Angliae Notita: John Evelyn’s views on instrument making in Restoration London.

In the late seventeenth century, Edward Chamberlayne produced a series of works entitled Angliae Notita: The Present State of England. In his 1683 survey of London he recorded the views of the diarist John Evelyn to construct a unique picture of the musicians and instrument makers working during the reign of Charles II. Benjamin Hebbert investigates. 

Edward Chamberlayne (1616-1703) is remembered for his set of works, Angliæ Notita: Or, The Present State of England published in various versions and expanded from 1669. The work was intended to mirror L’Estate Nouveau de la France  published in Paris in 1661. Through his work and that of others contributors, Angliæ Notita survived through thirty-six editions from 1669 until it died out in 1755. In 1683 he published separately The Third Part of the Present State of England, wherein is set forth the riches, strength, magnificence, natural production, manufactures, wonders and rarities, progress of learning, arts and ingenuities, &c.: with a more perfect and methodical catalogue of the nobility, with their seats, than any hitherto extant, an attempt to look beyond the traditional idea of a survey of the country and look towards the economic and cultural strengths of manufacturing and trades. It was bound into editions until 1694, in subsequent editions information was updated, but a great deal of commentary was only pertinent to its time, and was rapidly outmoded given the dramatic economic and cultural changes of the late seventeenth century, whilst evident delays in completing the volume meant that much of the information was already on the cusp of being redundant. Moreover an analysis of metropolitan trade was a distraction to the wider mission of The Present State of England and although it never transformed into a stand-alone publication. Various projects were afoot to create some kind of broader information source for London trades, chief amongst them in 1677 The London Directory but perhaps as a result of the fast pace of London life, nothing got off the ground.

Nevertheless, in 1697 William Turner published a rival book, with the long-winded title, A Compleat History of the Most Remarkable Providences Both of Judgement and Mercy which have Hapned in this Present Age, ‘to which is added Whatever is Curious in the Works of Nature and Art’. Amongst ‘The Curiosities of Art’ he wrote a chapter devoted to some of the improvements in music which took place in the seventeenth century, but the work is entirely plagiarised from Chamberlayne’s earlier volume. It’s existence nevertheless attests to the rapidly changing relevance of Chamberlayne’s writing, as many of the commentaries that seemed to be already dated in 1683 are edited out.

John Evelyn, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1687 was almost certainly the source for Chamberlayne’s information on musical instruments. 

In writing Anglicae Notita, Chamberlayne is acknowledged to have used a variety of sources for his information rather than researching this mountain of information all himself, and amongst the arts and ingenuities, his source appears to have been the diarist and member of the Royal Society, John Evelyn. He is, in fact acknowledged immediately at the end of the passage on music as ‘the learned Advancer of Learning and all Noble Arts, and my best of Friends, Mr. Evelin of Says-Court by Deptford.’ One or two glaring errors are clues that Chamberlayne was acting as an amanuensis. His praise of ‘Wroth’ as being ‘without dispute the best Workman that ever wrought’ has deliciously Monty-Pythonesque overtones, (Welease Woger) but as a transliteration of John Rose it puts the  hypothesis forward rather well, as likewise ‘Loxmollar’ for the sixteenth-century lute maker, Laux Maler, and ‘Raimund’ for Jacob Rayman.

Like Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Chamberlayne was amongst the founding members of the Royal Society when it was established in 1662, and it is surprising how very often they recorded shared experiences – Hence when Charles I’s Archiviol was repaired and brought to Gresham College in 1664, Samuel Pepy, Robert Hooke, Henry Oldenburg, and John Evelyn independently recorded their impressions of this lunatic instrument. Yet, overall in the case of Chamberlayne’s account his writing is just a bit too familiar when faced with a good understanding of Evelyn’s commentaries on music. One such example is Chamberlayne’s commentary on the arcane Polyphone: “Polyphone, an Instrument surely not to be despis’d, confidering its rare Structure, and the Esteem had of it by learned and therefore moft judiciously Musical Perfons of this Age,  viz. Sir Francis Prujean, and Dr. Rugely. 

