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The University of Southampton

International focus on the scandal and intrigue of Britain’s former pleasure gardens

Published: 9 July 2008

They were hotbeds of scandals, intrigue and seduction in the Georgian and Victorian era.

Immortalised by the finest artists, composers and novelists of the day, pleasure gardens like London’s Vauxhall Gardens were summertime venues where people from all walks of life converged to listen to music, to admire paintings, to walk, or to drink and flirt.


Visitors to London were astonished at the easy mingling of different classes, and rushed home to create their own pleasure gardens.


Imitations of Vauxhall sprang up around the country and across the world, from New Orleans to New Zealand. These resorts shaped many of the shopping malls and theme parks we know today.


Now the unique fascination of these suburban 18th and 19th century gardens will be the subject of a major international conference being organised by a University of Southampton academic.


Dr Jonathan Conlin, a lecturer in modern history in the University’s School of Humanities, has arranged the prestigious event at Tate Britain, in London.


He said: “Pleasure gardens are phenomenally important spaces for historians of music, gender, art and society. Their success in creating a classless space for multimedia entertainment continues to challenge those interested in creating socially-inclusive leisure facilities.


“Vauxhall Revisited is the first conference to consider this remarkable phenomenon of the pleasure garden in all its aspects – design, art, music, fashion, gender and class.


“Delegates will hear the results of cutting-edge research into pleasure gardens and that’s not all. Thanks to tours, a concert and an alfresco punch reception, they’ll be able to feel, hear and taste what it was like to be there.”


The event takes place from 14-16 July and will feature talks and debates from key figures such as John Dixon Hunt, the scholar who created the field of garden history, as well as Aileen Ribeiro, the world’s leading historian of fashion.


Delegates at the conference will be able to get discounted access to a celebratory concert at the Museum of Garden History on Monday 14 July where the University of Southampton’s Professor David Owen Norris will perform pieces including 1820s songs on a period instrument from the University’s keyboard collection.

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