Posts Tagged ‘Hanover’

dsc02112cIn anticipation of our live Water Music concert on the Thames this coming 17th of July, I’ve been boning up on George Frederic Handel (1685 – 1759), the German baroque composer who spent most of his life here in London. To give you an idea where he fits in, he was an exact contemporary of JS Bach (1685 – 1750) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741).

Handel left his home in Hanover for London in 1710, and stayed. He was employed by Queen Anne and various British aristocrats, notably the fantastically sophisticated 3rd Earl of Burlington. In 1714, his former boss, the Elector of Hanover, became George I, King of England. Awkward. The Water Music of 1717 is seen as a reconciliation piece. It worked.


Handel, late 1720s, by Denner. NPG London.

The composer existed at the heart of London society, leading a highly productive professional life. Along with William Hogarth and other worthies, he was a founding governor of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, playing a key role in its early success. His home still stands in Brook Street, Mayfair, as the Handel House Museum.


Handel lived here from 1723 until his death in 1759

The Best Of…
Like most of us I suspect, I knew what the famous bits of the Water Music * (1717) and the Messiah (1741) sound like. I had also heard the haunting Sarabande in D Minor (1733) without knowing it was by Handel. It featured heavily in Stanley Kubrick’s Georgian masterpiece Barry Lyndon (1975). I also would have not easily recognised Scipio from the three act opera Scipione (1719) which is the regimental slow march of the Grenadier Guards. Zadok the Priest (aka Coronation Anthem No 1) was written in 1727 for the coronation of George II. For obvious reasons there has been no official call for it in recent times. However, lovers of association football will recognise it from Champions League on the television. Never mind. But it is utterly mesmerising. If you’re ever feeling a bit low, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from the oratario Solomon (1748) should always raise your spirits. Finally (for now), Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749), hitherto for me known only by name. Turns out it’s an easily digestible 22 minute joy.

G.F. Handel. Wow. What a guy.

* Water Music, just the famous bit.

A selection of some of the Handel favourites above will be performed on the 300th anniversary of the Water Music by a live orchestra on the Thames on 17th July. Hosted by the Georgian Dining Academy and London Historians. Tickets are already selling briskly: don’t miss it.


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doggett1_2501 August 1715 was the first instance of Doggett’s Coat and Badge rowing race between newly-qualified watermen, up the Thames from London Bridge to Chelsea. Unlike today, there were no further bridges to pass under and the river was almost entirely unembanked, hence considerably wider than today. Once past Westminster, the vista would have been comparatively sparce of buildings on both banks. The boats are notably different too. The original participants raced in the craft of their craft: a wherry, the London cab of its day.  Today, the racers are more fortunate, using modern Olympic class single skulls. This race has been competed almost every year since, making it the longest continuously-run sporting event in the world. Yet compared with the much newer Boat Race (1829), it is hardly known. The prize for the winner is a handsome scarlet coat decorated with a solid silver sleeve badge. It comes with a dinky matching cap. The badge depicts a leaping horse and the word “Liberty”. The founder of this ancient competition was Irish-born Thomas Doggett (1640 – 1721), an actor and successful theatrical impresario. He was and ardent Whig and supporter of the new Hanoverian monarch, George I. He endowed the Doggett’s Coat and Badge race in celebration of the new Georgian dynasty, leaving provision in his will for its continuation in perpetuity. It was supposed to be administered by the Watermen’s Company – logical – but an executor of Doggett’s will, Mr Burt of the Admiralty Office, instead charged the task to the Fishmongers’ Company, who do the job to this day. The fund in 1722 was £350.

Modern winners of the race on procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

Modern winners of the race in procession at St Katharine Dock, 2015.

There is a dedicated web site to the race, here. It has lots of information including history, the course, the rules, a list of every winner, etc. The line-up this year are: Louis Pettipher, 24, from Gravesend, Charlie Maynard, 23, from Erith, Dominic Coughlin, 24, from Cuxton, Ben Folkard, 23, from Maidstone all of whom raced last year, plus first-timers Frankie Ruler, 21, from Blackheath, and Perry Flynn, 21, from Kennington. The race starts at 11:30 at London Bridge tomorrow, 1 August. Approximately half an hour later it will finish at Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, next to Albert Bridge. I am meeting some fellow London Historians on Albert Bridge at 11:30 to see the end of contest. We’ll then go to the Cross Keys pub nearby. Anyone is welcome to join us.

