As the days lengthen, and spring approaches, I’m starting to plan some garden visits. The two journeys I’m going to discuss today remind me, however, that these highly anticipated excursions do not always proceed as smoothly as we’d like them to, and perhaps never more so than when a group of people travel together.
The account of a solitary traveller is often seductive. The reader is invited to travel as a companion to the author, and enjoys privileged access to locations that would be impossible to see without them. But the reader’s relationship with a travelling group can be less comfortable. The reader is now plunged into a situation where the complexities of the group dynamic make the outcome of the journey much less certain.
These two entertaining stories for children from the early 19th century involve trips to Kew and Vauxhall Gardens, both popular visitor attractions at that time. I love the illustrations for the details they reveal about London life of two hundred years ago. London is so much smaller, and the countryside so much closer than it is today. We glimpse cobbled streets, lamp posts, signage and even a pot plant growing on somebody’s windowsill. The Thames is as full of passenger boats as London’s streets are with taxis today.
The Dandy’s Perambulations (1819), written and illustrated by Isaac Robert Cruikshank (1789 – 1856), the elder brother of celebrated artist George Cruikshank, is a gently satirical account of a visit to Kew Gardens undertaken by two fashionable London dandies. After a late start and various mishaps along the way, they never reach their destination.
One morning, after getting dressed Mr Pink leaves his home in Southwark to visit MacCarey in a basement flat, (from which he appears to have a business selling potatoes). Deciding to visit Kew Gardens, the dandies hire velocipedes (an early version of the bicycle without pedals). Some distance out of London they are attacked by geese, fall into a pond and are rescued by one Peter Parrot:
‘The only Dandy that was seen,
Or known to live, at Turnham Green.’
After losing one of the velocipedes and another unfortunate encounter, this time with a sow and piglets, they admit defeat and decide to come home agreeing;
.. no more to roam
Beyond the eastern town of Bow,
Or farther west than Rotten Row;
The second book has a long title – A Second Holiday for John Gilpin, or A Voyage to Vauxhall; where, Though he had better Luck than Before, he was far from being contented. (1808). In this tale, the Gilpin family visit the famous Vauxhall Gardens in south London and although they do reach their destination, the accident prone and reluctant traveller John Gilpin is appalled at the expense of the outing. The character of John Gilpin would have been well known to readers after the success of William Cowper’s poem The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1782) where Gilpin rides further than he intended on a runaway horse.
Travelling to Vauxhall by boat Gilpin manages to lose his hat in the water, and on arriving at the gardens is ‘vex’d to find that he Four Shillings had to pay.’ An illustration shows the boat landing outside Lambeth Palace and the church St Mary-at-Lambeth (which now houses the Garden Museum). After listening to some music they have dinner with wine, but John Gilpin thinks, ‘he’d rather had A pot of Trueman’s beer.’ Eventually a coach is called to take them home at yet more expense and Gilpin vows ‘he ne’er would have Another Holiday’.
The message from both these accounts seems to be – choose your garden travelling companions carefully! Links to the full versions of both texts below:
Lambeth Palace and the church of St Mary-at-Lambeth
Dining at Vauxhall Gardens
The Dandy’s Perambulations from the Children’s Library, The Internet Archive
A Second Holiday for John Gilpin from the Children’s Library, The Internet Archive
Robert Cruikshank Wikipedia