Latest revision December 2022


About fifty yards from the east end of St Paul's Cathedral, and within sight of Sir Christopher Wren's spire of St Mary-le-Bow, you are on Cheapside, formerly London's busiest shopping destination. Here you are close to the commercial heart of the city, a short walk from the bankers and stockbrokers, in 'The City', and just 150 yards from the Thames where, in the days of sailing ships, goods from all over the world were landed at the quayside. Today the whole street has been rebuilt with tedious glass-fronted buildings – but St Mary's church remains, and also some of the courts and alleys leading off the main street. So, for the story of Longman & Broderip we begin here, in the 1760s.

James Longman set up as a music seller on Cheapside in 1767, using a legacy from his father's will, due to him on reaching 21 years of age. He had been working for seven years previously in the retail music shop of John Johnson, opposite St Mary-le-Bow. Like most music sellers in London, Longman also traded in instruments. His surviving catalogues list a comprehensive range of musical goods, but he did not, so far as we know, make any instruments himself, and while he sold a great variety of printed music, much of it was supplied by other publishers, some as far away as Vienna. His stock of instruments included violins, flutes, oboes, harpsichords and organs — historic instruments in all of these categories are known. But ultimately piano manufacture was to become the thing for which his company became internationally famous and is now most often remembered.

Longman's retail shop was located by the sign of the Harp & Crown, at No. 26 Cheapside, between St Mary's, showing above, and St Paul's churchyard. It was not until Michaelmas 1782 that a second address was acquired, at 13 Haymarket, near the opera house. (This helps to date instruments. Square pianos with both addresses date from 1783 or later.) Ever ambitious to expand the business, James Longman took a partner in 1769, Charles Lukey. A square piano bearing the inscription Longman, Lukey & Co, Musical Instrument Makers, 26 Cheapside, London (dated 1770) is preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass. It is indistinguishable from the work of Zumpe & Buntebart, who were then at the peak of their fame. Unhappily, this piano has been compromised by ill-considered restoration, leaving little to show whether it was in fact made and supplied by Zumpe & Buntebart, or was merely a careful copy of their work.

Still expanding, in 1773 the firm gained a new name when Francis Broderip joined them, presumably bringing more capital into the business. The instruments were then marked as being from Longman, Lukey, & Broderip, but this lasted for only three years because Lukey died in 1776. Thereafter the business traded for twenty years under the title most frequently encountered: Longman & Broderip. Square pianos remained a very important part of their sales throughout the 1770s. Surviving examples from this decade show some variability, suggesting that they were commissioned from several makers. Nevertheless, these early pianos were all of standard English design, with the so-called 'single action' with lever over-dampers, as introduced by Zumpe in the 1760s. One of their suppliers was Christopher Ganer, whose workshop was in Broad Street. Thomas Culliford, making harpsichords and spinnets for sale in Longman & Broderip's retail shop, worked with a number of other craftsmen in Fountain Court, just off Cheapside, and from other larger premises in subsequent years.

Longman & Broderip's keyboard instruments were their most prestigious and lucrative line, and as the pianoforte increased in popularity so did their profits. A quantum leap occurred in the mid 1780s when organ builder John Geib, living in Southampton Row (near Bedford Square), secured a Royal Patent for an improved type of square piano with an escapement action. Subtlety of touch was greatly enhanced by this innovation, facilitating a more refined expression, previously obtainable only on good quality grand pianos. James Longman and his partner were impressed and signed an exclusive contract with Geib. Typical specimens dating from the 1780s have an escapement lever closely resembling one of the three designs shown in Geib's patent drawing. One of these is shown below, piano No. 1027, believed to date from 1786. It incorporates Geib's first patent action with its T-shaped escapement hopper morticed through the key lever.


