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In this sequel to Five London Piano Makers, Alastair Laurence turns his attention to six other piano manufacturing concerns: individual firms, groups of companies, or piano-making families. Taken together, they represent a cross-section of the industry from prestigious and artistically distinguished makers to those who aimed to satisfy the mass market.
The Chappell company produced some of the finest instruments ever seen in the UK, yet their piano-making seems to have been looked on as merely a sideline to their international music-publishing business. The Eavestaff Minipiano was an attempt to revive the fortunes of the British industry by creating an instrument that was both affordable and compact enough to fit into small apartments. The Squire family – a whole army of them – were active in the London piano industry throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Rogers and Hopkinson were two nineteenth-century firms that became a single entity in 1924, producing quality pianos in London until 1993. Finally, we have the story of Alfred Knight: himself a remarkably fine pianist and piano designer, and unmatched in the industry for his flair for managing a large manufacturing concern. If anyone could have revived British piano making, it would surely have been him; but in the end, it was not to be.
Remarkably, all these firms were based, at one time or another, in or near the inner-London suburb of Camden Town. This was the centre of London piano making in the period 1860–1930, and at its heart was the historic Mother Red Cap pub, which functioned as a kind of informal labour exchange. The streets nearby were crowded with pianos or piano parts being trundled on hand-carts from one workshop to another; there was constant trade gossip and intrigue; there was great pride in workmanship, and a high level of interest as the qualities of one makers pianos were compared with another; and, of course, there was money to be made.
All this has now disappeared. The author describes, from personal experience, the decline of piano making in London, and although it is perhaps a sad story, it is in many ways as interesting and thought-provoking as the history of its rise and palmy years.
Softback, 210 × 148 mm, 144 pages, 41 black-and-white illustrations and two in colour.
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