Vauxhall Gardens, 1751 (Credit: Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)For much of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the famed Vauxhall Gardens offered Londoners a much-needed respite from the grime and sprawl of the big city. Nestled on the south bank of the River Thames, this verdant pleasure garden consisted of several acres of trees and flowers, footpaths, and pavilions lit by thousands of shimmering gas lamps. For the price of one shilling, visitors could stroll through Vauxhall’s lush groves, admire paintings and sculptures and take in music performed by the site’s house orchestra. The Gardens also offered more unusual diversions including a miniature diorama of a village mill and a resident hermit who told fortunes. By the 1820s, Vauxhall had begun to abandon high culture and refinement in favor of dancing and other more mainstream entertainments and soon patrons could take in fireworks displays, ballooning exhibitions and sideshow acts such as sword swallowers and tightrope walkers. Before shuttering Vauxhall’s gates for good in 1859, the owners even used pyrotechnics and troupes of actors to stage large-scale reenactments of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Roman chariot races and a crusader attack on the city of Acre.