Tag Archive | Thomas Arne

Romance of London: Nancy Dawson the Hornpipe-Dancer

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

Nancy Dawson

nancy dawson portraitNancy Dawson, the famous hornpipe-dancer, of Covent Garden Theatre, in the last century, when a girl, set up the skittles [a form of bowling] at a tavern in High Street, Marylebone. She next, according to Sir William Musgrave’s Adversaria, in the British Museum, became the wife of a publican near Kelso, on the borders of Scotland. She became so popular a dancer that every verse of a song in praise of her declared the poet to be dying in love for Nancy Dawson; and its tune is so lively as that of Sir Roger de Coverley. In 1760, she transferred her services from Covent Garden Theatre to that other house [Drury Lane]. On the 23rd of September, in that year, the Beggar’s Opera was performed at Drury Lane, when the playbill thus announced her: “In Act iii, a Hornpipe by Miss Dawson, her first appearance here.” It seems that she was engaged to oppose Mrs. Vernon in the same exhibition at the rival house, and there is a full-length print of her in the character. There is also a portrait of her in the Garrick Club collection.

Nancy died in Hampstead, on the 27th of May 1767; she was buried behind the Foundling Hospital, in the ground belonging to St. George the Martyr, where is a tombstone to her memory, simply inscribed “Here lies Nancy Dawson.”

From Wikipedia:

Nancy Dawson was the stage name of Ann Newton (c.1728-1767), a famous London dancer and actress. She rose to fame performing a solo rendition of a hornpipe between acts in The Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden Theatre in 1759.

Her early life is unclear; she may have been born at Axminster, Devon. At sixteen she joined the company of a certain Griffin, a puppet-showman, who taught her to dance; and a figure dancer of Sadler’s Wells, seeing her performance, found her a place at his own theatre. As the story goes, her figure, novelty and technical excellence made her career.

In her second summer season at Sadler’s Wells Nancy Dawson was promoted to the part of Columbine, and in the following winter she made her first appearance at Covent Garden Theatre under Edward Shuter, in The Prophetess by Thomas Betterton. On 22 April 1758 the Merry Wives of Windsor was played for her benefit. In October 1759, during the run of The Beggar’s Opera, the man who danced the hornpipe among the thieves fell ill, and his place was taken by Nancy Dawson. From that moment she became a celebrity. The production enjoyed an unusually long run, and the house was crowded nightly.

Nancy Dawson was induced by an increase of salary to move to Drury Lane, where she appeared for the first time on 23 September 1760 in The Beggar’s Opera. Here for the next three years she dance in its frequent revivals, and in a variety of Christmas entertainments, such as ‘Harlequin’s Invasion,’ ‘Fortunatus,’ and the ‘Enchanter’ in which there also appeared Joseph Grimaldi and the Miss Baker who succeeded Nancy Dawson in popular favour as a dancer. On Christmas Eve 1763 a pantomime called the ‘Rites of Hecate’ was produced at Drury Lane, and on that day and the 26th of the month Nancy Dawson appeared; but her name is absent from the bills of subsequent representations.

The Hornpipe

From Sonny Watson’s Sweetswing.com:

tbhp_M2The lively Hornpipe is really very characteristic of the English in nature and is a very old Celtic solo dance that is very much based on the sailor’s abilities during the dancing with the sailors originally performing it with folded arms. The steps are clearly ship wise such as hauling in the anchor, climbing or rigging ropes etc. The Sailor’s Hornpipe was most popular during the 16th to 18th Centuries but the original (Hornpipe) goes much farther back and was originally done by men only.

It is said that the English sailing ship and Royal Navy Captain James Cook (1728-1779) thought dancing was most useful to keep his men in good health during a voyage. When it was calm, and the sailors had consequently nothing to do, he made them dance —

Sailors’ hornpipe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBU0z3xdC0o


The Ballad of Nancy Dawson*

Of all the girls in our town,

The red, the black, the fair, the brown,

That dance and prance it up and down,

There’s none like Nancy Dawson.


