The Good Life and High Times of Richard Randall
by Brian Green
Richard Randall had arrived in Dulwich to take up his appointment as organist at the College in 1763. It had also been a very busy year for him professionally as we read in the last issue. His social life was restricted by having to get to grips with his duties at Dulwich, which as well as playing the organ for chapel services also required him to teach the poor scholars to sing. What leisure he did have was limited to occasional visits with one of his colleagues to the Green Man, a fashionable hostelry which is now the site of The Grove Tavern on Dulwich Common.
In 1764, despite a packed opera season in which, amongst others, he performed in Handel’s Nabal, Samson, Judas Maccabeus and Deborah, by the summer he found time to relax and go to the races. Horse racing to Richard Randall was a long standing passion. Whenever he had to give an organ recital at cathedrals such as Canterbury, Salisbury or Winchester, he would find time to see the racing there as well. Epsom was another favourite, his frequent visits made possible by virtue of the fact that he had an aunt living there where he could stay. Horse racing was a popular sport locally, and in Dulwich a Mr Green had some acres of meadow which he turned over to horse racing in summer. In late July 1764 Richard Randall went with a Captain Carey to see the Norwood Races and in the following September went first to the Sydenham Races and then to the Dulwich Races.
Richard Randall went to Epsom races on 17th May 1765. Five years later the Derby and The Oaks were raced there.
It was also in September that he took on a pupil in Dulwich. It would be his entry to local society because the pupil was Sally Wright, the wife of Thomas Wright a wealthy stationer and publisher who would become Lord Mayor in 1785. He was next invited to the home of Mr Durnford who lived in one of the houses on Dulwich Common between Gallery and College Roads. He both dined and had supper there, which in 1764 suggests that he had dinner around 3pm and was invited to stay for an evening meal as well.
His visit to the Wright household was made before they had moved into their splendid home, Bell House, in College Road. This visit must have opened other doors for Richard Randall because in November he accompanied the City Marshall to the Lord Mayor’s Ball and two months later was invited to Mr and Mrs Brass Crosby’s house for tea and supper. It would be the first of many such visits and he and the Yorkshire born lawyer, who gave his name to the expression “as bold as brass”, became regular companions.
Brass Crosby, who got his unusual Christian name from the maiden name of his mother, came to London from Stockton-on-Tees to practise law and in 1758 was elected a member of the City’s common council. Two years he later purchased the office of City Remembrancer. In 1770, at the age of 45 he would be elected Lord Mayor and during his year of office became a national hero both in refusing to allow navy press gangs to operate in the City and for his defence of the free press. At the time it was illegal for newspapers to publish verbatim reports of the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament. Instead, accounts were published with titles such as “debates of Lilliput” and MPs were given fictitious names.
Two newspapers (the Gazetteer and the Middlesex Journal) had published literal accounts of the proceedings and the MPs were properly identified. They were furious. The printers were commanded to attend the House but refused and the sergeant-at-arms was ordered to arrest them but they went into hiding.. By this time other newspapers were also reporting the debates in Parliament and Mr Miller, printer of the London Evening Post was taken into custody by the messenger of the House for not obeying the order for his attendance at the bar and brought before the Lord Mayor for sentencing. Brass Crosby refused to do any such thing, saying that the citizens had the right to know what those who represented them and made their laws were saying and doing. Not only did Crosby release the printer but he supported the action of his aldermen who had committed the messenger from Parliament with assault and wrongful arrest. Crosby and Alderman Oliver were ordered to attend the House where Oliver was committed to the Tower, Crosby was allowed to withdraw because of a severe attack of gout. A week later he again attended the House attended by an enormous crowd and upon his refusal to be treated leniently on the score of his health he was also committed to the Tower.
