The Worshipful Company of Turners

Supporting the Craft, City and Charity for over four hundred years

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Flute by Richard Potter (1726 – 1806), London Musical Instrument Maker and Master Turner 1782/83

With the museum of Henry VIII’s flagship, Mary Rose, open to the public since July 2016 we can see that the men on board in Tudor times were not short of musical entertainment.

Amongst the exhibits can be seen three-hole pipes, a tabor (drum), fiddles, and a still shawm, the earliest of its kind and unique in having an extra thumb hole giving it a wider musical range than later shawms. A boxwood pipe has been identified as being made by the Bassano family who had relocated from Italy to London at the invitation of Henry VIII himself.

From medieval times the bodies of pipes, recorders and shawms were all made by turning.

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The Mary Rose Musical Instrument Exhibit

Henry VIII was an accomplished Renaissance Musician. He played the English Flute, or Recorder, as well as the Harp, Horn, Lute and Lyre; some of his Recorder Music survives today. An inventory of his possessions taken shortly after his death in 1547 showed a remarkable collection of woodwind instruments: more than 70 recorders, 40 flutes and assorted shawms, bagpipes, pipes and fifes made in boxwood, ebony, fruitwood, walnut and ivory. Most were kept in Westminster Palace and many were made by London craftsmen.

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Henry VIII

The Renaissance Musical Period (1400 – 1600) had been preceded by the Medieval Musical Period (500 – 1400), the “Musical Middle Ages”, when music was largely the preserve of the Church and consisted of plainsong chanting. The surviving musical material was generally written by monastic scribes and kept in monastic libraries and the iconography of wind instruments comes from religious sources.

Perhaps the oldest known visual representation of the English Turner’s Craft can be seen in a Shepherd playing the Recorder in the Minstrels’ Gallery of Exeter Cathedral and dated at around 1350.

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Shepherd playing a Recorder – Minstrel’s Gallery of Exeter Cathedral.

The best surviving turned, medieval recorder yet found was discovered in 2007 by archaeologists from an ancient latrine in Tartu, Estonia – an important Hanseatic city of the 14th Century. Logs bounding the latrine have been dated dendro-chronologically as being cut down in 1335 while radiocarbon dating of the maple wood from which the recorder was made gives a date of the first half of the 14th century.

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The Recorder from Tartu, Estonia

The limited secular music of the Middle Ages was initially the province of the

Troubadours, part poet, part musician, part social commentators, originating from Occitania (South of France and environs)  and singing of chivalry and courtly love. It is thought that King Richard I (The Lionheart), an English King  but who spoke only French, and his followers brought the tradition back to England after the third Crusade.

From medieval Troubadours emerged Britain’s Wandering Minstrels often with musical accompaniment from durable pipes, flutes and drums as well as the less durable harps and lutes.

Wandering Minstrels

One of the many remarkable finds from the Mary Rose was of a medieval Shawm. Shawms are of ancient origin and imported to Europe from the Islamic East around the time of the Crusades. The instrument is a conical bore, double-reed wind instrument made in Europe from the 12th Century to the present day. It is turned from a single piece of wood and terminates in a flared bell akin to a trumpet.

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Ancient and modern Shawm players.

Renaissance music in Tudor times saw the emergence of polyphony with many independent vocal lines, latterly replaced by homophony in which the music moves in harmonic chords. Printed music was invented and wood wind instruments became more popular, more versatile and more diverse. It was at this time that a Venetian musician, Silvestro Ganassi, became a legendary figure in the world of musical theory and woodwind practice.

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1535 – The Silvestro Ganassi Treatise on the Recorder

Just as the voice was characterised by soprano, alto, tenor and bass so did woodwind instruments – and with further extensions into sopranino at the high end and contra-bass at the low end of the tonal scale.

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A Range of Recorders

The German Flute, a transverse flute, arrived in England during Renaissance times; it was admired for its supposedly softer tone than the English Flute – the Recorder – although to this day there are many who avow that the Recorder has a fuller, richer resonance.

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Recorders and Flutes

There was an explosion of secular music in the Renaissance Period.  Henry VIII had a musical Court and Elizabeth I had great affection for dance and theatre.

The new men’s fashion for short hair and clean shaving gave rise to Barber Shop instrumentals and outside London folk music and madrigals flourished. This was not at the expense of religious music which also developed considerably during the period. However with developments of the viol (the ancestor of violins, violas and cellos), refinements in brass instruments so that they became less raucous, and the increased popularity of a wide range of key board instruments (clavichord, harpsichord, spinet and virginal), wood wind became a less dominant musical force.

