Alexander Liddle




While flutes by Alexander Liddle don't pop up everyday, it seems flutes with keys stamped A·L do.  Are they the same people, as has been supposed, but I don't think proven?  Did Liddle make these flutes, or just sell the keys to the makers who did?  How can we find out?

The purpose of this page in the first instance is to act as a collection and sorting agency for information about Liddle, his flutes and other instruments, keys marked A·L and anything else we feel is relevant.  Already a useful picture emerges....


As usual, we turn to the New Langwill Index as our starting point.  It tells us that the name Liddle flourished as a woodwind maker between 1847 and 1879.  He was listed in the directories as a "Wind Musical Instrument Maker".  There is a suggestion that Liddle might have died by in 1873, as the listing was taken over by what is assumed to have been his widow and son, as shown below:

Year Name Address
1848-54 Alex Liddle 24 Chenies St. Tottenham Court Rd.
1855-73 " 35 Devonshire St. Queen Square
1874-79 Mrs Elizabeth Liddle & Son "

The NLI listing gives two marks for Liddle, but doesn't tell us how they were used:

  • Liddle, London, and
  • AL

Note no decimal point between A and L.  We don't know if that's an oversight or maybe a distinction of importance. 

The NLI also mentions two extant instruments - a pitch pipe, unspecified, and an 8-key flute, in the Händel-haus in Halle.  It's not a lot to go on!


So, what is this pitchpipe, anyway?  It's a simple tuning device for tuning other instruments to, or for giving a note to choristers.  As you can see, it is based on a recorder head, with the bottom plugged.  You can draw out the plug to give a number of notes, in the manner of a Swanee whistle, but with calibrations.  The advertisement below, from the Musical Times, March 1, 1863, tells us how it's used.

The one illustrated above is by Liddle and is one of two held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY.  They date it as 1854-73, which suggests it must bear the Devonshire St. address.

The image below is a Liddle pitch pipe that came up for auction in September 2013, at Gardiner Houlgate, in Bath, UK.  See their current catalogs at:

The auction house describes it as: Rosewood pitch pipe by Alexander Liddle, London, third quarter 19th century, the double telescopic slide of brass graduated between B and C, stamped Liddle, Inventor, 35, Devonshire St., Queen Sque., London, 827, length (closed) 7 3/4", 19.80cm

My thanks to UK player and restorer, Jem Hammond for alerting me to this lovely example.

Some personal information

MarkP from Chiff & Fipple, who drew our attention to the advertisement above, has also done some searching for background information on Liddle...

"Alexander Liddle is listed in the 1871 Census, aged 62, a 'Wind Musical Instrument Maker', born in Blackfriars in 1809.  It seems most likely that he married Elizabeth Limbrick in 1831, Old Church, ​Saint Pancras (?)  He's not listed in 1881 (so therefore presumed dead?).  Death of an Alexander Liddle (aged 64) was registered at Gravesend in Kent in 1873.

An insurance policy record held at Guildhall Library shows:

Dated: 20 July 1831
Insured: Alexander Liddle, 6 Eve Terrace St Pancras, gent
Other property or occupiers: Limbrick

Interesting that he's listed as 'gent'. At that time the distinction would be significant. He'd be 22 years old, unless it's his father or I've mixed up which Alexander married Elizabeth Limbrick."

Patrick Dunn reports a mention of Liddle at p49 of Ciaran Carson's book "Last Nights Fun" .

It involves a flute marked: D'Almaine / late / Goulding and D'Almaine / Soho Square / London.  The mark AL appears under the touch of the C sharp key.  Carson suggests Liddle spent sometime with D'Almaine before setting up his own shop and gives the following later addresses for Liddle:

  • 24 Chenies St. 1847-54

  • 35 Devonshire St. 1854-73

Note these are very similar to the NLI entries, although the NLI makes no connection between D'Almaine and Liddle.  It gives D'Almaine's dates as 1834-1867, although D'Almaine himself retired in 1847.

Putting the dates in context

To put Liddle's period as an independent maker (1847 to 1879) in context, by 1847, Boehm, Ward, Clinton and Siccama were all busy beavering away with ideas for the next generation of flutes.  Soon after, Pratten would join the fray.  So, 8-key flutes were old-fashioned, and yet plenty of makers continued to make them, including major makers like Rudall Carte and Boosey who also offered the later styles.  Liddle seems to have been one who stuck with the old style.  One imagines that, as the new flute styles became more accepted, it must have become harder for makers of the old style to remain viable.  Darwin teaches us that the most flexible have the advantage when the going gets tough.  A multiplicity of outlets would seem an advantage under these circumstances.