One account says that he was transported to the Tower by boat by order of the King to prevent his being rescued. There was a national outcry against parliament’s actions and effigies of leading members, including his major protagonists, Colonel Onslow and the Speaker, were burned on Tower Hill. Crosby was released after six weeks imprisonment to scenes of great celebration. Bonfires were lit, there was a twenty-one gun salute and fifty three carriages accompanied his coach, which, towards the end of its journey had its horses replaced by people to pull it. A column in his honour was erected at St George’s Circus where it still remains.
Richard Randall was a regular visitor to the Crosby household, recording in his diary that Mrs Crosby died on the night of 19th November 1767. Brass Crosby would remarry three years later. Richard was also a regular visitor to the home of Mr Noble Spring who had recently moved into a house in the middle of the hamlet of Dulwich. Indeed it might have been Mr Spring’s daughter about whom Richard Randall had composed a poem which he sent for publication to the London Advertiser:
To Miss E – S, on looking out of her Chamber window at Dulwich
and which he signed himself Fidelio.
Mr Spring was employed by the Custom House and bought his house from Luke Lightfoot, one of Dulwich’s very intriguing residents. Some time after the sale of his house, Lightfoot had launched an ambitious enterprise on Denmark Hill; the building of a new assembly room.
For an assembly room to be a success it had to attract fashionable society. To do this assembly rooms had to have a certain attraction; the patronage of royalty or the aristocracy or the appeal of their programmes of entertainments and the grandeur of the premises. Lightfoot’s gambit was to build Denmark Hall, now the site of the Fox on the Hill pub, with a great room 100’ x 30’ which at the time was claimed to be one of the largest rooms in England. He appears to have financed this project through his work as a master-carver, completing the extraordinary chinoiserie at Lord Verney’s seat at Claydon, now a National Trust property. In the course of this commission Lightfoot was sued by his lordship for overcharging him £23,000 for his work.
Assembly rooms were at their height of popularity at this time and Richard Randall was a regular patron of the local assembly room at the Green Man which met on Monday evenings for dances or cards and for which the admission fee was one guinea. It is possible that the impending closure of the Green Man (Randall went to a sale there in 1770) inspired Luke Lightfoot to undertake, what would prove to be his short-lived enterprise on Denmark Hill.
Richard Randall also, on occasions, went to the prestigious assembly room at St James’s run by the famous Mr Almack. While the emphasis on assemblies in the fashionable parts of London was on gambling or dancing, nevertheless, shrewd proprietors also put on lavish entertainments to compliment the grandeur of the décor to attract large attendances. Singers and musicians were engaged to provide concerts. Richard Randall once performed at the most famous of all assembly rooms – Mrs Cornelys in Soho Square.
Mrs Cornelys had a colourful career; an opera singer, actress and courtesan and a conquest of Casanova. It was her friendship with the even more notorious Elizabeth Chudleigh which persuaded her to lease Carlisle House in Soho Square as assembly rooms in 1760. With Mrs Chudleigh’s connections in high society the establishment became a great success and was famous for its masked balls and supper rooms. When Almack’s opened in competition, Mrs Cornelys in response gave her rooms a lavish make-over, spending over £2000 in decorating one of the great rooms with blue satin and another in yellow. Fanny Burney noted “The magnificence of the rooms, splendour of the illuminations and embellishments and brilliance of the appearance of the company exceeded anything I saw before. The rooms were so hot, nobody attempted to dance”.
Fashion is fickle and both Mrs Cornelys and Luke Lightfoot’s stars dimmed. The former because of mounting debts and competition from the likes of Almack’s and the newly opened Pantheon in Leicester Square where Richard Randall also performed, and the latter because of its remoteness from the society it aimed to attract. Lightfoot’s enterprise, where Randall was a regular visitor, would later be converted into the less ambitious ‘Denmark Hill Tea Gardens’.
It was tales of the society which patronised such gatherings which made Randall such a fascinating guest in Dulwich’s more pedestrian homes. Moreover Randall also performed for one of society’s most curious characters – the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who had already served one term as the First Lord of the Admiralty and who would go on to serve twice more and send Captain Cook on his voyages of discovery. One account says that Lord Sandwich gambled for twenty four hours without a break and, reluctant to leave the tables ordered a servant to bring him some salt beef between two slices of bread, which, as a consequence was the invention of the snack which was named after him. More charitable sources say that his lordship invented the humble sandwich because of the long hours spent at his office desk.
