Sir Samuel Hellier's 'Musical People'
The 18th century is littered with examples of remarkable people who contributed to the fabric of cultural life of England. Most of these were prominent composers such as Handel, Arne and Boyce, whose works have maintained their place in our musical canon or have been ‘rediscovered’ in more recent years. Others - non-musicians - were important patrons and collaborators such as King George the 1st, or members of the Royal families, or David Garrick, the theatrical producer. Yet, the subject of this article could not be described as influential at all: he wasn’t an active patron of composers or performers; he didn’t belong to prominent musical clubs or societies; he wasn’t a notable performer in his own right; he wasn’t an influential organiser connected with institutions such as the Handel commemoration concerts or high-profile London subscription concerts. Yet, the activities of Sir Samuel Hellier, at his home - The Wodehouse - in Wombourne, a small village in Staffordshire, show us another side to music-making in England than that which we're used to hearing about. We are fortunate that there are three distinct sources which can be used to piece together these musical activities: The collection of musical instruments which Hellier and his successors (as Hellier died unmarried, his beneficiaries styled themselves 'Shaw-Hellier') had acquired was re-discovered at The Wodehouse in the mid-1960s and is now housed at the Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments. Hellier’s sheet music collection didn’t surface until 1985 when it turned up in the Wodehouse music room-cum-stables: It now resides in the University of Birmingham’s Special Collections. But the remaining letters and personal papers are still in private ownership and remain at The Wodehouse. Were it not for the existence of the 197 hundred letters in the Hellier correspondence, we would no little about how he came to possess such a large quantity of music and musical instruments. But we would know nothing at all of the people for whom he purchased them. All but 8 of the letters are from Hellier to his estate manager John Rogers and we only have one reply from Rogers back to Hellier. Reading the letters is a little like hearing one side of a phone conversation, and given that much of content of each letter is in the form of questions and directives, not being able to read the replies is very frustrating. The letters document Hellier purchasing and sending music back to the Wodehouse from London, purchasing instruments from makers and sending accessories such as mouthpieces or oboe reed cane. He discusses asking certain workers to play particular instruments, mentions specific works to be learnt; he asks constantly if the "musical people" are practicing and if the orchestra is rehearsing; and he attempts to manage musical events in Wombourne and liaise with local musicians by proxy. Hellier the Man Samuel Hellier was born in 1736 at the family home The Wodehouse. He was orphaned at age 14, and looked after by three guardians including his overbearing grandmother (who he refers to as 'the Old Lady'). He attended Exeter College, Oxford, from 1753 where he studied law. He was admitted to the Inner Temple the following year and was created doctor of civil law (L.L.D.) in 1763. He had lodgings in London by the Temple from this time until his death in 1784. Samuel was knighted in 1762 and created high sheriff of Worcestershire for that year. Although his inheritance and income were modest, Hellier had clear ambitions; for The Woodhouse to rival the estates of his neighbouring noblemen, and even to out-do them - after all, none of them could boast their own orchestra. His neighbours included the Earl of Stamford at Enville, the poet William Shenstone at The Leasowes near Halesowen, Sir George Lyttleton at Hagley Hall, and Lord Dudley of Himley Hall - all of whom were improving their houses and gardens during this time. Aside from music, Hellier's passion was his garden, and his efforts in establishing The Wodehouse's grounds as part of the 'gardens circuit' in the 1760s and 70s paid off, as the letters reveal he had many visitors. The small estate today gives a good idea of what Hellier had achieved by his death in 1784 - a large walled kitchen garden, landscaped grounds in the Palladian style, numerous garden 'talking pieces', a temple to Handel, and a large music room-cum-stables. A New Organ for Wombourne Church
The earliest surviving letters date from December 1766. They show that Hellier was in the middle of arranging for an organ to be built for the village church, and he was evidently acting as an intermediary between the organ builder Abraham Adcock and the church, and arranging for the Faculty - the legal documentation required by church law to make alterations to church buildings. He was also encouraging his estate manager, John Rogers, to practice so that he could play the organ for the first time at Easter the following year, and for a grand performance later on in the year which was to include Handel's Dettingen Te Deum, selections from the Messiah and Coronation Anthems. We know that John probably was an absolute beginner, for there are numerous requests for him to practice in letters throughout this year.
London 3rd January 1767
"With regard to the Organ, it will be now got ready Directly, and in Passion week will bring it down and fit it in Wombourn Church...."
It would appear from this sentence that Adcock had already started making the organ, and was due to finish it in time for the start of Holy Week (April 19th) but, he goes on ...
"...In the mean-time I desire you would speak to Lawyers Banton or Lombard to have the Faculty got ready out of Lichfield Court to give by Leave to Erect it, or we shall wait for it, so Pray, hasten it now...."
