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.