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Genealogy and the Piano Makers

When it comes to tracing one’s ancestry, looking up the rellies is fraught with problems, like a married couple who are supposed to be cousins as well, or trying to find “Uncle Ted”, when his name was actually Arthur! I was trying to do it years ago, when every certificate meant a separate trip to London. Of course, it doesn’t help that our families had names like Williams or Johnson. My father’s grandfather, William Preston, told Dad that he was an orphan, and took his name from Preston, Lancashire, where he was born. “It must be true, it came from the horse’s mouth”, but unfortunately, when he was orphaned, he went to work for his uncles, whose name was also Preston, and who ran the Preston Ropeworks after which Preston Road, London was named. So much for “the horse’s mouth”!

By the way, have you noticed that computer file folders can be arranged like a family tree, and you can use the same system for word-processing and photos. For example, the "Kibby" folder opens to reveal the children of an un-named Mr Kibby: Herbert's file opens to reveal his children: Herbert junior's opens to reveal his, including one William James Kibby, who married Beth Johnson to become Kibby-Johnson. Spouses and partners can be cross-referenced by creating shortcuts named "married to ...".

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Something a bit spooky happens in connection with email enquiries from our website, and it happens so often that I struggle to find a logical explanation: Having received an enquiry from one descendant, I will often hear from other descendants of the same maker within a week or two, even if I have never come across the name before. These emails arrive from all sides of the globe, from people who don’t know each other, yet they arrive within the same short period. For example, having only come across one Tolkien piano in forty years (and that was here in Lowestoft) I received enquiries from two Tolkien owners, and several descendants of Tolkien, within a few weeks.

Over the past thirty years or so, I have received numerous enquiries from descendants of piano makers who are doing family tree research about their ancestors. On the whole, I tend to have more about the pianos, and they tend to have more family information, so they can often put some “flesh on the bones” of what otherwise can so easily become dry, impersonal text. Here is a selection of the firms involved in this. Some were not actual makers, others were “journeymen” - that is men who had served their apprenticeships as pianoforte makers - and perhaps went on to other branches of the trade. Piano making requires a very complex mix of skills, and many workers would specialise in particular areas, rather than do everything. Women were, of course, also involved in the trade, often widows taking over their late husbands’ businesses.

One of the most unusual requests I have received in recent times was for a piano picture to put on a gravestone. Recent advances in computer technology have enabled high-quality images to be engraved into the stones, so we now have the option of seeing our dear departed staring out at us from the grave, not a popular idea with everyone!


Peter Abbott wrote from Kent about his great-grandfather, John Henry Abbott, who was a described as pianoforte maker in St.Pancras. In my Post Office London Directory for 1892, the Street Directory section lists him as a Music Desk Maker in Brill Street, and he died on the 4th of April 1899. An obituary notice about him appeared in the Camden & Kentish Town Gazette, but this deals mainly with his activities in the local Rifle Volunteers, and makes only a passing reference to the piano trade.

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Another historical enquiry is concerned more with an address than a person: Marian Ferriday is compiling a history of the building which was previously known as 104, Park street, London: Can anyone help with further information about Guiliano Ajello, or Alfred Spencer, who were in business there?


Rita Dix wrote from Oxford about her father, Richard Charles Bishop, who traded as R.C. Bishop & Son, at 25, Hollingsworth Street, Holloway N7. Playing on the name, their trade mark was a picture of a Roman Catholic bishop, with a “son” dressed like another bishop in miniature. It was pointed out that R.C. bishops shouldn’t have sons! The last time Rita saw one of their pianos, it was on the set of the old Titanic film "A Night To Remember", and someone was playing it while the ship went down!

Another Bishop: Mr Cameron-Cathie wrote from London, enquiring about his ancestor, F.A. Bishop, who was also described as a piano maker. I have only found references to him as a piano dealer in the early 1900s, so perhaps he served an apprenticeship with a maker before that.