The granting of a faculty was by no means a certainty, so it appears somewhat risky to have delayed this application. Also curious, is the next sentence in the letter, which reveals that Adcock had not been given specific measurements for the new instrument:
"...Both yourself & Mr Jordon mention the Organ standing against the steeple, but both of you forget to send the dimensions and height … 'Tis Indifferent to me what part of the church it stands in, - if placed quite right, it should stand in the arch of the Chancel but so as we have it in the Church it’s no matter where it's fixed, Tho Mr. Honeybourne's Objections have no sort of weight, for The Great Organ in the Cathedral at Canterbury is placed Sideways & so is the Organ in St. John's College Oxford & 20 other Places."
By comparing the Wombourne parish church to St. John's or Canterbury Cathedral, shows Hellier striving for the very best - a feature that recurs throughout the letters.
The last segment in this letter concerning the organ, continues:
"...Pray take Care to be Perfect in the playing of the Te Deum, Messiah, etc, as we shall call upon you to perform Easter Monday or in the week after the opening of the organ, & Remember to get every Person's name down & what he Subscribes towards the organ."
It is clear that he is also dealing with the financing of the organ, which was done in a usual manner - of public subscription. Here we also have the first mention of John Rogers acting as church organist. The opening performance was to have been at Easter time but owing to Adcock's ill-health the organ was not in fact installed until 10th May. Hellier's clear desire to have the Handel's Coronation Anthems, Dettingen Te Deum and parts of the Messiah (an exact copy of any Three Choirs or other provincial festival performance at the time), was evidently not fulfilled at the first performance, but by the time of Hellier's return to London he had clearly rearranged the date of this performance.
21st May 1767:
"I desire you would lose no Time in putting in Practice of Te Deum & the Coronation Anthems, because Summer goes on apace & the Time of Performance approaches."
And the following month, 9th June 1767:
"You’ll observe that this Te Deum you are now Learning will not do to sing so well by it self, but must have instruments play with the voices, & then it's beyond all the Musick I ever yet heard."
There are no further letters from this year after August, and one can suppose his performance took place September or early October. However, the organ matters were certainly not settled by the time of this performance, and payment was very delayed. Five years later, in a letter of 21st
May 1772, Hellier writes:
"I beg of you to hurry ye organ money - Adcock will be quite outrageous, so shall Expect it in a very few Day’s"
The following April it is still not paid:
"… Notwithstanding that Every Effort is useing to get the money, & the old Lady writing to that vile Scoundrel, that Base Ungrateful Wretch Adcock, yet this very morning he had the affrontery to serve me again with a Copy of a Writt for Wombourne Organ. I’ll spend a 1000L but I will most severely Trounce him."
Clearly, the relationship had broken down...
Adcock died a few months later, at the end of 1773 and it is unclear from the letters whether the money was ever paid. The whole affair of the new organ reveals Hellier's impatient character - a recurring trait - and a habit of falling out with the villagers, . Hellier’s "Musical People"
A number of Hellier’s workers are named in connection with music-making in the correspondence. One name which appears regularly is John Rogers' bother, Daniel.
Daniel, seems to have been a very accomplished performer on the horn - so much so that in a letter of 30th April, 1772, Hellier requests he learn a particular concerto. If the horn was a more usual instrument for orchestras of this time, it was the trumpet that pleased Hellier the most. Although there is no specific mention of trumpets or trumpeters in 1767, the inaugural performance of the organ required 3 trumpet parts and, indeed, Hellier's own copies of the Coronation Anthems include these usual parts. We cannot tell for certain who played the trumpet parts, and it's likely that it wasn't Daniel Rogers, for two years later, in a letter dated 18th March, 1769, Hellier discusses his desire for Daniel to start to learn the trumpet with Mr. Eller, a Birmingham musician who had been staying at the Wodehouse in order to instruct Hellier's staff:
“I do not altogether hold with Mr. Eller about Laying aside Trumpets, so far I am from his Opinion that to be able to Play almost as well as the finest Performer in England, in that Case undoubtedly the Scholar should stick to one Instrument & never Vary. But on the other hand a man may play two & even three Different Instruments & play very agreeably & well too upon each of them & as your Brother has so good an Ear & Taste for the Trumpet & as it's so glorious an Instrument & so useful & so great a favourite of mine, I cannot consent to his leaving it out. But get Mr. Eller to Teach him to shake &c. [trill] & let him practice both Horn & Trumpet.”
This instruction did not go down well with Eller, for a on the 1st April Hellier writes:
"I Don’t quite understand Mr. Eller’s backwardness in Teaching your brother the Trumpet, but I know he is adamant. However your Brother may stick to his Horn & towards the end of summer an Opportunity may offer to get him some Instructions for the Trumpet."
