It's always a treat to find a clay pipe with relief decoration and even more so if it tells a story.The shape of the pipe and its distinctive forward pointing spur, dates it to 1740-1800 smack bang in Georgian London. The initials of the pipe maker A and B straddle the spur.
A knobbly kneed actor in full flow appears on the right hand of the bowl 'D Vernon' arching above him.
On the left another kneels.
Adorning the inside bowl six figures sit in a decorated theatre box - are those hats?
Vines and fruit decorate the front.
I'd love to step back in time to Georgian London. It sounds a riot, with boisterous fayres, an explosion of theatre and music halls. Playwrights would quickly pen plays to satirise or celebrate events of the day. Actors and singers were celebrities. Artists would capture the most acclaimed performances in etchings, Staffordshire figurines and evidently in clay pipes. Strange to think there was a time when theatre was part of popular culture.
The only Vernon I can track down in this period is Joseph Vernon a famous tenor and stalwort of Drury Lane, here playing in the Beggars opera which took London by storm when it was performed in 1728 and revived throughout the 18th century.This doesn't quite square with the 'D' above, but let's assume it's him.
Prime minister Robert Walpole's concern about the rise of satirical theater resulted in the licensing act of 1737, which restricted the production of plays to two patent theatres. Each had to be vetted by the Lord Chamberlain. Non patent theatres were forced to stage drama interspersed with music, melodramas, ballard operas and burlesque, none of which came under the auspices of the act.
This was also the era of London's Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which sat on the south bank of the Thames. This side of London was slow to develop and for centuries boasted a string of establishments offering various entertainments from bear and bull bating pits and theatre at the Rose and the Globe.
|Bear and bull bating along the Thames C 1560 from Agas's Map (Wiki)|
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens began as a popular ale house in 1661 and experienced its hayday between 1730 - 1770.
Londoners were ferried across the Thames for the ultimate evening of entertainment. The Gardens were the place to be seen and were frequented by royalty, aristocracy and anyone else who could afford the shilling entry fee.
The wealthy could purchase metal season tickets, the engraving would change each season.
|Vauxhall Gardens Season ticket (British Museum)|
|Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Samuel Wale C 1751|
|Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (Oxford University Press)|
The entrepreneurial owner Jonathan Tyler commissioned what was then modern art including a statue of Handle the musical genius residing in London until he died in 1759. On Hogarth's suggestion Tyler displayed contemporary paintings in the gardens, Hogarth's support earned him a lifelong golden pass to the gardens. Tyler joined forces with Francis Hayman, friends and students from St Martin's Lane Academy and commissioned paintings of leisure, Shakespeare's plays and victory in the seven years war which ended in 1763.
|See Saw Francis Hayman 1742 one of the paintings from the supper boxes at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (the Tate)|
|Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens C 1779|