Eighteenth Century London Concerts: 2 – The Locations

In the previous article looking at Simon McVeigh’s “Calendar of London Concerts 1750-1800“, I considered how to organise the data to make it suitable for statistical analysis. In this second article, I will add to the dataset by identifying the exact locations of the concert venues.

Each concert in the dataset has a “place” field, containing a short code indicating the location of the concert.1 The 102 separate codes are explained in the accompanying information sheet. Here are the first few…

A/W Almack’s Rooms, King Street (to 1782); becomes Willis’s Rooms in 1783 (old name sometimes retained at first).
AM Arts Museum, Haymarket.
APL Apollo Gardens.
APO Temple of Apollo, Queen Square.
ART Society of Artists’ Exhibition Room, Strand.
BUF Buffalo Tavern, Bloomsbury Square.
BUT Mrs Butter’s Boarding School, Church Street, Stoke Newington.
C&A Crown and Anchor Tavern, Strand.
C&R Crown and Rolls Tavern, Chancery Lane.

The first thing I tried in order to “geocode” these locations (i.e. to find their latitude/longitude coordinates) was to use google maps. It is straightforward to produce a list of addresses (removing unnecessary details and making sure that “London, England” is added to each) which can be run through google’s geocoding service.2 Plotting the output on a map quickly reveals that this is a poor strategy for historical locations such as this. A few places were correct (such as Westminster Abbey), but most were not. Some were not even in London. Problems include unknown or changed building and street names, non-standard address formats, and selecting the wrong one among several options (there are, for example, two King Streets in central London, and several more elsewhere in the city).3

This is one of those occasions calling for some good old-fashioned detective work. There are, after all, only 102 places to check, and there turns out to be a wealth of information available online on eighteenth-century London. Here are some of the more useful sources…

Locating London’s Past – this website features two searchable detailed street maps from 1746 and 1869-80, as well as several datasets including directories and ratebooks.

Darton’s Map of London (1814) – a street map containing some different details from other available maps.

Connected Histories – a bigger project that includes London, allowing searches for places and people across various sources.

Pub Wiki – a site dedicated to the historical pubs of London, useful for tracking down some of the many taverns in the dataset.

Georeferencer – an excellent site for finding historical maps and comparing them with each other and with modern maps. As well as general London maps, there are several detailed plans of individual streets, with buildings and occasionally occupants listed.

I also carried out a few general searches to pin down exact locations. Most places could be identified reasonably accurately, although some could not be narrowed down to individual buildings and are therefore approximate.

I used the mapping software QGIS for comparing and overlaying maps, and for quickly creating and editing sets of points and other features.4 In QGIS I was able to view and overlay the (wrongly) google-geocoded points from R, several modern maps and satellite imagery, the more useful maps from Georeferencer, as well as (with a bit of additional hacking) the two “Locating London’s Past” maps, and Darton’s Map. This enabled me easily to compare different sources, and to drag the points to their correct locations.

It took a couple of days to work through all of the venues. The result was a file of geocoded locations for the concert venues, containing the following fields:

Abbr – the abbreviations as used in the dataset
Place – full address/description as per the Information Sheet 
Lat / Lon – latitude and longitude coordinates
Validated – “yes” for those located more-or-less exactly, “approx” for those located approximately
Type – the type of venue

The “type” field classifies the venues into the following groups, based on the name of the venue, and, in a few cases, details from the old maps…

Church – churches, cathedrals, chapels (and a “temple”)
Garden – gardens and pleasure gardens
Hall – public rooms for larger events
House – rooms in private houses
Tavern – inns and taverns
Theatre – theatres and similar performance venues

If you would like to use the geocoded data, here are the files:

LondonConcertVenues.csv – a CSV file that can be opened in a spreadsheet
LondonConcertVenues.zip – a ZIPped shapefile for use in QGIS or other mapping software

Let’s have a look at the geocoded locations. Here is a map showing all of the venues (click to enlarge):5

Most venues are clustered around central London, on the right. There is one outlier in Sunning Hill at the bottom left of the map, and a handful in Richmond (just below the centre), with another in Kingston-upon-Thames further to the south. Closer in, there are a couple of southern outliers – at Camberwell and Deptford – and three to the north, at Stoke Newington, Hampstead and Islington.

Looking at the central area, it is interesting to compare the distribution of concert venues in the eighteenth century with where they are today. A file of all of London’s “Cultural Infrastructure” locations is available here, including a “Music Venues” category. The “geopackage” format can be loaded straight into QGIS, and from there I exported a shapefile to use in R. Here is a density map of London concert venues today (top) and in the second half of the eighteenth century (bottom):6

Both then and now, the peak density of venues is in the West End (the large peak on the left), although the centre has shifted slightly to the north. In the eighteenth century the main area extended from the West End along Strand and Fleet Street to the City of London (the peak on the right) and out to Whitechapel, but this area is now much less densely populated with music venues. Instead, they are clustered further north, centred around Islington (top right).

Of course, in the eighteenth century, London was much smaller. The following map (click to enlarge) shows the venues on the 1746 map, when Islington was at the edge of the built-up area.7

It is striking that almost all of the venues along the central east-west route between Covent Garden to the City are taverns, with a few larger venues to the north and in Whitechapel. The Theatres, as now, are mainly around the West End, as are most of the private house venues. The Church venues are, on the whole, around the edges of the city, and the Gardens are all away from the main urban area. There was very little development south of the Thames, which explains the small number of venues there (Vauxhall and Apollo Gardens, and the Rotherhithe Long Room).

Adding the location data greatly expands the possibilities for analysing and visualising this data. Hopefully I have illustrated that it was time well spent, and I shall go on to make further use of it in the next article.

Cite this article as: Gustar, A.J. 'Eighteenth Century London Concerts: 2 – The Locations' in Statistics in Historical Musicology, 20th August 2020, https://www.musichistorystats.com/eighteenth-century-london-concerts-2-the-locations/.
  1. There are 25 concerts either with no known location or, in one or two cases, with a separate explanation in the “notes” field. These have been ignored in this analysis.
  2. I used the geocode function in the ggmap package in R, but there are other approaches, and, indeed, other geocoding services.
  3. Having found the correct locations, it was clear that google had only geocoded 10 of the 102 locations correctly, with a further 9 within 20 metres of the correct spot. 26 were wrong by more than 1km, the worst being 263km away in Manchester (the nearest town currently with a Cateaton Street: the Cateaton Street of 1780s London was absorbed into what is now Grafton Street).
  4. This powerful software takes a while to get used to. I would recommend working through the first few sections of the training manual to get the hang of how it works.
  5. This map was produced in R, using the Stamen “Watercolor” background.
  6. The contours are based on a “kernel density” – imagine replacing each point by a bell curve and adding them up to create the “hills” shown here. These were produced in R, but it is possible to do the same thing in QGIS.
  7. As per Locating London’s Past, mentioned above. The map was produced using QGIS.

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