Movers and Shakers 
in 19th Century 8-key Flute development

There were many flute makers in London in the 19th century, and their history quickly becomes a whirl of dates and names.  I've tried to pull out the most interesting names for the chart below, and set them out in a meaningful way.  Like all attempts to interpret history, it isn't perfect.  But perhaps it's helpful.

About the dates

The dates illustrated are largely drawn from The New Langwill Index and represent the maker's "flourished" dates.  Where other evidence is available, I've incorporated that to refine the picture of development.

As we elaborate on the makers listed above, you'll find it helpful to return to the chart to see how they related in time.  Links below will also take you to other sections of this web page, telling you more about the person involved.  Use your browser's Back button to rejoin the story.

First Generation makers

In the top left hand corner, we start the century with the great Potter family - Richard still working, giving over to his son William Henry.  We could choose 20 more names to join them, but let's pick Astor and Clementi, for reasons that will soon become clear.

Their flutes are small holed, essentially classical 1-key flutes with auxiliary keys added.

Second Generation makers

Around 1815, Charles Nicholson the younger comes from Liverpool to London, bearing with him an Astor flute that his father has modified, chiefly by enlarging holes.  Nicholson astounds London with his power, and enters into a relationship with the existing Clementi company to manufacture flutes to his specification.  Clementi's flute-maker is Thomas Prowse, who continues in his own name after the sale of the company.

Just a few years later sees the formation of one of the most prestigious flute making companies, Rudall and Rose, taking up manufacture of flutes similar to those of Nicholson.  We see from the chart how the company and its successors proceed through into the next century.

Theobald Boehm

Though not a London maker, Boehm's flute-making is interwoven with flute-making in London.  We see his two periods of intense development separated by a period where he was engaged in developing the Bavarian steel industry.  These two periods were to inspire the third generation of English flute making.

Third Generation makers

John Clinton loved Boehm's conical ring-key flute of 1832, adopted it for his own use and heaped lavish praise on it publicly.  He was equally disenchanted by the 1847 cylindrical flute, so he set out to design a flute which kept all the qualities of the conical 8-key, but solved it's problems.  At first he collaborated with the existing maker, Henry Potter, before launching his own company.

Abel Siccama didn't wait to see the 1847 instrument.  Recognising that the 1832 Boehm was in far better tune than any of the 8-keys of the day, but that it lacked the power audiences and players had come to expect, Siccama brought out a 10-key flute which became the model for the third generation of 8-keys.  

Siccama employed John Hudson to make the instruments.  One of their early customers was the young rising star, Robert Sidney Pratten.  Pratten later collaborated with Hudson to revert the Siccama back to an 8-key design, marketed under the name RS Pratten's Perfected.  The new company of Boosey & Co snapped up the design and Hudson to make it.

Our final big name is a very late entrant, the company of Hawkes and Son.  It is intriguing that they found it worth their while to enter the 8-key flute market so long after the design had been superceded by Boehm's cylindrical flute.  

Fourth Generation

After the release of Boehm's 1847 cylindrical flute, a few makers tried to combine its bore with the old fingering system.  It didn't have much to offer, and seemed to lead nowhere.  Including any of these would probably cloud the picture more than clarify it.


Hope you found this chronology useful.  If you think there are other movers and shakers who should be included, let me know.

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