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date: 07 June 2020

Britton, Thomaslocked

  • Michael Tilmouth
  • , revised by Simon McVeigh


(b Rushden, Northants., Jan 14, 1644; d London, Sept 27, 1714). English patron of music and amateur musician. He served a seven-year apprenticeship with a London coal dealer and, after returning to Northamptonshire for a while, set up in business in London, where by 1677 he was dealing in small-coal in Aylesbury Street, Clerkenwell. He amassed a large collection of books, from which he acquired a wide knowledge of chemistry, astrology and both theoretical and practical music. In 1678, according to Hawkins, he established with the encouragement of Sir Roger L'Estrange the music meetings which were held every Thursday in a long narrow room over his shop. It was approached by stairs outside the house and was lit by a window ‘no bigger than the bung-hole of a cask’ according to an entertaining account by his neighbour Ned Ward.

Despite their mean surroundings the meetings were attended by such leaders of fashion as the Duchess of Queensberry. The performers included professionals like John Banister (ii) and Philip Hart and, in Britton's later years, Handel, Pepusch (who wrote a trio sonata entitled ‘smalcoal’) and Matthew Dubourg. Britton and L'Estrange played the viola da gamba, and other amateurs included Henry Needler, the poet John Hughes and the painter Woolaston. At first the concerts were free, Britton providing his guests with coffee at a penny a dish; later the visitors apparently paid ten shillings a year each, though the Yorkshire diarist Ralph Thoresby paid nothing when he attended a meeting in ...

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New York, Public Library at Lincoln Center, Music Division
Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh
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