Sir Francis Prujean, the King’s Physician painted by Richard Streater (Royal College of Surgeons)

This compares rather too closely with Evelyn’s social call on the King’s phusician on 9th August 1661:

I went to that famous physician, Sir Fr. Prujean, who showed me his laboratory, his workhouse for turning, and other mechanics; also many excellent pictures, especially the Magdalen of Caracci; and some incomparable paysages done in distemper; he played to me likewise on the polythore, an instrument having something of the harp, lute and theorbo; by none known in England, nor described by any author, nor used, but by this skilful and learned Doctor.

As a point of fact, in 1655 John Playford had erroneously ascribed the ‘polyphant’ as an instrument played by Queen Elizabeth I (probably mistaking it for the Orpharion) and another unpublished manuscript, Sir Francis Kynaston’s Troilius and Cresida describes its invention in the 1620-1630s by Daniel Farrant:

I have heard that even in the beginning of Queene Elizabeths reign the musick was so poore that those Lutenists that first began to strike 3 or 4 strings at once in part were wondered at as going beyond the usual way of play upon one string at once, & were called Graspers, but now Musick is growne into that performed, as that I have seene my excellent friend Mr Daniell Forant play upon his Poliphon wth  several plectrum on every finger upon his right hand.

Meanwhile Randall Holme provides a detailed sketch of the type of instrument in his Academy & Armory of whose shape and design puts it extremely close to the surviving English festooned viols including the example by Rose in the Ashmolean Museum, and later examples by Henry Jaye from the 1610s-20s period.

In the case of lutes, Evelyn’s specific interest in old makers is illustrated during his period as a Royalist in Exile in the Civil War, writing from Bologna in 1645 he described how ‘This place has been famous for lutes made by the old masters, Mollen [i.e. Laux Maler], Hans Frey, and Nicholas Sconvelt, which were of extraordinary price; the workmen were chiefly Germans’. It should be noted, that in 1676 Thomas Mace published Musick’s Monument, giving a further view on the cost and fame of Laux Maler as a lute maker, that ‘Mr Gootiere, the Famous Lutenist in His Time, shew’d me One of Them, which the King paid 100l. [£100] for.’ But Chamberlayne’s source of information seems to respond to this further claim of astonishing prices, stating ‘Nor have the Cremona Violins or Loxmollar Lutes been latterly of such excessive prices as formerly’. In perspective, Samuel Pepys wrote on 26 August 1661 of the value of his theorbo: ‘..and so to Paul’s Churchyard to Hunt’s, and there found my Theorbo done, which pleases me very well, and costs me 26s . to the altering. But now he tells me it is as good a lute as any in England, and is worth well 10l. [£10]’. His  bass viol, made by Christopher Wise cost him £3, prices that are consistent with domestic middle class instruments, and the higher price consistent with the kinds of lutes, English viols and Cremonese violins paid for by the Lord Chamberlain for the use of professional musicians in the English Royal Court.

Hitherto the prevailing opinion has been that there were no lute makers working in England, with evidence pointing towards the large-scale importation of lutes from Cologne, the Netherlands and Italy. This opinion falls down somewhat because of the fragile nature of lutes meaning that even if manufacture of them was unusual in England, restoration was vital. Thomas Mace’s Musick’s Monument (1676) includes detailed and extensive instructions for maintaining these instruments. Another manuscript source, Mary Burwell’s Lute Book written around 1670 provides more evidence of the ability in England to make lutes: ‘We have lutes they call ‘cut’ lutes – that is, when of a great lute they will make a little one, which is done in cutting off something of the breadth and length of every rib, and then joining them together upon a little mould…  A lute of twenty pound, lessened so, is not worth £5.’ This description implies a thorough understanding of the making process for lutes. It is also one of several sources which show that the art of faking was already well established in the seventeenth-century.

