SchooIdays - Memories and History
                     Pre 20th. Century

REMINISCENCES OF SHEFFIELD by R. E. LEADER

CHAPTER 07 - THE THEATRES AND MUSIC.

IN the early part of the eighteenth century Sheffield seems to have been dependent for dramatic representations on companies of strolling players, who performed in any room they could hire. Thus, in I728, the Town Trustees, departing from the virtuous resolution to restrict the use of the then new Town Hall at the church gates to town business, " received of some stage players for the 'Towns Hall ten shillings." There seems to have been some friction between the authorities and actors in I74I, when "John Timm went for a warrant for the players; went twice ;" but unfortunately no particulars are obtainable of an incident which might throw an interesting light on the relations between strolling players and the guardians of a town strongly imbued witll Puritanic senti- ment. An old handbill, which came to light in I875, confirmed a vague but persistent local tradition that there was at one time a theatre in the yard of the Angel Inn. It announced that a concert of vocal and instrumental music would be held on Whit Monday, the IIth of May, I76I, "at the Theatre in the Angel Yard, Sheffield," for the benefit of Mr. Hartley, Old Church Yard. A Mr. Shaw was brought from York as first violin, and Mr. Hartley's son and daughter took part in the performance. " After the Concert, a Ball. Tickets, pit 2s., gallery Is. To begin a half-an-hour after six o'clock." But although this building is called a theatre, and boasted its pit and its gallery, it was probably a room adapted on occasion for dramatic representations, rather than a theatre proper. It is conjectured that the large room, on the left hand side of the yard, above the inn gateway, used in recent times for the display of commercial travellers' samples and for public dinners,* represents the remains of the old theatre. ------------- * Now (1900) engulphed in Messrs. Cockayne's premises. ------------- In March, I893, there was a trial at Leeds Assizes, relating to an attempt on the part of the landlord of the stables at the top of the inn yard, to establish, against the owner of the Angel, a right of way over his property. The contention on behalf of the plaintiff was that there had aforetime been a public pathway, past the Angel stabling, through the gardens beyond, to the top of Meetinghouse Lane, where the Quakers had a burial ground. But no mention was made of the old theatre, nor was any argument advanced that access to such a building presumed a right of entry over the Angel property. The alternative would be a supposition that the theatre was a room attached to the inn, and belonging to the same owner. In that case we have an interesting survival of the early practice of fixing on an inn yard as a convenient place for dramatic performances. It was not until I763 that the town became possessed of a theatre worthy of the name. This was built back-to-back with the Assembly Rooms, the frontage of the latter being, as now, to Norfolk Street, and of the former to Tudor Place. But, although it was described in I764 "as large and com- modious, capable of containing eight hundred spectators, handsomely decorated, and having some very good scenery," it was taken down and rebuilt on a larger plan in I773. This is still our Theatre Royal, and notwithstanding drastic changes, both internal and external, there may to this day be seen in the pediment the " spirited" profile of Shakespeare and some dramatic symbols executed for the original builders by a poor wandering tramp named Renilowe. Such records of the early fortunes of this theatre as survive give the impression that, though largely patronised, it was, like most provincial playhouses, in a state of perpetual struggle. It did well for the proprietors, since the £IOO shares were selling for £I52 in I82I, and for £I85 in I827; but it too often spelt ruin for its transient lessees. Among these the names of Stephen Kemble, the elder Macready, and De Camp attract notice. " Rare Jemmy Robertson " u as a more tenacious occupant. He ran itÑoff and on, and with an interval in the years I799 to I805, when Macready was managerÑbetween I794 and I8I6. Robertson began in partnership with Joseph Taylor, leader of the orchestra, and, in his time, the most active promoter of musical entertainments in the town. On Taylor's retirement, Mr. Manley, a familiar actor on these boards, became joint