Nevertheless, in towns and in the country, in churches and homes of all sizes, low cost, easy to play, highly durable wooden Recorders, Flutes and Pipes remained very popular providing welcome work for musical instrument makers and wood turners alike.

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Jan Steer’s painting of The Musical Family.

The Baroque Musical period (1600 – 1750) was a period of great change; it saw the birth of Opera, of Orchestra and of Concerto, increasing “Europeanisation” of music as well as the rapid development of London as a cultural, financial and mercantile hub.

It also saw the grant of Royal Charters to the Musicians Company (No.50) and the Turners Company (No.51) – both in 1604 – together with maintenance of detailed records of their apprentices. Academic work by David Lasocki of  Indiana University (2010 for the Galpin Society) and Jenny Nex (2013 PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths’ College) has uncovered the important role of London Turners in making woodwind instruments.

One Turner alone, William Shaw who died in 1652, apprenticed one William Lowen, his own son William Shaw and a William Whitehill – all of whom went on to become woodwind instrument makers in their own right. They in turn apprenticed notable woodwind makers by the names of Bradbury, Carter, Debnam, Drumbleby, Garrett, Godney, Hall, Keene, Stanesby and Smith – all Turners.

For almost two centuries London woodwind instrument manufacture was dominated by a network of over 140 London Turners. The work of David Lasocki shows that much of the network derives from William Shaw, Master of the Turners’ Company in 1635. He apprenticed William Whitehill in 1641 who went on to become Master in 1687 – eventually succeeded by Thomas Stanesby Jnr. – Master in 1739.

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Turners’ Apprenticeship Records.

After the Baroque Period of Purcell, Vivaldi, J S Bach and Handel came the Classical Period (1750 – 1830) dominated by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert . The orchestra matured into much the same form that we see today with many concertos written for piano, strings and brass although fewer for the more muted woodwind instruments. Exceptionally Vivaldi wrote nine flute concertos and Mozart composed a concerto for flute and harp.

Folk music pipes and tabors were adapted into the Fifes and Drums of Infantry Regiments while at sea the Bosun’s Pipe – still in use today – became the mariner’s bugle call. The modern expression “Pipe Down” comes from the naval pipe signal to turn off lights and retire silently to bed below decks. Strictly speaking the Bosun’s pipe, used to pipe the Captain or important visitors on board, is a form of whistle – just like a recorder – because its sound is generated from its fipple – its sharp edged, side vent.

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Bosun’s Pipe

William Bainbridge (1768 – 1831) was a London instrument maker and inventor who became the most significant Englishman connected with a woodwind instrument called the Flageolet. Invented in France in the 16th Century Flageolets were played by Samuel Pepys and Robert Louis Stevenson as well as Henry Purcell and George Frederic Haydn, both of whom wrote pieces for it.

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An English Double Flageolet

Bainbridge is reported to have trained as a turner although he does not appear in the Turners’ Apprenticeship Registers of 1605 – 1800 so he was probably trained somewhere else.  He developed the double and triple patent English Flute and the double Flute Flageolet and trained up an apprentice of his own.

The Potter Family: Musical Instrument Makers and Musicians

It was during this Classical  Period that we see probably London’s most famous Woodwind Maker and Turner in  Richard Potter. The son of a Gardener he was born in Mitcham, Surrey in 1726 and apprenticed to John Bickerton, Citizen and Turner  for £5 in 1740.  He founded his own musical instrument making business in 1745 and became Master of the Turners’ Company in 1782.

In 1785 Richard Potter caused a revolution in flute making when he patented a number of innovations to the German Flute of the day, most especially a calibrated tuning head which slid along brass tubes, for exact tuning to various pitches, and pewter plug keys. The Richard Potter Flute was a great commercial success and much admired by Mozart.

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A Richard Potter Flute

Richard’s second son, William Henry Potter, born in 1760, was apprenticed as a turner to his father in 1774, joined the family musical instrument business in Johnson’s Court, off Fleet Street, and became Master of the Turner’s Company in 1805, 23 years after his father. He continued in the business after Richard Potter’s death in 1806, retiring in 1837 and dying  unmarried, in 1848, leaving a fortune of some £30,000 – said to be equivalent to £20 million today based on workmen’s wages at that time.

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Flute by William Potter

Richard Potter’s eldest son Richard Huddleston Potter was born in 1755; he did not manufacture but he played the flute and became an accomplished concert musician. He was a flautist, violinist and outstanding piano teacher – and the organist at nearby St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street, from 1782 until his death in 1821.