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Keith Rhodes phoned about his family research involving the piano maker Wilhelm Boderke: Born in Germany, he came over here in about 1881. Wilhelm may have lived in Southampton, but worked in Hammersmith, London. He may be the same W. Boderke who (in 1881) lodged in Cambridge Road, Hammersmith with a private fireman, William Ainsley, who worked for the Kirkman factory.


Mrs Wright wrote from Pinner about her ancestor, H.J. (or J.H.) Brider, born around 1844, who worked in the piano trade as an apprentice piano ivory maker in 1861, and lived at 30, Wilton Street, Westminster. It is a lot easier to trace people who were in business in their own name, rather than working for an employer.


Andy Sims wrote "I was very glad to get your e-mail with such a lot of information. I know very little about pianos except what I have learned through my family history research into the Brinsmeads”. However, Andy has given me a tremendous amount of detail about the history of the various Brinsmeads. Can anyone help me locate good copies of any of Brinsmead’s huge full-page ads from around 1887?

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Evelyn Fisher, the niece of Bernard Brock - who was actually born Bernhard Braak, in Holland, 1865 - sent some fascinating points about the man himself, and although Brock was not regarded as one of the "great" piano makers, his story is nevertheless of great interest to anyone who has a piano made by his firm. He lived at Sewardstone, near where I was born, and is buried in Chingford cemetery.

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Bob Henderson wrote from Edinburgh about his great- great- grandfather Daniel Child, who had a piano factory in London, went bankrupt in 1827, but began making pianos again soon after. He was mainly known at Old Kent Road.


In 1998, I met Bob Clark, who lives here in Lowestoft, and was 89 years old. His father, who died in 1926, made pianos under Bob's mother's married name, J.S. Clark. Bob says they made pianos for the trade, including Murdoch & Dale Forty, and did not usually have their own name on them. They used a bow-drill to make over 200 holes in each wrestplank by hand, which must have been a difficult and slow method, even by 1920s standards!


Probably the most popular subject for enquiries I have received over the years is the firm whose history began way back in 1767 with Longman & Broderip, then the various Clementi names, (which at their peak squeezed “Clementi, Banger, Hyde, Collard & Davis” onto the nameboard!) then Collard & Collard, taken over by Chappell, and now with Kemble. I have heard from Collard descendants, who would be pleased to receive family details.

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Janice Jones emailed from California about her great-grandfather, Edward Colton. I have so far been unable to find any piano firms at all called Colton in my files, in any of the obvious places. London lists are straightforward, but most Music Trades Directories are alphabetical within towns, so they rely on knowing in which town the firm was located.


Angela Patmore wrote from my old home town, Walthamstow: She was compiling a biography about Lilian Bayliss, whose grandfather, Frederick Cons, was a piano maker, apprenticed to Broadwoods. Brinsmead’s first piano is said to have made in Cons’ kitchen. (My Dad always thought that kitchens were for mending motorbikes, but apparently he was wrong, Steinweg made his first piano in a kitchen too!)


David Ferdinando would love to hear from anyone who has a piano made by his great-great-uncle, Arthur Ferdinando, or has any new information about this maker, who was as 214, Grove Road, London E. My files show that the road was described as being in Mile End, and later Victoria Park.


Fiona Gilroy emailed from Scotland, searching for information about William Gilroy. "In 1921 (when my late father-in-law was born) he was living in Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland and his occupation was listed on my father-in-law's birth certificate as Piano Tuner. From what I can gather, he moved around a lot in Scotland and I presume latterly, England. He retired to Margate, my husband thinks he died in the early 1970's."


A descendant of Thomas Haxby, a maker established in York, 1756, is also trying to trace information about Haxby's relatives, whose name was Tomlinson.


Angus Kindley wrote from Hertfordshire about his ancestor, Anthony Kindley, born in Cumberland in 1809. He later came to London and became a pianoforte maker journeyman.