Randall sang for his lordship on three consecutive Saturdays in February 1766. Lord Sandwich who was then a cabinet minister, was three years into his affair with Martha Ray a fellow singer of Randall’s at the opera house in Covent Garden. It was in the foyer of the opera house in 1779 that Martha Ray was shot dead by her jealous admirer, James Hackman, Rector of Wiveton. Apparently the grief stricken peer never recovered from her loss.
Randall’s engagement to sing at Lord Sandwich’s soirées probably occurred because of his performances at a club dedicated to the appreciation of the works of George Frederick Handel and named the academy of ancient music which met at the Crown & Anchor tavern in Fleet Street where the Earl was a member. Randall sang occasional oratorios there and may even have been a member himself.
All in all, 1766 was a good year for Richard Randall , there can be no doubt about it because he writes inside the cover of his 1767 diary – “Resolved to Live as Happy this year as I did the Last if possible, and Go to Bath”. Well, Richard did not manage it that year, nor even in the next two, but in 1769 he finally achieved his ambition. The start of the year was another busy one; he sang at a Turk’s Head concert where Samuel Johnson’s literary circle met (The Club), there were two King’s Command performances of a now forgotten opera titled Gideon and there were regular revivals of Handel operas : Acis and Galatea, Samson, Messiah, Judas Maccabeus and Israel in Egypt. He also sang for the composer John Stanley in aid of the St Andrews Society, one of the many charities which gave fund-raising concerts in London. On Tuesday May 16th, a week after singing at St Paul’s cathedral, Richard Randall boarded a stagecoach for the journey to Bath. He stayed the first night near Reading, took his breakfast at Theale, dined at Newbury and had his supper and spent the night at Hungerford, probably at The Bear inn. He had his breakfast next morning at Marlborough, dined in Devizes and arrived in Bath that Thursday evening where he stayed in lodgings provided by his host.
Richard Randall’s host in Bath was Dr Thorpe. Thorp was a most agreeable companion, willing to show the 37 year old bachelor the sights of the city. Together they took a walk to “the cures”, went to the Pump Room and on the Saturday evening went to the theatre to see a play where Thorp had secured the very best seats in a stage box. On the Sunday Richard went twice to the Abbey Church, indeed he might even have played the organ there. The following days were spent on an excursion to Bristol to visit its famous wells. In February 2011, the company that now owns the well they visited applied to the Environment Agency to extract and bottle up to 15 million litres (3.3 million imperial gallons) of water a year. Richard Randall and his host then went to the theatre to see Thomas Arne’s popular ballad opera Love in a village where this time he had a seat in the pit. Richard must have felt in familiar surroundings because Bristol’s theatre which was built only five years earlier, in 1764, was based on Drury Lane theatre where Richard was a regular performer.
On the Tuesday, back in Bath, after another visit to the Pump Room he rode with Dr Thorp to Claverton Hill, now the campus of the university of Bath, and in the evening went to the Assembly Rooms newly built by John Wood. Another ride the following day to Lansdowne Hill was followed by another visit to the Pump Room and Spring Gardens where he writes…”walk Mr Thorp para de rooms..”
On Thursday, a final breakfast with Thorp’s daughter and it was time to leave by the London coach. A night at Marlborough, the next at Oakingham (now Wokingham) and by the evening he was back in Dulwich and having supper with his friend Mr Swanne, the College’s preacher, and no doubt regaling him with his adventures. The following day, being Sunday, Richard took up his Dulwich duties by playing the organ in the College Chapel.
In the next issue we learn that Richard Randall was Dulwich’s most eligible bachelor, that he took a summer vacation to the newly discovered ‘smart’ destinations of Margate and Brigthelmstone and hear of his adventures there.