300px-Dawson2Her easy mien, her shape so neat,

She foots, she trips, she looks so sweet;

Her every motion’s so complete,

I die for Nancy Dawson.


See how she comes to give surprise,

With joy and pleasure in her eyes:

To give delight she always tries,

So means my Nancy Dawson.


Was there no task, t’obstruct the way,

No shutter old, no house so gay,

A bet of fifty pounds I’d lay,

That I gained Nancy Dawson.


See how the opera takes a run

Exceeding Hamlet, Lear and Lun

Though in it there would be no fun,

Was’t not for Nancy Dawson.


Lithograph of Nancy Dawson c 1760Though beard and brent charm ev’ry night

And female peachum’s justly right,

And filch and lockit please the sight,

‘Tis kept by Nancy Dawson.


See little davey strut and puff,

‘Confound the opera and such stuff,

My house is never full enough,

A curse on Nancy Dawson”.


Though G[arric]k he had has his day

And forced the town his laws t’obey,

With Jonny Rich is come in play,

With the help of Nancy Dawson.


*Lyrics attributed to George Alexander Stevens. Tune attributed to Thomas Arne

Hear it performed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTan2rliiKU


Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859


Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can! The photos are fabulous!

Before Vauxhall, professional, high quality music was expensive and therefore restricted to the wealthy. Because it was usually performed in private drawing rooms or concert halls, the concept of performing it in the open air was also a novelty. At a time when music from past masters was popular, Tyers introduced music by contemporary English or London-based composers. Oftentimes, the music (and the musicians) were the same as those performing in London theaters during the winter.

Tyers exposed a substantially larger audience to serious music than had ever been possible or even conceivable before. The fact that he did so in a setting where the audience could choose to listen or not, and could choose where to listen from, fundamentally transformed the public’s experience of musical performance, and led to a much wider and easier acceptance of the concert as a public entertainment.

Instrumental Music

Following the construction of the Orchestra building, which resolved several acoustical issues from performing in the open air, in 1735, music became

the crucial ingredient in setting the tone for an evening at Vauxhall. It promoted relaxed enjoyment, and its rational elegance was a catalyst for good behaviour and conversation among the company.

The unusual experience of listening to music in the open air and, after dark… held a very special allure for the audience. There is no doubt that music heard from a distant point of the garden… would have been attractive, providing a good excuse to lure members of the opposite sex away from the crowded Grove… On her eventful visit to Vauxhall, Fanny Burney’s heroine Evelina was particularly impressed by its al fresco music, if not seduced by its freedoms… Despite the disagreeable company, she recounts that

There was a concert, in the course of which, a hautbois concerto was so charmingly played that I could have thought myself upon enchanted ground, had I had spirits more gentle to associate with. The Hautboy in the open air is heavenly.

Click here for a previous post about the Orchestra.

The construction of the Organ building, and the installation of the massive organ, resolved the problem of volume, since its range could reach throughout the gardens, and even beyond. Click here for a previous post about the Organ.

Handel and Vauxhall

Squidgeworth found a friend!

Squidgeworth found a friend at the Foundling Museum

Just as Handel’s statue dominated the Grove, his music dominated Vauxhall’s repertory for a hundred years. Handel and Tyers had a mutually beneficial relationship that likely developed into close friendship. Tyers’s press articles tended to focus only on Handel’s music, and the promotion of his music before the crowds of Vauxhall helped him rise to popular fame.

Vocal Music

Due to a concern for propriety, Tyers resisted song at Vauxhall for at least a dozen years. By this time, Vauxhall was being criticized for “the absence of song on the grounds that, without lyrics, music ‘lacked interpretation,’ and was therefore less conducive to good humour among the audience.”

Soon after, Cecilia Young, a soprano who later married Vauxhall’s music director, Thomas Arne, was engaged, and the “introduction of song as a regular element of the programme launched the most perennial popular feature of the Vauxhall evening.”