lessee. Robertson, a prime favourite with the playgoers of the period, was the especial delight of the gods of the gallery. What the habits of these deities were we learn from Mather. l'heir delight was: To ger reit into't gallera, whear we can rant an' rooar, Throw flat-backs, stooans, an' sticks, Red herrins, booans, an' bricks. If they dooant play Nanca's fanca, or onna tune we fix We'll do the best at e'er we can to braik sum o' ther necks. T' yoller bellies an't nickerpeckers' are wi' us combined, An' when we get i' t' gallara, my lads, all in a mind: An' then we stamp away An' mak Joe Taylor play " Nottingham Races" quickly, withaht ony mooar delay Or else we'll break his fiddlestickÑall in a mind, huzza ! The " roarings and rantings " of the despots up aloft took even a more serious turn in the troublous times of I8I6-2I, when "Jacky Blacker" (John Blackwell, a tailor) ended, in the gallery, exciting days spent in perambulating the streets at the head of the bread rioters, carrying on a pole a diminutive loaf smeared with blood, and armed with pistol and pike. He dominated the proceedings in the theatre, and interrupted the performances by proclaiming the wrongs of the people and asserting their majesty to such an extent as to acquire for _ himself the title of " King of the Gallery." Another side-light on the doings of the theatre roughs is thrown by the following notice on an old playbill of October 23rd, I8II: "The young man who assaulted Mr. Green, jun., at the theatre on Wednes- day evening last, having begged pardon, and expressed much regret for his conduct, Mr. G. has kindly declined a prosecu- tion. The managers assure the public that all persons in future outraging the peace at the theatre will be prosecuted with the utmost spirit." On special occasions the great actors of the time were brought down. Mrs. Siddons, the first London actor of repute -------------- * Yoller-bellies " were grinders, and " nickerpeckers" filecutters. ---------- to break through the prejudice which regarded summer " strolling," or starring in the provincial theatres, as a degrada- tion, was here in June, I789, and again in I799. The names of her famous brothers are closely associated with the theatre. Stephen Kemble, the least distinguished of the group, whose enormous size enabled him to act the part of Falstaff without stuffing, played here in I790, and often in subsequent years, besides being manager in I79I-2. Charles Kemble, the youngest brother, made his debut here in I792, as Orlando, and he continued to come down until I827. He was described by Macready as " a first-rate actor in second-rate parts." He is held to have been " the finest Romeo of the present century, the most delightful of Laertes, Petruchios, Doricourts, Mer- cutios, and the most admirable of Laertes, Bassanios, and Cassios." Lady Morgan says he was the " best of the whole stock (of Kembles), beautiful, graceful, gallant, and a very fine gentleman." * Charles Kemble married Miss De Camp, herself noted for her dancing and her acting in pantomime parts, once a prime favourite in Royal circles. Her name is the more familiar in connection with the Sheffield stage since Mr. De Camp, who may be assumed to be her brother, was lessee from I82I to I826. There is no record that John Philip Kemble, the greatest of the brothers, ever appeared here, but the elder Macready included this theatre in his provincial managements from I799 to I805, and, later than that, his more celebrated son, William Charles Macready, was always sure of enthusiastic welcome when he trod these boards. Included in Stephen Kemble's company when he entered on his lesseeship in I79I was Mr. InchbaldÑa name of some local interest, for he was the husband of an actress, playwriter, and novelist very popular in Yorkshire. There is no evidence that Mrs. Inchbald ever appeared in Sheffield, but she acted at Leeds, Wakefield, Doncaster, and York; her chief characters being Cordelia, Cleopatra,FJuliet, and Anne Bullen. She was a friend of Mrs. Siddons, whose brother, John Philip Kemble, when Mr. Inchbald died at Leeds in I799, wrote a long Latin epitaph for the tomb of the deceased, and contemplated ----------- * " Our Old Acttors," by H. P. Baker. --------- marrying his widow. But Mrs. Inchbald rejected all suitors, and, on retiring from the stage, led a blameless private life, fascinating and gracious, and retaining much of her former beauty. She was a great favourite in the best county families, and Vicar Wilkinson was so good a friend that he made a protege of her son, and had him educated at the Sheffield Grammar School. Dr. Inchbald became head of a school at Doncaster, and, as already stated, celebrated the place of his education in verses quoted with approval by Mr. Hunter. Among those who came to Sheffield were Mrs. Billington and " Jack " Bannister, and that wonderful phenomenon, Master Betty, "The Infant Roscius," whose was "the most extraordinary dramatic success on record." The inimitable Mrs. Jordan, " after the great Siddons herself the most famous actress of the Kemble period," was also here. This was at the end of her professional career, and when her Royal lover, the Duke of Clarence, afterwards King William IV., had cast her off. The marvellous comedian, Munden, was brought down in 18I2, and a year or two later John Emery, "the greatest of stage countrymen." Edmund Kean here " tore a passion to tatters" in Richard, Shylock, and Hamlet in I8I8. The seasons of I825-7 were, under De Camp's management, especially brilliant, the " stars " who came down including S. Butler in Coriolanus, Junius Booth in King Lear, Charles Young in Hamlet, and John Liston in Paul Pry; while the people rushed for three nights to see Maria Foote, whose fame as the heroine of a breach of promise case, in which she obtained £3000 damages from a Mr. Hayne, conferred on her a popularity beyond what was due to her talents as an actress. Charles Kean appeared later. There were famous singers, too ÑMadame Catalini, Braham, Incledon, and others. There is no trace that Miss Farren, who became Countess of Derby, ever played here; or that Miss Mellon, first Mrs. Burdett Coutts and afterwards Duchess of St. Albans, ventured among a people many of whom, on insufficient evidence, firmly believed her to be a townswoman. But it is to be feared that the performances, as a rule, were not of a very high order, and that the necessity of " playing to the gallery," and " splitting the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part were capable of nothing but noise," deprived the drama of anything like ordered dignity. The orchestra consisted, at one time or another, of Joe Taylor, Billy Taylor and his son, Charles Clegg and his son, " Old Foster," and others. On the opening night they knew well what was behind them and what was expected from them. In I799 Dibdin had come down and given an entertainment, and ever afterwards " Poor Jack " was a prime favourite. On the first flourish of the fiddles, previous to the drawing up of the curtain, the cry was for There's a sweet little cherub sits smiling aloft To keep watch o'er the life of Poor Jack, and woe betide the orchestra if it failed to obey. It was the custom to have a professional singer, who sang between the play and the farce. Sometimes a dance was substituted, or given in addition. " He was famed for deeds of daring," or "Tom Topsail," or "Bill Block," or a comic song by Mr. Robertson was ever welcome; but if the ditty selected did not suit the taste of the gallery the occupants expressed their disfavour very emphatically, and imperiously dictated what should be substituted. Some old playbills, happily preserved, give us a good notion of the theatrical tastes of the Sheffield public. There was announced for the 4th of December, I799, under Mr. Macready's management, a performance, for the benefit of Mr. Halpin, of the comedy of " Fashionable Levities," in three acts, written by Leonard Mackally, Esq., author of " Robin Hood," etc., "and performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, with universal applause. In the course of the evening Miss Bruguiers will (for that night only) dance the Minuet de la Cour and Gavot ' Rule Britannia !' Obligato for the violin by Mr. Holmes; an entire new dance, called ' The Knife Grinders,' by Mr. J. Betterton and the Miss Bruguiers, in which Miss Bruguiers will dance ' Poor Jack and the favourite movement from Haydn s celebrated overture. After the dance, Collins's ' Ode to the Passions,' by Mr. Halpin; to which will be added, compressed into two acts, the comic opera of the ' Maid of the Mill,' to conclude with a new comic Pantomimical Dance called the " Cobbler Outwitted."' On the 8th of October, I8II, under Manley and Robert- son's management, there was announced the new play of "'The Gazette Extraordinary' (never performed here), the humorous farce of ' Lovers' Quarrels, or Like Master Like Man '; comic song by Mr. Robertson. The