At Vauxhall and at Ranelagh, eighteenth-century Londoners could hear the very best contemporary music from the most notable composers and performers of the day. The city was full of places to hear music, from the tavern fiddle to the Italian opera, but the pleasure gardens were notable because they promoted the latest in English music, and many well-known pieces received their debut there. Thomas Arne, who was Vauxhall’s musical director between 1745 and 1777, was responsible for the patriotic song Rule Britannia, as well as a version of God Save The King.
A Scottish visitor to London described his experience in 1739, showing how the performances shaped visitors’ experiences in the gardens. At the start of the evening ‘the music striking up, the whole company crowd from every part of the gardens toward the orchestra and organ; which gives a fair opportunity of meeting one’s acquaintance, and remarking what beaus, bells, and beauties are present.’
Later on, ‘the next piece is begun, the gardens being pretty full, the company crowd round the music and, by being forced to stand close, have an opportunity of taking a strict observation of every face near, and, as it frequently happens, of picking out companions for the remaining part of the evening.’ Finally, ‘towards the close of the entertainment some of the best pieces of music are performed with the utmost skill and care, in order to leave the stronger impression upon the audience of the elegance of the entertainment… When the music ceases for the evening, the chill of the night hurries the company to the water-side.’