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Tag: Vauxhall Gardens

Vauxhall Vixens: A Sneak Peak at Peter and Alice’s story

Peter de Luca, violinist, had been employed at the Royal Vauxhall Gardens for nearly a week before he caught sight of the lady gardener. She was tall, her dark hair caught up in a white cap, and wore a brown apron over her dark gray skirt. He had seen few females at Vauxhall in the afternoons before the gates opened, and this one stood out from the rest because she seemed to have authority over the other gardeners. He saw her unrolling a sketch and giving instructions to two young men who listened respectfully and showed no signs of resentment at being ruled by a woman. She wasn’t simply a supervisor, however, as he later saw her viciously attack a shrub with a shovel and her own considerable strength.

“A strong one, for a filly,” said a voice behind him.

Peter wheeled around to find himself facing a short, rather stout gray-bearded man with friendly brown eyes and an approving smile.

“Nathaniel Stephens,” he said, extending his hand. “I have the honor of being head gardener here. Miss Crocker there is my assistant.”

Peter shook his hand and nodded. “She is at that,” he agreed. “Miss Crocker. She’s not married, then,” he observed.

Mr. Stephens cocked his head and gave Peter a speculative look. “Calls herself a spinster. Lives with her grandfather. Wouldn’t take no guff from any man, not my Alice.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “I’m quite sure no man would dare to.” Her name is Alice.

The older man chuckled. “Don’t get me wrong. Alice is a lovely, sweet-tempered young woman. Would make some lucky man an excellent wife,” he added, with a side-long glance at Peter. “But I told her when I hired her that she’d have to be iron-fisted from the start. Demand respect and all that. Men don’t usually like taking orders from a woman, but they come to respect her. Gal’s real talent is design. She could go far if she were a man.” He rubbed his chin. “Might do it even so,” he added.

Peter nodded and was about to respond when he heard the first notes of instruments being tuned. “Peter de Luca,” he said, by way of introduction. “Violinist. Rehearsal time, so I must go. Honored to meet you, Mr. Stephens.”

“Nathaniel.”

The old man had a twinkle in his eye, and Peter suspected he had matchmaking on his mind. Too bad, because Peter could not consider marriage… at least not until he’d cleared his name.

***

Alice found her feet tapping in time to the music of the orchestra rehearsal while she inspected the site for the new illumination, which would honor the new Duke of Wellington after his victory over Bonaparte at the Battle of Paris. If only the designer had included the measurements! It was difficult to decide how to arrange the plantings without some inkling of the space requirements. With luck, the fellow himself would arrive soon, since the spectacle was planned to open the next day.

Miss Catherine Stephens, Vauxhall soprano

Miss Stephens must be singing tonight, she thought as she found herself humming the tune of the popular Northumberland ballad about a brave lass who rowed out in a storm to save her shipwrecked sailor beau.

O! merry row, O! merry row the bonnie, bonnie bark, 

Bring back my love to calm my woe, 

Before the night grows dark. 

She liked the idea of a woman rescuing her man instead of the other way around. It might seem romantic to be rescued by a handsome prince, but one could not always be a damsel in distress, could one?  Alice knew from her mother’s marriage that there was no happiness or romance in a marriage where one partner held all the power. She herself had no intention of placing herself in the power of any man. She would be responsible to no one but herself… and perhaps her employer, as long as she was permitted to work for a living. A pinched expression came over her face. She could work as well as any man, better than some, in fact. Why did so many men feel threatened by that?

Tucking the rolled-up plans under her arm, she made her way down the covered walk toward the Orchestra building to check on the new flowerbeds, unconsciously swinging her head to the music.

A storm arose the waves ran high, the waves ran high, the waves ran high,

And dark and murky was the sky, the wind did loudly roar,

But merry row’d, O! merry row’d the bonnie, bonnie bark,

O! merry row’d the bonnie, bonnie bark

And brought her love on shore.

When the music stopped, she smiled her appreciation to the musicians, most of whom she knew by sight. There was a new violinist, though—one whose dark good looks even she could not ignore—and he was staring right at her!

I must look a mess, she thought, her hand moving involuntarily to her hair. The band struck up another tune and she came to her senses.

Don’t be a nitwit, Alice! You’re a gardener and gardeners get dirt on them. 

Why did she care what a musician thought of her? In any case, it was rude to stare, and staring back could be mistaken for an invitation for dalliance. She’d learned to take care not to show too much friendliness to any of the men, and even then it was tricky.

She took a turn to the left and nearly barreled into her supervisor, who was arranging potted plants in eating-area.

“Whoa! Best watch where you’re a-goin’, Miss Alice. Were you dreamin’ of an admirer? Or perhaps it was that new violinist, Mr. de Luca. Showed some interest in ‘the lady gardener,’ he did.”

He did? 

Alice felt heat creeping across her cheeks. Not for the first time, she lamented her inability to control her blushes. The last thing she wanted was to encourage Mr. Stephens in his matchmaking. A happily-married man himself, he had a tendency to wish the married state on those around him as well.

“A new violinist? I had not noticed,” she lied.

Mr. Stephens chuckled.

A Vauxhall Collaboration: Susana Ellis and Jonathan Tyers

Susana: I’d like to introduce Mr. Jonathan Tyers, the entrepreneur who transformed the “Old and New Spring Gardens” from a disreputable outdoor adult park into the lovely Vauxhall Gardens, popular among all levels of society. Mr. Tyers has graciously agreed to assist me in my quest to bring the gardens back to life for Anglophiles and history lovers everywhere.

