Friday, March 11, 2011

Button and Whitaker, St. Paul's Churchyard, London

In The Ladies' Fashionable Repository for 1811, I found a few weeks ago a page titled "Button and Whitaker's New Country Dances, for 1811". It included some twenty-four dances, listing titles and brief instructions on the new movements. Here is a sample from the page:
The Spanish Cloak--Turn your partner round with the right hand, the second couple do the same, lead down the middle, up again, turn round.
Cheltenham Waltz--Turn three with the first lady, the same with the first gentleman, lead down the middle, four couple up again, and swing corners.
The dances and their names were charming but who, I wondered, were Button and Whitaker? Research was required--I never find it a hardship!
Button and Whitaker, I discovered, were among the premier music publishers and musical instrument sellers of Regency England. They were located in St. Paul's Churchyard, according to Frank Kidson, author of the article Handel's Publisher from Oxford University Press:
"At the North West corner, ...was in 1731 located Peter Thompson at the "Violin and Hautboy." The Thompson family with their successors, Button and Whitaker, held the business here until about 1830."
St. Paul's Churchyard had been throughout the 1700's and into the mid 1800's a center of musical retailing, along with its bookshops and book publishing. The reason for this, according to Sir John Hawkins (in his book The History of Music) was that "the service at the Cathedral drew together, twice a day, all the lovers of music in London.."

Button and Whitaker frequently published such collections of new dances. They also published booklets such as New Instructions for the German Flute, containing the easiest & most modern methods for learning to play, etc.; Pocket Collection of Favourite Marches; and Dr. Clarke's Arrangement of HandelOther of their titles included: 1816 Companion to the Ballroom"Selection of dances, reels, and waltzes for the Pfte., Harpsichord, Violin, or German Flute", No. 8,; and Opera of THE LORD OF THE MANOR, Written by C. Dibdin, Jun. It seems to have been a sizable operation, with a wide and voluminous production of sheet music.

Button and Whitaker also published a version of Thomas Moore's Celebrated Irish Melodies, arranged for the Harp or Pianoforte; with introductionry, intermediate, and concluding Symphonies, composed by John Whitaker. 

It appears Mr. Whitaker did a considerable amount of composing; one advertisment mentioned: "Paddy Carey; a celebrated Air; composed by Whitaker. Arranged as a Rondo for the Piano-forte..."

They also sold instruments. One mention of a boxwood clarinet by Button and Whitaker is still current on the internet. I've not been able to discover more information about their instrument sales as yet.

An interesting sidelight showed up in my research. In the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, dated January 11, 1815 the following appears:
HENRY BOND KERRIDGE . I am collecting clerk to Messrs Button and Whitaker ; they are in the musical line. This happened to me on Wednesday, the 7th of December, a quarter before seven o'clock in the evening. I was opposite of Mr. Ross's Fish-warehouse in Lombard-street. I was surrounded by five men; some of them pulled me violently by the collar of my coat, and struck me a violent blow on the head; while the prisoner snatched my watch from my fob.
Mr. Kerridge had a very bad experience apparently, but eventually the prisoner was found 'not guilty'! What was a 'collecting clerk', I wonder, and how many did Messrs. Button and Whitaker employ?

I hope that I can discover more information about Button and Whitaker. I wonder if Jane Austen purchased any of her sheet music from them....

'Til next time,



Charles Bazalgette said...

It looks as if a collecting clerk was employed to go and collect debts for his master. When you consider that much merchandise was purchased on account or credit this would have been a very necessary job.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I wondered about that, Charles. It seems probable, though there might be other explanations. I hope people paid cash on small purchases like a piece of sheet music. But certainly if they were buying an instrument, other arrangements would be made. And a 'collecting clerk' might be necessary to collect the debt.
All the best,