Thorney Tales

 

 

It has been believed for some time that Henry Purcell, one of Britain’s greatest composers, was born in St Ann’s Lane, Westminster in 1658. The problem is that no-one seemed to know exactly where. This is of particular interest to us because the archive of the Thorney Island Society is on the corner of St Ann’s Lane and Old Pye Street and there are in existence several versions of a sketch which place Purcell’s birthplace on this corner.  Could it be on the site of our archive?

Alas no - but it looks as though the honour belongs to our esteemed neighbour, the St Andrew’s Club, which is literally a few yards away from us across the lane. 

The evidence for this is the earliest version of a drawing that has recently come to light (see above) thanks to help from the Tate Gallery. It shows fairly clearly a road sign saying “St Ann’s Lane” on the corner of Old Pye Street which only makes sense if it is where St Andrew’s is now because you would have to turn left from Old Pye Street to enter St Ann’s Lane. 

The sketch was done on April 15, 1845 by an artist called R W Withall and its reproduction in a book “The Great Musicians: Purcell” contains the following text: “Three ancient houses in Westminster; in the right hand one of which the great H Purcell was born, 1658 and passed his early life. They are now in the last state of ruin and have long been uninhabited. The houses adjoining that of Purcell are of modern date and project before the others, as well as encroach somewhat on Purcell’s doorway hiding one side of the doorframe. Of the old houses the windows and doorways were nearly all boarded up in the roughest manner, under which, however, the original panel doors are still to be partly found. The houses are of old red brick. The first door was the back way into the public house called the “Bell and Fish” kept by Mr Oldsworth who lost his license. The second door the entrance to the skittle ground. The third was Purcell’s house.”

Of course, the painting was done 150 years after the death of Purcell in 1695 so a lot must have been passed on by word of mouth. If anyone has fresh information or who knows anything about R W Withall, or indeed the Bell and Fish, please get in touch. The Society has been wanting to put a plaque up for some time but we have to be sure of our facts.