Tea Gardens of London and New York

In 1744, an advertisement in the London Daily Advertiser announced that at Mulberry Gardens’ Coffee House in Clerkenwell, “Gentlemen and Ladies will be accommodated with breakfasting in the morning, and Coffee and Tea in the afternoon, with bread and butter, at fourpence per head, and without threepence per head.”

White Conduit House in Islington also offered its customers a large garden with “pleasing walks, prettily disposed”, “genteel boxes” painted in the Flemish style and little arbors all around for tea drinking. Tea at White Conduit House had its own code of behavior when it came to flirtation and courtship.

If a gentleman wished to make the acquaintance of a particular lady, it was the accepted practice to tread on her skirt, as if by accident, apologize profusely for such clumsy behavior and then offer an adjournment to an arbor for tea in order to make amends.

Tea Gardens of London

Tea Gardens of Georgian London

By the end of the century, the garden often took more than £50 each Sunday afternoon from the sale of its sixpenny tickets that bought tea and slices of the famous bread made on the premises and as popular as traditional Chelsea Buns.

Probably the best known of all London’s pleasure gardens was Vauxhall, south of the river in Lambeth. Vauxhall opened in 1732 and reached the height of its success in the second half of the century. As well as tea, there were promenades, a temple, a lily pond, firework displays, concerts, Indian jugglers, equestrian entertainments, balloon ascents, elaborate illuminations, and pavilions with supper boxes for six to eight people.

New Yorkers were not to be outdone by their British cousins. The city boasted two hundred tea establishments in the eighteenth-century. Gardens named Ranelagh and Vauxhall, after their London counterparts, sprang up around the Lower East Side and the Bowery. The first Vauxhall garden—there were three by this name—was on Greenwich Street between Warren and Chambers streets. It fronted on the North River, affording a beautiful view up the Hudson.

The Ranelagh, which lasted for twenty years, was on Broadway between Duane and Worth streets on the site where, later, the New York Hospital was later erected. In 1765, advertisements boasted great displays of fireworks and twice-weekly band concerts at both locations.

The gardens were “for breakfasting as well as the evening entertainment of ladies and gentlemen.” Tea, coffee, and hot rolls could be had in the pleasure gardens at any hour of the day, and a commodious hall was erected in the Vauxhall garden for dancing. The second Vauxhall opened in 1798 near the intersection of the Mulberry and Grand streets. The third, and final, Vauxhall opened in 1803 on Bowery Road near Astor Place.

Excerpt from A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson. Benjamin Press, Summer 2013.