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LET’S VISIT THE LONDON PANTHEON
I know I said we’d visit Vauxhall next but a single fact about the Pantheon made it stand out (to me, at least!) so it has taken precedence.
Designed by James Watt, the Pantheon stood upon the Oxford Street site currently occupied by Marks & Spencer. Unlike Vauxhall and Ranelagh, it was a set of winter assembly rooms which Horace Walpole described as “the most beautiful edifice in England.” Building costs were just short of £37,000 and the Pantheon opened its doors in January 1772 – with 1700 members of high society paying £50 for a first night ticket.
Now … here’s the place where you’ll have to excuse a brief digression.
It’s generally accepted that the inspiration for the rotunda of the Pantheon was Hagia Sofia (pron. Aya Sofia) in Istanbul. It was built as a church by the Emperor Justinian in around 535, turned into a mosque in 1453 when Constantinople fell to Mehmet the Conqueror and is now a museum.
Externally, Hagia Sofia isn’t the prettiest mosque in Istanbul. Compared to the Sultan Ahmet, just a short distance away, it looks almost clumsy and yet it is that very solidity that has kept it in one piece through fifteen centuries. However, walk into the vast, beautiful space within as James Watt must have done … and it’s not difficult to understand why he was seized by the ambition to create something similar.
Needless to say, the exterior of Watt’s Pantheon resembles other architecture of its time. The pièce de résistance is the rotunda; topped by a dome, it had a central area of 18 square metres and was one of the largest ever previously built in England. Two of its sides had colonnades screening the aisles and upper galleries and the ground floor boasted tea and supper rooms. Decoration was in the Roman style and, in its day, the Pantheon was said to be, “the most elegant structure in Europe – if not the globe.”
When it first opened, it hosted only thrice-weekly assemblies without dancing or music. Soon, however, there were also concerts and masquerade balls – such as the one attended by Adrian and Caroline in The Player. Among various notable events which took place there, the most bizarre is probably the exhibition of Lunardi’s balloon – shown fully inflated inside the Pantheon shortly after his 1784 successful 50 mile flight to Hampshire. But despite this, popularity appeared to decline during the 1780s and, after the King’s Theatre, Haymarket burned down in 1789, the Pantheon was converted into an opera house. Sadly, its new incarnation was short-lived; in 1792, like the King’s Theatre, it too burned to the ground.
Next time, Vauxhall. Promise!
LET’S HAVE A NIGHT OUT – GEORGIAN-STYLE!
Although Rockliffe and Amberley prefer to avoid London’s pleasure gardens, they were popular with the younger set and we’ve enjoyed evenings with them at Vauxhall, Ranelagh and the Pantheon.
These three weren’t the only pleasure gardens. There were numerous others – Marylebone, Islington Spa and Sadlers Wells, for example. But Ranelagh was the first one to challenge the long-held supremacy of Vauxhall … so I thought we’d start there.
It occupied the site of the former home of the Earl of Ranelagh and opened in 1742. The rotunda alone was a marvel. Spanning 150 feet and supported by walls 17 feet thick, its vast, domed ceiling dripped with massive crystal and gilt chandeliers. And the central structure with its marble columns and gilded caryatids – originally meant to hold the orchestra – became a massive fireplace to combat the damp and chill of typically English summer evenings. Admission price was half a crown … which may not sound much these days but was probably substantial enough to keep the riff-raff out. One account tells us that Ranelagh was frequented by ‘the elite of fashion’ and gentlemen sporting powder, wigs, ruffles and gold-headed canes. ‘Cropped heads and shoe-strings’ were apparently denied entry. Ranelagh was also considered more respectable than Vauxhall … but I think it’s safe to assume that there were as many goings-on in the shrubbery there as anywhere else.
Parties of up to eight persons could take supper in one of the hundred-and-four boxes whilst listening to the concert. Later, there would be dancing. Or one could stroll through the gardens to the Temple of Pan or wander along the Great Walk where reflections from lanterns in the trees danced on the surface of the canal.
Ranelagh soon became famous for its masquerades. In April 1749 a Grand Jubilee Masquerade in the Venetian Taste celebrated the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Horace Walpole said, ‘It had nothing Venetian about it but was by far the prettiest spectacle I ever saw. On the canal was a sort of gondola adorned with flags and filled with music. There were booths for tea and wine, gaming and dancing.’
The Ranelagh Regatta and Ball was the high-light of 1775. The Thames became something like a floating town, teaming with pleasure boats, gaming tables and vendors selling food and drink. Scaffolding lined the river-bank to hold spectators of the boat race – the start of which was signalled by cannon fire and the whole event culminated in an extravagant firework display.
I like to think a jolly good time was had by all and would have loved to see Ranelagh myself.
Next time, join me at the New Spring Gardens … or as they soon came to be known, Vauxhall.
HAZARD How to play the game – plus some useful advice!
The dice game, Hazard was immensely popular with Georgian gamblers.
However, if you’re not a member of Sinclairs (see Rockliffe books 3, 4 & 5) and are planning to play in one of the less respectable houses – or even a hell – it’s worth taking a quick course in the correct lingo.
You wouldn’t want to be thought a flat or a bubble because this might result in you being targeted by a mace cove or a nickum – which, in turn would almost certainly see you thoroughly dished up or, worse still, lurched.
So here are a few things you need to know.
The person rolling the dice is the caster. A winning throw is a Nick in and a losing one, a Throw out. Don’t forget that the correct call for throwing a double-one is Crabs! because if you mistakenly shout Snake-eyes!, fellow-players will assume you are either a chub or a foreigner.
Hazard is about luck, not skill. It uses two dice and can be played by any number of people.
The first Caster rolls the dice until he (or she) throws a Main – that is to say, a number between 5 and 9. This done, everybody else bets on whether or not he will win his next throw.
And this is where is gets complicated – or so it seems to me. If anyone can explain the logic behind these winning and losing combinations, I’ll be delighted to hear from them.
If the Main is a 5, only another throw of 5 will win. 2, 3, 11, 12 will all lose.
If it’s a 6, a throw of 6 or 12 will win. 2, 3 and 11 lose.
7 … then 7 or 11 win. 2, 3 and 12 lose.
Is everybody following? Excellent.
If the Main is an 8, throws of 8 or 12 win; 2, 3 and 11 all lose
If it’s a 9, only 9 will win; 2, 3, 11 and 12 all lose.
The caster carries on throwing until he achieves either a winning or losing combination – after which the dice move on to the next player.
Personally, I don’t think it’s difficult to see how arguments and fights might break out!