Mr Handel Comes To Hackney

One Sunday, so it was said, the great composer George Handel visited St John at Hackney. He wanted to play the church’s organ, which he had heard was very good.

Mr Handel approached the organist to ask if he could play. The organist quickly formed the opinion that this man, whom he did not know from Adam, was rather an inquisitive and troublesome fellow. Rather than ask him to play during the service, the organist grudgingly agreed that, if he liked, Mr Handel could play at the end of the service, as the congregation was leaving.

After the Rector had dismissed the congregation, Mr Handel, having waited patiently, had his chance to try the organ he had travelled to Hackney to play. Instead of filing out, as they usually did during their organist’s voluntaries, Mr Handel’s playing stopped the congregation in their tracks. They turned to listen.

The organist, though, was not impressed. “Mr Handel,” he said, “if it be you, pray do not give yourself any further trouble, for the people will not go as long as you sit here.” Upon which the organist replaced Mr Handel at the keyboard and, in a trace, the people cleared the church.

This anecdote comes from one of the many documents held by Hackney Achieves. In this case, it is ‘Notes and cuttings on the history of Shacklewell and Kingsland‘ (HAD/M3230) compiled by A.J. Hooper, who moved to Shacklewll Green at the end of the 19th century and recorded stories he heard about Hackney’s past.

Mr Hooper gives no date as to when George Handel came to Hackney. It must have been between 1712, when Handel settled in London, and his death in 1759. Of course, the church he played in was not today’s building off Lower Clapton Road, but the old church whose medieval tower still stands opposite McDonalds’s on Mare Street.

Looking for something to do one weekend?  Intrigued to find out more about Hackney?

Look up and pick a walk that takes your fancy. The next four are in this edition’s What’s On section. I look forward to welcoming you on one of my walks.

Photo credits: Handel:; Church of St John at Hackney: pictures supplied courtesy of Hackney Archives Department.