A Vauxhall Cicesbeo, 1805
A cicesbeo was the male friend of a married woman who accompanied her to events and served as a companion.
It’s not surprising that Smart picked Vauxhall Gardens as an example to illustrate London’s unfortunate cloacal situation. The eighteenth century was a period in which public, paid-for entertainments flourished – which meant that more and more people were spending time outside their homes, or the homes of their friends and family (where a chamberpot would always be handy).
‘Respectable’ women, in particular, were suddenly in a situation where access to a discreet and reasonably hygenic toilet facility could not be taken for granted. In Vauxhall, a communal women’s privy appears to have existed, and was illustrated in a satirical print by the artist Thomas Rowlandson, although this may be an exaggerated representation – Rowlandson was known for his scatological and titillating images of women. Still, many women – and men – must have taken advantage of the garden’s dark corners and convenient plants.
Writing in the 1750s, the Venetian adventurer Giacomo Casanova was struck, when visiting London, at ‘the hinder parts of persons relieving nature in the bushes’ in London’s parks and gardens. This may have been a discreet solution, but a dangerous one for women in particular, for the darker parts of Vauxhall Gardens were known for drunkenness and debauchery, and a woman ran the risk of being harassed and assaulted by men.
The very wealthiest patrons, who arrived by carriage and were accompanied by servants, would have been able to retreat discreetly to their carriages or a private nook and make use of a chamberpot, but for most visitors to the pleasure gardens, there was no pleasure at all in answering the call of nature. As was the case with so many aspects of London’s pleasure gardens, the glittering surface hid a rather nastier reality.