Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tyers, Jonathan

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TYERS, JONATHAN (d. 1767), proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens, first comes into notice in 1728, when he obtained from Elizabeth Masters a lease of the Spring Gardens at Vauxhall (Vauxhall Gardens) at an annual rent of 250l. He ultimately became the owner of the gardens by purchasing a portion in 1752 for 3,800l. of George Doddington, and the remainder about 1758. Tyers first opened the gardens on 7 June 1732 with a ridotto al fresco. He greatly altered and improved the gardens, erected an orchestra, and in 1745 added vocal music to the instrumental concerts. The place enjoyed the patronage of Frederick, prince of Wales, and soon became fashionable. Tyers did not a little to reform the morals of the Spring Gardens, which had been (since about 1661) a pleasure resort of the Restoration type. He issued to regular subscribers silver admission tickets, designed by his friend Hogarth, probably when living at his summer lodgings in South Lambeth. Hogarth is said to have suggested the adornment of the supper boxes with paintings [see Hayman, Francis], and, in return for services connected with the gardens, Tyers presented him with a gold ticket, which served as a perpetual free pass to the entertainments.

Tyers was an enterprising and prosperous manager, though of a somewhat querulous disposition. The diminutive size of the chickens and the thinness of the slices of the ham and beef supplied to his patrons became proverbial, and he is said to have engaged a carver who promised to slice a ham so as to cover the whole garden like a carpet. Fielding, in his ‘Amelia,’ pays a tribute to the ‘truly elegant taste’ and the ‘excellency of heart’ of Jonathan Tyers.

In 1734 Tyers had purchased Denbies, a farmhouse and grounds near Dorking. He altered the house, and in a wood adjoining erected a temple abounding with serious inscriptions, as well as another building with figures of a Christian and an unbeliever in their last moments, and a statue of Truth treading on a mask. In spite of these lugubrious reminders, this ‘master-builder of Delight’ retained his love for Vauxhall till the last, and just before his death had himself carried into ‘The Grove’ to take a farewell look at the Spring Gardens. Tyers died at his house at the gardens on 1 July 1767 (Gent. Mag. 1767, p. 383). Denbies was purchased of his heirs by the Hon. Peter King, who did away, we are told, with Tyers's ‘grave conceits.’

A rare print of the Spring Gardens, engraved by Romano and published by G. Bickham in May 1744, shows Tyers grumbling at his check-taker, and a group of the frequenters of the gardens, including John Lockman [q. v.], the poet of the place. A portrait of Tyers, painted by Louis Joseph Watteau, was in 1855 in the possession of Frederick Gye (Numismatic Chronicle, 1856, vol. xviii.).

Tyers left a widow and two daughters, Margaret, married to George Rogers of Southampton, and Elizabeth. He was succeeded at Vauxhall by his two sons, Thomas [see Tyers, Thomas] and Jonathan. The latter was sole manager of Vauxhall from 1785 till his death in 1792, when his place as manager was taken by his son-in-law, Bryant Barrett (d. 1809).

[Manning and Bray's Surrey, i. 563; Brayley and Mantell's Surrey, v. 90 ff.; Allen's Lambeth, pp. 358 ff.; Angelo's Reminiscences, 1828, i. 151–153; Wroth's London Pleasure Gardens.]

W. W.