Mrs. Findlay’s Broadwood Square Piano — Michael Hannon — 1st February 2016.

Today’s talk was given by Michael Hannon who was born in Belfast, had an aca­demic career at Queen’s University, Belfast, fol­lowed by time at Liverpool University and then at Sheffield University. He even­tu­ally became the University Librarian at Sheffield.
He traced the his­tory of the Broadwood Square Piano which was bought by his mother Hilda Denny in 1977 in Ballycastle and he sub­sequently dis­covered where the piano had ori­gin­ally come from.

His talk, along with the piano his­tory, also covered his family his­tory that linked his mother’s family (the Denny family) with the des­cend­ants of Mrs Dorothy Findlay, widow of the wealthy Glasgow Tobacco Merchant Robert Findlay, who bought the piano new in 1804.

The Broadwood square piano differed from a modern upright piano in that it had a shorter key­board, was five foot six inches long and rested on a remov­able wooden frame. John Broadwood, son of a Scottish car­penter, had joined a well-known harp­si­chord maker in Soho in 1761 and mar­ried his daugh­ter. He took over the com­pany and made his for­tune pion­eer­ing the mass pro­duc­tion of square pianos under his own name. This par­tic­u­lar piano had a registered number 8119 and on key 58 were the ini­tials JB.

Dorothy Findlay bought the piano  in 1804 and had it shipped up to Glasgow by sea for a cost of £33–11-6. Robert Findlay was a tobacco mer­chant and much of his for­tune was made by the slave trade. The piano was housed in Miller Street. The build­ing had an iron door which was needed as this was where the tobacco barons kept their cash.

Michael’s mother, Hilda, bought the piano from P.J.McIlroy and Sons. It was pre­vi­ously owned by a Robin Walsh from Belfast and, des­pite having an advert placed in the Belfast Newsletter request­ing anyone with pre­vi­ous know­ledge of the piano to con­tact them, it was to no avail. The piano came from his mother’s home in Ballycastle to Michael’s home where he had it restored. It was also proved that the pedal mech­an­ism which was pre­vi­ously ques­tioned, was in fact an ori­ginal part of the piano.

It was inter­est­ing to learn that Beethoven was sent a Broadwood Grand piano and in 1818 he wrote to the Broadwood Company express­ing his delight with the piano.
Michael explained how his mother’s family became linked to the Findlay family by virtue of the ship­build­ing industry. Michael’s great grand­father, Peter Denny (1821–1895) was a ship­builder and became a busi­ness part­ner of Thomas Dunlop Findlay, a grand­son of Dorothy Findlay.

The two men were part­ners in the Irrawaddy Flotilla which was formed by the Denny ship­ping com­pany and which built ships which were shipped to Burma. Some of these ships were still in oper­a­tion until the Japanese scuttled them in the 1940’s. The com­pany also built a ship which was taken to Lake Titicaca, car­ried in pieces by mule train and then reas­sembled.

Denny’s also built a yacht “Shamrock” for The Americas Cup but it failed to win. They exper­i­mented with heli­copter flight, their ori­ginal heli­copter being made from an alu­minium frame and fabric sails. It flew for half a mile at a height of ten feet and was then wrecked during a storm. They also developed a hov­er­craft but this was not suc­cess­ful either.

Michael’s talk thus linked together the piano’s jour­ney and the ship­build­ing empire they both shared.

At the end of the talk Michael played a record­ing of music being played on the Broadwood Square piano by Inja Davidovic.