Stephen Kirkman and Robert Kirkman contacted me separately: Cousins, they are descendants of Kirkman & Son, Grand Pianoforte makers to Queen Victoria, established at 3 Soho Square, London, in 1730. Anyone who is interested in the family can find a tremendous database of all the Kirkman descendants at Stephen’s website... http://www.stephen.kirkman.btinternet.co.uk/mywebpage.htm

Has anyone seen a card or letterhead for Kirkman, or any kind of original paperwork

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Bernard Watts, of Monington & Weston, very kindly contacted me when their factory closed, and invited me along to collect lots of useful piano information, although very little about Monington & Weston themselves. Bernard would very much like to hear from anyone who has any historical information about either Monington or Weston.

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In one of the many email enquiries we have received from Australia, Judy Deanes said "I have been working on a biography of my great- great- grandfather Isaac Henry Robert Mott for some time, and I have just found the web page referring to your work”. I had the sad duty of telling Judy about a relative of hers who dumped six sacks of paperwork about this famous royal pianomaker because “no-one would want it”! Judy tells me that I.H.R. Mott was born in Birmingham, although my earliest references to him were at Brighton. “Four of the children of Mott’s second marriage came out to Australia, including my great-grandfather.”

“Thanks for all your information. I was most interested to read the Windsor accounts, the descriptions of the pianos sold to the Royal household and the continued connection for tuning, repair etc. I am also sending three drawings of Mott pianos. (These are not as detailed as your fantastic drawing of the Mott piano in the Pavilion but they show some of the styles of the firm's work.) You have a wonderful range of addresses for I.H.R. Mott. About 25 years ago I employed a genealogist in London who sent me some of these addresses, though he was nowhere near as thorough as you. I am most grateful to you for sharing your finds.” - And I’m grateful to Austin Niland for our exchange of information on Mott.

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Mrs Hale, a descendant of Charles Thomas Nicholas, is seeking information, or perhaps even a Nicholas piano if they exist: There was some confusion because Charles Nichols appeared around the time that Charles Nicholas disappeared, but it seems to be pure coincidence. Nicholas was listed as a “pianoforte maker” in 1825, but an 1856 copy of a birth certificate for Charles' daughter describes him more precisely as a “Pianoforte Key Maker Journeyman”, and he is listed among the key makers in the Post Office London Directory for 1860. Jarrett & Goudge later took over his Mile End premises.

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Gary Randall wrote from New York in search of information about a piano made by his great- great- grandfather Culver Randall for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887: The instrument was lost at sea.


I'm grateful to the V&A for passing on an enquiry from Barbara Woollard, a descendant of James Smith Kilvert, who confirms that the name arose when a Miss Kilvert married a Mr Smith. Another descendant has also contacted me, and confirms that Smith was his middle name, and his surname was definitely Kilvert.

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Xa Naylor, Service Development Officer, emailed from the City of London Cemetery & Crematorium, where they have an impressive gravestone depicting a woman (or an angel) reclining against a baby grand. The grave is that of Gladys Spencer, a pianist, but nothing is known about her life or music. “All we know is that she was a Music Mistress who died at the age of 34, and was buried in April 1931.”

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Jenny Sandercock emailed from Australia: Her family research on the Warhurst family and music firm shows that Francis (Frank) Warhurst married Teresa Allison, of Allison Pianos, Australia.

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Although the Wornum family is now spread around the world, and many members have taken other names, I have heard from various descendants of Robert Wornum, who have been very helpful to my own research, by providing details about their family name and history. Wornum invented the action which made upright pianos practical, and his design has been adopted, with very little modification, by all modern makers. In 1842, Wornum made his “Albion” square grand, and details of several examples have been published, but Marion Reeves emailed me from the USA, she has an “Albion Grand” - a 6’4” grand-shaped version: It was made around 1851, “overstruck” (downstriking) with bichord stringing. Can anyone help us to locate any others, or information about the “Albion Grand”?

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Peter Rowe wrote from London about his ancestor, George Heanes Youatt, born in 1812, who made pianos in Regents Park Road. My file on the Youatt family also includes information kindly supplied by Lady Buckley, great-grand-daughter of Victor Youatt.

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