Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gye, Frederick (1781-1869)

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GYE, FREDERICK, the elder (1781–1869), entertainment manager, was born in 1781. In 1806 he was a printer in partnership with G. Balne at 7 Union Court, Broad Street, in the city of London. The firm having some business connection with Thomas Bish, the lottery agent, obtained a contract for printing the state lottery tickets. On one occasion a number of tickets which had not been placed fell into Gye's hands, either in part payment of his account or from some other cause, and the fortunate printer drew a prize of thirty thousand pounds. With the money he established in 1817 the London Wine Company, at 44 Southampton Row, Holborn, London. This business was transferred to 141 Fleet Street in 1822, and carried on there till 1836, when, with the printing business, it came to an end. With another portion of the money he commenced, 5 Nov. 1818, the London Genuine Tea Company, which had stores at 23 Ludgate Hill, 148 Oxford Street, and 8 Charing Cross. The handsome saloon in the house at Charing Cross was decorated with Chinese views and figure subjects painted by Clarkson Stanfield and David Roberts. The customers were for the most part tea dealers, wholesale and retail, from the country. The wine company and the tea company being successful, he next entered into partnership with William Hughes, and in 1821 purchased Vauxhall Gardens for 28,000l. from the Tyers family. Here, during nineteen years, Gye amused the public with a variety of novel entertainments, such as ballets, concerts, fireworks, acrobats, &c. Visitors were allowed to dance on a large platform. In 1822 Ramo Samee, the sword swallower, was the chief attraction. In the following year a shadow pantomime was introduced, invented by a carpenter in the gardens, and was a great success. During the season 137,279 visitors produced receipts of 29,590l. In 1825 Madame Vestris, by her singing of 'Cherry Ripe,' rendered it the favourite song of the day. On 12 June 1826 'Frederick Gye, Esq., of Wood Green, in the county of Middlesex,' was elected member of parliament for Chippenham in Wiltshire. The trade of that town had suffered much distress owing to the stoppage of the cloth manufactories, and Gye had obtained great popularity by his liberal promises respecting the future trade, and by sending in shortly before the election two wagon-loads of wool to set the principal

manufactory immediately at work. He continued to represent Chippenham till 24 July 1830. The battle of Waterloo, with horses, foot soldiers, and set scenes, was presented at Vauxhall in 1827 and 1828. Sir Henry Bishop was the musical director in 1830, and in the succeeding year Gye invented and introduced some ingenious optical illusions. The visitor saw a basket of fruit which retreated as he advanced to touch it; and looking through a telescope at a dead wall, beheld a living person who was nowhere else to be seen. In 1834 Vauxhall Gardens were open three alternate nights a week, and the proprietors took singers, musicians, fireworks, and lamps to Sydney Gardens, Bath, on the alternate nights. In 1836 the gardens were opened for the first time with day fêtes, of which balloon ascents formed the chief attraction. At this time Charles Green [q. v.] built for the proprietors of the establishment the Great Nassau balloon, a machine much larger and of superior make to any previously seen (Turnor, Astra Castra, 1865, pp. 139-140, 158, 166, 361). In 1837 Gye brought from Paris and introduced to the public 'poses plastiques;' and it was on 24 July in this year that Cocking was killed in attempting to descend in a parachute from the Great Nassau balloon [see Green, Charles].

In 1836 the wine company, owing to an unfortunate speculation in port, in which the principal part of a bad vintage had been bought, proved a failure, and in 1840 the tea company was sold. A long series of mishaps, including a succession of wet seasons, compelled Gye to give up Vauxhall in 1840. He then retired from business and lived at Brighton. He died of influenza at 2 Lansdowne Street, Hove, Brighton, 13 Feb. 1869, aged 88. His son Frederick is separately noticed.

[Historical Account of Vauxhall, published by the proprietors, Gye and Balne, 1822; Edwards's Lyrical Drama, 1881, pp. 15-30; Era Almanac, 1870, pp. 9-16, by E.L. Blanchard ; Vauxhall Gardens, a Collection of Bills, 1824-1845, in British Museum.]

G. C. B.