If you’ve visited Cliffe Castle since the beginning of February, you may have noticed that there is now a rather lovely, upright piano nestled in the Bracewell Smith Hall.
You may wonder at the connection between the piano and the Castle. The link this time is with Sir Albert Richardson, the architect who converted the building into a Museum in the 1950s.
Sir Albert Richardson was born in 1880 and by 1906 was working as a partner in an architectural practice with C. Lovett Gill. During a long career, he worked on many notable buildings including York Minster, Ripon Cathedral, the Bath Assembly rooms and even a Distillery in Scotland. In 1954, he was elected President of the Royal Academy.
The piano was made in 1903 for Sir Albert Richardson’s wife during the first year of their marriage, as she’d expressed a wish for a piano. Their house in Denning Road, Hampstead was terraced and the space somewhat cramped, which dictated the size of piano.
The rest of the furniture in their house had been designed by Sir Albert Richardson, and then created by the local carpenter, and the piano was designed and made in the same way. There were several designs created for the piano, including a cabinet that would swing open to reveal the keyboard, or a sideboard with large candlesticks! In the end, the design that was chosen was the one you can see now, a black grained upright piano with deep mouldings and long octagonal shafts reaching from the keyboard to the floor.
When Sir Albert & Lady Richardson moved from Hampstead to Surrey in 1919 the piano came with them, and was to remain where it was positioned for the next 95 years.
In early 2013, the Museum was offered drawings by Simon Houfe, (Sir Albert’s Grandson) of the design of the Bracewell Smith Hall that Sir Albert had created in the 1950s. This confirmed the findings of research done to recreate the 1950s colour scheme.
Later in 2013, we were also very kindly offered the piano and we took ownership in January this year.
The piano was one of the first pieces of furniture that Sir Albert designed but the octagonal shapes in the design are echoed in one of the last pieces that he designed for an interior – the wonderful octagonal lamp that we had conserved and returned to the hall during the reinstatement of the original scheme. It also echoes the shape of the hall itself.
We like to think that both Sir Albert, with his care for the redesign of Cliffe Castle, and his design for the Bracewell-Smith Hall in particular, would have approved of the piano’s new home.