25 Brook Street, W1K 4HB
G F Handel lived at 25 Brook Street, from 1723 until his death in 1759 and it was here that he composed landmark works such as the Messiah and Zadok the Priest. In 1968 a rather different sort of musician moved in next door at no. 23, the rock musician Jimi Hendrix. To reflect this extraordinary quirk of fate, in 2016 the Handel House Museum rebranded itself ‘Handel & Hendrix in London’ and opened the £30 a week top floor flat that Hendrix shared with Kathy Etchingham between 1968-9. This new ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’ features the musician’s recreated bedroom and living room, and a permanent exhibition tracing his life in London that includes an Epiphone FT79 acoustic guitar (a lucky survivor, presumably, of Hendrix’s famously destructive approach to his instruments).
Next door, Handel’s Georgian bachelor pad recalls a more measured musical career, although one not without its tempestuous moments. Although beautifully restored and furnished with 18th-century furniture, paintings and prints, the restrained dark grey interiors of no. 25 don’t try to recreate the historic house in full and are instead themed around Handel’s life, work and times. Handel’s dressing room on the second floor doubles as ‘The London Room’ with portraits of Georgian literati such as John Gay and Alexander Pope while the displays in Handel’s bedroom strive to get to the heart of ‘Han the Man’. The combination of carefully chosen artefacts, to-the-point information sheets and friendly, well-informed room stewards is surprisingly effective at bringing house and owner to life, revealing rather an endearing character who liked his grub, had a famously short fuse and was probably a very noisy neighbour.
One floor down, the focus is firmly on Handel’s music: rehearsal, performance and composition. Handel’s original rehearsal room explores the world of 18th-century opera and theatre with portraits of Handel’s favourite artistes such as singer Susanna Cibber, and the castrato Senesino. It’s very much the hub of the place and still functions as a rehearsal space; there’s a chance that on your visit the house will reverberate to the sound of live baroque music, perhaps played on the reproduction Ruckers double-manual harpsichord, or on one of the two original 18th-century instruments, (a Kirkman harpsichord and John Snetzler bureau organ) that the museum has been given recently. Leading off the rehearsal room is the small room where Handel composed, overseen today by a very fine portrait of the man himself by Philip Mercier along with portraits of the composer’s closest musical collaborators, his copyist John Christopher Smith the Younger and librettist Charles Jennens. Ongoing development at the museum will see the ground floor and basement of Handel House restored and opened to the public in due course.
The museum’s events programme features a lively mix of temporary exhibitions, baroque music master classes, lectures and performances and from 2016 will also feature special Hendrix themed events.
this in an excerpt from our forthcoming book:
Museums and Galleries of London
by Abigail Willis