To find any eighteenth-century instrument that can be conclusively connected to its original owner is a great rarity. But showing below is an extraordinary survival linking an important entry in John Broadwood's Journal to a known family, their homes, and their use of this instrument, and as you will read below, even identifying some of the music that was played on it.

The firm of John Broadwood & Sons is unusual in having a large archive extending back to the late eighteenth century, now distributed between the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where the earliest records are kept, and the Surrey History Centre in Woking. Using these resources we can confirm, beyond doubt, that the piano shown below is the oldest piano from John Broadwood's workshop that can be ascribed to a specific first owner. Its story is given below.

When Alfred Hipkins was researching his history of the piano in the 1890s he examined the rather battered remains of John Broadwood's Journal hoping to find information about the first pianos made by Broadwood's workshop. He observed that the earliest serial number recorded in these accounts was No. 206, a square piano made in 1784. Hipkins reported nothing more than this, but when examining documents in the Bodleian Library I found the following additional information.

On 20 April 1784 John Broadwood sold two square pianos, the first to Miss Trafford (whose identity I haven't discovered), and later that day another to Mrs Northey. Both were sold for 20 guineas, that is, twenty-one pounds, but exceptionally, as Hipkins observed, Broadwood wrote 'No.206' against Mrs Northey's purchase. She evidently came to the showroom and specifically wanted this one. Presumably to avoid any mistake Broadwood wrote down the identification. Regrettably, there is no other Broadwood square piano whose serial number appears in his Journal, so discovering the original owners of similar instruments only becomes possible for those made in 1798 or later, for which the records are now at Woking. Hipkins went no further than to report this early serial number.

Nothing more was known about Mrs Northey's piano until it was offered for sale at auction in 2004. There, inside on the wrestplank, was the number clearly written 'No. 206'. An astonishing surprise! And as if to confirm its identity, written on the soundboard in clear eighteenth-century handwriting we see 'Northey'. (It is in the back right hand corner. You may perhaps see it in the photograph above.) Its appearance suggests that this was written in 1784, at the time of purchase, but whether this is in Broadwood's hand is hard to say. Near this single word, and in a much less refined style, comes the additional text: formerly Miss Northey now belongs to Ann Ball's child, 1793. The person who added this was not well-educated. I suspect it was Ann Ball (or Bell). Perhaps she was a housekeeper or domestic servant to the Northey family.

Discovering the identity of Mrs Northey was made easier after finding other entries in Broadwood's Journal. From 1775 she often requested harpsichord hire and tunings and subsequently bought a new harpsichord from Broadwood. Robert Stodart went to her London home for these tuning visits, and this enables us to identify her address as Orchard Street, which was off Oxford Street, north side. That house was demolished in the twentieth century, but her country home, Ivey House, Wiltshire, is still in residential use, though divided for multiple occupancy. In the eighteenth century it was a grand house, purchased by her late husband William Northey, MP for Wiltshire (died 1770), together with a large estate. It is located near the centre of Chippenham.

Concerning Mrs Northey herself I found that she was the daughter of Edward Hopkins, MP for Coventry, who died while she was still a child, and that her wedding day was 4 May 1751 in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. (A handsome church on a hillside, approached by a long narrow lane in the Chiltern Hills.) She had three sons who all became successful men in later life, one in the church, one in the army, and the eldest, William, an MP like his father. Mrs Northey also had four daughters. The longest surviving daughter, Charlotte, died in February 1789, aged 28, unmarried. It is very probable that this daughter, whose memorial records that she suffered a 'painful illness which she bore with great patience', was the person who made most use of the Broadwood square piano. This would explain why the clumsy writing on the soundboard says 'formerly Miss Northey'.

When buying the Broadwood square piano in 1784 Mrs Northey asked Broadwood to take an older square piano in part exchange. This he did. He soon sold it to 'Mr Gawlier' for eight guineas, and with commendable honesty credited exactly that amount to Mrs Northey's account. As the Broadwood piano was considered a better instrument, we may suppose that this unidentified piano was probably an early example by Zumpe or Pohlman. Gawlier was a lawyer whose portrait is shown right.

Mrs Northey also bought a packing case, which would have been useful when the piano was moved between Ivey House and Orchard Street, and perhaps on some of their frequent visits to the Northey family who lived at Epsom (cousins of her late husband, I believe).

Ann Northey died aged 90 at Bath, in 1822 but was buried at Box, where Charlotte's memorial can also be found.

An intreresting connection can now be revealed thanks to the Petrucci Music Library, which gives online access to hundreds of old music publications. When researching 'Miss Guest', who appeared as a professional musician in concerts by Rauzzini in Bath, I discovered the 'Opus 1' of Jane Mary Guest. She has an impressive list of subscribers for her six sonatas, listed and arranged alphabetically, where we find under N 'Miss Northey'. So we now know not only the identity of the person who owned the piano, and where she lived, but also some of the music she played on it. This music was published in the latter half of 1783, when Charlotte was presumably still using the square piano that was sold to Mr Gawlier. (The Broadwood piano, No.206 was bought by Mrs Northey - for her daughter - on 24 April 1784.)

Obviously it is very pleasing to be able to make such a complete connection between a surviving piano and the people who played it and even some of the music that was played.

At Brightwells Auction Rooms in November 2017, they sold a portrait of William Northey, M.P., by Thomas Gainsborough.

Somewhere, I feel sure, there must be a portrait of his wife Ann. I hope it may re-appear some day.

The piano now belongs to Dr Ralf Hansjosten of Trier, Germany.

Michael Cole, Cheltenham, 2017

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