Square Piano by Longman and Broderip, 1786

This photo shows the extraordinarily high quality cabinet work on some of these early 'patent' squares. The principal timber is very dense, richly coloured Cuban mahogany (perhaps from Haiti or the Dominican Republic), bordered with honey-coloured Central American satinwood. The nameboard is inlaid (not painted) with exquisitely executed arabesques similar to those found in Robert Adam's classical design books. The quality is very impressive. Inside there is a green silk-covered 'dustboard', covering the working parts, and four hand-operated stops. Three at the left work the divided dampers and a harp or 'buff' stop, as standard. The fourth, at the right, presses small pads of buff leather against one of each pair of unison strings. This appears to have been intended simply as an aid to tuning, making it possible to go through one set of strings and afterwards tune the unisons, as players would be accustomed to do on their harpsichords. As an una corda stop it is not as satisfactory as the true una corda found on early English grand pianos in which the keyboard shift provides that only one string is touched by the hammer while the unisons are free to add sympathetic vibration. Geib discontinued this stop soon after 1786.

Most square pianos sold by Longman & Broderip were not so elaborate, and some (those made by Culliford) did not have escapement — these remained their basic pianos presumably sold at a much lower price. John Geib and his team of craftsmen continued to develop further improvements. Their escapement mechanism went through several stages of refinement leading, around 1788, to a design which became so successful that it was universally known, to nineteenth century piano-makers, as 'English action' for square pianos — copied not only in London (even before the patent had expired!) but also in America and Germany where (it need hardly be said) English patents were not valid. The most common form of this is shown in the drawing below.

Longman and Broderip action


An L-shaped bracket (unshaded) is fixed to the key lever. Attached to it by a vellum hinge is the escapement lever (or 'hopper') and a steel wire return spring. Adjustment requires no special tools or skill. Each note can be adjusted by turning a little eyelet screw — clockwise (to make the hammer carry up nearer to the strings) or anticlockwise to make it escape sooner. One important refinement was added after 1793. In the version shown above the hammer falls directly back onto the cloth-covered hammer rest, with the disadvantage that under some circumstances, repetition could be faulty as the hammer has a tendency to bounce. An improvement was made by fixing to the back of the escapement lever a tiny block of wood, topped with soft leather. This arrests the under lever in its return movement, so supporting the hammer in a halfway position until the finger releases the key. Repetition is greatly improved by this small addition, so sometimes it was added retrospectively to earlier pianos. In this form it remained standard for all good-quality English square pianos until about 1830.

With these refined instruments Longman & Broderip were for some years the premier manufacturers in Europe, so their shops in Cheapside and Haymarket became an essential call for all musical visitors to London. Most of their pianos, though plainer than the one above, are given at least a little decorative inlay on the nameboard (see below). They generally have three hand stops, though some have only two. Some have a pedal to raise and lower part of the lid (the so-called 'swell'). A new fashion becomes apparent around 1790 when some of the pianos have hand-painted decoration on the nameboard, featuring either laurel wreaths or floral garlands with roses, sweet peas and peonies.

The most common form of nameboard embellishment, c.1788-93 — inlaid floral swags, and enamel plaque

Never willing to be outdone when further inventions came to light, James Longman secured the rights to another important patent in 1794. The originator of this was William Southwell, from Dublin, whose English patent included the first adjustable, wire-operated dampers (sometimes called 'dolly dampers', and otherwise 'Irish dampers'). These, being virtually silent in operation, and having no springs, were a great improvement on the old style lever over dampers. Southwell's 'Irish dampers' led directly to those used in modern grand pianos. But his best remembered innovation was a novel way of making a keyboard extension upwards from five to five-and-a-half octaves by passing eight 'additional' notes (f to c) under the soundboard, from where the hammers appear to jump up through a slot at the back. This patent design was eventually to become ubiquitous, but for the time being Longman & Broderip held exclusive rights to it, with Southwell receiving half a guinea on every such piano made and sold in England.

For his grand pianos Longman was not dependent on any patented design. His superb instruments were, to all intents and purposes, direct copies of those made by Stodart and by Broadwood. While their voicing and regulation may have altered during the past two hundred years, to judge by their current condition Longman & Broderip's grand pianos were the best of all at that time. It is no wonder that Haydn was so delighted with them.

