Author & Pianoforte historian

Rosamond Harding's name is well known to everyone who has studied the history of the piano.

Her 1933 publication, The Piano-forte - its history traced to the Great Exhibition, 1851 was so far ahead of any contemporary study that it remained the leader in this field for fifty years. Indeed, for some purposes, it remains a valuable reference work – the appended list of patents is unlikely ever to be superseded.

But who was the author? Curiosity led me to ask anyone who might possibly have known her, but this proved very disappointing. Though she was still on the membership list of the Galpin Society in the late 1970s I could find no one who had any recollection of meeting her. Then, after years without progress, I found a clue in the Broadwood correspondence at Woking – a letter she had written to Capt. Evelyn Broadwood on headed notepaper. This led me to Newnham College in Cambridge. From there I went to her former homes in Histon, Madingley and Doddington. On a visit to Yorkshire I also paid a visit to her grandfather's former home, adjacent to Kirkstall Abbey.

Here, as a memorial to her, and a service to readers of this website, I am giving a brief summary. For a longer account see the Galpin Society Journal, 2007. (I hope one day to publish a revised version, suited to a more general readership, but a timetable is not yet decided.)

1898 Rosamond Harding was born at the rather forbidding Victorian manor house in Doddington, near March, Cambridgeshire, the first child of Ambrose and Adela Harding. Her father Ambrose owned most of the village and, as the only son of Colonel T. Walter Harding, was heir to a large fortune. Colonel Harding was a wealthy industrialist and Lord Mayor of Leeds, Yorkshire. His only son Ambrose did not continue the family business tradition but lived the easy life of an academically inclined country gentleman, never in robust health.

1899 Rosamond was just one year old when the family left Doddington and moved to Histon Manor, two miles north of Cambridge. Here in acres of private grounds with a high wall around, Rosamond grew up, effectively isolated from the village community. However, her father's hobbies included a private zoo of exotic animals, particularly tropical birds and lemurs, which must have been fascinating for a child.

Histon Manor, Rosamond's home 1899 - 1927

1906 Her only sibling, Thomas Harding, was born when Rosamond was seven. He was handicapped but the precise nature of his disability is not known. It was recognised immediately that he would not be able to manage his own affairs, and he was not considered for inheritance. Rosamond meanwhile attended several boarding schools, but was always unhappy, so when her parents heard of her tears she was allowed to come home, usually after only one or two terms. Their hopes to give her an education such as her brother would have had, were disappointed. Consequently she was largely educated by her father. He taught her how to make technical illustrations, with pen and ink, which became such a feature of her piano book. This was a skill he had acquired himself for illustrating his zoology papers for the Linnaean Society.

1917 Rosamond's only experience of the world of work was at Chiver's Jam Factory, packing supplies for soldiers at the front during the first World War.

1922 Though she had no formal qualifications she was accepted at Newnham College, one of two colleges for women at the University of Cambridge, to read for a music degree.

Studio photograph c.1920

1924 Her undergraduate course was not a success. At the end of her first year (1923) she achieved only a disappointing 'Third Class'. Thereafter she dropped out and never sat finals.

1927 On the death of Col. Harding, Rosamond's father inherited Madingley Hall, a magnificent mansion built c.1543, which then became their family home. Here she was in her element, enchanted with the Elizabethan surroundings, lovingly restored by her grandfather. She had previously visited many times. When Col. Harding held a Elizabethen Ball some years before, Rosamond came in the character of a page to her mother Adela, who appeared as Queen Elizabeth. Now Madingley was her home. At this time, though she had no academic qualifications of any kind, she began research for her Ph.D., funded by her father, and tutored by Prof. Edward Dent.


Madingley Hall, Cambridge, painstakingly restored by Col. T. Walter Harding,
former Lord Mayor of Leeds and great benefactor of that city. [Photo: Michael Cole]

1931 After four years Rosamond had completed her thesis: The Pianoforte - its history traced to the Great Industrial Exhibition, 1851 and she was awarded her Ph.D. Her research had taken her to Berlin, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, and Brussels. She also received much advice from Capt Evelyn Broadwood. One of her letters to him gave me my first clue as to where to begin this research — she had used notepaper headed 'Newnham College, Cambridge'.

1933 A trust fund set up by Ambrose Harding paid for publication of Rosamond's thesis (dropping some illustrations but otherwise with miniscule changes). If her book reads like an academic thesis, that is precisely what it is. It was printed and sold by Cambridge University Press, but Ambrose retained the copyright. Rosamond kept their annual statements from CUP and filed them: I found them in her personal papers at Newnham. She also published the first modern edition of Ludovico Giustini's Twelve Sonatas for Pianoforte of 1732 which, as she rightly said, was the oldest music published specifically for the instrument. A concert at Newnham College this year featured six Giustini sonatas alternating with eighteenth-century songs using a square piano by Longman & Broderip, loaned by a friend. She evidently chose this so that the audience would have some notion of the tonal qualities of an eighteenth-century piano as compared with modern iron-framed instruments.

1936 She joined a local aero club and qualified for her pilot's licence, logging 136 hours flying in light aircraft, during which she reportedly annoyed her father by flying low over Madingley Hall, so that Tom and the house staff could see her waving to them. Her pleasure in this activity is shown by the fact that she kept her leather flying helmet which is now retained in the archive of her personal items in Newnham College.