First contact - working for Wood and Ivy

We serendipitously stumble across Liddle, working for the partnership of Wood & Ivy in 1845, only because of a theft carried out at their premises by a former employee, Edmond Hamer.  This account from proceedings published on the Old Bailey On Line website:

EDMOND HAMER, Theft > theft from a specified place, 3rd February 1845.

Reference Number: t18450203-446
Offence: Theft > theft from a specified place
Verdict: Guilty > no_subcategory
Punishment: Imprisonment > no_subcategory

446. EDMOND HAMER was indicted for feloniously breaking and entering the shop of George Wood and another, on the 30th of Oct., at St. Giles-in-the-fields, and stealing therein 2 flageolets, value 8l.; 3 clarionets, 6l.; and 24 flutes, 2l. 8s.; their property.

MR. CROUGH conducted the Prosecution.

GEORGE WOOD . I am in partnership with Mr. Ivy; our workshop is in St. Giles's churchyard; the house and front of the shop is in Compton-street, Soho; there is a yard leading to the back premises; there is do other communication to the workshops, except through the yard; St. Giles's churchyard is surrounded by a railing. On the morning of the 31st of Oct., my attention was called to the state of the premises, by a person named Liddle—I went to the workshops—there is a window looking into the churchyard, with iron bars to it—I found one bar wrenched off, and the sash had been opened—it is a sliding window—I looked at the fastenings myself the evening before—they are always kept fastened—that window is about the height of a man from the ground—there was no other part of the premises broken that night—I missed a flageolet and other instruments—the prisoner had been apprenticed to me, and had quitted my service about three years since—this flageolet produced was sent to me from Rye, in Kent, to repair—I gave it to Liddle to repair owing to some communication I had with a person named Thorn I purchased a clarionet from him for 2l. 1s.—it was one that I had lost on the morning of the 31st—I bought it to enable me to produce it, and likewise to return it to the party I had it from—it is worth six guineas—this produced is it, and this is the flageolet I gave to Liddle the night previous—I am quite sure of it.

ALEXANDER LIDDLE . I am journeyman to Mr. Wood—when I came on the morning of the 31st of Oct., the first thing I missed was this flageolet, which I had placed in a drawer, the last thing over night, beside a clarionet—I missed various flutes from my own board, and several flageolets from the other benches—there must have been twenty instruments missed, perhaps forty, clarionets, flageolets, and flutes—I am quite positive this is one that I missed that morning—it was one of my finishing originally, and I had to do a trifle to it—I saw the window bar had been wrenched off.

JAMES HENRY STEWART . I am a pawnbroker. On the 7th of Nov., 1844, the prisoner pawned this clarionet with me, in the name of John Lloyd.

PRISONER. I was not in London at the time.

ALEXANDER LIDDLE re-examined. I know this instrument, it stood on the floor behind the stool I sat on to work, and it was there at eight o'clock, on the night of the 30th of Oct., when I left—I am positive of it, because it was a repair—it has a new joint to it, and is marked on the top with the letters "P O H L," part of the gentleman's name, Pohlman—the value of it is 35s.—it had been originally made by us—the letters have been erased—you can see where they have been scratched out—there is no mark of mine on it, but I am positive of it, from the design.

HENRY WATSON . I am in the employ of Mr. Neat, a pawnbroker, in Duke-street, Manchester-square. On the 31st of Oct., this flageolet which I have produced was pawned at our shop by the prisoner, for 1l. 5s.—I am quite sure of his identity—his appearance is rather remarkable, and I speak with confidence—I should say it was between six and seven o'clock, about dusk.

PRISONER. I was at the witness's place, but there was a young man with me, named Scarlett, to whom the flageolet belonged; I deny all knowledge of taking it.

WITNESS. There was no one in the shop but the prisoner—he gave the name of John Scarlett—he called on me again, to redeem it, in company with another person, and I then recognised him as the person.

PRISONER. I deny that; I did not redeem it; this witness did not give it to me when it was redeemed, it was an elderly man.

WITNESS. I do not say that I delivered the property to him—he came with two musicians, to sell the duplicate of this flageolet, a few days after it was pledged—I am certain he is the man that pledged it, and that nobody else was there.

MR. WOOD re-examined. The value of this clarionet is about 1l. 18s., and this flageolet about six guineas—my whole loss amounts to between 20l. and 30l.

PRISONER'S DEFENCE. I deny the charge; I did not commit any felony; I have been in the habit of dealing in instruments, and pledging for a master of mine, constantly; I know nothing of the robbery; it is five years since I was in Mr. Wood's service; I am positive another party was with me when the flageolet was pledged, though I cannot produce him.

