Esoteric London

No. 725: Regent Street, SW1

Posted in London Music by esotericlondon on December 7, 2012

Regent Street, London, SW1. Photo © Roger Dean 2012

The London Magazine – February, 1777:

Memoirs and Anecdotes of the extraordinary Thomas Britton, the Musical Small-Coal-man

This extraordinary person bound himself, and served seven years, to a small-coal [charcoal] man in St. John’s-street. After which his master gave him a sum of money, and Tom went back to his native place, Higham-Ferrers, in Northamptonshire. When he had spent his money he returned to London, and set up the small-coal trade, notwithstanding his master was still living, and took a stable, which he turned into a house; […].

He was also famous for his skill in the theory and practice of music; and kept up for forty odd years in his own little cell, a musical club, which was nothing less than a concert, and merits our attention the more, as it was the first meeting of the kind, and the undoubted parent of some of the most celebrated concerts in London. […].

Britton’s house was next to the old Jerusalem tavern, under the gateway […]. On the ground floor was a repository for small-coal; over that was the concert room, which was very long and narrow; and had a ceiling so low, that tall men could but just stand upright in it. The stairs to this room were on the outside of the house, and could scarce be ascended without crawling. The house itself was very old, low built, and, in every respect so mean, as to be a fit habitation for only a very poor man. Notwithstanding all, this mansion, despicable as it may seem, attracted to it as polite an audience as ever the Opera did. […].

At these concerts, Dr Pepusch, and frequently Mr. Handel, played the harpsichord; Mr. Bannister  the first violin. Dubourg, then a child, played his first solo at Britton’s concert, standing upon a joint-stool, but so terribly awed at the sight of so splendid an assembly, that he was near falling to the ground.

[Britton refused to charge entry to these concerts and continued to trade in charcoal until his death at the age of 70 in 1714. His house stood in Aylesbury Street at the junction with Jerusalem Passage in Clerkenwell and a plaque to this effect is on the building that occupies the site today. This remarkable man is commemorated in the street named after him some 200 yards away on the other side of Clerkenwell Road.

The photograph above is not of the keys of a harpsichord but of the marble floor of a shop entrance in Regent Street. R.D.]

2 Responses

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  1. Chris Bronsk said, on December 7, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    “The stairs to this room were on the outside of the house, and could scare be ascended without crawling.” What a wonderful sentence. I really like how you contextualize your photos.

    • esotericlondon said, on December 8, 2012 at 1:00 am

      Many thanks for your kind words and encouragement Chris. Your support is much appreciated. R


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