whole to conclude with the Pastoral Pantomime (never performed here) of ' Little Red Riding Hood.' A new scene representing sheep grazlng, which are stolen while the shepherd sleeps. Second Scene Grandmamma's Cottage. A clock, in which the Boy conceals himself to observe Wolf. To conclude with A Dance round the May Pole." They were early people in those days. The doors opened at half-past five, and the performance began at half-past six. The customary prices wereÑboxes 3s., pit 2S., gallery IS. At a benefit for Mr. Carter and Mr. Clarke, December I6 I8II, there was given Beaumont and Fletcher's " Rule a Wife and have a wife," followed by " A Double Dance by a Young Lady and Gentleman of Sheffield.^ By particular desire ' Bucks have at ye all, or a Picture of a Playhouse ' by Mr. Carter. After which an interlude, in one act (never performed here) called ' The Day After the Wedding.' A Comic Song by Mr. Robertson. The whole to conclude with a Pantomime Ballet of Action, called ' Fatal Rashness: or the Deserter of Naples.' . . . In the course of the piece, the awful pre- paration for Shooting a Deserter." The orthodox drama was on occasion supplanted by equestrian or pantomime companies: " Theatre, Sheffield. By Authority. Last Night of Mr. Wilson's Engagement. On this Evening Mr. Wilson will perform the Extraordinary Feat of Walking from the Stage Wheeling a real Wheelbarrow to the Gallery and down again never accomplished by any person but himself." Here is another announcement: "On Friday evening, October 25,I8II, will be presented the celebrated Play of The London Merchant; or, George Barnwell. This affecting tragedy, the moral tendency of which has been so very beneficial to the rising generation, was founded on fact. The unfortunate hero of the piece was executed for the murder of his virtuous and venerable uncle, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; to which he was instigated by an artful, cruel, and abandoned Woman. Step by step she led the unwary youth to the last cruel deed, which terminated a miserable existence by the most ignominious death. " A story is recorded that a young gentleman of the city of London, having embezzled part of his master's property, was providentially at a representation of George Barnwell, at Drury Lane, when that admirable actor, Mr. Ross, personated the character of George Barnwell, at whose fate he was so struck that it occasioned his immediate contrition and reform- ation. The gentleman so benefited by this excellent tragedy was not ashamed to acknowledge his obligations to the play and the performers, for, at every subsequent yearly benefit, Mr. Ross received one hundred pounds sterling, with a card to the following effect: " 'Dear Sir,ÑOne who is indebted to your admirable representation of George Barnwell for more than life, for his redeemed honour and credit, hegs your acceptance of the inclosed, which sum you will receive so long as you continue in the line of your profession. Happy am I to acknowledge that the stage has prevented me from ruin and dlsgrace. George Barnwell stopped me in my career, and saved me from an ignominious death.ÑI am, your friend and servant, A Convert.' " After which, the Celebrated Mr. Wilson will display his Wonderful Performance on the Tight Rope, who for elegance and activity, surpasses any other performer in that line. He will Dance a Hornpipe, in the Opera Stlle, with every correct Step and Elegance as on the Stage. He will likewlse take several Surprising Leaps over Garters, Five Feet above the Rope, without the assistance of the Balance Pole. He will go through his universal Feats as follow: An Equilibrium Exten- sion- Dance a Fandango, and accompany himself with the Castanets, and conclude with the Tambourine. The whole to conclude with the humorous After-piece of ' Lovers' Quarrels; or, Like Master, Like Man.'" " The Celebrated Mr. Wilson" was here again a year later, in conjunction with a Mr. Usher, when the wheelbarrow business was repeated., "To remove every Apprehension of Danger that may be conceived from the most Astonishing Ascent and Descent on the Rope to and from the Gallery, the Public are respectfully assured Mr. W is in the most perfect Safety during the whole of the Performance. After which Mr. Usher will display his wonderful imitation of the Feathered Creation. After which will be performed Hannah Moore's celebrated play of ' Percy, Earl of Northumberland; or the Fall of the Douglas.' . . . After which will be