In the previous two issues of the Journal, the diaries of Richard Randall, organist at Christ’s Chapel from 1763-1782, have provided a window though which to observe the everyday life of a busy eighteenth century professional musician. Through the pages of the diaries we also have the rare privilege of finding a first hand account of life in Dulwich in that period.
Richard Randall was an engaging character. We have already seen why he was such a popular guest at numerous Dulwich houses and as an eligible bachelor he would also have appealed to its young ladies, or those with an enthusiasm for country walks, music and dancing. He also enjoyed the company of men; he loved cricket, a smoke in the pub, a modest gamble at cards and a willingness to try out new pursuits. When he had dined well, he made a note of it. So we find that a meal at one of Dulwich’s eighteenth century gastro inns would set him back 9/- and he records that he ate boiled goose and gooseberry pudding at both the Greyhound and at The Green Man.
As a diversion from having to continually rush from his music lessons for the twelve poor scholars at the College, or his organist’s duties at the Chapel on Sundays, to professional singing engagements at the opera house or theatre in London, he would take a walk around Dulwich (his favourite, for he mentions it frequently, was to a place he calls Pig Hill. This is probably Peak Hill at Norwood). On the other hand he noted that he went bird catching with Mr Watson one winter’s day in 1764 and skated on the Common on another two years later. He once took drawing lessons, one Sunday after chapel in 1767, for which he paid half a guinea, the amount he earned for a performance at the Opera House.
In May 1763, after he had played the organ for Sunday morning service at the Chapel, he patronised the Bird Fair, held on the Common, with Mr Normandys, a family friend. A month later, he also went to the grander Dulwich Fair, kept on Monday the 6th June. He tells us he visited the Peckham Fair on Wednesday 2nd August in 1769. One summer occupation he clearly looked forward to was hay-making, and he helped with this task for several years. In June 1769 he helped Mr Adams with hay-making during the daytime, and then took himself off to town to see the play The Orphan in the evening. In the summer of 1772 he put in five days of hay-making for his brother-in-law, Mr Hewitt in his fields in Dulwich. As a reward for this agricultural assistance Richard Randall was invited back in September to various ‘Harvest Homes’, a fore-runner of today’s harvest festival, when the wine and beer would flow and tables of food would groan in celebration of getting in the harvest. Undoubtedly, Richard would be asked to sing at these celebrations.
Dulwich seemed to offer plenty of diversions when his College or professional engagements allowed him a break. A favourite was the regular monthly Assembly held on a Monday at the Green Man Tavern (now the site of the Grove Tavern, Dulwich Common). The entrance fee was a guinea and he would either dance or play cards. On occasions, he would act as steward of the proceedings. The diaries tell us of many other relaxing moments, from the summer’s day in 1768 when he amused himself by watching the Long Pond being dragged (it was some 70 yards long and was later drained and is now covered by the St Barnabas Paris Hall), before going to the assembly dance in the evening. On Monday 13th September that year he celebrated his 32nd birthday by again dancing at the Assembly. For dancing, he wore dancing pumps, for which he paid 6/6 per pair. Among his personal expenditure he also noted that he paid the village barber, Mr Ballard, a guinea for one year’s shaving. One item of mild extravagance was in 1766 when he paid half a guinea to an artist named Robson to have his portrait painted. He sat for the painting 29th February 1768 - a Leap Year. He does not say if it was intended for anyone.
Sometimes his diversions were more unusual; he went to watch an Old Bailey trial and later saw a public hanging. He liked the theatre and went frequently, either to town or to Sadlers Wells. One intriguing entry for September 1768 was his excursion to see what he writes as “To Mrs Fenwick’s to the play Dulwich Fair Penitent”. This play, regularly performed, was based on a manuscript in the archives of Dulwich College and may have been one of those taken by David Garrick for his collection in exchange for a number of ‘modern books’ he gave to the College. The manuscript is now in the British Library.
Among the diaries there is not one entry to suggest Richard Randall was ever a victim of crime, in a century famous for its footpads and highwaymen, despite his constant journeys to town, often returning late at night. Perhaps he was just lucky. He tells us sometimes how he made these journeys. Often he walked, sometimes rode in a friend’s chaise or borrowed the Warden’s ‘chariot’. More often he probably took the regular stagecoach.
Richard Randall joined a club which met at the Greyhound on Mondays (when there was no Assembly) and where he would sometimes have supper. He first attended another club, the Dulwich Quarterly Meeting (later renamed The Dulwich Club, which still exists) in December 1776 which then met four times a year on a Saturday, at the French Horn (now the site of Pedder Estate agency and ‘Rokeby’ in the Village).
