This famous place of entertainment was opened in 1742, on the site of the gardens of Ranelagh House, eastward of Chelsea Hospital. It was originally projected by Lacy, the patentee of Drury Lane Theatre, as a sort of Winter Vauxhall. There was a Rotunda, with a Doric portico, and arcade and gallery; a Venetian pavilion in a lake, to which the company were rowed in boats; and the grounds were planted with trees and allées vertes. The several buildings were designed by Capon, the eminent scene-painter. There were boxes for refreshments, and in each was a painting: in the centre was a heating apparatus, concealed by arches, porticoes and niches, paintings, etc.; and supporting the ceiling, which was decorated with celestial figures, festoons of flowers, and arabesques, and lighted by circles of chandeliers. The Rotunda was opened with a public breakfast, April 5, 1742. Walpole describes the high fashion of Ranelagh: "The prince, princess, duke, much nobility, and much mob besides, were there." "My Lord Chesterfield is so fond of it, that he says he has ordered all his letters to be directed thither." The admission was one shilling; but the ridottos, with supper and music, were one guinea. Concerts were also given here: Dr. Arne composed the music, Tenducci and Mara sang; and here were first publicly performed the compositions of the Catch Club. Fireworks and a mimic Etna were next introduced; and lastly masquerades, described in Fielding's Amelia, and satirized in the Connoisseur, No. 66, May 1, 1755; wherein the Sunday-evening's tea-drinkings at Ranelagh being laid aside, it is proposed to exhibit "the story of the Fall of Man in a Masquerade."
But the promenade of the Rotunda, to the music of the orchestra and organ, soon declined. "There's your famous Ranelagh, that you make such a fuss about; why, what a dull place is that!" says Miss Burney's Evelina. In 1802, the Installation Ball of the Knights of the Bath was given here; and the Pic-nic Society gave here a breakfast to 2000 persons, when Garnerin ascended in his balloon. After the Peace Fête, in 1803, for which allegorical scenes were painted by Capon, Ranelagh was deserted, and in 1804, the buildings were removed.
There was subsequently opened in the neighbourhood a New Ranelagh.
Club Life of London Vol. II