In the early 1700s, London was in the middle of a musical revolution with public concerts being held at venues across the capital. The middle classes had emerged as the great patrons of the theatres, music clubs and pleasure gardens and their prosperity meant that London would soon became the musical centre of Europe, attracting immigrant composers and musicians such as Handel and Frasi.
In 1742, a foreigner writing a letter to a friend in Paris recounted a memorable visit to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, “I must avow, he said, “I found my whole soul, as it were, dissolved in pleasure; not only you, but even Paris itself was forgot – discourse, while there, was a rhapsody of joy and wonder. Assure yourself such an assemblage of beauties never, but in the dreams of the poets, ever met before – and I scarce yet believe the bewitching scene was real“.
It was from this remarkably vibrant community that Abraham Adcock emerged: the organ builder, organist, trumpet, violin, bassoon and French horn player; an individual whose celebrity rose because of his virtuosity on several instruments, but who may have succumbed to drink and indulgence, then into debt and obscurity.
The reasons for his decline can only be assumed, it may be a disservice to him to suggest that drink and high living were largely to blame; certainly his falling out with several individuals in 1767 might have left him without a helping hand.
During the last few years of his life, Abraham gradually withdrew from participating in the London concerts and in the regional festivals; stalwart friends such as Sir Samuel Hellier and the composer Capel Bond continued their support until the end. Sadly, Abraham’s death merited only a single line in the newspapers, but was accompanied by three words of significance, “Handel’s favourite trumpet”.
Abraham Adcock was probably born in the city of Leicester or its environs circa 1700; the year of birth can only be estimated as there are no documents that actually note his age. The period from 1690 – 1710 is the most likely time frame for his birth and there are some possible candidates according to FamilySearch.
It is thought that Adcock was apprenticed to the organ builder Abraham Jordan, (father or son?), who was responsible for the magnificent organ in St Magnus the Martyr in the City of London, but there is no evidence to verify this.
His father, also called Abraham Adcock, was a stocking weaver and resident in Leicester, but deceased by the time of his son’s admission to the freedom of the City of London in 1737. Adcock achieved his Freedom by Redemption, paying £0.46.8d after joining the Company of Musicians prior to 1734.
Records show that he took three apprentices, the first of which was William Jenkins in 1737. Jenkins later became a haberdasher, but learnt the trumpet under Adcock’s tuition; he was followed by Thomas Perkins in 1739, then by Eaton Pether in 1752.
In March 1738 Adcock performed at his own Benefit Concert in the City of London:
‘For the benefit of Mr Adcock. At the Swan Tavern in Cornhill, this day, will be performed a Grand Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Musick. First Violin by Mr. Clegg; a Solo on the German flute by Mr Balicourt; Trumpet by Mr Adcock; the vocal parts by a young Gentlewoman, being the first time of her appearing in Publick. The Concert to conclude with the Coronation Anthem, call’d God save the King, compos’d by Mr Handell’.
Two and a half weeks after Adcock’s benefit, Handel’s benefit was staged at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket; the Earl of Egmont wrote in his diary, ‘In the evening I went to Hendel’s Oratorio, where I counted near 1,300 persons beside the gallery and upper gallery. I suppose he got this night 1,000l‘.
It was later reported that Handel did indeed enjoy the proceeds of a much needed 1,000l, indicating that the Benefit concert was advantageous in respect of earnings. The income from Adcock’s concert has not been recorded, but it was probably a useful amount, he would later perform for the benefit of others who were in impecunious circumstances.
The same year, Abraham began his employment at the Covent Garden Theatre and continued to perform there for the next twenty-eight years, either as an organist or as a trumpeter.
On the 1 August 1739 he received a request from Thomas Stanesby junior, the Master of the Turner’s Company to perform at the Lord Mayor’s Show:
‘Ordered that Mr Adcock do provide the music for Lord Mayor’s day next. He agreeing to play on the trumpet himself and to provide two good Hautboyes and two good Bassoons…. and that he be paid five guineas for the same‘.
The book A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Vol. 1 refers to a playbill for the Drury Lane theatre dated 21 May 1740, indicating that Adcock played a “Trumpet Piece” between the Acts. Adcock’s movements are unrecorded for five years until the winter of 1745, when he performed at a Benefit concert at the Swan Tavern, Exchange Alley to raise funds for the Widow Farnborough.
Four years later, the Westminster Poll Book of 1749 shows Adcock residing in Queens Head Court, St James Piccadilly casting his vote for the losing independent candidate Sir George Vandeput. Vandeput was opposed by Viscount Trentham aka Granville Leveson-Gower in the election and worried by his opponent’s electioneering, petitioned parliament after the result.
Vandeput’s agent, Alexander Murray “attended by a mob did, before the return was made, come to the house of Mr Baldwin, the Deputy High Bailiff of the said city, and then and there declared in a menacing and insulting manner, that he and a thousand men had sworn that the High Bailiff should make his return in the middle of Covent Garden and not in the portico…and that the said Alexander Murray, immediately after the return was made, at the head of a mob who appeared to be on the part of Sir George Vandeput, did then utter words exciting and inflaming the said multitude to assault and murder the returning officer…saying’ Will nobody knock the dog down? Will nobody kill the dog?’ Or words to that effect”.