William Bainbridge (d. early 1831)

English instrument maker and inventor of the double, improved and flute flageolets. Little is known about Bainbridge's life and not much more about his work. He trained as a wood-tuner and was active from about the turn of the century in London as a oboe, flute and flageolet player. His main interest, however was improving the English flageolet. His first patent was in 1803 for an Improved English Flageolet and he spend much of the rest of his life working on improvements and developments for the instrument. He invented the double flageolet in about 1805 in collaboration with the Welsh musician, John Parry, following performances at Covent Garden where Parry played two and even three English flageolets at once, fixed into a frame. After a number of proto-types, the design was finalised by 1806. However, Bainbridge continued to added additional features to his instrument and 15 years later invented the complex triple flageolet, where a third, bass pipe was added to the back of double instrument. He jealously protected his inventions and unsuccessfully sued a number of people who he perceived to have infringed his patents and copyrights (see, for example, Bainbridge v Wigley; Bainbridge v Briggs and Bainbrige v Unknown).

He spent the rest of his life working on making small adjustments to his instruments and made a living by playing, teaching and selling them and instruction books about them. On his death, he appears to have been modestly wealthy, though it is not possible to say whether this was directly a result of his work. The business was first taken over by Harriet Bainbridge (died 1841), his wife, before being taken over by Henry Hastrick in 1835, who carried on until his own death in 1854.

He had four children: William, Elizabeth, George and Charles, the first three of whom were of school-age in 1830. His date of birth remains unknown and no portraits are known to have survived.

A transcript of his Will is available.

Bainbridge’s Adverts

Two Musical Instruments Played By One Person.

Bainbridge, Flageolet-Maker, 35, Holborn-hill, near Fetter-lane, informs Ladies and Gentlemen that a Book is published, whereby any one that plays the Patent Flageolet may, by a contrivance, play Duetts on two, and make a second to some hundreds of tunes. As it has been insinuated by some that these Flageolets with Ivory Studs, sold at different Shops, are the Sum with his Patent ones, the Public may be assured they are not, but are on the same principle as the one be invented nearly six years since, which may easily be ascertained, as he entered a Gamut for playing it at Stationers’ Hall at that time; but finding from its cross–fingering it was difficult to play in tune, he has since obtained his Majesty’s Royal Letters Patent for a Flageolet, the fingering of which is regular like the German Flute, and which any person may instantly blow in tune; the tone, he presumes, the most uncultivated, ear will give the preference to. In respect to the Cistron introduced on the common Flageolet, Bainbridge perceiving it confined the tone so much when playing with other instruments that he did not adapt it, but he, has now improved on it, and by a simple contrivance the performers may use their pleasure, either to have a Cistron or not. Any Lady or Gentleman, even not knowing Notes, may teach themselves this Instrument by his Instruction–Book, as every tune is figured. He will engage any person shall be taught to play tunes in the first Lesson, at his Music-Shop as above.

Published in “Bell’s Monthly Compendium of Advertisements for January, 1807” pg. 66

Scan of the advert whose text is given below.

Double Patent Flageolets.

W. Bainbridge, No. 35 Holborn Hill, late principal Oboe, Flute, and Flageolet Player at Astley’s Royal Theatre, and Sadler’s Wells, informs his Friends and the Public, he has again received his Majesty’s Royal Letters Patent for further improvements on the Flageolet. He has brought to perfection a Flageolet as large as a full sized German Flute, the tone of which has been approved by all who have heard it, it is called the Cromatic Albion Flute; it has by one simple contrivance the power to produce every half tone that can be played, and as easy as any other note, it requires not exertion to play it.

W. Bainbridge has the pleasure to inform the Public, the same easy plan is now added to his Octavo Flageolet. He likewise cautions the Public against a daring attempt to make them believe that others have made improvements on his first Patent, granted in 1805, but he challenges any one to produce one improvement in fingering or in tone, or any improvement. I wish the Public to examine those pretended new Flageolets, and compare them with his old improvements in 1802, and they will find that in this large Metropolis there are men that will say any thing to impose on the Public.

Published in “Bell’s Monthly Compendium of Advertisements for August, 1807” pg. 3

35 Holborn Hill

Bainbridge's main residence, 35 Holborn Hill, is located near where the author works and so it seemed interesting to study the history of the shop in a little more detail.

Shortly after patenting his double–flageolet in 1806, Bainbridge moved from Little Queen Street to 35 Holborn Hill which was to become his main residence (and probably workshop) until his death in 1831. It was then inherited by his wife who passed it on to Henry Hastrick who, in turn, worked there from 1835 until 1855. Holborn Hill is located on the outskirts of the City of London, and is so called because it runs from the valley of the (culverted) Fleet River, up towards the higher level on which Holborn and High Holborn are built.

Modern photograph of Holborn Viaduct

Holborn Viaduct, today, running the same route as Holborn Hill (thought about 30 feet higher in the air).

The street of Holborn Hill no longer exists. In 1863 it was demolished to facilitate the building of the Holborn Viaduct which now links Holborn with Newgate Street on the same level. Holborn Viaduct does, however, follow the same path of the old Holborn Hill. It seems that most Georgian buildings on the site were removed at this time, including 35 Holborn Hill. However, it is possible to get a small idea of the location of the workshop. From Bainbridge's 1810 Patent case against Wigley (Bainbridge v Wigley (1810) 1 Carp Pat Cas 270), we know that Bainbridge lived in the parish of St. Andrew Holborn, which still stands. This suggests that Bainbridge's workshop was at the West end of the street (as the other end would have been in the parish of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate). Indeed, Shoe Lane, which runs behind the church and is still mostly–Georgian gives a little bit of the flavour of what Holborn Hill might have been like (albeit on the level rather than on a hill). As for the exact location of the shop, this will require a little more serious investigation at some stage in the future, although to give some perspective of what this area of London is now like, the main possible sites are the City Temple and its bookshop or the British headquaters of the international law firm Lovells.

Modern photograph of St. Andrew HolbornModern photograph of Shoe Lane, behind St Andrew Holborn.

St Andrew Holborn and Shoe Lane today. Both photographs are taken from the Viaduct which gives an impression of how steep Holborn Hill would have been.