Paganini visits Blackburn
The Paganini Inn, which was situated at 29, Northgate, on the corner of Higher Cockcroft, was named after the great Italian violinist and composer, Nicolò Paganini after his stay at the inn (then called the Joiner’s Arms) in September 1833.
‘It was rumoured that when the unfortunate musician retired to his bedroom for the night he found his couch already occupied by a noxious species of vermin only too common in this insalubrious locality. The result was that he spent the greater part of the night padding to and fro along Northgate in his carpet slippers, praying for the dawn.’
By George C. Miller, Blackburn’s Old Inns
Paganini (27th October, 1782 – 27th May, 1840), one of the world’s leading figures in modern violin playing, came to Blackburn to perform at the town’s Theatre as part of his European tour, which lasted six and a half years. Blackburn was one stop of many that he made whilst touring England and Scotland during the years 1832-3, a tour which earned him a lot of money and made him considerably wealthy. Paganini himself was a controversial character; his remarkable and almost unnatural ability at playing the violin caused many rumours which claimed that he had sold his soul to the Devil in return for his extraordinary talent – rumours which Paganini fuelled in his appearance and actions, with his abnormally long fingers and the loss of his teeth giving him a sunken, ghost-like expression. However, it is now widely acknowledged that he was affected by a disability, such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic mutation which causes extreme elongation of the limbs and is potentially life-threatening. As Paganini’s case wasn’t this severe, he was able to use his disorder to his advantage in his string playing.
The Blackburn Gazette of 28th August 1833 carried this advert, giving the date of the performance as 6th September. This was an error.The following week's issue carried a new advert and programme for the correct date of 5th September.
Paganini’s Blackburn concert was held on 5th September, 1833 and was advertised as being ‘A Grand Concert’ along with a programme of the event in the two newspapers being printed in Blackburn at the time, The Blackburn Gazette and The Blackburn Alfred. However, it doesn’t seem to have been as popular as hoped. A review of the evening in the Alfred the following week (11th September, 1833) reports that, Paganini ‘…completely fulfilled even the most sanguine expectations we had been led to form by the fame which preceded his visit,’ yet ‘the house was not so full as we had anticipated: owing doubtless to the prices being calculated more for the meridian of Manchester or Liverpool, than of Blackburn.’ In fact, the Gazette doesn’t include a review of the concert at all the following week, but includes accounts of performances at other locations, such as Lancaster (25th September, 1833), his ‘farewell concert’ at Manchester (18th September 1833) and a particularly detailed one about his visit to Preston (4th September, 1833).
Blackburn was one of Paganini’s final concerts on his tour of the country, and by December of that year he was back in Paris where he famously met Berlioz. The Joiner’s Arms then changed its name to the Paganini Inn in honour of its famous visitor, and this portrait of Paganini, reputedly painted during his stay (although this seems highly unlikely), was hung on an outside wall. The inn then continued in business, changing hands a number of times from at least 1870 onwards (proprietors including Thomas Abbott, James Ramsbottom, H. Wilkinson, Charles Mitchell) until the Paganini Inn's license was revoked in 1898 after pressure from the local temperance movement. The building was demolished around 1900 and the painted inn sign was donated to Blackburn Museum & Art Gallery where it is on permanent display in the Skill and Labour Gallery.
After his record tour of Europe, Paganini returned to Italy making rare performances owing to his deteriorating health. After suffering with cancer of the larynx for many years, losing his vocal ability to it, the illness finally caused his death on 27th May, 1840.
This modern photograph shows the building belonging to Johnson's the Cleaners, which now stands on the site of the Paganini Inn. A blue plaque commemorates the famous violinist's visit.
This article was written by Lucy Allen, a student at Clitheroe Royal Grammar School, whilst on work experience at Blackburn Museum in 2006.
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