author of The Viscount’s Pleasure House.
Public pleasure houses and gardens had existed for many centuries, so the idea of a 19th century Viscount making money from the Pleasure Garden and Bath House on his country estate was nothing new.
Although, the way Justin created extravaganzas in his pleasure gardens may have raised a few eyebrows in the late Regency era where morals were becoming ‘slightly’ more circumspect.
In Ancient Rome, the landscaped Gardens of Sallust were open to the public for many centuries and included a temple to Venus and monumental sculptures.
In the 18th and 19th centuries in London, many pleasure gardens were opened, including Cremorne Gardens, Cuper’s Gardens, Marylebone Gardens, Ranelagh Gardens, Royal Surrey Gardens and Vauxhall Gardens.
Many of the grander Pleasure Gardens contained large concert halls and hosted promenade concerts or a menagerie for family outings, but there were also many smaller gardens. Some were tea gardens for ladies, but other less publicized ones were outdoor entertainment areas for gentlemen and the women who entertained them.
Towards the end of the 18th century, pleasure touring around England became a popular pastime for the rich and leisured class, and ‘picturesque’ tourists encouraged the reshaping of gardens and landscapes on country estates.
Capability Brown was often employed for garden redesigns and landowners began to follow the advice in William Gilpin gave in his book – for travelers to examine “the face of a country by the rules of picturesque beauty.
Extensive pleasure gardens, with irregular sight lines and prefabricated ruins of classical’ structures, were built all over England. These ideas were imitated in Europe and as far afield as the Americas, New Zealand and Australia.
So when Justin, Viscount Hawkesbury and the hero in The Viscount’s Pleasure House, needs money quickly to extend his search across Britain for his missing family, he opens the ‘Pleasure House’ on his own estate to the wealthy and bored upper classes of London. These men, and women, will pay anything and go anywhere to find different entertainment that will, for a few days at least, let them toss off their habitual state of ennui.
To Justin, his rich peers are plump pigeons, ripe for plucking. For three years he hosts lavish themed events at the Pleasure House with Arabian tents, harem dancers, and hot baths keeping these indolent aristocrats happy.
But for Justin, pleasure turns to disgust and he is eager to wave goodbye to that lifestyle. His plans, however, are thrown into disarray by the arrival of Lady Wellsby, a country-innocent widow, who is eager to learn as much as possible from London’s notorious Virile Viscount.
Viewing his Pleasure Gardens through Chrissie’s eyes reminds Justin of the beauty of his inheritance, whereas before he’d remembered only the cruelty of his father when he evicted Justin’s mother. Justin had imagined the estate was a means to find and retrieve his family, nothing more.
Gardens are meant to be enjoyed and their beauty slowly savored. Do you have any favorite gardens you visit to walk through and admire the beauty?
Please visit these places.
Want to read more of my historical research, especially around the late Regency and very early Victorian eras?
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