A BMO Microblog for new discoveries, recent entries, and user tips

Public Houses and Taverns

Public houses and taverns occasionally feature in the lives of harpsichord makers working in London: as places of abode, of work and sometimes of recreation. 

William Rock (c1744–1800), for example, combined the role of vintner with that of harpsichord maker, and ran the ‘Horseshoe and Magpye’ on Bridge Street, St Margaret Westminster, during the period c1754–65. Thus, three anonymous newspaper notices concerning the sale, tuning and repair of harpsichords at this venue in the early 1760s probably all refer to Rock. 

The organ and harpsichord maker John Crang (1717–74) seems to have mostly lived in public houses: an advert in the Daily Gazetteer (16 August 1740) refers readers to the ‘Elephant and Castle’ without Temple Bar, and he subsequently had premises at the ‘White Lion’ in Wych Street, St Clement Danes (from c1750 onwards). 

It is well known that taverns, such as the ‘Crown and Anchor’ on the Strand, were used as concert venues, but there is also evidence that they were occasionally used as sale rooms: a notice in the Daily Post (17 December 1730) advertised that one of Thomas Hancock’s harpsichords was to be raffled at the ‘Half-Moon Tavern’. Importantly, the instrument could be viewed at Hancock’s premises in Queen Street, and it is possible that the raffle was a means of easing a cash flow crisis. 

Finally, circumstantial evidence that members of Kirkman’s workforce may occasionally have enjoyed a drink at ‘The Fountain’ in Broad Street, Carnaby Market, premises that apparently doubled as a Masonic Lodge, is provided by the inquest into the death of Peter Thom in 1795. According to the landlord, Thom and his friends used to meet at his house on a Saturday night and on the night in question, having decided that it was too late to obtain entry to his lodgings, Thom had decided to sleep in the Tap Room. He was found dead on the Sunday morning by a servant girl, who had opened a window in response to one of Thom’s friends who had come looking for him. The coroner concluded that Thom had died of natural causes.

Living and working arrangements in the Shudi and Kirkman households

It is easy to assume that family members of harpsichord-making dynasties all lived and worked in the same premises, particularly if instruments survive with more than one name attached. However, this was not necessarily the case. While the firm of Shudi & Broadwood made harpsichords until at least 1791 inscribed with both their names, for instance, there is new evidence to show that from at least the time of his marriage in 1779, Burkat Shudi the younger resided not at 33 Great Pulteney Street, St James Piccadilly, where his brother-in-law John Broadwood lived, but in Park Court, St Margaret Westminster.

Similarly, while there are 60 harpsichords inscribed with the names of both Jacob and Abraham Kirkman (uncle and nephew), the two lived separate lives and may even have run separate workshops. During the period 1760–70, Abraham Kirkman is recorded as a rate payer for premises in Great Pulteney Street, while Jacob Kirkman paid the local taxes on premises in Broad Street. Subsequently, they lived next door to each other: Abraham at 18, and Jacob at 19 Broad Street. Moreover, there is only one insurance policy in the name of both Jacob and Abraham Kirkman (1772), and while Jacob insured a complex of workshops, warehouses and sawpits in Castle Lane, Southwark in 1779, it was Abraham who insured the workshops at 19 Broad Street in 1780 and 1781, suggesting that the two worked at different locations from the late 1770s onwards. 

Other recent finds concerning the Shudi family include the identification of Burkat Shudi the elder’s 12 children, circumstantial evidence that he may have got his soundboard wood direct from Switzerland, and a newspaper notice suggesting that Joshua Shudi suffered from tuberculosis. Local tax records for all London-based makers are gradually being entered into the database.

John Wilbrook: Tabel's Man

Relatively little is known about the harpsichord maker John
Wilbrook, a German émigré who worked in London during the 1720s and 30s. Recent archival discoveries, however, suggest that he may have succeeded to the workshop of Herman Tabel in Oxendon Street, St Martin in the Fields. This helps make sense of the inscription on the underside of the soundboard of the 1730 Wilbrook harpsichord (BMO-2052): Johannes Wilbrook Londoni Fecit, Tabels man

Only two instruments survive from Wilbrook’s workshop, but newspaper evidence suggests that he may have been one of only a handful of makers who built clavichords in London during the Georgian period. Who continued Wilbrook’s workshop is also a tantalising question. 

  To view both Willbrook entries in BMO, search any part of his name in Menu > Search > Advanced > Maker. To see Willbrook's full biography, click the biography button - 

A 1682 Rectangular Virginal by Salodiensis/Salodij

User Staas Bruinsma alerted us of this virginal, now entered as BMO-2231. With its untouched patina intact and its musical function restored, the instrument comes from the collection of Prof. Dr. R. Ewerhart, sold at auction by Galerie Moenius in Wassenach, Germany. The BMO entry includes links to the online auction catalog entry with background about how the instrument was discovered in a northern Italian henhouse. 

  To see the BMO entry, click the photo at the left and check out the YouTube video demonstration by Els Biesemans and the auction entry in the links dropdown at the top of the BMO Details Page.

Schmahl Family Clavichords

Three generations of the Schmahl family were prominent clavichord makers for around thirty years at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. They made both fretted and unfretted instruments: Christoph Friedrich Schmahl (1739–1814), in particular, made fretted clavichords with a full five-octave compass, a comparatively rare type. Schmahl family clavichords have a distinctive and elegant style of keylever carving, in a ‘spoon’ pattern; finding this on an unsigned clavichord is one of the pointers which may lead to a Schmahl attribution.

At least 22 clavichords signed by, or attributed to, members of the Schmahl family are known to exist today. 14 were listed in the third edition of ‘Boalch’; it has now been possible to trace five more and add them to the BMO database, and also to improve and update the existing entries. Work continues to establish the facts about several others.

  To view the Schmahl clavichord entries in BMO, search the name in Menu > Search > Advanced > Maker.