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William Southwell: a Timeline

1736/7 William Southwell was born. This is confirmed by his recorded age (88) in the burial register of St Pancras Old Church, London, 2 February 1825 (see 1825).
1750 According to reminiscences of his daughter, Frances, as told to her grandson, Frederick Southwell Cripps, her father was apprenticed to a cabinet maker and as a young man made a beautiful model of a grand staircase.
1757 Assuming he was the normal age of 14 when apprenticed, he would have completed his apprenticeship at about this time.
1760 Nicholas Southwell, brother of William was born, according to his age at date of death in 1832.
1772 The received wisdom from the published literature has been that Southwell became apprenticed to the renowned harpsichord maker Ferdinand Weber in Dublin in this year. However, he was then in his mid-thirties and already trained as a cabinet maker, therefore a more likely scenario is that he was seeking to apply - or develop - his skills to the art of musical instrument making at that time.
1776 The name 'William Southwell' appears as one of the signatories of a Loyal Address to the King by Dublin tradesmen, published in The London Gazette at the time of the American Declaration of Independence. This may be our man; however this cannot be confirmed for certain since no occupations of the signatories are given.
1778 The parish register of St. Mary’s Dublin records the death of a ‘Mrs Southwell’ of Fleet-street, Dublin, possibly William’s first wife – or alternatively his mother, or step-mother, given that his brother Nicholas was not born until ca. 1760.

A marriage bond for William Southwell and Ann Dowlan [sic] is recorded in the Probate Record and Marriage Licence Index 1270-1858, Dublin.

A theatrical review of a performace of King Lear at The Theatre Royal, Crow-street, Dublin ( The Dublin Evening Post, 5 February 1780), waxes lyrical on the subject of musical interludes between the acts, performed on the Piano Forte and Celestinal harpsichord. The reviewer goes on to observe: 'To do justice, we must not forget that the Celestina was constructed by Mr. Southwell, a young man whose great mechanical powers will, if encouraged, do honour to his country'. [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 23 January 2015]

1781 'Southwell, Harpsichord and Pianoforte Maker', placed an advertisement in The Hibernian Journal, 22-24 January 1781, stating that he was ‘now carrying on said business in the most extensive manner’ at No. 26 Fleet-street [Dublin]. He adds: ‘He has lately invented a Method of adapting the CELESTINA or FORTE PIANO to the harpsichord (without the least consequent injury), which has met with universal Approbation’ [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 10 November 2014]
1783 William appears in Dublin directories at 26 Fleet-street (1783–86).
1784 Southwell, once more terming himself 'Harpsichord and Piano Forte Maker', placed an advertisement in The Hibernian Journal, 19 April 1784, in which 'he informs the Nobility and Gentry that he has for the Convenience and greater Extension of his Business, removed from Fleet-street, to No. 70, Marlborough-street' [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 1 January 2015]

In June of this year, a concert notice in The Freeman’s Journal states that the actress Elizabeth Billington accompanied herself on a Celestine harpsichord by ‘The Celebrated Southwell of this city’.

Harriot [sic], daughter of William and Ann Southwell, was baptised in Dublin in this year.

In two similar advertisements placed in The Hibernian Journal,on 24 and 31 December 1784, Southwell states that 'he is now finishing some of his much admired grand PIANO FORTES, which for Expression, Fullness and Brilliancy of Tone have never been equalled in this or any other Kingdom'. Here we find firm evidence that Southwell was manufacturing grand pianos at this early date. [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 1 January 2015.

1787 William Southwell is listed in Dublin directories at 70, Marlborough-street through to 1791.

In September Southwell announced that he 'has just finished his GRAND UPRIGHT PIANO FORTE' leaving its merits to be judged by 'the amateurs'. (The Dublin Evening Post, 15 September 1789) [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 12 March 2015].

