Family stories of seafaring and intrigue as piano tale is unraveled in Sheffield

© The Star (UK)

It started with a purchase made on a mere whim. Michael Hannon’s mother Hilda bought a musical instrument listed as a ‘spinet’ at an auction in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, where his parents lived in retirement.

Although the instrument was in poor condition, it was structurally sound, and Hilda later passed it on to Michael to see if he could restore it.

The instrument, dated 1804, turned out to be a Broadwood, the sort of ‘square piano’ played by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, various Jane Austen heroines and Captain Scott, who took one to the Antarctic with him.

Nearly 40 years on since his mother bought the item, Michael has written a book detailing the dramatic story linked to the family which originally owned the piano.

Michael, who lives in Ranmoor with his wife Rosemary, was formerly Sheffield University’s librarian, and in retirement has developed a special interest in early keyboard instruments, as well as in family history. He also sings bass with the Abbeydale Singers, and has been closely involved with the commissioning of a new organ for Sheffield Cathedral.

Hilda gave the square piano, a variety that fell out of favour with the advent of the grand piano, to Michael in 1979. He had it professionally restored, and used the serial number - 8199 - as the starting point for the eight-year research project which led to the book.

Broadwoods, the world’s oldest piano company founded in 1728, were able to tell him when the piano was made, but that was all.

However, company records revealed the piano was bought by a Mrs Dorothy Findlay, who paid £33 for it - around £2,600 today - and had it shipped to her home in Glasgow.

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