“The Vauxhall of Leamington,” 1811-1846
Leamington’s ten acre Ranelagh Gardens were situated in old town over the canal bridge in Brunswick Street. No doubt named in imitation of the famous Ranelagh Gardens in London, Leamington’s gardens were created at a time when leisure for most people was scarce, when a holiday was just one day, and offered undreamed of extravagance and beauty, and an opportunity to take gentle exercise along well-planted gravel paths. A weekly season ticket allowing admission from 6 am until 10pm cost two shillings, or one guinea for a family ticket.
Bisset’s Guide of Leamington Priors (1814) describes “Beautiful Public Walks, Shrubberies, Fruit, Flowers and Pleasure Gardens are laid out at the South end of the Village, called Ranelagh Gardens, the property of Mr Mackie.” Moncrieff in his 1818 New Guide to the Spa of Leamington Priors, adds: “Ranelagh Gardens, the Vauxhall of Leamington, are improving every season; and, with their various amusements, are well worth seeing.”
Beck’s Guide of 1839 gives a fuller description: “The Ranelagh Gardens: – The establishment of these Nursery Gardens and Pleasure Grounds, which took place in 1811, added very much to the attractions of the Spa; but on their coming into the hands of their present intelligent proprietor Mr Cullis in 1814, they underwent material improvements. Since that period, whatever is rare in botany has been added, and neither cost nor exertion spared, to afford a sense of amusement at once pleasing, rational and healthful to the numerous visitors who resort thither.
The range of hot houses, 300 feet in length, contain a very extensive and unique collection of exotics; the ground is tastefully laid out in fruit, flower and pleasure gardens, shrubberies, gravel walks, etc; and the plants arranged after the manner of the Jardin des Plantes, at Paris. A large assortment of Green-House and Herbaceous Plants and Seeds are constantly on sale. The handsome conservatory is heated by hot water, with Witty’s patent gas furnace & pipes.”
In A Complete History of Royal Leamington Spa in 1901, Dudley wrote, “Under the care of Mr Cullis, the Ranelagh Gardens reached the zenith of their prosperity, and for years they were the resort of visitors, for whom a band was engaged, to discourse popular music. On gala days, they were the chief attraction, and in the evenings there were, after 1821, fireworks, balloons, etc.”
It would appear that it was hoped that the Ranelagh Gardens would provide a permanent site for recreation, entertainment and amusement. Sadly, this was not to be. Eclipsed by the Jephson Gardens when they opened in 1846, the Ranelagh Gardens were auctioned following the death of John Cullis in 1849, reverting to Nursery Grounds and passing through a number of hands before being sold early in the twentieth century to Sidney Flavel & Co. for industrial developmen