Adam Walker (1731–1821) and his patent ‘Celestina stop’: A Timeline

1731 Adam Walker was born in Windermere, Westmoreland, one of a large family of restricted means.1 Destined for greater things, he was to become an inventor and philosophic lecturer.
1772 Walker took out a patent for a ‘celestina stop’ for use with harpsichords, which he licensed to the firm of Shudi and Broadwood.2 An extract from his patent reads:

The Celestina is a keyed instrument, shaped like a harpsichord, with one, two or more wire or catgut strings to a note. The tone is produced from those strings by one or more threads or bands of silk, flax, wire, gut, hair, leather . . . and the said threads or bands are kept circulating above or under the strings by a weight, spring, or traddle [sic], and being pressed 3–5 when in this motion against the strings by means of the keys . . . said thread or threads produce tones from strings as the bow of a violin.3

He was living in Manchester at the time of the filing of the patent for the Celestina.4 His connections with Dublin included membership of the Dublin Society beginning in 1770 and honorary membership of the same organization beginning in 1783, after he had moved to London.5
1783 An advertisement, placed in London in 1783 by D. (Daniel) and J. Walker, ‘Patentees for the Celestina Stop,’ described the invention thus:

The effects this Improvement produce on the Harpsichord, are, a continuation of tone, swell and dimminuendo [sic], with the Piano and Forte by the pressure of the finger; hence the grand effects of the Organ, with the delicacy of the Musical Glasses, or Viol d’Amor are given to the Harpsichord, and a degree of musical expression superior to most instruments. It has the most enchanting effect as an accompaniment to the voice in pathetic or sentimental singing. It can be introduced as a solo instrument in the middle movements of Harpsichord Concertos, giving a pleasing relief to the ear with the most striking contrast.6

1789 His son Adam John Walker was born in Newry, County Armagh, in 1789.
1821 Adam Walker died.7 He was buried in Hayes churchyard. He executed his will on 13 June 1820 and it was proved in London 5 April 1821.8
1824 Describing the design of the Celestina after his father’s death, Deane Franklin Walker, explained that the ‘thread of silk’ was ‘touched with resin dissolved in spirit of wine’ and that ‘the keys being touched, the jacks, with small brass wheels on them, press the revolving silk against the wires, and thus draw out their tones . . . . the two ends of the silk band [being] finely sewed together’.9

1 According to his obituary – see note 6.
2 David Wainwright, Broadwood by Appointment. London: Quiller Press, 1982, 53 –55; Michael Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998, 93.
3 Extract given by Rosamond E. M. Harding, The Piano-Forte, 1933, 366.
4 The Mechanic’s Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal and Gazette 46 (1,231), 13, March 1847, 260.
5 Samuel Watson, The Gentleman’s and Citizen's Almanack [Dublin, 1770], 78, and [Dublin, 1783], 96.
6 The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (736), 8 March 1783, 1.
7 His obituary, written by Sylvanus Urban, appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. XCI, February 1821, 182-3.
8 The National Archives, Kew, Prob 11/1642.
9 Deane Franklin Walker, ‘Account of Mr. Walker’s New Musical Instrument Called the Celestina,’ The Glasgow Mechanics’ Magazine 21, 22 May, 1824, 32.
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