Thomas Arne

Thomas Arne’s ballads “were, from 1745, regularly performed at the gardens to huge applause, and they were published in the first Vauxhall songbook, Lyric Harmony, which appeared in September of that year.” Arne’s songs, which were lighthearted and natural, appealed to a wide array of people, and thus fit in with Tyers’s own philosophy to make the arts available to all.

The lyrics of Vauxhall songs… are basically in the pastoral and romantic ballad style that evolved in the late seventeenth century from a long tradition of popular song… Over the next few decades, ballads absorbed influences from other popular music forms, particularly Italian opera, to become the genre known as the Vauxhall song.


Thomas Arne’s version of “God Save the King” was first performed at Drury Lane in 1745. He also wrote, “Rule Britannia,” another patriotic song. Click here to hear the latter song on the BBC website. I’m sure you will find it familiar.

A second genre that was to become popular with Vauxhall audiences was the patriotic song, one of the earliest types to be regularly heard at the gardens. Exploiting topical events as they did, they highlighted the link between the dutiful virtus of victorious military action and the pleasurable voluptas enjoyed by Vauxhall’s visitors, fully complementing the ideals behind Tyers’s management.

The songs regularly sung at Vauxhall and the other gardens enjoyed a wide currency. They were published not only as songsheets and in songbooks, but also in periodicals, particularly women’s magazines. Among the moral tales, romances, fashion hints, poetry, recipes and other items thought suitable for female consumption, editors of magazines such as the Ladies Complete Pocket Book or the Universal Magazine would often slip in the ‘favourite new songs’ being featured at the pleasure gardens in the current season, to be enjoyed by Vauxhall’s many “armchair” visitors around the country.

Besides the salary paid by Tyers and passes to allow them to come and go as they wished, “well-loved singers were rewarded by the audience who threw money at their feet.”

A thirty-two-year-old Oliver Goldsmith described a visit to the gardens around 1760, full of praise for the singers and the band.

The satisfaction which I received the first night I went there was greater than my expectations; I went in company of several friends of both sexes, whose virtues I regard and judgments I esteem. The music, the entertainments, but particularly the singing, diffused that good humour among us which constitutes the true happiness of Society.

Music after Jonathan Tyers’s death

After 1761, ownership was taken over by Tyers’s son, Jonathan Tyers the younger, and very little changed at first, until the early 1780’s, when strolling bands were introduced, possibly as an economic gesture, and the quality of music declined.

The introduction of Haydn’s compositions in 1783 marked the faltering start of a new era at Vauxhall. Haydn soon gained a wide following, even toppling Handel from his long-running supremacy.

Regular press advertisements detailing the evening’s program appeared in 1786, when Bryant Barrett, Jonathan Tyers the younger’s son-in-law, took over management of the gardens. Apparently he believed the audience to be more sophisticated about music and thus more interested in knowing beforehand what would be included.

James Hook

James Hook

James Hook, Vauxhall’s music director from the early 1770s until 1821, composed over two thousand songs specifically for Vauxhall and performed an organ concerto every evening at closing time.

…each season introduced an entirely new crop of songs, numbering between thirty and forty-five, with no repeats from previous years; the most popular songs received as many as fifty performances through the season… Most of the half dozen or so singers employed each year appeared every evening, Monday to Saturday, from mid-May to late August. This represented around eighty-five evenings out of a hundred—a tough programme for any performer, especially when singing out of doors.

The Vauxhall Effect

As a music promoter, Tyers was unusual at the time in not being a professional musician himself; it was his judgement and business sense that determined his visitors’ experience, and dictated the selection of people he employed to take his vision forward. The renown of his performers was less important than their ability to express a particular house style.

Performers at Vauxhall

For a list of performers at Vauxhall (musical and otherwise), check this website: Vauxhall Gardens: 1661-1859.


Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever