Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 2Wilkinson, Robert
Finch's Grotto Gardens: St. George's Street, St. George's Fields, Southwark.
IT is probable that the earliest public pleasure gardens established near London, were those attached to the many springs of mineral-water surrounding the Metropolis, called Wells. They seem to have appeared at the time that every kind of dramatic amusement was in the lowest state of depression; and to have gradually advanced from places devoted to medicinal purposes, to those of general and crowded resort, entertainment, dissipation, and depravity. This progress was evidently both easy and natural. As exercise was required for those who came to drink the waters, the houses of the various Wells had always a piece of ground attached to them, which was planted either as a lawn or garden for a promenade; but these being improper for the many showery days occurring in the season for taking the waters, most of the Springs had also a large room erected for the same purpose upon the increase of their patients. As the greater number of those visitors attended on certain days only, when they not unfrequently took breakfast at the taverns of the Wells, by way of receiving the waters at the best time, early in the morning;— or more of such days in every week gradually became distinguished as public-breakfast mornings, from their full attendance. At these times the proprietors at length ventured to introduce music, and ultimately dancing, as the age and manners became less rigid; for the attractions of others besides those who came for the benefit of their health, of whom a small sum was required for admission, instead of the stated subscription or payment for drinking the waters. This entertainment was afterwards increased, by its extension to the evenings of the public days; when the gardens were illuminated, a short concert and ball were added, and sometimes a display of fireworks. To these mixed places of resort, appear to have suceeded those gardens the entertainments of which were almost entirely of the latter character; some of the earliest of them being the Spring-Gardens, , and Cuper's Gardens: an account of both of which will be found in the present work. The attractions of the former still continue; but the amusements of the latter appear to have terminated in the year , and its decline was in all probability the cause of the establishment of Finch's Grotto Gardens, since a notice of their being opened occurs in the public prints of the year following.
The very name of this once-attractive place of resort is at the present time almost unknown; and as it appears scarcely ever to have been indicated in the maps of the Metropolis, its extent is to be ascertained rather from the directions contained in the advertisements of it,[a] and from the imperfect remembrance of such of its visitors as are still living, than from any accurate delineation of the spot. The ensuing entirely original account, however, was communicated to the late Mr. Wilkinson more than years since, from more than person well acquainted with the place and its history, especially from of Finch's Waiters, then upwards of years of age; and it has been altogether amplified by materials and information equally authentic. The principal site of Finch's Grotto Gardens, appears to have been a triangular piece of land forming the western side of Street, ; and bounded on the south by the road called Dirty Lane, and on the north by a vinegar-yard in , and the extremity of Parish.[b] For a considerable time previous to the conversion of this spot into a place of entertainment, it is represented in the old Plans of London as being occupied by gardens; which, together with the extent of the premises, their convenient enclosure, and their very close vicinity to the Metropolis, was probably the reason of the establishment of Finch's Grotto. The name was partly derived from that of the proprietor, a Herald-Painter, who inherited the house and grounds from an aunt named Topham; and partly from a Grotto which he made over a medicinal spring of some reputation, which rose in the grounds not far from the house. In the centre of the Grotto was a fountain playing over artificial embankments, and forming a natural and beautiful cascade; the whole spot being planted with ever-greens and shrubs, whilst lofty trees were dispersed through the other parts of the gardens. Towards the northern extremity stood an orchestra, containing an organ built by Pike, of Bloomsbury; and there was also a large octagonal music-room, for the promenade and concert on wet evenings, elegantly decorated with paintings and festoons of flowers: on side of it was erected an orchestra, which did not come forward into the room. likewise contained a long range of tea-rooms On the front of the tavern attached to , appeared the words "Licensed Pursuant to Act of Parliament, of King George the ;" and in such reputation was this house, that the Members of Parliament for used to give at it their annual dinner to their constituents. The Borough Assembly was also held there during the winter, when the organ was removed from the orchestra into the great room above and occasional singing introduced; whilst card-tables were laid out in another apartment. A lodge of Free-Masons, and a Club composed of the most respectable persons of the vicinity, were likewise established at the Grotto-house. Such being the imperfect description of this place now preserved, the ensuing are some particulars of the entertainments there, derived from the contemporaneous public prints.