Hellier got his own way, and got Daniel Rogers to learn the trumpet. Hellier’s instinct for Daniel’s musical ability paid off, for within a year Daniel was evidently more proficient than "the old trumpeter who lives in Stafford" (26th March, 1770). That year Daniel was seconded to Hellier’s neighbour, John Marsh, who had been appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire for that year by the King. The High Sheriff's responsibilities included ceremonial duties for which a trumpeter was required. Bearing in mind Hellier had been appointed High Sheriff of Worcester in 1762, one gets the sense that Hellier was overly helpful toward his neighbour as much to earn favour as to keep up with the establishment.
Later on in the same letter Hellier writes:
"I suppose Mr. High Sheriff is busy in getting everything ready ... Pray, send me word what sort of a figure he makes and what gentlemen attend him. If I have time I will send a few easy tunes for your brother to learn before he goes. Half a dozen will serve, with good management, both assizes. (He may learn them all in half an hour as well as last year's). Lest he should not be acquainted with what he is to do on this occasion, here follows directions: He must repair to the High Sheriff’s house the moment he sets out for the assizes & trumpet him there for some time until he is ready to set out. Then he (the trumpeter) is to ride first before all the javelin men [the javelin was used for ceremonial purposes], trumpet away through all towns & villages until he meets the judge & then he is to play while His Lordship gets into the sheriff’s coach, & then he rides directly up to the Town Hall at Stafford & trumpets all up the Town. After the judge has done, he trumpets him to his lodgings & the Sheriff also. - Next day he stands in the street & trumpets to call the javelin men together & then walks before the Sheriffs coach to church & plays all the way there back again & up to the Hall, & whenever the Judge either goes to the Hall or from the Hall. This is to be observed during the whole assizes, & when the High Sheriff return’s home Trumpet him back ye same as when he went. I would have your Brother acquaint himself well in this point as it’s his first time of showing off, and as Mr. Marsh does not employ the old trumpeter who lives in Stafford, the old man will be on the watch to find what fault he can. So, let us acquaint ourselves as we should do & take great care not to bruise his trumpet. He had best sound with a crook which makes it D. ’Tis easiest always to remember short tunes & the easiest he can find out."
The trumpet described here, used by Daniel Rogers, is almost certainly this example byJohn Hofmaster, one of the instruments now at the Edinburgh University Collection of Historical Musical Instruments.
It appears that Hellier intended there to be further performance along the same lines as his 1767 concert. Evidence is scarce, but it does suggest that similar big performances were planned.
On 14th February 1769 Hellier was looking for reinforcements for his orchestra, as he writes to Rogers:
“if the Dudley people will heartily join us - which they promised to do (& Let Mr. Jordan be spoke to, to know their final resolution,) - then I will cheerfully go on with our intended musical Performance. But it cannot be had at Easter for it is a Dead time of the year so that we should Loose money by it, and it cannot be had in July, for that's the Time the grand Musical Meeting at Oxford. it must be in September or not at all."
This next excerpt gives a indication that Hellier had delusions of grandeur regarding his orchestra:
"Mr. Envill is in Town. He Call'd of me & we Discoursed much on Musick. We intend - if you people will but be diligent & practice hard - to Sail Down the navigation & so on to Bristoll this Summer, with my Boat & all our musical hands &c, &c"
In case you're wondering, yes, Hellier did own a set of parts for Handel's Water Music!...
There are surprising few mentions of specific performances, but it's likely that the orchestra rehearsed in the Music Room - a separate building attached to a coach-house and stables - and Hellier enjoyed performances, perhaps with visiting friends, when he was back from London. There are no other correspondences or journals, or any letter from Hellier written whilst at the Wodehouse, so his day to day life in the country remains a mystery. How many concerts did the orchestra give? Who attended? What is certain, however, is that as time went by the orchestra was getting better and that people were coming to hear them, whether in practice or concert. And why not, performances of large-scale instrumental music was still rare.
On 18th March, 1769, Hellier writes to John Rogers:
"I beg, they will not Play for anybody (Except Practice) till I hear them myself altogether."
It’s clear from this and other comments from Hellier, that the orchestra were being asked to perform without he being in attendance, and there's even an instance of the orchestra playing away from The Wodehouse -- for money.
At some point between early 1768 and 1781, Hellier created a catalogue of his instruments. The catalogue was transcribed in full by Eric Halfpenny for the Galpin Society Journal Vol XVIII (March 1965), from which I have listed a condensed version:
Strings3 Violins, 1 Viola, 3 Cellos, 1 double Bass, 1 Kit (small violin), Winds3 Flutes, 2 Piccolos, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 3 Bassoons, 1 Pipe & TaborBrass2 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 1 serpentKeyboards1 Organ, 1 HarpsichordPercussionTriangle, Common drum, Tambourine
One thing that strikes as being odd is the proportion of instruments - only a handful strings compared to the double (sometimes) triple wind. The possibility that some workers had their own instruments can't be ruled out, but it's unlikely given that Hellier was careful about matching specific instruments with named workers. It's more likely that the orchestra did not contain more than one person per string part. This can be corroborated by the absence of mutiple string manuscript parts in the sheet music collection. There are also a few mentions of one particular violin which was not to be lent to anyone These instruments were purchased over a number of years and it’s apparent that prior to the first surviving letter of December 1766 Hellier had already purchased some.