presented for the second time, a Grand Pedestrian Spectacle (got up under the direction of Mr. Usher) called ' The Siege of Bajadoz.' . . . Last Scene will be a Grand Representation of the Storming of Badajoz and Burning the Town." "Macklin's celebrated comedy, 'The Man of the World' (not performed here these 20 years)," was announced for the 8th December, I812. At the end of the play, "Dancing, by Mr. Lassels. A Song by Mr. Cowan. A Comic Song by Mr. Robertson. A favourite Song by Miss Treby. To conclude with the melodrama of 'The Lady of the Rock,' " of which this oddly-written synopsis is given: " From the promontory of Mull is to be seen, at this day the Lady's RockÑa huge Mass, visible only at low water, and which derives its Name from a circumstance not less affecting than true, and forms the leading feature of the present Drama. Maclean, the Lord of a great Clan in Scotland, conceives the horrid idea of murdering his Wife, and in order that no trace may remain by which the deed can be detected, determines on conveying her to the Dreadful Rock over which, at the returning tide, the Sea washes with great violence, and from which there is no retreat. Urged on by the dictates of the most savage cruelty, he conveys, places, and leaves her on the Rock exposed to the merciless and all-devouring waves- but Providence, the Guardian of the Good, still watches over the lovely innocent, and she is discovered by a poor Fisherman who, with the utmost labour and hazard, rescues the noble Victim, and shelters her in his humble hut. Meanwhile the guilty Husband, not doubting that She must have perished, makes a Mock Funeral, in order to appease her Clan; but in this he is deceived. Her Brother arrives at the head of his trusty followers, and demands to see his sister, dead or alive. In this distressed state the Clans are about to Engage when the Lady rushes between the Complainants, reconciles her afflicted Brother, and, in the arms of her Repentant Husband forgets the past, and participates the highest bliss in rewarding her brave deliverer." For the Winter Fair Week of I815 there was prepared a programme seasoned highly enough for the most exacting palate. "The managers respectfully inform the public that they have re-engaged the wonderful dog Tiger to perform four nights during the Fair." " On Monday Evening, November 27 18I5, will be Pre- sented a Grand Spectacle, in 4 Acts, called Timour the Tartar. Scene the First. A Tartarian Fortress and Garden, in the Possession of Timour; and the Tower in which Prince Agib is confined. Grand Procession of the Princess, carried by her Slaves, together with an Escort from the Georgian Court, in order To Marry Timour. Tartarian Pavilion. Grand Chamber in the Palace of Timour, in which the Princess attempts the Escape of her Child. The last scene: Grand View of the Castle of Timour, with its Towers, Battlements, etc. Rescue of the Captives. Final Overthrow of the Tyrant. " To conclude with the popular Melo-Drama of The Forest of Bondy, or Dog of Montargis, with the original Music, Decorations, etc. The facts on which this Piece was founded rests on a circumstance during the reign of Charles XVth, and may be found among remarkable Instances of Sagacity in the Brute Creation. Macaire, the Murderer of Aubri, is discovered by the Dog, who returns to the Inn, and conveys the Hostess to the Spot where the horrid Deed has been perpetrated, and by a Chain of most wonderful Events, The Murderer is Detected And Pursued by the Dog, who [the murderer, not the dog] throws himself down the Precipice. A Pistol is dropped by the Assassin, which the Dog Seizes, and Fires after Him. The Dog of Montargis by Tiger." The Sheffield public, it is evident, liked its amusements strong. The printers of the various playbills here quoted were, besides J. Montgomery, Hartshead, and T. Pierson, King Street; Todd, Mercury Office; J. T. Saxton, George Street; Bower, Bacon, and Bower, 9, Snig Hill; and J. Crome. The box plan was usually kept at Mr. Woollen's, stationer, High Street, but in I8I5 at Mr. Walker's, con- fectioner, Church Gates. " There is nothing new under the sun," and it is interesting to note that the Musical Festivals of our own day had their counterparts more than a hundred years ago. Very early in its historyÑin I769-Ñ the Theatre was utilised, in conjunction with St. Paul's Church, for the purposes of a " Grand Musical Festival," at which the " Messiah " and " Acis and Galatea " were performed by 98 