Bygone concert venues 6: The Black Bear Inn, Cambridge

The Black Bear Inn, Market Street. Demolished in 1848

The Black Bear Inn, Market Street. Demolished in 1848

The Black Bear Inn here in Cambridge was notable for its concerts held from the 1770’s to the 1800’s under the auspices of its Music Club. Black Bear? Sadly, like so many of the fascinating old inns of this City (see Enid Porter. Old Cambridge Inns. Cambridgeshire Life, Sept. 1968 pp. 127-29), it no longer exists, but its footprint is still discernible. It stood on the corner of Market Hill and Sidney Street, opposite Holy Trinity Church and what is now Market Passage marks its yard. On its first floor was a large assembly room which was used for meetings, auctions and other public gatherings as well as concerts of the Black Bear Music Club. Incidentally, the Inn was part of Edward Storey’s estate (the Storey as in Storey’s Way). He died in 1692 and is remembered today for the charitable foundation set up after his son’s death using the rents and profits from his considerable estate to provide almshouses for the poor. It still exists today. For more information on the Foundation, see Helen Larke’s little book The Foundation of Edward Storey, Cam.d.980.7.

So, what of the concerts? We are very lucky to have a volume of programmes for concerts between 1789 and 1809, acquired in April 1920  for one guinea, and a record on Newton has been created for each season at Cam.a.789.1, together with an entry on the Concert Programmes Project database.

John' Scarborough's benefit night concert, April 28 1789

John’ Scarborough’s benefit night concert, April 28 1789

Organised and led by violinist John Scarborough, they are a mix of Public Nights to which “No gentleman can be admitted without applying to a Member for a Ticket, for which he pays Half-a-Crown” and Benefit Nights for one or other of the principal players, for example, for Scarborough’s on 28 April 1789: “Tickets, 2s. 6d. each, to be had at Mr. Wynne’s, Mr. Hague’s and Mrs. Pratt’s music shops, and of Mr. Scarborough at the Black Bear.”

Typically, programmes consist of between eight and twelve items, mixing vocal and instrumental works (very different, of course, from what we would expect today). The single folio sheets list only the briefest of details of the pieces to be played and the words of vocal items are printed on the reverse,  so – much is left to conjecture. We are teased with statements such as this for flautist George Nicholls’ benefit concert on 1st May 1804: “Overture – Haydn [probably a symphony, or a movement therefrom, but which?]; Concerto – Corelli [a concerto grosso one assumes]; Overture – Jomelli [presumably to one of his many, many operas]; and…a ray of hope here…Haydn’s Military Symphony, no. 12″ [i.e. what we now know as no.100 in G, Hob.I:100 – see item 1 in M310.c.200.7]. Or in the benefit concert on 12th February 1793 for violinist, and later Professor of Music, Charles Hague we are even less the wiser with “Grand pianoforte concerto, Mistress Hague” [the performer is almost certainly his wife Harriot, but who might be the composer? Mozart perhaps?]. All good ideas most welcome.

Benefit concert for Charles Hague, 12th February 1793.

Benefit concert for Charles Hague, 12th February 1793.

The music is a good, solid diet of works by contemporary -or near-contemporary – composers with Handel ever-present (the Occasional Overture seems to have been a particular favourite along with concerti grossi, and selections from Messiah and other oratorios) and there are always one or two glees on offer. Again, very different from today. Many of the names we see are for composers whose works have long disappeared from the mainstream concert repertoire of today – Johann Georg Graeff, Adalbert Gyrowetz, Pieter Hellendaal, Antonín Kammell, Pierre van Maldere and Antonio Sacchini. What fun it would be to reconstruct some of these programmes…

…and to tempt you into action, I will look at some of them in more depth in a follow-up post.

Meanwhile, to quote the words of a glee written especially for the Club and performed on 18th February 1806 at Mr. Scarborough’s Annual Benefit:

“To our Musical Club here’s long life and prosperity,
May it flourish with us, and so on to posterity…”


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2 Responses to Bygone concert venues 6: The Black Bear Inn, Cambridge

  1. Pingback: Bygone concert venues 6.1: Black Bear Inn. Mr. Incledon comes to Cambridge | MusiCB3 Blog

  2. Pingback: Black Bear Music Club: more glum than glee | MusiCB3 Blog

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