However, in the mid 1790s things were starting to go wrong, not with the pianos, but with the company finances. War with republican France disrupted trade with Europe, creating many economic difficulties. Longman & Broderip were heavily in debt having borrowed large sums in earlier years to finance their expansion, and now many nervous creditors wanted to call in their loans. When legal actions began it became evident that everyone who had worked for Longman & Broderip, or who had provided funds for their business expansion, had great difficulty getting any money from them. The extent of their debts soon became public knowledge. Eventually, in 1795 both partners were declared bankrupt. But rather than fleeing to France (in time-honoured fashion) hostility in France meant that they went into the debtors' prison, and were barred from trading.

There are in existence square pianos fitted with enamel plaques showing 'Longman & Broderip', with the date 1796, but clearly these plaques must have been commissioned before their fall from grace, and the foreman in the workshop used them regardless. Their business empire was so vast, and its prospects so good, that a consortium led by Muzio Clementi bought out the interest, and presumably paid off some of the debts. From 1798 square pianos appeared bearing the new company name Longman, Clementi & Company. These were better than ever before because they combined a five-and-a-half octave keyboard with the escapement action, and a pedal to obtain the sustaining tone and used the new type of damper. The tone of these early Clementi square pianos was better than anything heard before, and in well-preserved examples remains as delightful as ever.

After just over a year in prison James Longman and Francis Broderip were released. Broderip formed a new company with Charles Wilkinson, trading from 13 Haymarket. Pianos sold by Broderip & Wilkinson have exactly the same technical specification as those marked Longman, Clementi & Co, and are similar externally, the only difference being that they are often plainer in appearance and the ivory key plates may be compromised for quality.

John Geib meantime emigrated to America. There he set up a new business in lower Manhattan, which prospered in the new century as John Geib & Sons of New York. His earliest American pianos are almost indistinguishable from those he made during his last years in England.

Meanwhile in London the newly freed James Longman was as incorrigible as ever, trying to re-establish his grip on the piano trade, but vigorously opposed by his former associates. Eventually he was pursued by more creditors and was again in Fleet Prison in 1803. He died there in November that year. The business empire he had lost now traded under the name Muzio Clementi & Co. Nevertheless, the Longman name lived on for some years. John Longman, James' kinsman (the exact relationship is not certain) started another company trading from 131 Cheapside, until about 1815 — later continuing under the name Longman & Heron. Francis Broderip died in 1807, but the piano-making business was continued by Wilkinson, with various associates, including Robert Wornum, now remembered chiefly for his improvements to the actions of upright pianos.

When Clementi died in Worcestershire in 1832 the business named after him was continued by his former partner and associate Frederick Collard. The firm of Collard & Collard (the brothers Frederick and William) continued manufacturing square pianos until about 1860, but as the piano industry contracted in the late nineteenth century their business declined and was ultimately sold to Cramer who produced standard trade upright pianos.

Further Reading

  • For more background information on the subjects mentioned on this web page see The Pianoforte in the Classical Era by Michael Cole, published by Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • For a more detailed biographical account of James Longman, and his business, see 'Longman & Broderip', by Jenny Nex, in The Music Trade in Georgian London, Ed. M. Kassler (Ashgate, 2011), pp. 9-94.

  • A very informative examination of the legal proceedings surrounding James Longman's dubious business dealings, and the unfortunate William Southwell's entanglement with him, has been published in the Royal Musical Association's Research Chronicle No. 42, ISSN 1472-3808. This fascinating paper jointly written by George S. Bozarth & Margaret Debenham is titled Piano Wars: The Legal Machinations of London Pianoforte Makers 1795-1806, and covers court cases involving Longman & Broderip, Thomas Culliford, John & James Broadwood, and Augustus Leukfeld: highly recommended.

  • For those who would like to know more about the origins of John Longman's pianos Margaret Debenham's paper reveals new information concerning the business of John Longman of 131 Cheapside with particular reference to his relationship with James Longman. This can be found by clicking through her website.

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