The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker

Proximity and Social Space: Social Mixing in London's Pleasure Gardens

Vauxhall

Vauxhall's low admission price made it accessible, and so a broader spectrum of wealth was likely to be found there. However, though it may have brought more people into close proximity, its open plan meant that contact between groups was less enforced; though it was a place to see and be seen, actual contact could not be achieved accidentally.

Vauxhall's location on the Grub Street Project map

Vauxhall

Ranelagh

Ranelagh, especially in the Rotunda, was a more confined space than Vauxhall. Horace Walpole wrote of Ranelagh, "It has totally beat Vauxhall... You can't set your foot without treading on a Prince, or Duke of Cumberland." The space of Ranelagh contributed to its popularity as a pleasure garden because of the chance of meeting the upper echelons of society there.

Ranelagh's location on the Grub Street Project map

Ranelagh

In the selection from Smollett's The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, these social spaces, and the activities carried out in them, are seen by Mr. Bramble as a marker of near insanity on the part of the attendees, and woefully declares that the pursuit of pleasure leads directly to illnesses of all sorts. His niece is of the opposite view, and is overwhelmed with the "splendour and variety" to be found in these spaces.

When Bramble declares that "the different departments of life are jumbled together," one can see part of the appeal of such locations. Social contacts could conceivably be made with one's "betters" and at the very least, one might say that he or she had exchanged greetings with, for example, the Duke of Cumberland.

The spaces of Vauxhall and Ranelagh gardens were a place where the forced proximity of a variety of social classes that the "immense [urban] wilderness" of London encouraged (or offered) could be found on a smaller scale. In their escape from the high intensity of urban living to the marginally rural setting of the pleasure gardens, London's socialites found a place to perform a set of anxieties and codes that were similar to those they were ostensibly escaping.