It is likely that Hellier initially expected his musicians to learn the instruments for themselves and from each other, but it's not impossible that a tutor was engaged prior to the first letter. We do have subsequent mentions of tuition and instances professional musicians being engaged to teach the workers. 18th January 1767
"I have looked over Stanley's Voluntaries & fear they are too Difficult for you at Present so have not sent them, but would have you apply to Mr. William Bond at Wolverhampton & have him to write you Down Two or Three Easy ones."
And on 26th January 1769:
"I have also wrote to Mr. Eller & hope he will soon come over to Instruct our Instrumental Performers - he said he knew a man who could instruct on the Clarinet at Shrewsbury. Pray talk to him about it & get that man to come. As to Jonah - Haycock must continue to help him out."
The Jonah and Haycock mentioned in this letter were both workers on Hellier's Estate, indicating that they were at some point teaching each other certain instruments. Hellier and John Rogers
One interesting feature of the letters is the way in which, over time, Hellier becomes less formal with Rogers, and their relationship becomes more like a friendship than that of 'servant and master'. Hellier becomes more chatty, and describes in detail some of the cultural events he has witnessed in London - this is certainly not information which a mere house servant needs to know. On two occasions Hellier planed for Rogers to visit him in London,4th February 1768:
"I am pleased to hear out of the Country with regard to your Coming to Town. I would have you be here upon Ash Wednesday precisely. ... Then you’ll be ready for the Play on Thursday, and the very first Oratorio on Friday, when you will see it in very great Perfection, & the King & Queen & Royal Family all Present."
Taking his estate manager (a lower status than manservant) to London society events must have caused a stir. In musical circles there was a certain amount of mixing between the gentry class and professional musicians - provincial performances often 'put up' with gentlemen amateurs filling the ranks of professional orchestras. But the mixing between the classes in a musical context was unheard of. Within a few years we start to hear less about musical matters in the letters:
August 1772 " I suppose our Musical people never Play at all now. "
We can suppose that by 19th June 1774 Hellier's 'musical people' have disbanded and given up completely. This no doubt had to do with Hellier's absence from The Wodehouse for much of the year. But it appears that Hellier's personality may have been as much of the problem as anything. His relations with the villagers (where, presumably many of his workers lived) were tense for many of the years , especially through the dealing with the new church organ, and a village charity school - another of Hellier’s pet projects which came to nothing. Little wonder that he remained unmarried at his death. Although he was immensely proud of his own circumstance at The Wodehouse and desperately trying to keep up with his gentry neighbours, he must have been aware that an orchestra of untrained amateurs was really not the same thing as the private orchestras, The Earl of Burlington, or the Duke of Chandos earlier in the century.His motives must have been in part philanthropic in nature. Enrichment of the lower social classes by the gentry at this time was mainly limited to financial aid to purchase food, setting up schools and hospitals, or distributing copies of the book of common prayer, yet in this example the idea of cultural enrichment comes into play. Although orchestra was not a purely altruistic exercise, by taking so personal an interest in the musical and cultural education of his workers - particularly his estate manager John Rogers - we see a attitude towards society in Samuel Hellier which seems much more in keeping with the early 20th than the late 18th century. Bibliography
Eric Halfpenny 'A Catalogue of Musicall Instruments' Galpin Society Journal XVIII, 1965, pp.3-4.
Catherine Frew and Arnold Myers "Sir Samuel Hellier's 'Musicall Instruments'" The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 56 (Jun., 2003), pp. 6-26
Tom McGeary. 'Handel and Homosexuality: Burlington House and Cannons Revisited' Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 136, no. 1, 3371
Handel. A Celebration of his Life and Times 1685–1759, p. 99-100, 105–109. National Portrait Gallery London (1985).
Arnold Myers (ed), Historic Musical Instruments in the Edinbugh University Collection: The Catalogue of the Collection, Vol. 3: The Text. Edinburgh, 1996-2000.
Dianne Barre 'Sir Samuel Hellier (1736-84) and his Garden Buildings: Part of the Midlands 'Garden Circuit' in the 1760s-70s?' Garden History, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter 2008), pp. 310-327.
M. J. Holman Abraham Adcock http://abrahamadcock.com/biography-5-sir-samuel-hellier/ accessed 1/10/14