In December, William Moore (whose name has often been tentatively linked to Southwell) placed an advertisement for both Inlaid Furniture and a Pianoforte and Harpsichord Manufactory, informing the public 'he has removed from Abbey-street to Capel-street, No. 47 [Dublin], where he carries on the Cabinet-Making Business in general'. (The Dublin Evening Post, 31 December 1789)

1790 In November of this year Southwell announced that he had considerably enlarged his workshop and augmented his number of men to cope with the demand, stating that 'persons have frequently waited nine and twelve months for his instruments' (The Dublin Evening Post, 9 November 1790). The final paragraph of this advertisement is of particular interest since he states that 'He has in his hands one of his much admired upright Piano Fortes, organized, price 130 guineas, and several Deception Pier Table Piano Fortes, of both which he is the original inventor'. Southwell's descriptive term for the latter fits the construction of his surviving metamorphic half moon table instruments, an example of which is on show in the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands Park. [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 12 March 2015]
1792 In an advertisement in The Freeman’s Journal in May of this year, Southwell offered for sale his ‘Grand Organised Pianoforte’. He also claims that ‘his last improvement on the small Piano Forte has been found on trial superior to anything ever yet attempted; it enables the performer to play with more expression and adds much to the brilliancy and sweetness of the tone’.

From 1792–1802 he is listed in Dublin directories at 86, Marlborough-street.
1793 In May 1793 he advertised for sale:
  • Pedal harps about which he claims ‘the mechanism of the Pedals, which is justly considered a masterly piece of workmanship, he hopes will bear the most critical inspection’
  • A new instrument, which he called a ‘Dolce Flauto’, played with keys, and, he says, particularly adapted to accompany the Harp.
  • His ‘much admired Grand Organised Piano Forte’.
1794 In this year he was granted an English patent, No. 2017, for his five and a half octave pianoforte with additional keys, filed from an address in Lad Lane, London.

He licensed the rights to manufacture instruments made to this design to Longman and Broderip in London, while retaining the right to manufacture them himself in Dublin, announcing this fact in The Dublin Evening Post, 20 November 1794.

In the same advertisement he also advertised a recently built house in Hume-street, Dublin, to be let.
1795 Longman and Broderip began to make and market five and a half octave square pianos to Southwell’s design in London early in this year.

On 13 November James Longman and Frances Fane Broderip were committed to prison after being declared bankrupt.

On 16 July 1796 William Southwell signed an agreement permitting James Longman and Frances Fane Broderip each to use his 1794 patent design individually.

On 2 November 1796 Longman and Broderip were released from prison. James Longman returned to the Cheapside business and Frances Fane Broderip to the Haymarket store, under the supervision of their assigns.1

A Belfast newspaper notice placed in early November states that 'Mr SOUTHWELL, PIANO FORTE MAKER &c., Dublin, recommends Mr MORDOC, (who has done business with him for a long time), as a person very capable of Tuning and Repairing Organs, Piano-fortes, &c.' (Belfast Newsletter, 16 September 1796; repeated 1-11 November 1796). Evidence of Murdock's activities in Ireland from 1780 - 1807 has been identified. [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 12 March 2015]

1797 On 28 March 1797 a notice appeared in The Dublin Evening News announcing the marriage of Mr Joshua Phythian Orme of Liverpool to Miss Southwell, daughter of Mr. Wm. Southwell of Marlborough-street. Her forename [Elizabeth] is confirmed in the Irish Probate and Marriage Licence index for that year. Later (in 1811) J P Orme and son were listed in a trade directory as mahogany brokers in Duke-street, Liverpool, the same street in which the Southwells' Liverpool premises were situated. [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 20 August 2015]
1798 In November 1798 Longman and Broderip’s Cheapside business was sold by their assigns to John Longman (brother of James), Muzio Clementi & Co. The new firm commenced trading as Longman, Clementi and Co. at Cheapside. The Haymarket side of the business was sold to a partnership of Frances Fane Broderip and Charles Wilkinson and continued to trade as Broderip and Wilkinson from that address.

