100 Places - Music & Literature

Our Music & Literature category judge, writer and novelist Monica Ali, has chosen the following top ten places (from a long list of public nominations) to tell the story of England's music and literature.

A History of England in 100 Places is sponsored by Ecclesiastical

Lennon, Larkin, Bronte, Behn - when poet met place, magic was made. People have been telling their stories through music and song since the waves first lapped England's shores.

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17. Stratford, Stereo Sound and Socialism

 

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18. Austen, Handel and Hendrix

 

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19. The Brontës, Dickens and the 100 Club

 

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20. George Orwell and The Hacienda

 

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Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

Although we're not sure of the exact date, this is believed to be the house in which William Shakespeare, the world's most famous writer, was born in 1564. It was here in Stratford that he lived with his wife Anne Hathaway and three children, before he left around 1585. Within a few years he was an established playwright in London, penning at least 38 plays and over 150 poems before his death at the age of 52. These survive thanks to two actors from the King's Company, who collected a selection of his works after his death and published them as the First Folio. His works have been translated into around 80 languages, including the Star Trek language Klingon.

Read the List entry for Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Visitors lining up outside the birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon
Visitors lining up outside the birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon © Historic England Archive AA002205

Abbey Road Studios, St John’s Wood, London

Abbey Road will forever be associated with The Beatles. They made its Studio 2 their own, and the studios were even renamed after their 11th album, Abbey Road- the last album to include all four band members. The zebra crossing immortalised on the album cover is listed in its own right and visited by over 300,000 people every year. But the studios are so much more than The Beatles. Since being converted into a studio in 1931, the site has been the recording place of choice for a diverse range of artists and music styles, including classical, jazz, blues, rock and roll and even serialism and minimalism. From the pioneering jazz singer, and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Adelaide Hall, to Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Duran Duran, Radiohead, Coldplay, Oasis and Kanye West, Abbey Road has been a temple of pop music throughout the 20th century.

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Abbey Road Studios, London
Abbey Road Studios, London © Ethan Prater via Flickr

Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire

Jane lived here for the last 8 years of her life and in this house her genius flourished. Her novels, Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice and Northanger Abbey were refined and finished here. She then wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion whilst living under this roof. Austen's works interpret and satirise England's middle and upper classes, for whom class and money dictated prospects and social standing. With biting irony, Austen used her novels to comment on society, people and the events she observed in her corner of the world. Austen lived a happy but humble life in Hampshire, where she, her mother and sisters depended on their brother, who had inherited a vast estate. The dependence of women on marriage for economic security is a common theme in her works. She and her beloved sister Cassandra never married, though they each came close. After Jane's death, a heartbroken Cassandra wrote "she was the sun of my life…I had not a thought concealed from her and it is as if I had lost a part of myself".

Read the List entry for Jane Austen’s House

Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire
Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire © Historic England Archive

The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, London

The 100 Club started life as the Feldman Swing Club in 1942 and has been putting on live music ever since, making it one of the world's longest-surviving live music venues. Working life continued in the capital during World War II, and people needed to keep their spirits up on the home front. It was in 1942 that a Jewish garment worker called Robert Feldman passed a basement restaurant named 'Mac's' on his way home, stopped for a cup of tea and decided it would make a great music venue. It was the socially liberal door policy that made the jazz-swing club such a melting pot. Social and racial prejudices were left at the door and people simply went to dance and forget about war for the night. This humble basement became the jewel of London's jazz scene after the Second World War. Once BB King jumped on stage for an impromptu jam and even Louis Armstrong dropped by for a visit. In the 70s, still at the forefront of the music scene, it hosted the first ever UK punk festival which featured the Sex Pistols and The Clash, whilst later decades saw legendary gigs by The Rolling Stones, Bowie and Bob Dylan.

The muscian Louis Armstrong
The muscian Louis Armstrong is just one of the many characters who went to the 100 Club in London.

George Orwell’s home, Islington, London

Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell moved with his family to Canonbury Square in 1944, after a bomb destroyed their former home in Kilburn. These once tatty-looking tenement buildings helped inspire the "decaying home" in Nineteen Eighty Four, which Orwell started writing whilst here. Born in India in 1903, Orwell's writings reflect the extraordinary experiences of his own life. Educated at Eton, he rejected a life of academia, choosing instead to join the British imperial police in Burma where he became revolted by Britain's oppressive rule. After resigning, he lived in poor areas of East London, washed dishes in Paris and worked on hop farms in Kent, all with the aim of escaping the bourgeois lifestyle he resented. Later, whilst reporting on the Spanish Civil war, he enlisted in the Republican militia which triggered his preoccupation with Communism. Whereas Animal Farm dealt with Stalinism and Nazism, Nineteen Eighty Four addressed totalitarianism and was so politically astute that it remains as relevant to our political language today as it was when published nearly 70 years ago.

