsmith, or of Johnson, but will miss the place they have so often visited for materials to minister to our instruction and delight? What lover of the beautiful but would like still to be able to look upon that spot (Ranelagh) which the author of the
said presented the finest he had ever seen; or to keep the other, whilst it is yet possible, of which a forgotten poet of the
| last century, with a pleasant spirit of exaggeration, gives so high an origin?--he supposes Eden to have been borne up undestroyed by the Flood, and that-
that is to say, at .
Ranelagh derived its name from the Earl of Ranelagh, who about built himself a house and laid out extensive grounds on a piece of land lying eastward of the Royal Hospital of , to which it ,originally belonged. After the Earl's death, in , the mansion passed into the hands of his daughter. In the estate was sold in lots, when Lacy, the patentee of , in conjunction with a person named Rietti, took a lease of the premises, with a view of establishing a place of amusement of an extent and magnificence previously unknown to the citizens of London. But the design was too gigantic for the means of its authors; accordingly the property was divided into shares, and Ranelagh soon appeared in all its splendour. The great feature of the place was the Rotunda, a building which excited the astonishment of all visitors by its extraordinary size, its elegance, and its most ingenious and skilful adaptation to the purposes for which it was built. In
[n.398.1] a minute but prolix description of this edifice, and of the place generally, is preserved, from which it appears that the Rotunda was a structure somewhat resembling the Pantheon at Rome. The external diameter was feet, the internal . The entrances were by Doric porticos opposite each other, and the story was rustic. Round the whole on the outside was an arcade, and over it a gallery, the stairs to which were in the porticos. The gallery was sheltered by a slated covering, which projected from the body of the Rotunda. Over the gallery were the windows, in number; and over them the immense roof. The thing that struck the spectator in the inside was what was formerly the orchestra, but afterwards called the fireplace, erected in the middle of the Rotunda, reaching to the ceiling and supporting the roof; but it being found too high to give the company the full entertainment of the music, the performers were removed into another orchestra, erected in the space of the porticos. The former, however, remained. It was a beautiful structure, formed by triumphal arches of the Doric order, divided from each other by proper intervals, which, with the arches, formed an octagon. The pillars were divided into stories, the base of each lined with looking-glass, against which were placed patent lamps. These pillars were the principal support of the roof, which, for size and manner of construction, was not to be equalled in Europe. The genius of the architect was here concealed from view by the ceiling; but it may be easily conceived that such a roof could not be supported by any ordinary methods; and if the timber-works above had been laid open, they would probably have surprised the spectator. The interior of this orchestra or fire-place was no less striking. In the centre of it was a curious contrivance for heating the building in cold weather, to any degree required. It consisted of a fireplace that could not smoke nor become offensive, and of a chimney reaching upwards to the ceiling. The latter had faces, and by tins over each of them, which were taken off at pleasure, the heat was increased
|or diminished. The faces were formed by stone arches, with stone pediments above. The corners of the faces were supported by pieces of cannon, with iron spikes driven into them, and filled up with lead. These looked like black marble pillars. On the pediments, and in the spaces between them, were flower-branches of small glass lamps, which, when lighted, looked extremely brilliant. Above the pediments were niches in wood, in each of which was a painting; and over all was a dome, which terminated this inner structure. The chimney, which proceeded to the top of the Rotunda, was of brick. The band of music consisted of a select number of performers, vocal and instrumental, accompanied by an organ. The concert began about o'clock, and, after singing and music, closed about . Round the Rotunda, and forming a portion of the building, were boxes for the accommodation of the company, in which they were regaled with tea or coffee and other refreshments. In each of these boxes was a painting of some droll figure; and they were lighted by large bell lamps suspended between them. They were divided by wainscoting and square pillars. The latter were in front, and, being main timbers, formed part of the support of the roof. Each pillar was cased, and the front of every alternate pillar ornamented from top to bottom with an oblong looking-glass, in a gilt frame. At the back of each box was a pair of folding doors, which opened into the gardens, and were designed for the convenience of passing in and out without being obliged to use the grand entrances. Each of these boxes would commodiously hold persons. The gallery above was fronted with a balustrade and pillars resembling marble, encircled with festoons of flowers in a spiral form, surmounted by termini of plaster of Paris. This gallery also contained boxes, lighted like those below. At the distance of boxes from the orchestra, on the right hand, was the Prince's box, for the reception of any of the Royal Family. It was elegantly hung with paper, and ornamented in the front with the Prince of Wales's crest. The great ceiling of the Rotunda had a stone-coloured ground, on which, at proper intervals, were oval panels, with paintings of celestial figures on a sky-blue ground. Festoons of flowers, and other ornaments, connected the panels with some of a smaller size and of a square form, on which were arabesque ornaments in stone colour, on a dark-brown ground. From the ceiling hung chandeliers, in circles; each chandelier ornamented with a gilt coronet, and the candles contained in bell lamps. chandeliers were in the external circle, and in the internal. On the whole, it might have been said of Ranelagh, that it was of those public places of entertainment for convenience, elegance, and grandeur unsurpassed.|
The Rotunda was opened on the , with a public breakfast, a species of entertainment that was afterwards suppressed by act of Parliament, as detrimental to society. Morning concerts were also given for some time at Ranelagh, consisting chiefly of selections from oratorios. Musical performances of a more original and important character were gradually introduced. We learn from the
for that on the ,
This eminent musician had married a songstress of distinguished reputation, Miss Cecilia Young. His connexion with Mr. Tyers began in the year , when his wife appeared at , and he himself became principal composer there. Although we do not find the fact expressly stated, it is highly probable that Dr. Arne was concerned in the musical performance at in , which we find thus recorded in the
The morning entertainments soon gave place to those of the evening--a period of the day more congenial to such enjoyments, which were occasionally enhanced by the exhibition of fire-works on a very magnificent scale, accompanied by mimic representations of an eruption of Mount Etna, and other natural phenomena, similar to that we have seen recently revived at the .
Lastly, masquerades were introduced, and gave a new, but not very honourable or permanently useful, interest to Ranelagh. It is after a masquerade at Ranelagh that the ruin of of Fielding's female characters in
is accomplished, and Amelia herself is destined to a similar fate under similar circumstances, when she is happily warned of her danger. But the most interesting record we possess concerning the masquerades of Ranelagh is to be found in a satirical paper in the
where the writer, having referred to a celebrated lady who had a few years before attempted to introduce a new species of masquerade, by lopping off the exuberance of dress, and appearing in the character of Iphigenia undressed for the sacrifice, continues,
But, after all, the chief amusement of Ranelagh was the promenading round the circular area of the Rotunda, to see and be seen; and a very dull sort of amusement it must have proved, when the gloss of novelty had worn off, to all that numerous class of visitants who were unable to appreciate the music, which played at intervals through the whole evening, and who had no claim to be considered as members of the fashionable world.
says Captain Mirvan, in Miss Burney's novel of
This passage gives us an excellent idea of the chief attraction of Ranelagh; and the poet Bloomfield, in some amusing verses written about the period of its fall, thus good-humouredly ridicules the empty, unmeaning character of the entertainments:--
We may see from this last verse that the satire of the
had not driven the ladies into a more becoming style of dress. Not much longer, however, did Ranelagh afford a scene for such displays. It became less and less popular even among its supporters, and at last (about ) the Rotunda was pulled down, and the beautiful Ranelagh disappeared, leaving not a vestige of its existence behind.
[n.398.1] Vol. vi.
[n.401.1] Connoisseur, No. 66. May 1, 1755.
[n.401.2] Letter xxiii.