William Southwell filed a patent (No. 2264 – enrolled 6 December 1798) from Broad Court, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, for another novel instrument, an upright square pianoforte. He named it the ‘Camerachord’ and licensed the manufacturing rights in England to Longman, Clementi and Co., while continuing to manufacture it in his own right in Dublin. The patent also included a new design for a harp.

At about this time Southwell took a new wife [partner], Frances, said to have been ‘the daughter of a London hairdresser’. It seems likely that William had met her during one of his sojourns in London.

Henry F. Southwell (son of William Southwell’s new wife Frances) was born ca. 1798/9. Strangely he was given the same forename as his half brother (see below), born 1783.

On 6 April 1799 Henry Southwell (1783 – 1866), who declared himself to be the fourth son of William Southwell and his wife Ann Doland [sic], was apprenticed to Sobieski Kildahl, a Dublin attorney. Henry was educated at Whyte’s Grammar School and was a near contemporary there of Robert Emmet.

Since Ann [Doland] Southwell was alive at this time, if William formally married Frances in a church ceremony he clearly committed bigamy.

Two newspaper notices placed in this year provide clear evidence of considerable rivalry between William Southwell and Robert Woffington, of William-street, Dublin. Firstly, on 21 September 1799, Woffington advertised for sale 'VOCAL PIANO FORTES, very considerably improved', claiming to be the inventor. He goes on the state: 'a very inferior imitation of them having lately appeared by another name, he thinks it necessary to discriminate' (Saunder's Newletter, 21 September 1799). Southwell swiftly responded. In a later edition of the same publication, on 10 October 1799 he placed a notice (which he dated 'London, Sept. 29 1799'), not only announcing the availability of his 'new invented Camerachord or Chamber Piano Forte, to be had at the Patentee's No. 86, Marlborough-street, Dublin or Longman, Clementi and Co.'s, London', but also directly challenging Woffington's claim: 'The great demand for the above instruments at 86, Marlborough-street, appears to have excited a considerable degree of uneasiness to a person who advertises what he terms "Vocal Piano Fortes", an invention of his which he says inferior imitations, under another name, have appeared, and against which he cautions the Musical Cognocenti' ... ... 'If the distinguished preference given by Proprietors, Amateurs, and The Public in general, to the several species of instruments made under the direction of Southwell and Co. has caused Envy to direct a shaft at their Camerachord, the insinuation will prove pointless and ineffectual. The favour they gratefully acknowlege to have long experienced will prove a sufficient guaranty against their bringing forth inferior imitations, and they can assure the public, those instruments, so much desired by persons of musical curiosity and taste, are, in Dublin, only made by them on original and perfect principles'... (Saunder's Newsletter, 10 October 1799). [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 16 August 2015]

1800 Frances, daughter of William and Frances – later the grandmother of Frederick S. Cripps - was born ca. 1800 (established by her age at date of death on her death certificate in 1886 at Brighton, Sussex).

On 16 January 1802 Clementi and Co. placed the following advertisment in a London newspaper:

MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, /Manufactured of SOLID MATERIALS, upon an IM-/PROVED PLAN, expressly for the EAST and WEST/ INDIES, by CLEMENTI and CO. No. 26, Cheap-/side. UPRIGHT GRAND PIANO-FORTES, with  additional keys/ Horizontal ditto, with ditto./ New Patent Small Piano-fortes, with additional keys./ Patent ditto, without ditto./ common action ditto./ Microchordon, or Small Upright Piano-fortes, with addi-/tional keys./New invented Patent Barrel Organ, with flageolet stop, double drum, &c. &c./ Ditto, with drum and triangle. / Clementi and Co. having observed that Piano-fortes, &c. / made for this country, are not calculated to resist the effects/ of warmer climates, have lately manufactured the above Instruments, upon such secure principles, as to remove all doubts of their durability. / N.B. A general assortment of Military Instruments, and every other article in the Musical Line.  (The Morning Post and Gazateer, 16 January 1802; repeated in the same publication 19 January, 22 and 28 February 1802) [Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 30 August 2016.]