instrumentalists and I60 vocalists. This festival was, with many others which followed, initiated by the zeal and enterprise of Mr. Joseph Taylor, previously mentioned as leader of the band in the Theatre, who is credited with having been " the first public-spirited person who intro- duced oratorios into the town." Before his death, in I8II, at the age of 8I, he became blind, and his past services were recognised by yearly performances of sacred music by his musical friends, "the profits of which, in age, infirmity, and blindness, enabled him to live comfortably," at the "top of Silver Street." The usual arrangements at the Musical Festivals were for oratorios, or sacred music, to be performed at the Parish Church, or St. Paul's, with concerts at the Theatre; and musical Sheffield worked off the remains of its excitement with a ball at the Assembly Rooms. That there was much musical spirit abroad is shown by the fact that the receipts of " festivals, rehearsals, and sermons," given for the benefit of the Infirmary, in the Parish Church and the Theatre in I805, were £I400, leaving a net profit of £306. There are other indications that music exercised an increasingly ameliorating influence on the rugged breasts of the Hallamshire population. From I806 a Yorkshire Amateur Musical Society held annual meetings in Sheffield, Leeds, and York alternately. These, and the Yorkshire Choral Concerts of a few years later, were under the management of and were established by Mr. Samuel Mather, who was the heart and soul of Sheffield music after Joseph Taylor's time. He was bandmaster of the Sheffield Volunteers, organist of St. James's in I799, and in I808 he succeeded his father, Mr. William Mather, as organist of St. Paul's. His brother John was for a short time at the beginning of the present century organist at the Parish Church, and was succeeded by Mr. Robert Rogers, who also subsequently continued the music shop in Norfolk Row, begun by William Mather, and carried on after him by his son, Samuel Mather. Besides the musical performances at the Theatre, there were frequent concerts at the Assembly Rooms, the Tontine, and elsewhere. The Choral Concert Society was sufficiently vigorous in I823 to promote the erection of what we now call the Old Music Hall in Surrey Street, the first stone of which was laid on Easter Monday, by Dr. Younge. The humbler inhabitants, in their own way, were quite as musically inclined as their wealthier neighbours. The waits, or " musishoners," as they are interchangeably called, were, of course, primarily employed by the town authorities as night watchmenÑof the type to whom Constable Dogberry gave charge to " comprehend all vagrom men," and if any would not stand, when bidden, to " let him go, and thank God you are rid of a knave." In I727 there was a great competition for the office of town waits. "Bingham the Fidlers" and "Staleys Fidlers came candidates," with the usual expenditure at the taverns; and Binghams obtaining the appointment, they were decked out in refurbished trappings, with new instrumentsÑa bass viol which cost £4 I2S.~ and a bassoon, purchased for five guineasÑnot, it is to be hoped, for spoiling the slumbers of peaceful citizens, but to enliven festive occasions, as Cutlers' Feasts, and rejoicings both public and private, into which none others were allowed to intrude. It presumes a large amount of musical tolerance on the part of the townsfolk to find that they endured more or less inharmonious disturbances with minor instruments, played in the streets by these night serenaders; and it is all the more odd when we remember that the 'Sembly Quest forbad " walkinge and talkinge in the towne street," to the " anoyeance to those that be honest men and householders," between nine at night and three in the morning. The hold music had on the public is strikingly implied by the maintenance by lhe Burgery of these musicians; and by willing payments for coats, and cloaks, and hats; for chains and silver badges; and for making them resplendent with "ribbings " at Christmas. The modest salary of £I a year, paid to each of the three waits for his night duties, came to be supplemented by so many extra fees for performances at other times that, in I802, their wages were increased on the understanding that this should include their services " at the discretional call of the Town Trustees, upon any occasion upon which they shall think proper to demand their attend- ance, not to exceed four times a