Diary of a Guide…Prostitutes and Pleasure Gardens
Prostitutes and Pleasure Gardens seem to go hand in hand – as Joseph Addison said in the 18th century to the ‘mistress of the house’ when visiting New Spring Gardens (the forerunner to the famous Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens): “he should be a better Customer to her Garden, if there were more Nightingales, and fewer Strumpets”. And that’s kind of how my week went – strumpets everywhere.
First up were the prostitutes in the Cross Bones Graveyard in Borough. Scouting a route for a walk I’m leading in February, I wandered down Redcross Way to take a look at the ribbons and memorials on the old iron gate of the graveyard, and was delighted to find that the rather bleak and bare plot of land has been turned into a garden – the Goose Garden, or Cross Bones Garden of Remembrance.
Open to the public and free to visit, it was looking lovely, even in the cold January wind. I had a great chat with the gardener / volunteer who told me that all the work is being done by volunteers and supporters, and they rely heavily on donations to create this haven of peace and remembrance.
Cross Bones has always been a part of London’s history, and a visitor attraction in its own right as the burial place of approximately 15,000 people (estimated by Museum of London Archaeology); paupers and prostitutes who were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground in the medieval era. Many of those burials were the Winchester Geese, prostitutes licensed to ply their trade in the stews of Bankside by the Bishop of Winchester, but known as the outcast dead as he would not allow them a decent Christian burial.
The vision for Cross Bones is for it to become a place for remembrance, meditation and performances, and it exudes a peaceful calm as you wander round the pond, memorials and wild flowers, and contemplate the prostitutes buried there hundreds of years ago.
Cross Bones graveyard and garden is well worth a visit if you’re in the area, or maybe go along to one of the Vigils for the Outcast Dead that take place on the 23rd of every month at 7.00pm. Take a look at their website for more information or to donate / help out – www.crossbones.org.uk
Wednesday evening saw me make my way to Westminster Archive Centre to give a talk at the City of Westminster Guides’ monthly meeting, as the planned speaker had to postpone due to a family bereavement. I’d agreed to step in while at the Westminster Guides new year bash the previous Saturday evening – note to self: never agree to give a talk while having a drink in a pub (or at least look at your diary first!).
It wasn’t a major problem but, after spending the entire day on my feet delivering training in The View From The Shard, slumping on the sofa was an attractive option. Instead, there I was in front of a room full of experienced and knowledgeable Westminster Guides (tough audience) giving a talk on Marylebone Pleasure Gardens: A Place To See and Be Seen.
Hence, my second encounter this week with prostitutes (or strumpets)!
Now I love talking about pleasure gardens. They are full of interesting characters, and really capture a varied slice of London life in the 18th and early 19th centuries – the aristocracy and celebrities rubbing shoulders with servants, the working classes and, in some cases, the criminal classes. The dark corners of pleasure gardens were rich pickings for pickpockets, and prostitutes only had to pick up one wealthy customer and they probably didn’t have to work for the rest of the week!
They really were the Hello or Okay magazine of their day, where you could eavesdrop on conversations, gawp at who was wearing what, and gossip over who was having a liaison with who!
Marylebone Pleasure Gardens, unlike the more famous Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne, was quite short-lived as it opened in 1738 and closed in 1776. However, it was a popular haunt of the rich and famous; Handel composed popular songs for the gardens, Dick Turpin is rumoured to have stolen a kiss from the schoolmaster’s wife there, and the entertainments included firework displays and bare-knuckle boxing (and that was just the ladies – I’m not joking!).
Located in the grounds of, what was then, the Rose of Normandy Tavern and the old manor house, the entrance would have been towards the top end of Marylebone High Street today (almost opposite the old parish churchyard), and the original entrance fee of 6d was priced to keep the riff-raff out. Clearly that didn’t work!
Sadly nothing remains of the gardens, but you can get a good idea of what they would have been like if you visit the Museum of London’s recreation of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (www.museumoflondon.org.uk).
The talk went well, I managed to answer most of the questions (did I mention guides are a tough audience?) and then repaired to the pub for a drink – guides are a sociable bunch, and it is customary to partake of a glass or two after any event.
I finished my week back at The View From The Shard (www.theviewfromtheshard.com), delivering more training to turn some of their Guest Ambassadors into tour guides. The view of London from the top of The Shard really speaks for itself, but sometimes visitors want a guided tour with someone who can point out landmarks, tell them about London’s history, share stories about what they can see, and talk about the building itself. It’s what a guide does – brings it alive, and helps people to see what they are looking at!
It’s always great fun working with the team there, and today was no exception as the group was enthusiastic and passionate about the training. Oh, but it was windy up on Level 72, and chilly, but delivering a demonstration tour at 800 feet up in the sky is a good way to show the trainees some of the challenges they will face.
Now I always like to start tour training sessions discussing fears and what is the worst thing that could happen to you on a tour, and this time we really did go from the sublime to the ridiculous. In among the usual fears of going blank, not being able to answer a question and keeping the group interested, we also had someone throwing up, zero visibility and…a seagull hitting the window?? I am not aware that any seagulls have actually hit The Shard, but it could be a real problem, so an entertaining discussion ensued on what you should do if one ever did.
Personally, I’d get their window cleaners up there quick!
While there, I got a sneak preview at their Valentine’s Day plans. The View’s ‘Height of Winter’ experience was due to finish at the end of January, and the festive decorations in the Level 1 ticket hall and shop were in the process of being replaced for Valentine’s Day by giant Love Hearts dangling from the ceiling.
The View From The Shard can be a very romantic place, especially if you visit at sunset, and Valentine’s can also be very popular for marriage proposals. So I can’t imagine you’ll find any strumpets in The View From The Shard, but come February 14th, you may find love?!
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