These photographs of an elegant piano with ‘E R Billingham Harpenden’ on it were sent to the Society by the piano’s new owner in Finland who asked if we had any details of the firm.
Mr Billingham’s shops
Geoffrey Woodward sent this information:-
‘The shop was at 12 Station Road and had just been built when Billingham moved in in 1898.
He moved to 22 Station Road in June 1926 and retired in 1933. His son then ran the shop for 3 years and it closed in July 1936.’
Although described in advertisements as shop and warehouse, Geoff says it was only a shop, so possibly ‘warehouse’ was added to make it sound a bigger concern than it was also that he was unlikely to have made pianos, just acted as middleman (see range of makes offered) and being a good customer could put his name on the instruments.
The current owner states ‘the piano was made sometime in the 1800’s, but it has older machinery in it.’ As Billingham advertised that he repaired pianos could this mean that he also cannibalised them to make up new instruments and it was possibly these that bore his name?
The Billingham family
Census returns indicate that Edwin Richard Billingham was born in Toddington 1869/70. In 1891 he was with his widowed mother and siblings, William, Charles, Annie and Emily in Luton. Edwin was working as ‘Clerk for Wine Co.’and was also described as organist. Both his brothers were Clerks and Charles also as an organist
In 1911 Edwin and his four children (one born in Luton the others in Harpenden) were in Station Road so presumably living over the shop.
He died at 88 Station Road on 3rd February 1961 leaving £718.14s.9d (England & Wales National Probate Calendar). He was presumably living with his son at the time as Kelly’s Directory records Denis Billingham as living at number 88 in their 1935-6 and 1941-2 editions.
Other snippets of information:
- Wheathampstead and Harpenden WEA Series booklets page 206 states: ‘Harpenden had three music teachers in 1899…..and Edwin Richard Billingham, the church orgainst, at Myrtle Cottage, West Common’ and ‘Billingham had opened a piano warehouse in Station Road … which later sold gramophones, records and wireless sets.’
- In ‘Rectors of Harpenden 1859-1956’ – reprints of articles by Colin Curl and Amy Coburn published in LINK, from October 1973- March 1974. LHS BF 19A(f) it says ‘Organist for 36 years, Mr E R Billingham (he had a music shop in Station Rd), retired in 1932.’
- Theodora Wilson’s Journals, on page 138 reproduces the Harpenden Advertiser’s report of the funeral of her father Mr Thomas Wilson which says ‘As the congregation were taking their seats, the organist, Mr R.R. Billingham (sic) played “I know that my redeemer liveth”.
- Troops in Harpenden – 1915 – ‘Mr E R Billingham, organist, will again give organ recitals after Sunday evening service at the parish church; in fact, a start was made last Sunday, such favourite hymns as “Lead, Kindly Light” and “Fight the good Fight” being also sung.’
- ‘The Countess de Voilement … was often seen of an afternoon, shopping’ including at Mr E R Billingham’s music shop in Station Road, quoted in the Herts Advertiser’s report on reminiscences about Major Esterhazy.