GUILTY . Aged 26.— Confined Eighteen Months.—Two Weeks Solitary.

Cost of the property

The valuations given in the trail are confusing.  The indictment mentions 2 flageolets, value 8l.; 3 clarionets, 6l.; and 24 flutes, 2l. 8s.  If we are to take those figures at face value, we are seeing that:

  • a flageolet is worth ₤4

  • a clarionet ₤2

  • a flute is worth but one florin (two shillings, a tenth part of a pound)

That puts a clarinet at ten times the value of a flute, and a flageolet (essentially a keyed tin whistle made in wood) at 20 times.  By that time a clarinet might have had more keys than an 8-key flute, but I can't see why a flageolet at half the length and with no more keys would cost 20 times more.  Further, we see in the advertisement above that a simple Tuning Slide (Pitch pipe) retails for about 4 shillings. 

It's also not immediately apparent, from the values given above, how the loss to Mr Wood amounted to between ₤20 and ₤30.  I get ₤16-8-0, unless those flutes are worth more than 2 bob each.  If we assign a value of ₤0-10-0 (ten shillings) per flute, and add the flageolets and clarionets, we get ₤26, within the range of ₤20 and ₤30. 

To put the loss into a current context, ₤26 would now be worth

  • £2,010 using the retail price index method

  • £2,800 using the GDP deflator method

  • £17,900 using the average earnings method

  • £29,500 using the per capita GDP method

  • £65,900 using the share of GDP method

If we take the £17,900 figure (USD $28,355) on the basis that it is in the middle of the range, and also represents the attraction to the defendant well, would we expect that a conviction for stealing that amount these days would lead to a sentence of 18 months jail including 2 weeks in solitary confinement?  A quick look on the Web suggests that probably depends on where you live, and possibly then on your skin colour!

Other observations arising from the above

Liddle's description "I am journeyman to Mr. Wood", suggests Liddle had previously completed a formal apprenticeship; indeed it would be quite possible that it might have been with Wood or one of his associates or predecessors.

Interesting to note when Liddle tossed it in for the night - "eight o'clock, on the night of the 30th of Oct., when I left".  Unfortunately he doesn't mention when he came in the next morning, but obviously early enough to be the first to discover the break-in.  Long working hours in those days!

Liddle also echoes words that came up in the matter of Rose vs Camp:  "there is no mark of mine on it".  Clearly, employees at the time somehow discretely marked the instruments they worked on, or these marks were erased subsequently.  Whether we will ever identify these marks is an interesting question.

Another possible career path for Liddle?

Ciaron Carson suggested that perhaps Liddle had worked with D'Almaine for some time previous to coming out as an independent maker.  At this time we have no evidence for this, but no evidence against it either. 

In the Old Bailey session above, we saw that, in 1845, Liddle was working, as a journeyman, for George Wood, of Wood & Ivy fame.  The "journeyman" status suggests that Liddle has completed an apprenticeship and is thus fully educated in a trade, although I'm not aware if formal apprenticeships were available for flute or key-makers.  It may well be that a broader classification, such as turning or silver-smithing, was employed to deal with boutique activities like flute making and key-making. 

We know Liddle was born in 1809, and a typical apprenticeship of the time started around year 14 and lasted about 7 years.  That would span the period 1823 to 1830.  That puts D'Almaine (1834 to 1847) a bit on the late side as a possible master for an apprentice.  Also, D'Almaine was known as a music seller, publisher and dealer more than a musical instrument maker.  In that arena, he was mostly identified with pianos.  D'Almaine's previous partner, Goulding is perhaps a better bet, covering the period c1786 to 1834, but again, he seems to have been more the dealer than the maker. 

But another possible career path presents itself.  When we look closely at George Wood, we find his dates, 1832 - 1836, are also on the late side as a master for Liddle.  But when we look to his predecessor, his father James, or Jas, the possibilities become much more interesting.  The NLI tells us that Jas. flourished between c1799 and 1832, covering the period when Liddle was likely starting out. 

Further, in 1804, Jas. was the successor to Hale.  John Hale is of immense interest.  Firstly, he too was a key-maker, to some of the biggest names in his era - Astor, Cahusac, Collier, Kusder, G. Miller, and Proser.  His key-stamp was I.H.  Secondly, some of his own flutes bore the mark: Hale / London / Sold by Goulding & Co, thus establishing a clear link with Goulding.

Indeed in 1810, he became the Wood in Goulding, D'Almaine, Potter & Wood and then in Goulding & Wood.  Rendell, writing about the clarinet, mentions that Jas. was "a considerable maker for the trade, and especially for Goulding and D'Almaine...".

