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


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