. . "Finch's Grotto and Gardens are now open'd for the reception of Gentlemen and Ladies, at the upper end of Street, near Fields, : there is a way from thro' Bandy-leg Walk, which leads directly to the said Grotto and Gardens."—
. "Finch's Grotto Gardens in , Fields, , will continue open every Evening during this Season, with a Band of Vocal and Instrumental Music. The Vocal parts by a Young Lady, being the time of her performance in publick; with a Concerto on the Organ. The Violin by Mr. Cocklin. Entrance " The same charge was made for admission to on Sunday afternoons, when the visitors received a ticket entitling them to that amount in any kind of refreshment, which was principally tea.
In the of . the price of admission is and in the same year Finch appears to have issued subscription-tickets at each, for the season, entitling the subscriber to the benefit of the medicinal spring,[c] and access to the evening amusements: an engraving of of which tickets bearing this date, will be found on the Plate of Checques and Tickets to the London Theatres, &c. in the Volume of this Work.
The Vocal Performers at Finch's Grotto consisted of some of the most popular singers of the time; as Messrs. Oldfield, Lauder, Derle, Baker,[d] Barnshaw of , Moore, the celebrated Tom Lowe, Kear, Nepecker, Clarke, Thomas and A. Smith, from the Richmond Theatre, Aitken, and Murphin: Master Adams, Master Suett in from Ranelagh,[e] and Master Lyon. The female singers were Mrs. Forbes, Smith, Taylor, and Dorman: and Misses Garvey, Thomas, in ,[f] Carli Moyse, Snow,[g] Dowson, Cantrell, Marshall, and Oakes. The Instrumental Performers included Cocklyn and Smart, Hudson, Palmer, Master Green, pupil of Mr. Jones, —The Entertainments on record are Concertos on the Organ, pieces for horns and clarionets, Handel's Coronation Anthem, an Ode to Summer with music by Brewster, Dialogues and Addresses for benefits, and Chorusses. The Songs announced are Thro' the Wood Laddie; Water Parted from the Sea; Oh! what a charming thing's a battle; British Wives; O'er mountains and moorlands rude, desert, and bare; Cupid's Recruiting-Serjeant, with an accompaniment of a fife and drum; the Early Horn; Swift wing'd vengeance nerve my arm, from Joah Bates's Pharnaces; Shepherds cease your soft complainings; Inconstancy; Beneath this grove, this silent shade; the Span; Do if you dare! Oh! lead me to some safe retreat; a satirical song on Garrick's Jubilee; the Lucky Escape; Hark! hark! the joy-inspiring horn; &c.
The greatest attractions of this place, however, appear to have been upon the benefit-nights of the performers; each of the principal of whom was entitled to take every season: the nightly expense of lighting was about but the price of admission was then generally raised, and the whole receipts must have been very considerable, upwards of visitors having been known to assemble there on many occasions.[h] Some of the most successful evenings were probably the benefits of those performers who were Free-Masons; and the following are some of the advertisements issued on those occasions.
. August. "Brother Neeves' Night. At Finch's Grotto Gardens, Wednesday next, will be a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music. The Vocal parts by Brother Lowe, Miss Frowd, &c. Frst Violin and Sola, by Brother Smart, Jun. Several Select Pieces with Catches, Glees, and Masons' Songs, will be added to the usual Performances. By Particular Desire a New Song, Composed for that Night by Brother Lee, and Set to Music by Brother Smart, Jun to be Sung by Brother Lowe, &c. &c. To conclude with the Coronation Anthem. Admittance Shilling. The Doors to be Opened at and Begin at . Vivant Rex et Regina. The Brethren who intend to honour Brother Neeves with their Company are desired to bring their Clothing with them, and meet at Brother Lee's, Sun Tavern, , at o'clock, to go in procession with Music provided for the purpose. Tickets to be had of Brother Neeves, at No. in the , near , at the Sun Tavern , at the Bells Tavern in , and at the Music Shops. If a wet Night the Tickets to be taken the Saturday following."
. August. "Tom Smith's Night. At Finch's Grotto Gardens, To-morrow will be a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music, to Begin at o'clock. Mr. Smith hopes to have the honour of the Company of his Brother Masons, Bucks, Antigallicans, &c. and the favour will be gratefully acknowledged by their humble servant."