Richard Huddleston married Charlotte Baumgarten the daughter of Samuel Baumgarten, a celebrated bassoon player of his day, at St Bride’s Church on 28 January 1783 in the presence of his father Richard  – still in his year of office as Master of the Turner’s Company. Quite coincidentally, St Bride’s became the Patronal Church of the Turners’ Company in 1987.

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Old St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street

Richard Huddleston Potter had seven children, the youngest of whom George William Killett Potter (1798 – 1871) was Master of the Turner’s Company three times – in 1850, 1859 and 1869, some 70 years after grandfather Richard Potter. According to the Company’s official history George William helped steer the Company through some of its darkest days when Court attendances were sometimes down to only seven or eight people.

George William was an Attorney, for many years the Secondary of the City of London – responsible for the day to day management of affairs at the Old Bailey – and from 1827 until his death in 1871 was also Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers.

Musician Richard Huddleston’s fifth child and third son was Philip Cipriani Hambley Potter (1792 – 1871) a leading composer and pianist of his day. He met Beethoven, produced many orchestral works, including twelve symphonies, and famously performed the English premiers of Beethoven’s 1st, 3rd and 4th Piano Concertos.

Cipriani Potter

Following the Classical Period of Western Music came the Romantic Period, from 1830 to 1910 – with music from such as Berlioz, Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn and Schumann. The use of orchestral woodwind changed little from the Classical Period but woodwind maintained a niche classical position with Baroque ensembles and a continuing tradition of folk music.

Welshpool born, Past Master Turner Henry Llewelyn Howell (1910), Barrister, Official Receiver, Historian and Musician took a great interest in woodwind instruments made by London Turners.  He published a paper in Montgomeryshire Collections entitled Richard Carte – a Notable Musician (Vol. 35, 1910) in which he tells the fascinating story of another man from Welshpool who was a Violinist, later Principal Flautist at Her Majesty’s Theatre and a Musical Instrument maker of considerable renown.

Carte was determined to make his own superior flute and moved from traditional turned boxwood, through ebony to cocus wood and with tubes of various cross section and note holes of various sizes. Richard Carte’s first patent flute with parabola head joint obtained a prize medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

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A Carte Patent Flute

The recorder became a teaching tool in schools in the early 20th Century thanks to the efforts of Carl Orff – a revivalist German composer best known as the creator of Carmina Burana

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Carl Orff (1895 – 1982)

Carl Orff’s approach to teaching music relied on rhythm and creative thinking and for simple instruments that match the vocal range of a child. His rationale was that if a child can sing it he or she is likely to understand it and that’s now why the Recorder is now played by millions of children around the world every year.

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A children’s Recorder Group from Kidderminster

David Lasocki cites a high point of  Drawing Room recorder playing as the period 1680 – 1715 but the woodwind tradition is alive and well in the United Kingdom today. The country can be proud of its hundreds of orchestras, professional and amateur, freelance and contract, playing classical and popular compositions and in addition there is a myriad of specialist groups and ensembles.

One such group, originating out of the London Guildhall School of Music, performed magnificently at the 2015 Turners’ Company Ladies’ Dinner: the Palisander Recorder Quartet, led by Caoimhe de Paor, played pieces from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic Eras – moving gracefully around Apothecaries’ Hall as woodwind musicians have done for centuries.

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Caoimhe de Paor and the Palisander Recorder Quartet

A number of craft woodwind musical instrument makers flourish in the United Kingdom today. A glimpse at their internet presence shows Anthony Arnold, Dominic Ball, Phil Bleazey, Cambridge Woodwind Makers, Brian Carlick, Tim Cranmore, Martin Doyle, Hansons, Howarth & Co., Peter Hurd, and Paul Windridge. Low cost machine-made items are available from a multitude of imported sources.

And of course no reference to woodwind manufacture would be complete without paying tribute to the small pipes crafted by professional turner Simon Hope. Simon is not only a Small-Pipe Maker but a fine turning demonstrator and good friend of the Turners’ Company.

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Small Pipes by Simon Hope

In 2016 a Turners’ Craft Scholarship was  awarded by QEST (the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) to Brighton based woodwind instrument maker Jack Darach (www.jackdarach.com).

Jack  joined the Turners’ Company at its Livery Lunch in Apothecaries Hall on Wednesday 28th September, played introductory music by Van Eyck on his own Soprano Ganassi Recorder, and brought along some beautiful examples of his musical instrument craftsmanship.

What  better way for the Worshipful Company of Turners of London to recognise and give continuing support to its Woodwind Heritage ?

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Jack Darach – Musical Instrument Maker and Turners’ QEST Scholar

By  John Bridgeman CBE TD DL
(Master Turner 2014/15)
October  2016

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