John Ravenscroft, Wait of Tower Hamlets

from Proceedings of the British Musicological Association. February 21, 1928 TOWN WAITS AND THEIR TUNES by Professor Joseph C. Bridge

Hawkins has left us an interesting sketch of a Tower Hamlets Wait - He says :­-

   “John Ravenscroft was one of the waits of the Tower Hamlets and in the band of Goodman’s Fields playhouse was a Ripieno violin, notwithstanding which he was a per­former good enough to lead in any such concerts as those above described, and to say the truth was able to do justice to a Concerto of Corelli or an Overture of Handel. He was much sought after to play at balls and dancing parties, and was singularly excellent in the playing of Hornpipes in which he had a manner that none could imitate. It seems that this was a kind of music which of all others he most affected; so that by dint of a fancy accommodated to these little essays, he was enabled to compose airs of this kind equal to those of the ablest masters; and yet so little was he acquainted with the rules of composition that for suiting them with basses he was indebted to others.[1] . . . . . . Ravenscroft was a very corpulent man, a circumstance which made the neatness of his performance the more remarkable.” He died about 1745.[2]

[1] “Burney says” I remember very well in my musical life and have heard one of the four waits of Shrewsbury vamp a bass on all occasions, being unable to read one that was written.” MS. quoted by Hill. This wait and Ravenscroft would have made a good pair.

[2] “Why a fat man cannot play well on a violin I have yet to discover!

John Ravenscroft, the Waite of Tower Hamlets

Contributed by Alan Radford

John Ravenscroft was a Wait of the Tower Hamlets in the early eighteenth century. He was a composer of some clever triple time hornpipes, and was one of the band which played in Goodman's Fields Theatre, off Leman Street in Stepney in the east end of London. The theatre opened in 1727 and staged many of the popular ballad operas. The theatre was the scene of David Garrick's success as Richard III in 1741, but closed in 1742. Other theatres of the same name opened and closed during the century. For an example of John Ravenscroft's tunes, see Ravenscroft's Hornpipe in the third volume of The Dancing Master (Pearson and Young) - circa 1726.

John Ravenscroft appeared as a character witness at an Old Bailey trial (Ref: t17450116-18), that of John Cossett of St. Paul Shadwell, who was indicted for stealing a pewter tankard, value 2s. the goods of Linnell Lee, from The Sun Tavern, Shadwell on January 12th 1745. The trial was on January 16th 1745. If this is our man, the account tells us more about his residence and other business activities. The relevant quote:

John Ravenscroft . "I live at the Three Tuns in the Old Bailey, I have known the Prisoner four years, his character was always that of a very honest man: he was my servant two years ago when I kept a coffee-house in Smithfield."

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