1937 Only 93 copies of The Pianoforte had been sold in four years, which was very disappointing, so she reduced the price from £2.10.0 to £1.10.0 but this made little difference. It seemed that very few people wanted this book at any price. She also reduced the price of the Giustini sonatas, but that too languished.

1939 She was rejected for war time service in the air (as were many other qualified female pilots).

1940 Some women fliers were drafted in to deliver planes from factories to active airfields, but Rosamond had no such satisfaction, so she volunteered for service as an Air Raid Warden in Cambridge. At the same time, having saved up a fund to buy paper, which was in short supply during the war, she engaged a local printer (a Mr Heffer) to publish An Anatomy of Inspiration. A note in her own hand records that this work was declined by many publishers, and in despair she was going to trash the whole thing. Yet, when published on her own initiative, this was by far her most successful book. Many readers found it thought-provoking and inspiring in itself. The initial print run sold out within the year. This enabled her to correct numerous typos when publishing a 'second edition' very quickly. Two more reprints were to come.

1942 Both her parents died this year, Adela in the spring, then Ambrose in the autumn. The last 4 copies of The Pianoforteits History were sold at 14 shillings each, to clear the shelves at the university press. A statement to this effect was among the last letters that Ambrose received. It is presumed that fewer than 220 copies were sold altogether – further copies lying unbound in the storeroom were destroyed.

1945 Rosamond published a poem in Poetry of Today. I have found no other poetry by her.

1948 After the war she continued to live at Madingley Hall, with her brother Tom and a housekeeper with a small staff, but subject to her father's trustees. Unhappily for Rosamond, the trustees decided to sell the whole estate to the University in 1948. She had no say in the matter. Madingley Hall is now used for 'The Department of Continuing Education'. Part of the estate land was used for the American Cemetery, which is today prominently signposted in the area. With the sale contracted, Rosamond had to leave. She had been mistress of Madingley for just six years. She was heartbroken and, as a friend later wrote in her college obituary, Rosamond never returned till she was carried home in her coffin decades later.

1949 Compelled to leave Madingley, Rosamond rented Icomb Place, a very ancient house dating back to about 1250, in a tiny village in Gloucestershire, near Stow-on-the-Wold. Here she kept her collection of ancient musical instruments, but she was now a long way from her beloved Cambridge. She loved the ancient house, but not the location, so far from all she had known.

Icomb Place Icomb Place. (Photo: Michael Cole)

1954 Her lease at Icomb expired, so she had to move again and sold part of her collection at Sotheby's, in December. This included a square piano of 1769 by Zumpe & Buntebart, an Italian Harpsichord (c.1700) with a painting under the lid, and a very fine bass viol by Henry Jaye. (She was working on a definitive 'life and works' of Matthew Locke at this period.) Through the 1960s and 70s she moved to a succession of small, very uninspiring modern houses with her brother Tom, always within easy travelling distance to Cambridge.

1960 Second-hand copies of The Pianoforte had become very scarce, yet thirty years after her pioneering work, interest in the subject was rising. She received several requests from reputable publishers to reprint the work, one even offering an advance of £100, and generous terms thereafter, but she rejected all offers, insisting that she intended to bring out a new, corrected edition herself.

1967 An Anatomy of Inspiration went through several editions, the fourth being published this year to further critical acclaim — it's a very thought-provoking and original book, but not something that brought her any academic status.

1973 Forty years after its original publication a pirate edition of The Pianoforte was published by Da Capo Press, New York. The author was not consulted, not paid, and certainly not pleased. It was useless to protest, since American law offered no remedy, but she placed a notice in The Times to express her annoyance and disown the publication, stating clearly that it was published without authority, and again saying that she was preparing a revised edition herself.

1976 Her brother Tom died. How much of her time and attention was taken up by caring for her brother we will never know.

1978 Her long-awaited second edition of The Pianoforte was at last published — but on examination it turns out to be a photo reprint with just a few trivial changes. Many serious mistakes that could be forgiven in a ground-breaking book by a 33 year old were not corrected, and can be seen in her magnum opus to this day. It seems that her travels in 1930 did not include Salzburg or Vienna, so Mozart's piano isn't mentioned. The gaping hole at the centre of her work is the failure to give any adequate account of Viennese pianos of the classical period. Nearing 80 years of age, and out of touch with recent research, she was simply not equal to the task.

1982 After living at many addresses in Cambridgeshire, Rosamond Harding died at her cottage in Southwold, Suffolk. (A short walk from the sea front, and facing an attractive village green, it is now a holiday home. To locate it via search engines type: Jersey Lodge, Southwold.) Her body was carried back to Cambridge where she entered the gates of her much-loved home at Madingley Hall for the first time since 1948. I could find no grave marker in the churchyard, but her name was added to the small family monument inside the church. With no surviving family member to check on the stone mason her surname was not included. There is a brass plate on the organ indicating that it was a gift from Rosamond's grandparents in 1908.

Madingley Church interior Madingley Church interior

Family Monument Family Monument fixed to the north wall in Madingley Church

1982 By her will the Victoria & Albert Museum was offered her residual instrument collection, but this offer was declined. No instruments from her collection can be located at present, but presumably one of the known Zumpe & Buntebart pianos of 1769 would have been hers. She certainly owned a very handsome 1812 Broadwood (shown in her book, page 302), and other instruments, but none can be identified today.

1989 A posthumous second reprint of the 'second edition' of The Piano-forte was brought out, which is still available and often consulted by students of music — unhappily, with none of its faults corrected.

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