Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forcer, Francis

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FORCER, FRANCIS, the elder (1650?–1705?), composer, is mentioned by Hawkins as the writer of many songs, five of which may be found in Playford's 'Choyce Ayres and Dialogues,' bk. ii. 1679, one in the edition of 1681, and two in that of 1683. Some of his music is in the Fitzwilliam Collection, Cambridge, an overture and eight tunes are in the Christ Church Library, Oxford, and a set of instrumental trios, with a jig and gavotte for organ, among the British Museum manuscripts. He was one of four stewards for the celebration of St. Cecilia's day of 1684. Towards the end of the seventeenth century Forcer, who may have had some previous interest in the concern, became the lessee of Sadler's Wells music house, garden, and water at Clerkenwell, with one James Miles (about 1697) as his partner. To Miles was assigned the control of the good cheer, the building or 'boarded house' becoming known as Miles's Music House, while the waters were advertised as Sadler's Wells. The musical entertainment at such places of resort at that period was said by Hawkins to be hardly deserving the name of concert, i.e. concerted music, for the instruments were limited to violins, hautboys, and trumpets playing in unison, and when a bass was introduced it was merely to support a simple ballad or dance-tune. 'The musick plays, and 'tis such music as quickly will make me or you sick,' comments an old writer upon the efforts of a rival establishment; and Ned Ward describes the combination of attractions at Sadler's Wells in the lines,

The organs and fiddles were scraping and humming,
The guests for more ale on the table were drumming.

Lady Squalb rose to sing, and 'silenced the noise with her musical note,' and a fierce fiddler in scarlet ran 'up in alt with a hey diddle diddle, to show what a fool he could make of the fiddle.' It appears that these primitive entertainments were announced 'to begin at eleven, to hold until one.' Forcer obtained a license to marry Jane Taylor of Worplesdon, Surrey, 30 July 1673. He was then described as 'of St. Bartholomew, Exchange, London, gent., bachelor, about twenty-three.' He died in 1704 or 1705, leaving (by a will dated 1704) to his son, Francis Forcer, various properties in Durham and in Fetter Lane, without mention of Sadler's Wells. Nor was Sadler's Wells among the property left by James Miles upon his death in 1724. By the latter's will his daughter Frances, wife of Francis Forcer the younger, became entitled to an annuity, and lands in Berkshire, Essex, &c. are settled upon Henry and John Miles Tompkins, the children of the said Mrs. Francis Forcer (d. 1726) by her first husband.

Forcer, Francis, the younger (1675?-1743), was known after 1724 as master of Sadler's Wells, and he resided there until his death. He had been sent to Oxford, entered Gray's Inn on 8 July 1696, and was called to the bar in 1703. Notwithstanding his culture, Forcer's reign at Sadler's Wells was marked by the introduction of nothing more intellectual than rope-dancing and tumbling. In 1735 a license for singing, dancing, pantomime, &c., and the sale of liquors was refused him by the authorities, who, however, promised at the same time not to interfere. It was not until after Forcer's death, when John Warren was occupier in 1744, that the grand jury of Middlesex thought it necessary to protest against the demoralising influence of this and similar places of amusement. Forcer the younger was tall, athletic, and handsome. Garbott relates that he improved the place, and adds:

Miles in his way obliging was, we know,
Yet F . . . . r's language doth the softer flow;
Behaviour far genteeler of the two.
By birth a gentleman and breeding too,
Oxford, for liberal arts that is so fam*d,
(Inferior all, none equal can be nam'd)
His Alma Mater was, it is well known.
And Gray's Inn learned gave to him the gown.
Call'd was he from thence imto the bar, &c.

— a profession soon abandoned for the lucrative position 'behind the barr' at Sadler's Wells, where Stephen Monteage, Woollaston, and other habitués were wont to 'tarry.' Forcer was found to be 'very ill of the new distemper' on 5 April 1743; on the 9th he died. By his will he desired that his lease of Sadler's Wells should be sold; other property was left to his widow, Catherine, for life, and the bulk of his property to Frances (Mrs. Savage), his daugnter by the former marriage.

[Addit.MSS. British Museum, 29283-4-5, and 31403; Playford's Theater of Music, ii.25; Choyce Ayres and Dialogues; W. H. Husk's Account of the Celebrations of St. Cecilia's Day, p. 14; Hawkins's Hist. of Music, iv. 380; Foster's London Marriage Licenses, p. 498; Guidott's Account of Sadler's Wells; Malcolm's Londinium Redivivum, iii. 232; Gent. Mag. xiii. 218, xiv. 278, xviii. 68, lxxxv. 559; Mirror, xxxiv. 218; Percival's Collection relating to Sadler's Wells (Brit. Mus.); Ned Ward's Walk to Islington, p. 13; P. C. C. Registers, Somerset House; Hovenden's Registers of Clerkenwell; Entry-books of Gray's Inn; Stephen Montcage's MS. Diary (at Guildhall) in Partridge's Almanacks, 1733 to 1746 passim; Garbott's New River. See also Pinks's Clerkenwell, p. 420, &c.]

L. M. M.