. August. "By Permission of the Deputy Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons under the York Constitution. For the Benefit of Brother Neeves. At Finch's Grotto Gardens, This present Tuesday will be a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music. The Vocal Parts by Mr. Baker, Miss Snow, Mrs. Smith, &c. An Additional Band, several Select Pieces, and Masons' Songs will be added to the usual Performances. To conclude with the Coronation Anthem. N.B. For this Night only the Grotto will be Illuminated, and Horns and Clarionets between the Acts and after the Performance. Admission The Doors to be Opened at , and Begin at Half-past . Note. Those Brethren who intend to honour Brother Neeves with their Company, are desired to meet at Brother Lee's, the Sun Tavern, , at o'clock, and to come Clothed in order to go in Procession, with Music provided for that purpose. To the Brother Sols. The Master and Officers of the Windsor, desire the Brethren belonging to the Grand, the Union, the Jerusalem, the Albion, and the Assyrian, Lodges, to meet at the Windsor Lodge, held at the Castle, in Quaker's Buildings, at o'clock, to go in Procession, with a band of Music provided for that purpose. Tickets to be had at Brother Kerney's, the Tun in ; at Brother Burridge's, the Bells in ; at Brother Lee's, the Sun Tavern ; at Brother Creighton's, the Denmark Tavern ; at Brother Harris's, the Museum in , Bloomsbary; at Brother Gean's, the Dolphin at Greenwich; at Brother Mawbert's, the Black Lion, Greenwich; at the Griffin opposite the Dock Gates, Deptford; at Mr. Horn's, the London Spa; and of Brother Neeves, No. , ."
In it is announced that "many alterations have been made in ," and the admission was then " Shilling each person, for which they are entitled to half a pint of wine." On in that year, the entertainments were "to conclude with an exact representation of the famous Fall of Water call d Pystill Rhiader, near the Seat of Sir Watkin Williams Wynne, Bart. in Denbighshire." On the is announced "a New Musical Entertainment, with Alterations and Additions, call'd the Gamester, Composed by Bates." On for the Benefit of A. Smith and Miss Dowson, Mr. Smith was to "sing Russell's Triumph, in the character of a Midshipman, with a Hornpipe by Mr. Rawlins from the Opera House in the , in the character of a Sailor. After which will be displayed a Grand Transparent Painting, feet wide and high, with Illuminations. Over the centre arch is is a Medallion of Neptune, supported by Tritons; on each side are Fountains, with Serpents jetting water, representing different-coloured chrystal: on wing is Neptune drawn by Sea-horses; on the other wing is Venus rising from the sea, accompanied by Tritons. Through the back Arches is a distant Prospect of the Sea: all the Borders and Arches are adapted to the subject, representing shells and Rock-chrystal. The whole will be Illuminated in the most elegant manner. By Particular Desire the whole to conclude with a Ball in the Octagon Room. To Begin at half-past o'clock. Horns and Clarionets will play till in the Garden. to be open on Sunday for Tea, &c."—On it is advertised that "the Evening Entertainments of this place will be continued as long as the weather remains fine;" and on the Mr. Barnshaw was to "present his friends with the favourite Interlude call'd Linco's Travels." In on Mr. Williams' Night, , the admission was Shillings, Tom Weston from was to sing his well known song of "Johnny Pringles' Pig," and fire-works were added to the other entertainments.
The death of Finch, the original proprietor of this place, is stated in the newspapers of the time to have occurred , to which it is added, by tradition, that he was buried from the Grotto, in the churchyard of , ; where, however, the registers contain no entry of his interment.[i] Another account
|given by Mr. Griffiths of , the son of the undertaker who interred him, dates his death , and refers his burial to Watlington in Oxfordshire. The registers of the latter place, however, contain no such entry, but on , there appears of the burial of a William Finch.|
It was probably the successor of Finch who announced in that many alterations had been made at this place; since he also took down the Grotto, beautified the house, rooted up some of the trees and shrubs and converted into Skittle-grounds, and finally reduced the tavern to a common public-house, with no other relique of its former state than the sign of the Grotto. This building was destroyed by fire , when in the occupation of a person named Squires; and upon the erection of that represented in the annexed Plate, a stone, measuring inches by , and bearing the appearance of some antiquity, was inserted in the centre space between the windows of the story, commemorating in the following verse the appearance of the spot at the time when buildings were erected there; with the age of which this memorial was probably contemporaneous.
