Handel moved to London in 1711 at the age of 26 and lived there for the rest of his life, becoming a British citizen in 1727. He was the leading figure in musical London and through his various patrons and business ventures was eventually able to enjoy a comfortable life there. His operas and oratorios were the talk of the town, and became mainstream repertoire in his own time. His philanthropy stretched beyond his lifetime and his music is still among the most widely performed in Britain today.

Katharine Hogg, Librarian at the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, takes us on a tour of the sites in London associated with Handel.

1. Handel House Museum (now Handel & Hendrix in London)

The obvious starting point is Handel’s house, in Brook Street, Mayfair, where he lived from 1723 until his death in 1759, and composed most of his major works. This restored interior includes the original wood panelling and visitors can see four historic rooms, including Handel’s composing room, bedroom and dining room, where he rehearsed and gave informal performances. The house displays period furniture and related exhibits telling the story of Handel’s London. The top floor was once a flat occupied by Jimi Hendrix and has a separate exhibition about him.

Handel & Hendrix in London
© David Holt | Wikimedia Commons

2. The Foundling Museum

    Handel’s music and philanthropy are explored and displayed in the largest private collection of Handel memorabilia in the world. Handel was a major benefactor of the Foundling Hospital, and his benefit performances of Messiah established the oratorio as a favourite among the public. Handel left the Hospital a copy of the Messiah, now on display, and composed the Foundling Hospital anthem for the charity. The Gerald Coke Handel Collection in the museum has thousands of items including Handel’s will, manuscripts, printed music and books, artworks and ephemera from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, as well as ‘musical chairs’ where visitors can sit comfortably and listen to hours of Handel’s music. There are changing displays on Handel and his music and musicians, and a reading room for study and research.

    3. The British Library

      Handel gave nearly all of his music manuscripts to his assistant, John Christopher Smith, who in turn gave them to King George II in gratitude for a pension received, and the manuscripts stayed in the Royal Library until 1973 when they were given to the nation. They are now at the British Library, which also holds a large collection of Handel editions and literature about him. The autograph score of Handel’s Messiah is on permanent display, and all of the autograph scores are now fully digitised on the British Library website and available to see free of charge.

      4. Westminster Abbey

        Handel’s last resting place, the Poets’ and Musicians’ Corner in the Abbey, has an impressive monument to Handel by the leading sculptor Roubiliac. The Abbey was the site of the first performances of Handel’s anthems for the coronation of George II in 1727, which included Zadok the Priest. Handel also composed the funeral anthem The ways of Zion do mourn for the funeral of Queen Caroline here in 1737. The Abbey was the venue for the performances of the famous Handel Commemoration Concerts in 1784, which were on a scale previously unknown, with over 500 performers, and included an organ installed specially for the occasion at the Abbey’s west end.

        Westminster Abbey
        © PublicDomainPictures | Pixabay

        5. Victoria and Albert Museum

          Among the collection is the life-size marble statue of Handel which Roubiliac made for Vauxhall Gardens; it was the first statue of ‘commoner’ to be displayed in his own lifetime, and its informal style with hat and slippers was a novelty when it was first displayed in the Gardens in 1738.

          6. Green Park and St James’s Palace

            Green Park is the site of the original performance of the Music for the Royal Fireworks in 1749, arranged to celebrate the Treaty of Aachen. The King watched the public event from the library window of St James’s Palace; it was marred when part of the stage set for the fireworks caught fire. The Palace complex includes the Chapel Royal for which Handel composed several anthems as well as the music for Royal weddings; the choirboys of the Chapel Royal also sang in many of Handel’s oratorios outside the Royal palaces.

            7. King’s Theatre, Haymarket

              Now Her Majesty’s Theatre, this is one of the oldest theatre sites; in Handel’s life it was the Queen’s Theatre from 1705 until 1714, when it became the King’s Theatre. Handel’s first opera in London, Rinaldo, was performed here in 1711 and it was the venue for more than 25 of his opera premieres. Handel was joint manager of the theatre from 1729 until 1734; the original theatre burnt down in 1789, and the current building dates from 1868.

              8. St George’s Church, Hanover Square

                A short walk from his home in Brook Street, Handel’s parish church is an elegant eighteenth-century building, where he worshipped regularly. The church hosts many Handel performances throughout the year, and is a venue for the London Handel Festival.

                9. National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery

                  One of Handel’s earliest patrons was the Duke of Chandos, who lived at Cannons, a country house in Edgware. Handel composed several works for Cannons, including Acis and Galatea, and the ‘Chandos’ anthems. When the house was demolished the colonnade was sold and moved to become the portico of the National Gallery. In the National Portrait Gallery next door hangs the iconic portrait of Handel, by Thomas Hudson.

                  10. Royal Opera House

                    The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is on the site of the Theatre Royal in Handel’s time, where more than twenty of his operas and oratorios received their first performances. The original theatre built by John Rich in 1732 burnt down in 1808, and the current building dates from 1858.

                    Other sites you might visit are the Vauxhall Gardens, which was once the site of the Pleasure Gardens and Handel’s statue; St Paul’s Cathedral, where his Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate were first performed; St Lawrence’s church at Whitchurch (Little Stanmore), where the Chandos anthems were probably first been performed; the Cannons estate itself (now the site of the North London Collegiate School in Little Stanmore), and the Bank of England, where Handel had an account.


                    Our warm thanks to Katharine Hogg for contributing this article.