Hilton & Hilton
|A Hilton & Hilton oak piano, originally manufactured for school use, dating from c.1920 (by kind permission of customer)|
|Victoria Street in Ravensthorpe as it is today. The modern houses at the far end are on the site of the former Victoria Piano Works; the works and the houses in the rest of the street were built some time around 1900.|
It seems that the older Tom concentrated on manufacturing, whilst the younger Tom, who was a musician, was responsible for the sales side of the business. Later on, in the 1920s, Tuley's piano shop in Bridge End, Leeds, were listed as their agents (whether this was the location of the showroom at an earlier date I cannot be sure). From census returns, it appears that they may have had a workforce of around 20 people in the late nineteenth century, perhaps half of whom were piano builders and tuners, and the remainder were skilled woodworkers, carpenters, french polishers and the like; the output of instruments was perhaps in the region of 80 a year (by the 1920s the firm claimed to have made around 2,000 pianos).
|The former showrooms at Tuley's music shop in Bridge End, Leeds, now the offices of a Chartered Accountancy firm.|
Another person who seems to have had an association with instrument manufacture in the area around the same period was George Tanfield, born around 1851 in the village of Gate Helmsley, near York. His occupation is described as "piano maker" and in 1881 he is living in Bradbury Street, Ravensthorpe. From this it seems very likely that he may have been an apprentice at Waddington's in York (the subject of a previous post) and then, having learned his trade, then went off to work for either Hilton & Hilton or Newsome Brothers. In the early twentieth century he turns up in Bradford (of which more later).
|Bradbury Street in Ravensthorpe, where George Tanfield was living in 1881. Most of the original houses have been replaced by modern ones, but a few remain on the right-hand side of the photo.|
|The houses that Harry Cottam built - Bilton Place in Bradford, one of the streets he originally developed.|
The Hilton & Hilton pianos I have come across from the 1920s are very well-built overstrung models with a decent tone. They seem in particular to have produced a large number of pianos intended for school use, typically with oak cases.
Hilton and Hilton "Gold Medal" Pianos
Quite a number of Hilton & Hilton instruments seem to have the phrase "Gold Medal Pianos" next to the makers name, and some of these actually have pictures of the gold medals; there are two, one marked "Gold medal - Leeds 1900" and another saying "Highest award - Dublin 1902". The Leeds gold medal has a design which looks very like the city's coat of arms which suggests that this event may have been arranged or facilitated by the municipal authorities, but it is not the Leeds Triennial Music Festival as that took place in 1898 and again in 1901. Unfortunately I cannot determine which events or exhibitions either of these two medals refer to. It seems very likely that these may have been trade exhibitions of a more general nature, rather than anything specifically piano-related.
|A Hilton and Hilton "Gold Medal" piano from around 1900, with magnificent walnut case and original candle sconces (by kind permission of customer)|
I should mention another Ravensthorpe firm called Newsome Brothers. Unfortunately, information about them seems to be relatively scant, but early twentieth century pianos made by them feature two gold medal awards, one for "excellence of manufacture" in 1898, and one "for merit" in 1899, though as with Hilton and Hilton there is no explanation of which particular trade fair or association these are related to. By 1920, the address of the firm is listed as "North Road, Ravensthorpe", very much in the same vicinity as the Victoria Piano Works, and the proprietor again is listed at this point as Harry Cottam. In view of this, one would stringly suspect that by this point they were being produced at the same site as Hilton & Hilton.
|Huddersfield Road in Ravensthorpe: William Newsome was based somewhere in this area. Tillman Putz was also living in this street in 1881, lodging with Maria Sleight, a confectioner.|
It appears, however, that William was not one of the "brothers" as a copy of the London Gazette from November 10th, 1899 found online states: "NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, Frederick Newsome, Ernest Newsome, and Arthur Newsome, carrying on business as Piano Manufacturers, at Ravensthorpe, in the county of York, under the style or firm of Newsome Brothers, has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the first day of November, 1899, so far as regards the said Frederick Newsome. All debts due to and owing by the said late firm will be received and paid by the said Ernest Newsome and Arthur Newsome, who will in future carry on the business under the same style or firm of Newsome Brothers. Dated sixth day of November, 1899." From this it appears that William was most likely the father of the brothers and that until 1894 the firm was simply known under his name alone. Census records also suggest that Arthur and Ernest were both born in the mid-1870s, so would have been too young to take over the firm at least until the mid-1890s (I cannot establish Frederick's date of birth but he may have been a little older).
Upton, Gill & Co
By 1901 we find George Tanfield (who was mentioned earlier) now living in Bradford, along with Fanny Tanfield (b.1854), presumably his wife, and Alice Tanfield (b.1874), who may have been his daughter; his home address was in Boynton Terrace, West Bowling (which still exists) and he was associated with a firm of piano manufacturers called Armitage & Tanfield, with factory premises in Newall Street off Manchester Road (the street still exists but all the original buildings are now demolished). I do not know how many pianos they made as I cannot find any record online of an Armitage and Tanfield piano, and it is possible a large part of their business may have been as a piano dealership or carrying out repairs.
|Boynton Terrace in West Bowling, Bradford: George Tanfield was living here in 1901.|
From census records, it appears that this may well be Arthur Howard Gill, born 1867, who is described in 1911 as "managing pianoforte factory". His place of birth was Southwark, from which one might be tempted to suspect that he may have learned his trade at one of the London firms; however, he is listed in 1901 as still living in the capital, but working as a grocer; in 1891, an Arthur Gill, who may be the same person was a merchant clerk. It may be, therefore, that he was mainly an entrepreneur, manager and administrator, rather than having a detailed knowledge of piano construction himself.
The same records turn up a George Upton, born 1880, who is described as a "piano maker" in the 1911 census - his birthplace was also in Southwark, the same as Arthur Gill. In 1901, there is no record of him in Bradford, but there is a George H Upton in London whose profession is frustratingly not recorded. We can speculate that perhaps Arthur Gill was the business guru behind the enterprise, whilst George Upton had the technical know-how; however, what event precipitated their decision to up sticks from London and come to Bradford to set up a piano factory is not entirely clear.
Their factory was located at the Wilton Works, Wilton Street, Bradford, just off Morley Street; a snippet of information from a local history website states that in February 1908 the "Wilton Street Piano Works" were destroyed by fire (so presumably the firm must already have been in existence by then). The 1908 map of the city shows a couple of empty sites at the western end of Wilton Street near the junction with Morley Street but the firm is listed at the same address in 1912, so they must have rebuilt around then. Some of the older buildings in Wilton Street survive today, and from this I believe it is quite possible (though not absolutely certain) that the building at the west end of the south side of the street, which occupies the corner plot, was the Upton Gill factory from around 1908 (when it was rebuilt) until production finished.
The firm produced modern instruments (including some player pianos) and probably ceased operations in the early 1930s. In 1944 the company went into voluntary liquidation with a special meeting held at 5 Seawell Avenue, Morecambe - the retirement home of the then Chairman, Harry Cottam. Cottam himself seems to have enjoyed a comfortable retirement, and on his death in September 1946 left an estate valued at the not inconsiderable sum of £63,655 12s 11d. Whoever said no-one ever made any money out of pianos!