The eighteenth century was a very clubbable era. Clubs opened to cater for a variety of interests, ranging from science, the arts and literature to ones devoted to the singing of unaccompanied rounds, called ‘catches’ between the courses of dinner. The composers Henry Purcell and Thomas Arne are credited with being the prolific composers of such songs, some of which were crowded with innuendo and the obscene lyrics which only became apparent at the end of a line, at which, no doubt, the attendees fell apart in laughter. Such a club, which still exists, was named ‘The Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club’ better known simply as The Catch Club. Today it meets at the House of Lords. The Catch Club was founded in 1761 and its secretary for the first thirty years of its life was Thomas Warren. Richard Randall sang on a number of occasions at the invitation of Mr Warren and composed catches himself. His remuneration for the evening was a half guinea, but one assumes he was also entertained to supper.
More financially rewarding were his appearances at the three main pleasure gardens of London in the second half of the eighteenth century - Vauxhall, Ranelaugh and Marylebone. Vauxhall was the earliest to be founded, in 1661 and it was only closed in 1859 because of competition from the newly opened Crystal Palace. Ranelaugh entered the scene in 1741 when a syndicate, led by the proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, purchased the site (now the venue for the Chelsea Flower Show and grounds of the Chelsea Hospital). Marylebone Gardens opened in 1731 but was never in quite the same class as its rivals. Nevertheless, composers such as G F Handel and James Hook performed their works there and the gardens lasted until 1778. The manager from 1768 until it closed was the composer Samuel Arnold.
Richard Randall and Samuel Arnold were friends; both had begun their musical careers in the choir of the Chapel Royal under the hand of the renowned Bernard Gates. It was Arnold who engaged Randall to sing at Marylebone Gardens in 1770 when he sang Johann Christian Bach’s Oratorio. He had previously sung at both Vauxhall and Ranelaugh and at the former had, that same year, composed the music for a poem he had chanced upon in a newspaper. This song gives a good indication of what became known as the Vauxhall song - the pop music of the eighteenth century. It was the first music to attract a mass audience (of over a hundred thousand each season) drawn from all sectors of society, and from all parts of Britain and overseas. The singers became huge stars - people like Thomas Lowe and Cecilia Arne in the early years, and Joseph Vernon, Charles Dignum, and Mrs. Weichsell, later on. Charles Dignum was regularly engaged to sing at the Dulwich Club’s quarterly meetings.
Some of the song titles will still be familiar to modern audiences - Nymphs and Shepherds, Black-Eyed Susan, Sally in our Alley, Delia, and the Dashing White Sergeant, for example, or the hugely successful Lass of Richmond Hill, written by the prolific James Hook amongst many songs he composed for Vauxhall. In 1780, reflecting the more turbulent times a popular song was ‘The soldier’s farewell at parting with his wife for America’. In 1770, the year Richard Randall composed his song there were six collections of ballads sold by music publishers which were sung at Vauxhall. Some of this sheet music was published by William Randall, Richard’s uncle, a music publisher in Catherine Street off the Strand and where he had the monopoly on publishing Handel’s music.
Here are three verses of the song, sung at Vauxhall Gardens by Richard Randall
To please me the more and to change the Dull Scene
My swain took me oft to the sports on the green
And to every fine sight would tempt me to roam
For he feare’d least my heart should grow weary of home
To yield to my Shepherd so fond & so kind
I left my dear cot & true pleasures behind
And oft as I went saw t’was folly to Roam
For false all the joy was that grew not at home.
Ye nymphs and ye shepherds so frolick & gay
Who in roving now flutter your moments away
Believe it my aim shall be never to roam
But to live my life here & be happy at home.
Richard Randall unquestionably enjoyed the company of young ladies and one name in particular recurs in the pages of the diary time and time again. The person was Sally La Cour, one of two sisters who, according to Patrick Darby, lived in a house to the north of the old Greyhound, possibly in the still-standing converted Georgian house now divided into two as The Hollies and The Laurels. The two sisters ran a school for young ladies and such was the effect of the eligible young organist and Fellow of the College upon them, that he was able to suggest that they might declare a half-day holiday for their young charges, a request which apparently could not be denied by Ms La Cour. But we rush on apace. The first encounter took place over a month earlier, on Friday 22 May 1768 when a walk is mentioned. Richard pays another visit to Ms La Cour on the 31st May and then returns almost daily for supper or another walk for all of the month of June and the first half of July. He mentions enjoying a hot loaf for breakfast on one of these occasions.
