Monday, 22 November 2021

Hopkinson Pianos

In 1835 at Leeds in Yorkshire, the Hopkinson family music-selling business was established. A few years later two of the brothers, John and James had retail premises in the centre of Leeds. Nearby, the Kirk family were making pianos and it is not too fanciful to suppose the Hopkinson brothers would take some of the Kirk pianos to sell in their music shop - the close proximity would have kept transport costs much lower than buying pianos from London or Birmingham.
Elizabeth Hopkins, John and James' widowed mother had a relative working at Kirk's piano building business who's name was Edward Barker Gowland. Barker was Elizabeth's maiden name.

John, the senior brother in the business, took Edward Barker Gowland and set off to London to start building his own pianos in 1846. Edward Gowland was his workshop foreman. James stayed to manage the business back in Leeds.

In 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, the factory was employing nearly 50 men and John had patented a new grand piano action for which he won a Prize Medal! All very good publicity for the relatively new firm which by now was known as J & J Hopkinson. 

At the Great Exhibition there was some reservations about how open some of the exhibitors were about their products. Copying ideas from other makers was thought to be a nuisance. The new, patented action was kept hidden for the duration. Close inspection was thus prevented. Piano actions were notorious for misfiring under certain conditions and the more complicated the design, the more likely problems would occur. 

James came down to join John in 1856 leaving Thomas, the youngest Hopkinson brother to manage affairs in Leeds. The Piano making business continued to thrive so that in 1866 a completely new factory was built at Fitzroy Road, Camden Town.

Having seen the business firmly established at Fitzroy Road, just 3 years later John Hopkinson the senior retired to North Wales. The next generation of Hopkinsons were not so keen about piano making - one eventually moving up to Scotland, the other rather more interested in Zoology. The business was sold in 1919. 

While there was no further family involvement in piano building, the Hopkinson name  was still put on pianos for many decades. The ownership of the names passed through the hands of various makers who's output was very modest. I remember during the 1980s the Hopkinson name appearing on a piano made at Bentley's in Stroud.

©Steve Burden

Friday, 19 November 2021

Eavestaff Pianos

The beginnings of Eavestaff pianos are somewhat vague and uncertain, but it is likely, as with so many manufacturers of the time, they built and supplied pianos to the music trade. This simply means that finding an early Eavestaff piano with their own name on the front is very unlikely.

The first factory was in Euston Road but moved to Salusbury Road about 1911. Clearly, W.G. Eavestaff had a very keen eye for detail and quality control - his devotion to excellence in piano building established a reputation for reliability.

W.G. Eavestaff died in 1912 leaving his 2 sons. The older, William, died in 1917 and the younger brother, Frank eventually sold the business in 1920 to H.F. and R.A. Brasted. It is thought Frank Eavestaff had some involvement for a while but eventually retired to Hastings. 

Henry Brasted had been making pianos since 1870. Like Eavestaff, his pianos were mostly trade pianos. Sadly, Henry was to die in 1908. His sons Henry, Charles, Frederick, Robert, Albert and his daughter Hilda were to carry the business forward. By the 1930s the business was known as Brasted Brothers Ltd.

The 1920s was not an easy time for Brasteds to take on the Eavestaff name. A number of other proud, established piano makers of the time were having to close their doors. Post war difficulties of supply and skilled labour were tough enough but to sell the finished product at a time of austerity was a bold strategy with an eye to the future.

1923, Brasteds moved to new premises at Hermitage Road, Harringay where they remained for 47 years! Production levels steadily increased from perhaps 50 pianos per week in 1920 up to nearly 200 pianos per week by the late 1930s.

The Minipiano was made at Hermitage Road and sold under the Eavestaff name. The mini generated strong sales due to small size and its relative affordability when compared to the more traditional uprights of the time. Today, the Minipiano is not very much liked by tuners and technicians - certainly the early ones - but if you can find a good example of one of the later models, and one that works well, they are easy to play and have a sweet, very musical tone. Alas not many good examples survive! 

©Steve Burden

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Chappell Pianos

1811, or there abouts, was the start of the Chappell story and at the time the main focus was music publishing. Selling sheet music was very good business in the 19th century - the piano was very popular in polite society and the hunger for more music insatiable. By 1826, Samuel Chappell moved his publishing house to 50 New Bond Street but he died in 1834 leaving his widow in charge of the business.
It was Mrs. Emily Chappell who in about 1840 decided to look into piano manufacture. She had a small factory built off the Charing Cross Road. A Mr. Smith was given the job of organising the new premises, hiring and firing, buying materials and building pianos to meet the growing demand. Immediately the pianos were finished they were taken off to be sold by Chappell and Co. Very sadly, only 20 years later, a devastating fire destroyed the factory, production there ceased and nothing more is heard of Mr. Smith.

