On Brook Street, in the uber-affluent area of Mayfair, are two of London’s famous blue plaques. It explains that there once dwelt here two musicians, neighbours across the centuries, George Frideric Handel and James Marshall ‘Jimi’ Hendrix.
Both lived in London in the later part of their lives, enjoying massive musical success there, and the Handel & Hendrix in London museum is fitting tribute to their interesting lives and musical genius. But Handel lived here from 1723 to 1759, whereas Hendrix lived here in 1968-69. It’s a juxtaposition that could only happen in one of the great cities of the world, London.
The Hendrix part of the museum has only been open a year and combines great photos, film footage, quotes and some famous guitars in an exhibition covering the musician’s life, in what would have been the servants quarters of Handel’s house.
Then there is the re-created bedroom of what was a tiny, one bedroom flat. There is only one piece (the mirror) that actually survives from the time but the curators have painstakingly brought to life the room where Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham lived.
Apparently Etchingham, who has sturdily protected Hendrix’s reputation ever since his untimely death, was involved in the setting up of the museum and her final inspection of the bedroom revealed only two small errors.
You can really imagine Hendrix sprawling across the bed, composing into the night and ordering down to local restaurants for steak, wine and cigarettes. Music industry personalities of the time flocked to the tiny flat for raucous parties. What is harder to imagine is him shopping for textiles to decorate the flat in John Lewis (a very middle class department store on Oxford Street for non-Brits)!
Moving downstairs to the Handel part of the museum (which was here with a blue plaque when Hendrix lived here), the historical time period and atmosphere are of course completely different. The walls are lined with drawings and paintings of Handel and his contemporaries. There are a few pieces of beautiful furniture, including an exquisite harpsichord, but it is otherwise much more difficult to imagine someone actually living here.
My favourite portrait is the one of Handel without his traditional curled wig – he suddenly seems much more human. The composer wrote his famous oratorio ‘Messiah’ here in only 24 days and regularly attended church around the corner at St George’s of Hanover Square.
However, I love both the contrast and the way they have connected the two musicians’ lives in this museum. There are dress up clothes from the 1960s and 1740s in the little shop, as well as videos to watch about the musicians and their instruments. The rooms are used for musical performances and events at times and all this makes you feel like they’re not just inanimate bricks and mortar but a legacy of artistic genius. Both men were musical pioneers of their times and incredibly influential.
Apparently Hendrix loved the fact that Handel once lived next door. He bought recordings of Handel’s Messiah and Belshazzar at the iconic HMV record store on nearby Oxford Street. He even claimed to have seen the ghost of Handel walk through a wall in the flat!
The Handel & Hendrix in London museum is a must-do next time you’re in London.
By Natasha von Geldern
The Handel & Hendrix in London experience is at 25 Brook St in Mayfair and the entrance is around the back in Lancashire Court.
Have you visited the Handel & Hendrix in London museum?
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