In 1821, his mark that had been "Jas. Wood Late of I. Hale" became "Jas. Wood & Son", the son being the same George Wood that appeared in the Old Bailey session with Liddle and was the partner of Ivy.

Interestingly, George Wood took a different path to becoming a woodwind maker.  He apprenticed with brass instrument maker Thomas Percival, before joining his father, "free by servitude of the Tallowchandler's Company". 

In 1832, George succeeds his father and is joined by Ivy in 1837.  That partnership continues to 1847, just two years after the break-in where we first met Liddle.  Perhaps significantly, it is also in 1847 that Liddle first lists as an independent maker.

Spit it out....

So, what am I suggesting?  That perhaps Liddle apprenticed with Jas Wood, back around 1823, and stayed on to work as a journeyman for Jas and later George Wood.  As Jas was the successor to Hale, the key and flute maker, it's reasonable to assume that Jas might have carried on both activities and passed them on to Liddle.  Liddle would also have seen Jas as "a considerable maker for the trade" (i.e. selling through dealers) and this might have been his reason to proceed the same way.  Jas' connection with Goulding and D'Almaine could perhaps explain why a key marked A.L has ended up on a flute by that company (Carson).  We know from the Old Bailey session above that Liddle was still with Wood & Ivy in 1845.  Finally, when Wood & Ivy folded 2 years later, this was the opportunity or the necessity for Liddle to go independent, as a keymaker, flutemaker and flutemaker to the trade.  Perhaps it was Hale's habit of stamping his initials under the keys he made that caused Liddle to do the same?  And just as Hale had found Goulding a useful outlet for his flutes, perhaps Liddle found the same in Metzler?

All speculation at this time, of course.  Hopefully we will be able to turn up more information that will bring Mr. Liddle out of the shadows.

Liddle Flageolets?

I haven't been able to find an example of a Flageolet marked Liddle.  Please contact me if you have one!  In the meantime, here's an image of a flageolet made by Butler, in Dublin or London, from about the same era.  This one, which also has a piccolo head, sold by Music Treasures (click on the link to visit their site).

You can hear and see William Waterhouse, editor of the New Langwill Index, playing a flageolet on YouTube.

Liddle Clarionets?

A wooden clarinet, with the mouthpiece stamped Liddle, London, having ivory rings and five metal keys, turned up at the auction rooms of Greenslade Taylor Hunt.  Again, please contact me if you know of a clarinet stamped Liddle.

Flute crime rampant!

It might seem surprising that mention of the flute should come up more than once in the Old Bailey sessions.  That thought prompted me to do an analysis of how many times cases involving flutes came up in each 10-year period.  While hardly a scientific measure, it certainly confirms the explosive growth in interest in the flute in the first half 19th century. 

If it's worth playing, Guv'nor, it's worth nicking....

A Rudall Carte Connection

Dr. Robert Bigio, London maker and researcher, and world expert on Rudall Carte, advises:

Liddle occasionally supplied simple-system flutes to Rudall, Rose & Carte, who, from the late 1860s (and possibly before), bought in most of these instruments from other makers. The majority were bought in from Wylde, but some came from Liddle and some from other makers.

The mark-up on these flutes was huge: their cheapest 4 guinea flute (4 pounds 4 shillings) was bought in from Wylde for 1 pound 8 shillings. (One pound equals 20 shillings.)

[Compare the value from Wylde to the value quoted in the trial above, 28 shillings compared to two.]

A Boosey Connection

The assumption in the NLI that Liddle might have died in 1873 is drawn into some doubt by the Boosey factory records, as reported and interpreted by Kelly White in her 2002 University of Edinburgh thesis.  Kelly reports:

In 1879, eight flutes and twenty-six piccolos were purchased from Alexander Liddle, an instrument maker in London (fl1847-1879)  These purchases were noted in the 'workman' column of the records as "Liddle (outdoors)".  In 1881 and 1882, Liddle appears in the Boosey records as a workman (noted as "Liddle").  George Howarth was apprenticed to Alexander Liddle, prior to both working for Boosey & Co.  Howarth worked as a workman for Boosey & Co from 1879 to 1892.  In 1894 he established a manufacturing firm which he held until his death in 1933.  This history of buying instruments from Liddle and then his appearance in the records as a workman suggests that Boosey & Co could have bought out Liddle's business.  This is supported by the fact that Liddle's apprentice, Howarth, took up with Boosey & Co at the same time as Liddle.

It is of course possible that it was Liddle's son who went on to a career with Booseys, and Liddle's widow and son that supplied the "Liddle (outdoors)" flutes to Booseys.  More work is needed to confirm this either way.  Interesting to note that our Mr. Liddle would be 72 by this time.