[Author’s note: Microchordon was the name by which Clementi and Co referred to William Southwell's upright square pianoforte, made to the design of his 1798 English patent, which he himself called a 'Camerachord' - see Debenham's biographical article, pp 16-17 for the image of a flyer for such an instrument, attached to an extant Southwell square pianoforte dated 1802. This advertisement strongly suggests that the firm was manufacturing this type of instrument in London under licence from Southwell. However, the possiblity that they were buying them in from the manufacturer for sale under their own label cannot be discounted absolutely. [Note updated,1 September 2016.]

On 25 February 1802, William and his brother Nicholas were among a group of influential cabinet makers, including William Moore, who advertised in Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post for skilled workmen to come over and work for them in Dublin.

On 18 March 1802 the discredited James Longman (together with three of his creditors) filed a Bill of Complaint against (John) Longman, Clementi and Co. concerning monies he alleged he was owed relating to square pianofortes made to Southwell’s 1794 patent design.

On 1 June 1802 Southwell took steps to protect his assets, filing a legal Deed in Dublin, turning over his business there to two of his sons, John and Francis, and his brother Nicholas. This document gives two addresses for the business, 86, Marlborough-street and 34, Marlborough-street, the latter being the address of Southwell and Co. in subsequent years.

Just two weeks later, on 15 June 1802, Southwell placed a notice in a Dublin newspaper, giving his address as 34, Marlborough-st., in which he robustly refuted what he claimed to be false reports that he intended to quit Dublin for London: 'It having been very industriously circulated by some malicious person or persons ( as was on a former occcasion) that I intended to quit this kingdom and carry on business in London, I think it is necessary to assure the Nobility, Gentry, and my Friends in general, that such is not, nor ever was my intention. To shew the falsity of such an infamous report, and in order to carry on the business in future more extensively, I have taken into the firm Messrs. N. and J. Southwell, persons of undoubted abilities, and regularly reared in that line'.(Saunder's Newsletter, 15 June 1802). [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 16 August 2015]

Comment: It should be noted that Southwell's statement in this newspaper notice does not quite accord with the terms of the Deed he had so recently executed, in which he stated his intention to retire and in which he made over the Dublin business to Nicholas, John and Francis Southwell. For the full text of the Deed, see George S. Bozarth and Margaret Debenham. 2009. ‘Piano Wars: The Legal Machinations of London Pianoforte Makers, 1795-1806’, Appendix 5, in The Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle Vol. 42. London.


On 17 January 1803, James Longman returned to his legal attack on Clementi and his partners with a revised Bill of Complaint.

On 8 March 1803 Southwell filed a Bill of Complaint against Broadwood and Son for alleged infringement of his patent design. The Broadwoods mounted a vigorous (if disingenuous) defence. (For more information on these legal proceedings see George S. Bozarth and Margaret Debenham, ‘Piano Wars: The Legal Machinations of London Pianoforte Makers, 1795–1806’ in The Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle Vol. 42 (2009). London: Royal Musical Association, 45-108).

The Act of Union, which ended the Irish parliament and united Ireland with England took place in this year.

On 28 June 1803 'Messrs Southwell' placed a notice in a Dublin newspaper stating: 'In order effectively to supply the numerous and increased demands for Piano Fortes, they have opened a manufactory 95, Duke-street, Liverpool (the first market in Europe for materials in their line) where, and at their house, 34, Marlborough-street, Dublin, their friends in any part of the United Kingdom, may (by order, as well as personally) instantly supplied with Piano Fortes of every description, made under their own personal inspection' ... The advertisement further states: ...'a considerable portion of those [Piano Fortes] offered to the public as an improvement on Southwell's Patent, being but a miserable infringement on it. - The house of Clementi and Co. and that of Broderip and Wilkinson, London, are the only ones who have purchased the authority from the Patentees to manufacture on their plan ' (Saunder's Newsletter, 28 June 1803) [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 16 August 2015]

On 23 July 1803 the Irish rebellion led by Robert Emmet took place in Dublin. William and his family were forced to flee from the city to Liverpool after their house was set on fire by a rebel mob, because they thought he was not on their side.

