Those of you familiar with historical settings will know dating wasn’t easy in the 18th century. Social rules made unaccompanied dates with young ladies unlikely. But the population thankfully wasn’t entirely made up of sweet young Misses just arrived from the country, and even all those new arrivals weren’t necessarily as sweet as you might think.
For the gentlemen about town choices were available, and as ever during the 18th century, population demographics favoured men. Girls and young women knew competion was fierce and in finding a match they were often guided by the need for security as much as anything else.
This is the age of Hogarth, one of my favourite artists. His images of the degeneration of the lives of the young country maid newly in Town, or the youthful gentleman with an allowance, make sobering viewing; but of course they were meant to.
So, for the gentleman of means, and the young lady of merit and good fame, where would be the place to go with friends and relations, in the hope of meeting more friends? This place!
This is the Rococo Rotunda at Ranelagh Gardens the most popular pleasure destination in London in 1754.
Politicians, philosophers, leading actors, writers and musicians visited and as always, in the hope of seeing celebrities the rest of fashionable London visited too.
Ranelagh was a pleasure garden, it had a Chinese pavilion, a lake and paths for pleasure walks, but it also had a collection of interesting curiosities and antiquities too. There was a restaurant serving fine food, an assembly hall where performances were given by notable musicians, Handel and Mozart being two over the years Ranelagh was open. Balls were regularly held and masked balls too. The general everyday entrance fee, of two shillings and sixpence, kept the worst of the riff-raff out but on special occasions the entrance charge could be as much as two guineas; a fee so costly only the very best or well coined could attend.
The cream of London society came here to play, to see and be seen, to chat, gossip, and to find the perfect creature who would capture their heart. That last bit provided a delightful mixture of alarm and wishful thinking for young ladies accompanied by family and friends, and a lucrative business opportunity for young courtesans on the make.
As to the gentlemen on the make and there were plenty of those too, Ranelagh proved a delicious hunting ground. Thank heaven that in 1754 Ranelagh thrived and manners were relaxed enough to allow all kinds of friendships to blossom in its grounds.
In my new book A Gentleman’s Folly, the two friends, Katherine and Chloe attend a masked ball at Ranelagh. Katherine spends her evening seeking one man amongst the throng.
Tomorrow’s blog will dwell on the question of what to wear for an evening at such a place as Ranelagh.
Don’t miss it.
* Images taken from Wikipedia under free commons licence.