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George I, by Kneller, c1714.

George I, by Kneller, c1714.

Review: Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain.
The British Library

The Georgian period (patron saint: D Cruickshank) has overtaken the Tudor (patron saint: D Starkey) in recent times and if you’re still not with the programme, as they say, then this is the show that’ll help you catch up toot sweet.

The trigger for the show is the tricentenary next year of the birth of the Georgian dynasty, in 1714. The settlement of 1701 meant that the Elector of Hanover leapfrogged over 50 Catholic pretenders to become King George I on the death of Queen Anne, the last Protestant Stuart.

But the four Georges – whose portraits appear right at the start of this show – are simple date markers who take no further part in proceedings. This exhibition, characterising the period,  is all about the emerging middle classes, increasing in in both wealth and in numbers, who become firmly established for the first time. And for the first time we have a new set of people outside the nobility who have a lot of leisure time as well as the financial means to fill it.

In the service of this came a massive explosion of printed matter, some genres emerging for the first time: newspapers, periodicals, novels, satire, children’s literature, self-help books, fashion magazines, travel guides, maps, treatises. Increasingly, trade was done on credit, honour and promise (often with disastrous consequences), so instead of bullion, there emerged cheques, promisary notes, shares, bonds, chits, and so forth. There are some rather nice examples from Hoare & Co, posh bankers.

Cute. One of a selection of tiny children's books. They are matchbox sized.

Cute. One of a selection of tiny children’s books. They are matchbox sized.

The British Library has items such as these in abundance and this being their show, these objects are the mainstay. Even the ones that contemporaries may have thought mundane are beautiful in their own right. Although the Georgian period embraced simplicity in, say, architecture, in print they were very showy. Most of the items on show feature elaborate and beautifully executed engravings accompanied by highly elaborate text. This is most typified by frontispieces which are a riot of typefaces, often a dozen and more.

The Georgians were interested – obsessed even – in taste, manners, deportment, fashion. They talked about it, read about it, wrote about it. They were consumers of new kinds of food, decor, luxury goods. They pursued hobbies and sport. They were interested botany and gardening and travel. They liked to visit gardens and country houses and towns in the provinces. All of this had to be written down, codified and published, to make sure it was done right. I particularly liked a section featuring the Compleat Tutor… series of self improvement books, very much the …For Dummies of the Georgian period.

The big guns of the period are represented and in general no big surprises. In architecture, for example, it’s Adam, Soane and Nash. The Soane section is particularly nicely done with a very large hand drawn representation in ink of Adam’s Alelphi, so a two for one there. Our favourite Georgian piss-takers – Hogarth, Gillray, Cruikshank – are judiciously and sparingly used. The choice of Hogarth’s “Country Dancing” from the Analysis of Beauty is inspired, I really did giggle.

Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Detail. Country Dancing from the Analysis of Beauty, by William Hogarth, 1753. Trustees of the British Museum.

Gilray sneers at lower born tourists. 1800. So funny, though.

Gillray sneers at lower born tourists. 1800. So funny, though.

There are dozens else. Pugilism, the Turf. Cock throwing. Heard of that? At fairs, punters threw sticks and stones at a tethered chicken. The winning shot won the dead chicken. A beautiful series of four large scale maps of Kensington turnpike featuring all the shops and fancy houses from Knightsbridge through Kensington High Street. Beautiful. Pleasure gardens, theatres and opera. Dancing. Picnics, philanthropy. One of the heroes of this blog: Philip Astley, the circus guy.

I have written mainly about the print: it dominates. But there is a strong supporting cast comprising household items, clothes, shoes, accessories and ephemera. Most pleasing for me: Jeremy Bentham‘s violin. He’s another son of London we admire.

Jeremy Bentham's violin, c1969. Museum of London.

Jeremy Bentham’s violin, c1769. Museum of London.

Overall, the show is inevitably very London-centric. Therefore the big London room at the end with the entire floor being a large Georgian map of London is somewhat superfluous, but fun nonetheless and great for us London Historians.

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain runs from 8 November until 11 March 2014 at the British Library. Tickets £9, usual concessions apply. All information here.

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