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Amateur Music Making Amongst the Mercantile Community of Newcastle upon Tyne from the 1690s to the 1750s

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Kirsten GibsonORCiD, Dr Steph Carter


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Much of the surviving evidence documenting amateur music making in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England pertains to the musical activities of men from the gentry or professional classes – Samuel Pepys, Roger North or Anthony Wood are notable examples – who had been educated at the universities or the Inns of Court. Literate amateur music making, however, extended into the mercantile classes though the evidence is thinner and more scattered. Occasionally documentary evidence comes to light that provides detailed insight into the musical lives of this social group: Bryan White’s discovery of the letter book of the Levant Company factor Rowland Sherman, for instance, has revealed an active group of amateur musicians amongst the merchant community of London in the final decades of the seventeenth century. This chapter explores two hitherto little known sources originating in Newcastle upon Tyne – one musical, the other autobiographical – that provide similarly detailed insight into the musical lives, activities and tastes of two men associated with the town’s Company of Hostmen (middle men in the Newcastle coal trade): the violin tune book begun in 1694/5 and compiled by hostman Henry Atkinson (1670–1759), which consists of 188 tunes and records the musical tastes of a group of amateur musicians in Newcastle at the end of the seventeenth century, and the diary of apprentice hostman Ralph Jackson (1736-1790), which chronicles in remarkable detail his musical activities, and those of his friends, in the mid eighteenth century. These sources contribute to our broad understanding of amateur music making amongst the mercantile classes from the late seventeenth to the mid eighteenth centuries, documenting their musical tastes and education, social contexts for music making and modes of musical transmission, but they also provide important evidence of music making, and more broadly cultural life, in North-East England during the period. Contrary to the predominant historical narrative of the region, which has been characterized as giving ‘the impression of cultural barrenness’ (Helen Berry), these sources evince a thriving musical culture amongst Newcastle’s merchant elite; the cultural capital of musical knowledge and skill, and the gentility it denoted, was clearly understood amongst this social group living remote from the thriving cultural centres of London, Oxford and Cambridge. By exploring the musical lives of Henry Atkinson and Ralph Jackson, this chapter seeks to illuminate the extent to which music, musical practices and ideals of musical skill and gentility were transmitted beyond the metropolis, university towns and country homes of the social elite to the mercantile community of Newcastle.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gibson K, Carter S

Editor(s): Carter S; Gibson K; Southey R

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Music in North-East England, 1500-1800

Year: 2020

Pages: 192-215

Print publication date: 01/10/2020

Online publication date: 01/10/2020

Acceptance date: 29/01/2020

Series Title: Music in Britain, 1600-2000

Publisher: Boydell Press

Place Published: Martlesham, Suffolk


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781783275410