It was Beethoven’s pride and joy. He thought of it as “an altar on which I will place the choicest offerings of my mind to the divine Apollo.” It was a favourite of Mozart and Chopin. Listz played one on his last visit to London.
This was the John Broadwood piano, made by the oldest, largest and most celebrated piano manufacturing company in the world, which by 1842 was producing 2,500 pianos a year. And where was it based? Not in France nor Germany but at 69 Horseferry Road in Victoria, between a brewery and a marble works opposite the corner of today’s Monck Street where the huge Westminster Gas and Coke Company pioneered the world’s first public supply of gas.
London in the 19th century was the global centre of piano manufacturing with over 130 factories, mainly located in Islington. But Broadwood chose Horseferry Road, an ancient route leading from Westminster to the horse ferry at Lambeth (by today’s bridge) where tolls would be paid to the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace – a nice little earner, especially during the centuries when the only fixed crossing across the Thames was London Bridge.
The Broadwood factory, which made all the components of its pianos on the premises – a true craft industry – is long gone. The company still exists, though nowadays it manufactures abroad. The site is now a modern office block complete with coffee shop and betting shop. Progress.