Around 1865 a new factory was built in Camden Town. For nearly 30 years, the new premises were managed and run by a Mugridge & Ulph but in 1893 a Reinhold Friedrich Glandt was appointed manager and by 1900 the piano making part of the business was renamed Chappell Piano Company Ltd. R.F. Glandt, while remaining factory manager became a director.

The first World War took the lives of many of the skilled Chappell workers - a loss that understandably dampened spirits at the works. By the 1920s, average weekly production was about 20 pianos and in the 1930s the average was 16. 

From 1942 until 1947, because of the war, production was reduced to roughly 2 piano per week! The first decade or so of the post war period production crept up to about 6 per week. Businesses thrive on big numbers so these dwindling figures paint a picture of gloomy decline!

Perhaps part of the reason is that Chappell were primarily a music publishing business. Piano manufacturing was deemed very much, a lower priority. In the 1970s, Chappells was taken over by Philips Electrical who took the immediate decision permanently to turn off the 'lights' at the piano factory.  

©Steve Burden

Saturday, 13 November 2021


The beginnings of the Danemann Piano Co. is a refreshingly different story from the usual. W. Danemann was not a talented piano builder who wanted to set up his own factory. W. Danemann was a young German Architect who had taken British Citizenship sometime during the 1890s. He was in business as a furniture maker at Alderney Street, Pimlico.

His furniture generated wide approval and respect, so that a firm of piano makers asked him to design piano cases for a series of pianos. He gave the work his customary detailed attention and produced the commissioned drawings and submitted them along with his account for the work. Meanwhile the company had gone out of business and he was never paid.
After meeting with the liquidators, he agreed to buy the failed business for a price that reflected his unpaid-for work. With no prior knowledge of piano construction, he, almost overnight, made himself a piano manufacturer.

W. Danemann established the business in 1893 at Northampton Street, Islington. For the first 55 years of business they made pianos for the music trade. Music shops would put their own name on the fallboard, a very common practice in the early 1900s.

In 1934, an agreement between the Halifax based firm of Poulmann & Son, and the Danemann Co. whereby all the Poulmann designs, jigs etc. were moved to the Danemann factory and Poulmann pianos would now be made in London. 

The Poulmann pianos were highly regarded - especially the stringing scale, which became the template for the Danemann pianos. After the war, Danemanns decided no longer to make pianos for the trade but rather to make pianos with their own name on them. 

During the 1970s, 80% of their output was pianos for schools! These solidly-built, large oak pianos were ruggedly reliable and were by far, better than any of the pianos made for schools at the time.

1982 Tom Danemann sold the business to Broadwoods but even they could not make the Northampton Street premises profitable. July 1984 the Official Receiver was called in. And then the Gardner family from Cardiff offered to buy the Danemann name, designs and goodwill. Everything was transported to Cardiff and production continued there until 1994. 

©Steve Burden

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

John Brinsmead

John Brinsmead began life in rural Devon and among his early ambitions was that of being a farmer! His elder brother Henry moved up to London and began building his own pianos in 1835 and for a couple of years he and John worked together. After a falling out John set up business on his own.

Increased production levels put severe strain on the site of the original factory at Chenies Street and so a purpose-built factory was opened in 1874 at Grafton Road, Kentish Town. Some 15 or so years later an extension was needed to cope with the demand created  by strong sales abroad.

The firm went from strength to strength supported by the factory at Kentish Town and the showrooms at Wigmore Street. Part of the success was due to John’s very close watch on quality control and his knack at self-promotion! This not very ‘English’ trait did not go down well with the likes of Broadwood and Collard. However, timidity does not yield rocketing sales.

1899 Brinsmead became a Limited Company managed by Horace Brinsmead - John’s youngest son. Horace set about modernising the the business and introduced 10 new models by 1900. Alas, another family fall out led to Horace leaving the firm  in 1903.

John Brinsmead died in 1908 and in the spring of 1921, the firm was declared insolvent. There had been difficulties for Brinsmead’s for at least a decade but the manager, Henry Billinghurst had even considered closure about 1912. He had made careful plans to reduce the the severity of the fallout as much as possible. 

In 1921 the name and goodwill of John Brinsmead & Sons was purchased by Walter Saville of J. B. Cramer. The further production of Brinsmead pianos was transfered to the Saville factory very close by at Castle Road, Kentish Town.

A new range of pianos were introduced with the Brinsmead name designed by one of the Cramer workers. These pianos were the same as the Cramer pianos of the time but had the Brinsmead nameplate.

Walter Saville squired a number of brand names: Justin browne, Metzler, George Russell. In 1964 the whole company was sold to Kemble & Co. 

Brinsmead Serial Nos. 

Directory of Piano Makers

© Steve Burden