1804 On 6 November 1804, in their answer to James Longman's latest Bill of Complaint, Clementi and Co. claimed that the innovations of Southwell's 1794 patent were in such general use that they were no longer bound by the patent restrictions.

Pragmatically, presumably realising it would be futile to continue to claim his rights at this point, Southwell did not pursue matters further.
1805 Nicholas, J[ohn] and F[rancis] Southwell appear as joint traders at 99, Duke-street, Liverpool in the Liverpool trade directory for this year.

Evidence that the new partnership of Southwell and Co was still also active at 34, Marlborough Street, Dublin in this year is to be found in an advertisement in The Hibernian Journal 12 June 1805 in which they announce their purchase of the rights to the invention of Helical Springs for use in Piano Fortes from Messrs Smyth and Litherland of Liverpool. They maintain that ‘a Piano Forte with Springs, will be in better tune after twelve month’s playing than any other after as many days.’ [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 10 November 2014]
1806 In May 1806 Broderip and Wilkinson of Haymarket, London, advertised that their new musical publications were available from Messrs Southwell, Duke-street, Liverpool, along with their piano-fortes with additional keys, thus confirming a continuing connection.

From 1801 to this year, square pianofortes sold under the Broderip and Wilkinson banner made to Southwell’s 1794 design were being manufactured under contract by Augustus Leukfeld, of Tottenham-street.
1807 In May Southwell was granted a patent (No. 3029) for an upright cabinet pianoforte, giving his address merely as Dublin.

In 1807 Nicholas Southwell is listed in Liverpool directories at 99, Duke-street, Liverpool.

An advertisement placed by Richard Taylor, music seller, in The Chester Chronicle on 20 November 1807 for Piano Fortes for sale includes ‘No. 2 ditto [Piano Forte], a very powerful instrument with patent Helical Springs to preserve it long in tune (a great acquisition) additional keys, French frame and pedal - Thirty-six Guineas - Southwell.’ [Author’s note: Newly identified information, sourced by Debenham, 10 November 2014]
1808 William Southwell’s fourteen year patent rights for his 1794 patent formally expired.

0n 21 June 1808 the firm of Wilkinson and Co. announced that they had received letters patent for a cabinet pianoforte and that its manufacture was being supervised in their workshop by the inventor, William Southwell, at No. 3 Windmill-street and at No. 13 Haymarket.

By this year the Southwells had also established a presence at 49, Rathbone Place, London as well at 99 Duke-street, Liverpool (confirmed by the nameboard of an extant square piano).

Robert Bill, active at 49 Rathbone Place from 1807, is listed in the 1811 Post Office Directory as a ‘patent pianoforte maker’. Possibly he shared a premises with the Southwells or alternatively worked for them as a journeyman.
1809 Francis W. Southwell, second son of William and primarily known as a composer, was active as a pianoforte maker in Dublin at the sign of the ‘King’s Arms’, 34, Marlborough-street, Dublin in this year.
1810 George Wilkinson and Robert Wornum (now in partnership) took over the lease of No. 11, Princes-street, the premises which had formerly housed Joseph Merlin's Museum.
1811 William Southwell is found living at No. 11, Gresse-street from this year until his death in 1825. He is listed in the London and Country Directory (1811) and registered another patent (No. 3403) for a ‘pianoforte sloping backwards’, a type of upright, from this address in this year.

According to a newspaper notice placed in this year, John Watlen purchased the rights to this patent, said to be by ‘an Irish gentleman of great mechanical genius’.

Also in this year, advertisements placed by Nicholas Southwell in Liverpool reveal that he was acting as an agent for Clementi and Co., especially mentioning their recently improved piano fortes with six and a half octaves. He describes a new invention of his own, ‘an elliptical pianoforte’, with eight feet, crescent drawers, &c, as well as lately improved patent square pianofortes.

