My birthday presents from my husband tend to arrive when he sees something he thinks I'll like, which makes the birthday season a somewhat prolongued one. I've done rather well over the past weeks (only a few months past The Day!) with two books that are so gorgeous I thought I'd share them with you.
It is so large and heavy that it isn't so much a coffee table book as one which, with the addition of legs, would make a very servicable table itself. The book covers the entire history of the gardens from 1661 until its closure on July 25th 1859 - the "LAST NIGHT FOR EVER of VAUXHALL" as the posters declaimed.
The illustrations are amazing - plans, prints, caricatures, portraits, tickets and playbills... I particularly liked the collection of prints of Madame Saqui, a French tightrope and slack-rope performer. A dumpy little woman with thick black eyebrows she doesn't look like the formidable gymnast she obviously was, but the illustration of her descent from a mast sixty feet high down an inclined rope 350 feet to the ground (no safety harness!) is just one of the breathtaking images in the book.
The second treasure is The Epicure's Almanack: Eating and Drinking in Regency London, The Original 1815 Guidebook edited by Janet Ing Freeman (The British Library).
At the instigation of the publishers Longmans, Ralph Rylance visted about 650 eating establishments in and around London and produced the first "Good Food Guide". Chop houses, confectioners, coaching inns and gentlemen's clubs are all here
and, beside the clubs, six of them still survive in more or less the same premises: The Seven Stars (53, Carey Street), The Bell (now the Old Bell) (96, Fleet Street), The Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street), The George & Vulture (George Yard), Simpson's (Ball Court) and the Cock & Woolpack (6, Finch Lane.)
Rylance also visted all the markets and provides a survey of seasonal foods.
With Janet Freeman's detailed notes it is possible to discover the recipe for Alamode beef - a staple of many a dinner - learn about bills of fare and prices, understand about meal times and the clientele of these eating places and much more.
I'm enjoying both of these so much that I'm not getting much of my own writing done, although they are generating plot ideas at an alarming rate!