5. Norwich (6 of 12)

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Francis Christian and his descendants (3 of 4)

There follows a twelve-year period in which nothing is known of the practice except that it continued. From 1770 there was more activity, more notices in the press, and the current state of the Christian dynasty needs explanation.

Francis II is now 75. Francis III – ‘Mr Christian junior’ – is 39 and married to Elizabeth, which is all I can discover about her. Francis III may have worked or trained away from home for a while and has now returned to revitalise the practice. His son, Edward will shortly join the family business. I have not found Edward’s baptismal record; at a guess he was born c.1755 and is now 15. If there was a Francis IV, he did not survive childhood.

In 1770 Francis III is first to appear in the final act of this dynastic drama, with a better advertising style than that of his father:

‘The New concert Room in St Michael at Plea will be opened by Mr Christian Junior on 11 June, with a Concert and Ball. The band will be led by Signior Manini who will, between the Acts, perform a favourite solo.’

I think the New Concert Room is the old Great Room refurbished and presented with puffing. The combined concert/ball was a feature of the period; the double event was a bigger draw. There are no reports of this occasion and we have to gather from those of similar events that the gallery was ‘fitted up for Ladies and Gentlemen’ for the concert audience but declared off-limits at the ball when it was intended for the band and not for assignations. Concerts were arranged in ‘Acts’ at this period. Signior Manini was a soloist/band leader and a feature of entertainments in Norwich pleasure gardens.

Francis II and III advertised on 31 December 1771: ‘Messrs Christian start their public days’. This was the beginning of the season of publicly advertised open dancing classes as apposed to their unadvertised private lessons.

On 30 March 1774 Francis II died, aged 77, and was buried at St Michael at Plea. Although he was styled ‘gentleman’ in the mortgage documents his Will omits gentrification and begins ‘I ffrancis Christian of the City of Norwich, Dancing Master’. It is a simple will, of one sheet of paper naming ‘Ann my Loving Wife’ as sole executrix and beneficiary of his estate, of which there are no details at all.

Edward, now about 20, joined the family firm by 1775 when ‘Messrs Christian’ advertised their pupils’ ball at Yarmouth on 10 October. This is the first we know of their teaching circuit which may have been of long standing. On 25 July 1776 two six-year-old pupils of ‘Mr Christian’ danced at the White Swan theatre, probably to advertise their masters’ practice; theatre companies had their own Infants Phenomena for in-house promotion.

Mr Poulain of Harleston was hired to teach fencing on Saturdays in the Great Room in 1777, which tells us that Messrs Christian did not teach fencing themselves.

After this hopeful surge of activity, trouble arrives, first in the shape of John Browne who, having taught dancing at other locations in Norwich, in 1782 set up a Ladies Boarding School ‘at his premises in St Michael at Plea’: 12 Redwell Street, a few yards away from the Christians and a challenge to their practice. There is no mention of Francis III beyond this point. The first Norwich Directory, by Chase 1783, lists as Dancing Masters John Browne, 12 Redwell Street, and Edward Christian at 3 Redwell Street, flanked by a perruquier and a French master. I have not found a burial record for Francis III and there is no extant will, but it seems that he had retired or died by 1783.

The practice at the Great Room continued under Edward, apparently without an assistant. Classes and pupils’ balls were advertised with brevity: time, place, tickets from Mr Christian. He developed a line in charity concerts on St Cecilia’s Day in 1784 and 1785 ‘for decayed musicians’. Not a tactful fellow, the last of the Christians.

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Labec Steps 3A