It was a professional engagement to sing at Canterbury Cathedral on 2nd August which might have cooled the romance. Richard was clearly going to make a decent holiday out of this booking by extending the visit to Kent. On the Monday following the recital he visited Margate. It was there he indulged in the then popular craze of sea-bathing, hiring one of the famous bathing machines offered by Benjamin Beale. Beale had invented a bathing machine in 1750 with a modesty hood to allow naked bathers to enter the sea unobserved, an improvement on the original bathing machine which made its first appearance in Scarborough some twenty years earlier.
After a bathe, it was time, according to Richard’s diary, to wave at the Parade before dining at the Fountain Inn. The Fountain Inn was not only the main coaching inn which offered connections to London via Canterbury, but it also had a stable at the rear which had been converted some years earlier into a theatre. It was there that Richard Randall enjoyed a performance of The Beggar’s Opera, still hugely popular 40 years after its first performance (and still presented at the Theatre Royal Margate). The following Monday, he took a walk to view Lord Holland’s extraordinary Fort Pleasant and in the evening he made a visit to the Assembly Rooms for dancing before rounding off the day by having dinner at the Fountain. It would appear that Richard Randall’s lodgings were actually in nearby Minster although the trip to the seaside apparently presented little difficulty because further sea bathing took place two days later, followed by a visit to the village of St Lawrence where its fair was in progress and where Richard recorded enjoying ‘very good ale’..
The Bathing Machine
Although he continued to see Miss La Cour on his return, she had now become his music pupil. His diary now refers to her as Sally La Cour. The years went by and they still went for walks and he was still invited to the La Cour home for meals.
An intriguing entry in the diary of 1774 June 9th reads ‘Dine and sup at Lord Stanley’s. Home at 3 o’clock in the morning’. It seems that his lordship was making the most of both attaining his majority and thereby succeeding to his title (his father had died two years earlier when he was aged 19) as well as celebrating his victory at the general election of 1774, when he was elected for the county of Lancaster, and held his seat in Parliament as such until his succession to the peerage as Earl of Derby. Nearly a fortnight later he was to marry Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, only daughter of James, sixth Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, so it must have been some bachelor party.
The entry about Richard Randall’s own matrimonial plans seems to come without any previous indication of such a big step but as several of the previous years diaries are missing, there might have been a reference in those. A lady named Nancy begins to make frequent appearances in the pages of his dairies; was she a cousin perhaps? And then another cousin named Sally is mentioned and before we know it Richard Randall in his diary tells us that he marries on 2nd April1782, after having breakfast with his brother-in-law, Richard Morphets, who lives near Dulwich Common. The marriage takes place at the Chapel and the celebrations afterwards are held at The Grove House, where he dines, has tea and sups. The expenses of the Wedding Dinner amounted to £17.0.0. So was it the Grove House which succeeded the Green Man Tavern or was it the house named the Grove House, which lay on the other side of the highway we now call Dulwich Common?
Richard Randall’s nuptials required his resignation from the College as organist and he must have been disappointed that his friend Thomas Attwood’s son, who would later become a famous composer and organist, failed to succeed him. Richard and his bride left Dulwich to take up residence in their house at Foots Cray, a village where he had relatives.
He seems contented with married life, although his wife barely gets a mention in the pages of the diary. He tells us that the house in Foots Cray has a room with a bow window where he likes to sit and look out on his garden. That summer he again joined in the hay-making, watched a cricket match at St Mary Cray, took walks, gathered currants in the morning, shelled peas and played the harpsichord every day. Later in the year he resumed his professional engagements. He also took employment at a school in Eltham and made himself available to coach private pupils. He was still a snappy dresser; treating himself to a new silk waistcoat and buying a fashionable ‘round hat’ price fifteen shillings. He returned to Dulwich immediately after Christmas for two dinners amongst his old colleagues, one held at the College and the other at the French Horn.
There is a final entry, on the back cover and dated 1785. Richard attended a reunion dinner of the former choristers of the Chapel Royal at the Star & Garter in Pall Mall. He is listed among those who sang that evening, including the famous John Beard. Richard Randall continued to sing and play the organ professionally and was still getting good notices at the age of 76. By 1794 he was living in Stockwell, possibly in his mother’s old house. He died, aged 92 in 1828.