Home of George Orwell at Canonbury Square
George Orwell, moved to Canonbury Square in 1944 after a bomb destroyed his former home in Kilburn © The Orwell Society P1020540

The Haçienda (former nightclub and music venue), Manchester

The legendary Haçienda was home to the 'mad for it' Manchester scene of the 1980s and 90s. Although it was famous for rave, the musical styles played here catered to almost every modern taste, including indie, Motown and Northern Soul, all with a Mancunian twist. Opened on 21 May 1982, the venue hosted an eclectic range of bands; The Smiths performed three times in 1983 and Madonna played her first UK gig there in 1984. Two years later, it became one of the first British clubs to start playing house music. The club became renowned for intense, drug-fuelled nights and ultimately it closed its doors to ravers in 1997. Physical remnants of this iconic venue can still be found in the Manchester museum of Science and Industry and Peter Hook, the bassist of the band New Order which part-owned the Haçienda, had some guitars made out of the dancefloor floorboards, complete with stiletto marks and cigarette burns.

The Hacienda - former nightclub and music venue in Manchester
The Hacienda - former nightclub and music venue in Manchester © Ben Kelly

The Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire

This was home to the three literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne from 1820 onwards. It was in this house that, as children and young adults, the Brontë sisters wrote some of their most famous novels, including Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey. The sisters, in contrast to Jane Austen, were working women and their writing reflects a broader spectrum of English society. They were also deeply inspired by the rugged Yorkshire landscape which surrounded the village of Haworth, bringing it to life for millions across the world in the pages of their novels.

Read the List entry for the Brontë Parsonage

Haworth Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire
Haworth Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, listed Grade I. Charlotte died in the Parsonage on 31 March 1855. © Historic England

Handel & Hendrix in London, 23 and 25 Brook Street, London

Two blue plaques mark two great musicians who lived here, 200 years apart. George Frideric Handel lived at number 25 from 1723 to 1759 and Jimi Hendrix at number 23 from 1968-69. The Baroque composer Handel was perhaps most famous for his Messiah, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. More than most, Handel democratized music, giving his popular works a social significance which led to them becoming an indispensable part of England's national culture. Jimi Hendrix was an altogether different sort of musician. Hendrix's impact on the British and world music scene was extraordinary, particularly as he was active for only four years before dying from an overdose aged just 27. He redefined the electric guitar in his own image and became one of the most successful, influential and charismatic musicians of his era, whose appeal linked the concerns of white hippies and black revolutionaries. Handel lived on Brook Street for many years, paying an annual rent of around £50. Hendrix on the other hand just passed through, though this was perhaps his first real first home where it's said he enjoyed watching Coronation Street. Intrigued by Handel's legacy next door, Hendrix bought himself copies of The Messiah and Water Music from the One Stop Record Shop in South Molton Street.

Blue Plaques to Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel on numbers 23 and 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, Westminster, London.
Blue Plaques to Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel on numbers 23 and 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, Westminster, London. The pair lived in houses next door to each other, 200 years apart. © Historic England DP048248

Charles Dickens’ former home, Doughty Street, Holborn, London

Dickens wrote two of his best-loved novels here, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby and worked on others. When Dickens moved to Doughty Street in 1837, London's population had boomed to 1.65 million. The city's streets and their everyday characters inspired him to put London at the heart of many of his stories and his depiction of the dirt, smells and bustle of Victorian London gives readers a window into the past. Dickens moved to Doughty Street at a time of evolving humanitarian and social philosophies, when the Chartism movement aimed to gain political rights and influence for the working classes. Through his writing, Dickens captured this spirit with vivid characterisations of ordinary people and places.

Read the List entry for Charles Dickens' house

Doughty Street in London where Charles Dickens lived for several years
Doughty Street in London where Charles Dickens lived for several years © Charles Dickens Museum

Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Chetham's Library opened its doors nearly 350 years ago and is the oldest free public reference library in the English speaking world. It holds more than 100,000 volumes of printed books as well as manuscript diaries, letters and deeds, prints and paintings. Established in 1655 by Humphrey Chetham for scholars and the education of "the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents", the library has been in continuous use ever since, today operating as an independent charity, open to readers and visitors free of charge. The library was also the meeting place of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels when Marx visited Manchester in the summer of 1845. Here the pair would meet in a window seat and carry out research which ultimately led to their work on The Communist Manifesto.

Chetham's Library in Manchester
Chetham's Library in Manchester © Chetham's Library
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