Monday, 21 May 2012

Ayre's Brewery & Hickford's Room

Around 1664 Thomas Ayres, a brewer, built a brewery on the north side of Little Pulteney Street (now part of Brewer Street) . By 1700, when the brewery had stood unused for several years, an expenditure of at least £1000 was required to put the building back into repair, and the Ayres found two brewing partners, Robert Billings and John Lanyon, to purchase the brewery. A nineteenth-century plan of the site shows an irregularly shaped yard approached half-way along by a narrow entrance on the east side of Little Windmill Street with a main entrance in Little Pulteney Street. A dwelling-house stood in the yard near the main entrance and the brewery buildings were ranged on either side of the yard. The brewery continued in use until 1826, when the then owners were declared bankrupt.
In 1718 Nicholas Dubois of St. Martin's in the Fields let a plot of ground on the south side of Brewer Street. Dubois was an architect of French birth who had lived in England for some years and built himself a house on the site. By 1738 it was tennanted by John Hickford, whose family had managed a dancing school in Panton Street since 1696. There is no direct evidence whether John Hickford built the concert room to the rear of Dubois' house which until 1934 stood behind No. 41 Brewer Street, or whether he moved there because the room was already in existence. Hickford's Room enjoyed its greatest fame in the 1740s and 50s, when it was the only concert room of note in the West End of London. The winter series of subscription concerts were a recognized part of the fashionable London season, and works by Handel, Arne and Boyce were frequently performed there, sometimes, perhaps, in the composer's presence. Most famously was the notice of 11 March 1765 in the Public Advertiser which read:

For the Benefit of Miss MOZART of Thirteen, and Master MOZART of Eight [sic] Years of Age, Prodigies of Nature. HICKFORD'S Great Room in Brewer Street, Monday, May 13 will be A CONCERT of MUSIC With all the OVERTURES of this little Boy's own Composition

The decline of Hickford's Room began shortly after this with the opening of more and more competition. Between 1791 and 1814 there was a series of short tenancies; and the building was sometimes empty. In 1793 there was a fencing match, in 1794–5 a series of charity concerts for the 'Society of French Emigrants', and in 1797 lectures by 'one Jones and others of public notoriety' against religion and morality.

Nearest tube Piccadilly.

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