Clerkenwell Design Week in London will be visited by a mobile theatre this May. Inspired by a minature concert hall above a coal-shed that used to be in the area in the 17th century, this was designed by London studio Aberrant Architecture, known as the "tiny travelling theatre". It draws on contemporary accounts in order to replicate some of the attributes of the original coal shed. Clerkenwell derives its name from “The SMALL-COAL-MAN’S tiny travelling theatre”. It is located on the northern edge of Clerkenwell Green. It marks the spot where mystery tends to play, with wrestling matches, amazing performances and other dramatic representations of a secretive nature. It is said that the secrecy of Clerkenwell’s history digs quite deep, whereby many of its inhabitants have seemingly embedded the fevered atmosphere of the era, therefore allowing strange realities to flourish.
“Perhaps the most curious and notable resident of Clerkenwell was Thomas Britton, who was known everywhere as “the musical small-coal man”. Britton was a travelling coal salesman, who lived above his coal shed, and in 1678 he founded a musical club, The SMALL-COAL-MAN’S Music Club, by transforming his house into a tiny concert hall which featured a harpsichord & organ.
Despite the unglamorous venue, only accessed by a steep external staircase, novelty of the series of concerts attracted a considerable amount of people from across all areas of society. A wide range of artists came to play at Britton’s house, from amateurs giving their first ever public performances to micro concerts from all the great musicians of their day, even the great George Frideric Handel.
Britton designed his own programs and “accumulated a large musical collection and selection of musical instruments for the gatherings.” At first the concerts were free, with coffee being sold at a penny a cup. Later concerts where paid for by an annual subscription of ten shillings.
Tiny Travelling Theatre
For Clerkenwell design week it is we proposed that Britton’s idea of a miniature concert hall for Clerkenwell will be reawakened and reimagined by its known name “tiny travelling theatre”. Clerkenwell’s “SMALL-COAL-MAN’S tiny travelling theatre” will inhabit multiple locations around the area and will host a series of events that will rejuvenate and explore the intense emotion of a micro live performance. The “SMALL-COAL-MAN’S tiny travelling theatre” will create a direct and intimate interaction of artists with a minute audience of 2- 6 people by inspiring small one-to-one spaces, such as a confessional booth or a peepshow.
We can only imagine that the program of events will be a mixture of unknowns making their debuts and established “stars”, just like Britton’s unconventional original. The tiny travelling theatre will be an explorative structure taking its cues from the ad-hoc & informal descriptions of the original with its “henhouse ladder” and interior through its visual stimulation.
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