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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Challen Pianos

The beginnings of the Challen piano company are a little sketchy. The start date, claimed by some is 1804 but the earliest record of piano-making under the name of William Challen is 1835. The Challen family was involved in building pianos for nearly 100 years! 
Frank Challen (1862 - 1919) had piano-making blood in his veins but after a family dispute in 1907 he left the family firm, taking his natural talents to work for J. & J. Hopkinson Ltd. His improvements to the Hopkinson range of pianos quickly attracted universal approval and when Hopkinson’s merged with George Rogers & Sons, the refinements were applied to the Rogers range of pianos too. Even today, if these pianos are in good condition, you can still hear something of the very classy sound they made when new.

After the First World War, conditions were difficult for the industry. The trade price for a Challen Baby Grand was £103. and by 1920 the price had risen to £138. To make matters worse, the importing of better pianos began. By 1922, a 5’ 6” Bosendorfer was sold to the trade for only £93. Challen production sunk to about 10 pianos per week.   

About 1927, the company was taken over by Willie Evans. From very unpromising beginnings, by 1929, he had turned the business round. In one year he had doubled production. 1932, he moved to newly built premises in Middlesex. Better management brought about a significant reduction in the sale price which resulted in more sales. 

At this time, Challen mostly made baby grand pianos. These neat and elegant little pianos ranging from 4ft proved a very desirable addition to the typical middle class home. 

In 1931, Broadwoods approached Evans about taking on the manufacture of Broadwood pianos. Using Challen designs but bearing the Broadwood name, these pianos were produced side by side with Challen pianos throughout the 1930s.

1936, the the B.B.C. were looking for suitable pianos to use in their broadcasts. The Challen piano was selected and this of course meant more positive publicity and even more sales. In the year 1937, Challen produced just over 3,000 pianos! 

In 1959, Evans sold the business and sadly, following the general decline of the British pianos industry, the Challen name changed hands a several times until 1984, when the owning company was declared insolvent.

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