year." " The Blind Fiddlers" established for themselves a position entitled almost to rank as another old institution. What particular connection there is between fiddling and blindness it would be hard to say; but somehow or other Sheffield was especially favoured by minstrels who, having lost their sight, maintained themselves by playing in the streets or at public- houses, and occasionally by giving concerts of a more ambitious kind. "Q in the Corner," in Paradise Square," kept by Sam Goodlad, himself first fiddle at the Assemblies and on all important occasions, was the chief resort of these men. At one time there were six of them, several of whom were excellent performers on the violin. They had their allotted circuits, chiefly on the outskirts of the town, which they visited in pairs. At Christmas they went round " a Christmas boxing," dropping into public-houses, and being liberally rewarded for the tunes they played. There is in existence an old pro- gramme of " A concert for the benefit of six principal Blind Musicians of Sheffield " at the Assembly Rooms, on Thursday, May 3rd, I810. From this it seems that they could not only fiddle, but sing and dance. Two songs, of the free-handed, open-hearted jolly-tar order, of the Dibdin stamp, were such favourites that no performance was held to be complete without them. They were of local origin, written by one John Knott, who, having indirectly done much to help others, ended his own days in the WorkhouseÑquite in the true " Tom Topsail" style. One of the songs was "Bill Block." This was sung at the concert above referred to, by Tom Booth, who explained how Bill Block was the boy that no danger did fear In battle or rough stormy weather; Bill knew how to hand, or to reef, or to steer With the best of the crew put togetherÑ No tar on the main ever saw such another; Replete with good nature, his heart scorn'd the pelf; 'Tis useless," cryed he, " but to help one another." If a failing he had he was worst to himself. When Bill e'er returned from a voyage to sea, With his pockets well lin'd with bright guineas, To waste it on trifles he knew not the wayÑ Like Sam Locket and such other ninnies; He sought the distrestÑan old friend, or a brother, To relieve their sad wants; for his heart scorned the pelf; 'Tis useless," cryed he, " but to help one another." If a failing he had. he was worst to himself Once on a land breeze an old messmate he spied With a bailiff to limbo was joggin; Bill hailed him, " Bring to, ye land lubber," he cryed, ~ Or, by Jingo, I'll rattle your noggin"Ñ (No tar on the main ever saw such another), He wiped off the score, for his heart scorned the pelf; 'Tis useless," cried he, ~ but to help friend or brother." If a failing he had, he was worst to himself. On sea, or on shore, brave Bill did his duty With pleasure, for he was no railer; Not for him titled honours, or riches, or beautyÑ True courage alone makes the sailor. He fought with brave Nelson, with Duncan, and Jervis; With virtue and courage his heart was replete When, after a life long spent in the service, Death moor'd him in port, where he lies to refit. "The Death of Tom Topsail" has been given in the "Miscellaneous Songs Relating to Sheffield," at the end of Mr. John Wilson's edition of Mather; but as his version differs somewhat from that sung at the Blind Musicians' Concert, the latter is given here: Tom Topsail he died, and the folks pip'd their eye, And talked of his virtues with many a sigh; As how, when alive, their sad wants would relieve, And e'en with a tear his last penny would give. But when sorely press'd by adversity's gale Not a soul lent a hand to mend Tom's tatter'd sail; He through life's last voyage rough storms did endure, And found none to help him, although he was poor. If a wretch in distres e'er to Tom was made known, He measur'd his heart by the worth of his own; His blubbering eye scarce from tears would refrain, He felt all his woe and relieved all his pain. But when sorely press'd by adversity's gale Not a soul lent a hand to mend Tom's tatter'd sail; He through life's last voyage rough storms did endure, And found none to help him, although he was poor. Poor Tom would sometimes at ingratitude sigh, When those he'd relieved pass'd him carelessly by; Yet e'en from his soul he would pity the elves Who study the interest of none but themselves; For a good-natur'd action," cries Tom, " must prevail With the Pilot above who can manage the gale." He through life's last voyage rough storms did endure, &c. A friend came at last who had heard of Tom's fate; He approached his straw pallet. but ah, 'twas too late; The right hand of friendship he warmly applied, But the proffer'd donation Tom calmly denied. 