Mr. Tyers: Indeed, it is so gratifying to make the acquaintance of someone who shares my passion for bringing back the simpler pleasures of life. I understand that you wish to feature some of my employees in your romantic novels?

Susana: Yes, a series of novellas and short stories, spanning the length and breadth of its existence, from the 1730’s until 1859. I-er-understand that you kept a close vigil on it even after it passed from you to your children and others over the years.

Mr. Tyers [shaking his head]: I did so as long as I could, but toward the end… well, it was too painful. Nothing lasts forever, of course.

Susana: Nonetheless, I would like to highlight the memory of Vauxhall by creating stories about some of the workers and performers who contributed to its success.

Mr. Tyers [with a knowing grin]: A capital idea! I like to believe that I had a small part in encouraging suitable matches among my deserving employees.

Susana: I believe I recall that you provided wedding rings and a fabulous dinner at your own home for two happy couples.

Mr. Tyers [chest thrust out]: Yes, indeed. We put on a feast for fifty employees to celebrate the union of two of my bar-men with two bar-maids. Provided transportation all the way to Denbies, in Dorking—more than twenty miles, you know.

Susana: I knew you would be just the one to assist me with my project!

Mr. Tyers [leaning forward]: I shall certainly do what I can, Miss Ellis. What do you wish to know?

Susana: The first story is about a woman who worked as an under-gardener in 1814, and Peter de Luca, a musician.

Mr. Tyers: Ah yes, Alice Crocker. As I recall, Nat Stephens, the head gardener at the time, insisted on hiring her as his assistant even though there were plenty of able-bodied men who could have filled the position. He insisted she could handle the physical labor required as well as anyone, and she had a knack for design like none other. Singular, I thought at the time. But she had no husband to object, and Stephens was pleased with her. A bit of a distraction for the men at first, I noticed.

Susana [grimacing]: Couldn’t keep their minds on their work, eh? She was too pretty or something?

Mr. Tyers: Not pretty. Attractive, I suppose. A Long Meg, solid and strong too. [Chuckles] Gal knew how to handle herself around lecherous men, she did.

Susana: Intriguing. I take it she wasn’t fresh out of the schoolroom, then.

Mr. Tyers [scratching his head]: Don’t know if she went to school, but she was in her caps. Near thirty, I’d guess, when she came.

Susana: I must find out more about her… her family, where she grew up, what she did before she came to work at Vauxhall, and most of all, how she learned to manage men at a time when lone women were considered fair game for predatory men.

Mr. Tyers [stepping backward]: Pray recall, Miss Ellis, that not all men were guilty of such appalling behavior.

Susana [smiling sweetly]: Of course not, Mr. Tyers. I appreciate your constant efforts to prevent such incidents during your tenure as manager of Vauxhall.

Mr. Tyers [nodding]: Indeed I did. We hired watchmen and constables…

Susana: Yes, yes. I am sure no one could have done more. Now tell me what you know of this Peter de Luca. He was a musician, I believe.

Tyers: Played the violin in the orchestra at Drury Lane. I believe Mr. Hook brought him in with several other new players at the time. Most of our musicians worked in theaters during the colder months and came to us in the summer to earn a little extra coin. Not well paid at all, musicians. Passionate about their art, though. I like to think I helped them out a bit, too, as well as entertaining the visitors. Families have to eat, you know.

Orchestra at Drury Lane, 1843

Susana: Of course. About Peter de Luca…

Mr. Tyers: Yes, well, he was Italian—popish, you know. A widower, I believe. Brought his little tyke with him at times, never caused a problem. Quite well-looking, he was. Caught the attention of many a maid. Why even Mrs. Billington fluttered her eyelashes at him…

Susana [gritting her teeth]: A womanizer? That will never do. I cannot have a hero who was a womanizer.

Mr. Tyers [opening and then closing his mouth]: Womanizer? You mean, a philanderer? I really can’t say. I saw no sign of it. Nothing outside of the usual.

Susana [with a deep sigh]: The usual. Hmm, sounds like a double-standard. I shall have to investigate this Peter de Luca more thoroughly before I match him with the excellent Miss Crocker.

Mr. Tyers [narrowing his eyes]: You are a most singular lady, Miss Ellis. Er—is this characteristic of all ladies of the future?

Susana [chuckling]: I wish! No, seriously, I just like to make sure my heroines get a hero capable of giving them their HEA.

Mr. Tyers: HEA?

Susana: Happy-ever-after. You know, the happy couple stays together into their golden years and beyond. A requirement of every genuine romance.

Mr. Tyers [smiling]: Yes, well, that is what we all hope for, do we not? By all means, let us do what we can to make suitable matches among my worthy employees.

Stay tuned for further news about Susana’s and Mr. Tyers’s matchmaking efforts in Susana’s new series, The Vauxhall Vixens.

Intrigued by Vauxhall Gardens? Join Susana on Facebook for daily tidbits about Jonathan Tyers’s successful creation.

https://www.facebook.com/vauxhallgardens/

A former teacher, Susana lives in Toledo, Ohio in the summer and Florida in the winter. She is a member of the Central Florida Romance Writers and the Beau Monde chapters of RWA, Maumee Valley Romance Inc., and is a member of the (in)famous Bluestocking Belles.

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