Handel’s House in Brook Street
Handel moved into his house in Brook Street (now No. 25) during the summer of 1723, encouraged no doubt by his court appointment to the Chapel Royal earlier that year. He was the first occupant of the house, which formed part of a four-building residential development by the speculative builder George Barnes (the current nos. 23, 25, 27/29, and 31 which no longer exists). As a foreign national, Handel could not own property or take a long lease. After his British naturalisation in 1727 he decided to remain at Brook Street, renewing his short term lease. In 1742 his annual rent for Brook Street was £50.
Brook Street was in a good, upper-middle class area, at a discrete distance from the music and artistic communities centred around Soho and Covent Garden, but near to St. James’s Palace, where he performed his official duties, and the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, the focus of his Italian opera career at this time.
The plan of the house was usual for a modest London townhouse of the period. There was a basement containing the kitchens; from ground to second floor level a front and back room with a small closet block at the rear; and garrets at the top. The passage from the front door led to the ‘dog leg’ staircase at the back. The first floor would have been the main reception and entertaining rooms. The first room, as the largest in the house, probably housed at least one of Handel’s large instruments (a harpsichord and a little house organ). The adjoining room is believed to have been Handel’s main composing room. The second floor contained the bedroom at the front with a dressing room at the back, whilst Handel’s servants (numbering at least three towards the end of his life) slept in the garrets. By the time of his death, Handel owned an extensive collection of fine art as is indicated by the sale catalogue of 28 February 1760 which lists over eighty paintings, predominantly oils, plus prints.
Handel conducted some business from his house, for example, subscribers could collect their scores from Brook Street as well as opera season tickets. Such visitors would probably have been ushered into the ground floor front parlour.
Handel’s main professional occupation at Brook Street was composition. In addition, from the 1730s, Handel occasionally rehearsed at Brook Street, possibly due to a lack of space at his main performing venue, the Covent Garden Theatre, which he shared with an actor’s company. As the front room on the first floor was the largest room in Handel’s house, it is certain that all the Brook Street rehearsals occurred here.
During the last decade of his life, Handel suffered from failing eyesight, culminating in full blindness in 1754. Prior to his death, a bed was installed in the room adjoining his bedroom, which was probably used by a man-servant as Handel required greater assistance at this time. Handel died at his Brook Street house on 14 April 1759.
The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
After Handel’s death, the tenancy passed to his servant John Du Burk, who not only inherited all of Handel’s clothes but also purchased, for the sum of £48, the furnishings which remained in the house in the August after the Composer’s death. Du Burk lived in the house until 1772 and the next occupant was Sir James Wright, Bart – formally a British minister in Venice – who remained until 1782, after which he sub-let the property to a number of distinguished military men.
About 1790, the closets at the rear of the building were replaced by a bow-window block. Other modifications included changes to the partition wall between the front and middle room on the ground floor to create a large dining space within the front room. The re-location of the dining room from the first floor to the ground floor was standard during the latter half of the century. It may have been during this re-modelling that some of the original panelling was removed.
From 1791 until 1822 the house was occupied by the surgeon Miles Partington, and then between 1822 and 1828 by the diplomat and writer James Justinian Morier. During the remainder of the nineteenth century, the house was occupied by a succession of dentists.
In 1866 the Royal Society of Arts, under Henry Cole, included Handel’s house as one of sixteen to be marked as memorials to famous men. A blue plaque was placed on the facade.
The Twentieth Century
Aside from the extension of the garrets to a full attic storey in the 1830s, the house remained relatively undisturbed until 1905 when the art dealer C J Charles turned what was still a house into a shop. His ‘conversion’ included the removal of the entire original façade (including the door) up to second floor level – to create a double-height shop front – and all existing internal partition walls (it can be assumed that the remaining original panelling on the first and second floor was also removed during this period). His justification was that West End property was ‘far too valuable to be left to rot because some genius of a past age happened to have lived in a particular spot at one time.’ Some opposition was voiced in the press, most notably by the composer Algernon Ashton who wrote that ‘the beautiful old house, which was splendidly preserved, has been spoilt beyond recognition.’ However, the damage had been done. Despite the extensive work which Charles had carried out on the building, he remained a mere five years.
From 1910, the house was occupied by Charles Tozer (an interior decorator) and his successors until 1975, during which time the first floor façade was re-instated (1953-4). After this, the building was occupied by antique dealers and, in the 1950s, by the Viyella textile company.
On 24 February 1958 25 Brook Street was granted a Grade I listing by the Department of the Environment.
From past to present
Watch Handel House’s history below