An enlarged representation of the stone and inscription is given beneath the present View; and the original, after having remained for some time in the possession of a respectable tradesman of the neighbourhood, was in used as a step in the yard of the house of Mrs. Stevens, near the site of , the verse being then almost illegible. Until after the year , Finch's Grotto Gardens remained in nearly a perfect state, though entirely closed, the music-room being converted into a mill, and kept by a person named Neale; and it was also used as an armoury for the Volunteers. The neighbourhood of the Grotto, having become infamous for the many depredations committed there, the landlord of this house changed the name of the sign from the Grotto to the Goldsmiths' Arms, in the hope of removing the disrepute attached to it. A succeeding tenant, however, upon learning the character it formerly possessed, resumed the original name under the title of "The Old Grotto New Reviv'd," as exhibited in the annexed View: but when that public-house was removed for the formation of the in , another landlord re-named it the Goldsmiths' Arms. The new house so called stands at a short distance on the western side of the road, more upon the site of , but possesses only a small confined yard paved with red brick. There is still, however, a long piece of ground formerly occupied by behind it, on which several small and inferior wooden cottages were made out of a range of tea-rooms, destroyed in . At the end of this line in was remaining a very large and old mulberry-tree; and beyond the gardens attached to those miserable dwellings was a water-course, derived from , and dividing them from a field occupied only by dust and rubbish. The latter was the chief site of of Finch's Grotto, the water being probably crossed by light ornamental wooden bridges, similar to those built over the Fleet in the gardens of ; and the extent of the ground occupied at this place might be discovered by a regular line of trees planted across the field to the north-west, behind the workhouse of Parish and the residence of the late John Harris, Esq. returned M.P. for in .
[a] "A boat to be had any hour of the Night, at the Falcon, near Blackfriars' Bridge; and the Coach-way is by Blackman Street." 1766.—"Such Gentlemen and Ladies as chuse to come by water, will please to observe that Mason's Stairs are the nearest to the Gardens. The fare from Westminster Bridge is 3d. The Coach Fare is 1s. 6d" 19th June 1771.—"Those Ladies and Gentlemen who intend honouring Mr. Williams with their Company, will please to take notice that the Coach-road to the Gardens from Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges, is opposite to St. George's Bun-House in the New Road; and a common entrance to the Gardens is from St. George's Fields." 13th Aug. 1772.
[b] The Gardens are stated to have extended from the corner of Suffolk Street to Gravel Lane; and to have occupied the ground forming the garden of St. Saviour's Workhouse, erected in 1777, with that of the residence of the late John Harris, Esq. History and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Saviour, by M. Concannen and A. Morgan, Deptford, 1795. 8vo. p. 254; where it is added that "the rotunda is still standing without side the garden-wall, but it is not within this Parish."
[c] This Spring appears to have gained celebrity chiefly from the recommendation of a medical practitioner named Townsend, who at one time resided in the Haymarket, and afterwards in St. George's Fields; and who in many cases advised his patients to make use of these waters.
[d] Baker was a Singing Master who undertook the instruction of young persons intended for the stage; and one of his pupils was Miss Brown, afterwards Mrs. Cargill, a very favourite singer and actress.
[e] It has been conjectured that this was the celebrated Dick Suett, the actor; and that he sang at Finch's Grotto soon after quitting the choir of Westminster Abbey, previously to his engagement at York as a vocalist.
[f] A singer of great promise and expectation, who was brought forward by W. Kitchener, Esq. father of the late Dr. Kitchener. She appeared in public only as a concert performer, and died very young in consequence of mental derangement.
[g] Daughter of Jonathan Snow, Serjeant-Trumpeter to George III., afterwards married to Baddely, the Comedian.
[h] It was stated by the domestic of Finch before referred to, that the Princes Edward-Augustus and William-Henry, Dukes of York and Gloucester, brothers of George III, were many times known to have visited the Gardens of Finch's Grotto.
[i] In the records of the Prerogative Office, in the Register called 8. Jenner, Quire 396, appears a short will of "Thomas Finch, of St. George's, Southwark, Victualler;" who was doubtless the proprietor of these gardens. It is Dated 5th Sept. 1761, and was Proved 22nd Nov. 1770; and bequeathes all the property of the testator to his wife, Grace Finch, with the sum of one shilling each to his brother, William Finch, of Chatham, in Kent, and his sister, Elizabeth Finch, or Pratt, of Deptford, in the same County.
Title page of Vol. 2 reads: Theatrum illustrata. Graphic and historic memorials of ancient playhouses, modern theatres and other places of public amusement in the cities and suburbs of London & Westminster with scenic and incidental illustrations from the time of Shakspear to the present period.