Today's leading British oboe company, Howarth of London, also notes the connection between George Howarth and Liddle.  Robert Bigio adds:  I knew Jim Howarth, son of George (and brother of Tom, who set up T.W. Howarth, the oboe makers). Jim was born in 1900. I remember him telling me that his father had worked for Liddle.

Extant Liddle flutes

Flutes with Liddle stamped under the keys are pretty common, but flutes actually marked Liddle are not.  We're very fortunate to have these images of a flute definitely by Liddle, and with A·L definitely stamped under the keys, thus confirming the link.  Californian player and collector, Dave Ogden, kindly supplied the images.  He says of the flute:

It has large fingerholes with smoothing to the top of the right hand area [in the manner of Nicholson], simple flat/raised/flat bands, all original including crown and keywork. It’s stamped Liddle (in script) / 35 Devonshire St. / Queen Sque / London on the 1st body joint, and Liddle / London on the head, no other stampings. The barrel has an inlaid silver oval cartouche, un-engraved. In the original fitted leather case.

The two images below neatly supply the verification we've been looking for; the flute marked Liddle, and the keys boldly punched with A·L.

Apart from the flute mentioned in the NLI, at the Händel-haus, the only other example of a confirmable Liddle flute jumping out at me at the moment is in the DCM.  As you'll see from the link, it's a bit unusual, in that it is left-handed, and modified to suit a partial amputee.  We'll have to keep looking!

Flute Key Makers

Were there other key makers?  A Google search gives these hits:

  • Lloyd, flute key maker, 2 Broadway, Westminster, (Insurance Policy, 1832)

  • JANE LLOYD: I live at No. 9, Plumtree-court, my husband is a flute-key maker. (Old Bailey, 1819)  Conceivably the same family as above.

  • Richard ARNOTT b. ca 1803 London (a native of St Lukes, at some point) - had a wife Sarah, when convicted and transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1827.  Flute key maker, and later a chairmaker.  (From a genealogy site).

  • Mrs Cook.  From the trial of William Camp we glean this tidbit:----JENKINSON. I am in the employ of Mrs. Cook, of Vauxhall—she makes silver keys for the prosecutor (Rose) —I made these four keys.

To whom we should add John Hale, 1785-1804, noted in the NLI as a supplier of keys to other makers.  His mark is given as IH.

It's perhaps a bit of a concern to find a flute key maker (Lloyd) from the same period with the same family name initial as Liddle.  It would be good to find Mr Lloyd's given name to put any conflict beyond doubt!

Reported A·L marks

Our own study of marks under flute keys has turned up quite a few flute with keys stamped A·L on the underside:

Flute Brand Owned/Reported by:
D'Almaine & Co Ciaron Carson "Last Night's Fun"
G.J. Best Patrick Dunn
Butler Marc Löfgren 
Butler Jem Hammond
Liddle Dave Ogden
Keith Prowse & Co Ebay sale info
Metzler Jem Hammond
Metzler & Co Terry McGee
Metzler & Co Mark Saul/Terry McGee
Metzler & Co Jem Hammond
Metzler & Co (engraved "1857") Michael Eskin
Metzler & Co Latticino (from Chiff & Fipple)
Metzler & Co (LH Bb band flute)  Patrick Dunn
Moon (cylindrical 8-key) Terry McGee
Unstamped (longbody style) Dave Ogden
Unstamped Jem Hammond
Unstamped MarkP
Unstamped piccolo Jem Hammond
Wainwright / Sydney* Terry McGee

So, questions in front of us include:

  • did Liddle make these keys (i.e, is he A·L) and supply some or all of the makers whose names appear on the flutes, or
  • is A·L the flute key maker Lloyd?
  • did Liddle make the flutes and the names are those of dealers, not makers?
  • was the Liddle who worked for Boosey Alexander or his son, or some other Liddle?
  • at least two flutes, asterisked in the list above, were made before Liddle went out on his own.  Assuming these were made by Liddle, was he moonlighting?  Note also that Wood & Ivy, Liddle's employer just before he went independent are not listed.  Is that because Wood & Ivy had someone else make the keys on their flutes (perhaps another member of staff), or did they not want them stamped?

Information needed

We'd really like to include more examples of extant Liddle flutes, so, if you can help, do get in touch!



Thanks to those who have and who will supply under-key mark information.  Thanks also to the OldBaileyOnLine people for these great insights into the past.  Thanks to Robert Bigio, MarkP, Dave Ogden, Patrick Dunn and all those who have reported keymarks for their contributions.

Related pages

Flute key marks and makers
Metzler Flutes

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  Created 8 March 2012