'Tis over," he cried, " the bright moment is past; This leaky old hulk is now sinking at last; " Should the Master approve when this voyage is o'er, I then shall be rich, although now I die poor." The other Blind Fiddlers taking part were Eliazar Clayton, James Knight, and Samuel Hawke. William Brumby and Joseph Ward were not in the programme. This included " Collar'd Herrings, with the Bastile March"; " Total Eclipse, from Handel's Samson "; " The Negro, with French March "; " Lady Betty Minuet, with an Italian Air"; " Devonshire Quickstep, accompanied with the octave flute"; "A Minuet in SamsonÑHandel "; with quartettes and trios and all the rest of it. The charge for admission was half a crown, and " After the concert, a Ball." John Knott, the writer of the songs just quoted, must not be passed over without further notice. He is remembered, in sundry descriptions handed down to us, as a poor, ancient person, with curious features; going about, dressed in a Hanby's Charity coat much the worse for wear, endeavouring to sell copies of his productions, and speedily spending the proceeds in the nearest public-house. He charged twopence for his songs, and he was accustomed to boast that they were equal to anything of Montgomery's. His admirers made a more accurate estimate when they claimed that, in substance at least, if not in finish, they were not unworthy to rank with Dibdin's. Nominally he was by trade a hatterÑfor hats were made here thenÑbut he had that dislike for steady work which is too often regarded as one of the privileges of genius; and, " if a failing he had, he was worst to himself," his worst failing being a love of drink. He lived in Hollis Croft until the poor- house absorbed him. His wife was a relation (perhaps a sister) of Thomas Smith, the constable. There were other Blind Fiddlers, some earlier than the six, and some later, as " Blind Stephen," John Gibbons, and " Blind Jonathan." The last named lived in Figtree Lane in the days when a fig-tree luxuriated either on his house or on his neighbour's. " Blind Stephen " was not only an excellent fiddler but a wag, and very popular thereby. One of his merry jests is on record, played at the expense of the host of the " Q in the Corner." It was a standing boast of Goodlad's that he was always first to get new tunes from London. On one occasion, when he had treated his customers to a sample of new music just arrivedÑa tune which he declared no other fiddler in Sheffield could playÑ" Blind Stephen," who had been concealed within hearing by co-conspirators, strolled in with a casual air, and professed his readiness to play the tune. The landlord scornfully offered to provide a leg of mutton and trimmings if he could. Stephen thereupon reproduced the air with such accuracy as to win the guerdon. The hour was late when, after the " mutton and trimmings " had been duly discussed, " Blind Stephen " set off to his home in Pinstone Street, amid a good deal of chaff about the ghosts he might encounter in the churchyard, which he had to cross, entering it by steps at the corner of Virgins' Walk, now St. James's Row. Stephen, to humour the joke, borrowed a lantern from the landlady; and not until after he had started did the absurdity of lighting a blind man on his way home occur to her. So she sent a girl hot-foot after him to bring it back; but Stephen clung to his treasure, remarking, " Does ta think I borrowed it for messen ? Tell thy missus there are so many drunken folks about, that if one knocked me down and smashed my fiddle, I should be ruined. I'm much obliged to her for t' lantern, for though I can't see, other folks can."

******************************************************************************** * This out of copyright material has been transcribed by Eric Youle, who has * * provided the transcription on condition that any further copying and * * distribution of the transcription is allowed only for noncommercial * * purposes, and includes this statement in its entirety. Any references to, * * or quotations from, this material should give credit to the original * * author(s) or editors. * ********************************************************************************
 
 

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