The Cripps letter mentions a claim by Frances Southwell Cripps that Robert Wornum had stolen one of her father’s ideas, which may refer to the patent registered by Wornum in this year (No. 3419) for a ‘unique’ upright.
1812 William Southwell personally advertised individual examples of his own pianos at 11, Gresse-street between 1812 and 1814. In 1812 these included what he termed ‘Real Unique Pianofortes’ with six octaves of keys as well as an improved Cabinet Piano Forte.

In the autumn of this year Wilkinson and Wornum’s factory burnt down as a result of a blaze accidentally ignited by a lighted candle dropped by the wife of a workman.
1813 An Art exhibition in Liverpool included a ‘Portrait of Mr. W. Southwell, the inventor of the Patent Square Pianoforte with additional keys’, by James Lonsdale. Lonsdale hailed from the Lancaster area, but by this time was living in Berner’s-street, London, just around the corner from the Berner’s Mews workshop occupied by Robert Bill and close to Gresse-street.
1814 Charles Southwell, youngest son of William, was born. His father was 77 years old at the time.

In his ‘Confessions of a Free-thinker’ (1851), Charles claims his parents were legitimately married. His mother had, he said, been a young servant girl in Southwell’s employ. However, William’s wife Frances was still very much alive at the time — as possibly was Ann Doland back in Dublin, since the death of an ‘Anne Southwell’ aged 73 is recorded in Dublin on 5 February 1827 in the parish of St. Audoens.

Charles Southwell was to become a well known figure in the Free Thought movement, achieving notoriety in his trial for blasphemy in England in 1842.
1818 Frances Southwell married Thomas Cripps, a ships purser, at St. Pancras Old Church, London. Her father, William Southwell, signed the register as a witness.
1819 Two auction sales in Dublin in this year advertised grand pianofortes by Southwell.

John Watlen, placed an advertisement proclaiming that William Southwell, inventor of the additional keys, the upright Dampers, the Cabinet Pianoforte, the ‘Harmonic’ and the Oblique Pianoforte was still alive and at work and supervising production of his oblique pianofortes in his [Watlen’s] workshop.
1821 William took out yet another patent (No. 4546) from Gresse-street, this time for improvements in the cabinet piano, including a back check to prevent the hammers from rebounding.
1822 William Southwell Jnr., son of William and Frances, married Elizabeth Cuming. William Jnr. later became a foreman and contractor for Broadwoods and was the inventor of the ‘Victoria Grand Repetition Action’ patent (no. 7424), which he sold to Broadwoods in 1837, the year in which Queen Victoria acceded to the throne, and which was named in her honour.

He was the father of the three Southwell Brothers, William Henry, Frederick and Edwin, who became highly successful portrait photographers in Victorian London, trading as ‘Southwell Brothers, Photographers Royal’.

William Southwell Snr. died on 24 January 1825 in Gresse-street, London.

Positive confirmation of the date of his death is found in a notice placed in The Liverpool Mercury on 4th February 1825, by his brother Nicholas, which reads: ' On Monday, the 24 ult. at his house, in London, at an advanced age, Mr. Wm. Southwell, piano-forte manufacturer, and brother of Mr. Nicholas Southwell, of this town. He possessed splendid abilities as a mechanic, and was the inventor and patentee of that well-known improvement in piano-fortes, the additional keys, besides numerous improvements in piano-fortes in general'. [Author’s note: a transcription of this newspaper notice has been added here for completeness, 6 April 2015]

William's burial is recorded in the parish register of St. Pancras Old Church on 2 February 1825.

Page last updated 1 September 2016

1 First reported in George Bozarth and Margaret Debenham; ‘Piano Wars: the Legal Machinations of London Pianoforte Makers, 1795–1806’ in The Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle Vol. 42 (2009). London: Royal Musical Association, 45–108.
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