Chamberlayne describes two lute makers working in London: ‘And no less famous in their kind that is, for Workmanship, were old Allaby and Walter Johnson’. William Allaby was listed as a musician in extraordinary and stringer of lutes in the musical establishment of Charles I in 1641, and upon the Restoration in 1660 became a musician in ordinary and specifically a ‘lute maker’ within the Royal Court. Captain Hill is listed as one of the ‘best music masters’ in London. Samuel Pepys was familiar with the Hill family. ‘Then came Mr. Hills the instrument maker, and I consulted with him about the altering my lute and my viall’ he wrote on 17 February 1569/60. On 7 November ‘this morning came one Mr. Hill (sent by Mr. Hunt, the Instrument maker), to teach me to play the Theorbo, but I do not like his play nor singing, and so I found a way to put him off.’ In 1664 ‘William Hill of the Strand, Lutemaker’ was appointed attorney on behalf of the lutenist John Rogers to receive £300 owed him by the Royal court. There is no proven link between these Hills and Joseph Hill who was born in 1715 outside of London at Alvechurch, and no evidence of their activity after the 1660s, but the claim of W.E. Hill & Sons that the Hills known to Samuel Pepys were the earliest generation of their dynasty cannot be disproven either.

Screenshot 2018-05-27 02.23.25.png
Half-penny token for John Spicer in Russell Street, Covent Garden, 1667 showing the sign of a lute. (Museum of London). Shortly afterwards Robert Cuthbert would be making violins in the same street. 

Another probable lute maker working was John Spicer, whose trade token depicts a lute ‘IOHN SPICER IN CROWN COURT’ IN RUSSELL STREET 1667 HIS HALF PENNY’. John Playford and his shortlived partner Zachary Watkins were was also certainly dealing in lutes at this time, as attested by a newspaper advertisement placed in The Kingdom’s Intelligencer in April 1663 for the return of a ‘Theorbo-Lute, (in a Case lined with green bays) small rib’d, purfled, flat backt, with three Roses on the belly, and upon the head a Scutcheon markt with H[?enry?].L[?awes?]. and newly strung’ stolen on 14 April. At any rate, the lute was reaching the end of it’s popularity by the 1680s as exemplified in Sir Peter Lely’s portrait of the King’s mistress, Moll Davis painted around 1678-9 which shows her with a guitar: “But the fine easie Ghittar, whose performance is soon gain’d, at least after the brushing way, hath at this present over-topt the nobler Lute”

Moll Davis by Sir Peter Lely, painted 1678/9 (Weston Park, Shropshire)

Chamberlayne wrote of innovation in the harpsichord, ‘The Harpsicon is of late wonderfully improv’d by the Invention of the pedal, which brings it so much nearer to the Organ, that it only seems to come short of it in Lungs. The greatest Master on it now living in our Region, especially since the decease of Mr. Thatcher, is Mr. Disnier, and the greatest Fabricator Mr. Howard.’ The Pedals are described in detail by Thomas Mace in 1676 in Musick’s Monument, describing what appears to be an early example of the machine stop, which allowed the musician to alter the sounds of a harpsichord automatically by using their feet.

‘An Instrumente  of a Late Invention, contriv’d (as I have been inform’d) by one Mr. John Hayward of London, a most  Excellent Kind of Instrument for a Consort, and far beyond all Harpsicons or Organs, that I yet ever heard of’.

This idea came to fruition in the 18th century, exclusively in English harpsichord manufacture, but the philosophical aim of enabling a keyboard instrument to vary it’s tonal properties is an important forerunner to the Clavicembalo Piano e Forte devised by the 1690s by Bartolomeo Cristofori at the Medici court in Florence. I’d like to be quite radical and suggest that English ideas of the ‘pedals’ might very well have inspired the invention of the piano, because the Florentine harpsichord maker Girolamo Zenti, Cristofori’s precursor at the Medici court had toured England, France and Sweden in the early 1660s.

Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten’s stil life of musical instruments was painted in England around the 1680s. Although there is no ‘pedals’ mechanism on the harpsichord it has an unusually low compass for the period, and the use of laburnum oyster veneers is symbolic of very fine quality workmanship of the period suggesting a very high status instrument. The recorder – perhaps the best dating evidence appears to be encased in tortoiseshell following a concept introduced from France to England by Pierre Bressan around 1688.

Certainly John Hingeston was paid by the Lord Chancellor’s office in 1664 ‘… for repairing the organs, harpsichords, pedals, and other instruments.’ In 1672 Thomas Salmon described a ‘curious pair of Phanatical Harpsichords made by that Arch Heretick Charles Haward’. In 1674 Haward was paid £6 10s ‘for mending the harpsichords and pedals in the Great Hall in the Privy Lodgings and for the private musick, for 2 whole years.’ The flurry of excitement about the ‘Pedals’ really disappears by the end of the 1670s, but perhaps this was because an impressive new invention had become normalised amongst London musical society. One thing that is clear is that in the first place, these were not common. Thomas Mace reports the cost of two of them:

“Concerning This Instrument … I shall bestow a few Lines, in making mention of, in regard It is not very commonly used, or known ; because Few make of Them Well, and Fewer go to the Price of Them : Twenty Pounds being the Ordinary Price of One ; but the Great Patron of Musick, in His Time, Sir Robert Bolles, (who, in the University, I had the Happiness to Initate, in This High Art) had Two of Them,, the one I remember at 30 l. and the other at 50 l. very Admirable Instruments.”

To get a scale of price, when Samuel Pepys, accompanied by Mr Thatcher the harpsichord master visited a workshop in Bishopsgate street, “We offered 12l., they demanded 14l.. The Master not being at home, we could make no bargain, so parted for to-night.” Seven years later this maker is revealed to be Haward, when Thatcher and Pepys went on the hunt for a spinet in March 1667/68 “and so away thence, and to Bishopsgate Streete, thinking to have found a Harpsicon-maker that used to live there before the fire, but he is gone, and I have a mind forthwith to have a little Harpsicon made me to confirm and help me in my musique notions, which my head is now-a-days full of, and I do believe will come to something that is very good.” The maker in question was Haward, and after finding his shop and visiting him in July that year, he purchased his spinet for five pounds.

The excitement about the pedals by Mace in the 1670s is a red herring to when it was first invented, but the comparative excitement surrounding a much older instrument seems to be reflective of the musical ‘dark age’ that surrounded the English Civil War and subsequent Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell and a puritan regime. It is not true to suggest that music was banned. Instead music thrived in different ways than before, but the musical patronage of the Royal Court had been effectively disbanded from 1641 to 1660 (excluding the vibrant artistic and musical life that existed around the Royalist Court at Oxford until their defeat): It is this period upon which Roger North remarked that ‘many chose rather to fidle at home, than to goe out, and be knockt on the head abroad’ as a response to the dangers of a discontented garrisoned army occupying the streets of London. One of the many consequences of this was that many of the more forward-looking inventions of the 1630s were revived from almost total obscurity as the Royal Court re-established itself after 1660.

Sir Francis Kynaston’s manuscript in the Bodlean Library, written on the eve of Civil War puts the invention of the Pedals to the 1630s:

“This winter there hath been a harpsichorde presented to the king the workman & inventor whereof Mr Howard ought not to be forgotten on wch  one may play passionate loud or soft, as upon a lute when one please, wch  perfection questionles was never obtained by the antients.”

 The development of this instrument also gives some context to interest that Chamberlayne reported for the ‘several old English instruments’ laid aside, including the Orpharion, Polyphone, the Stump ‘whereon about an Age ago Andrew Mark [Galliardello?] was famous for his rare performance.’ Just as Thomas Mace in 1676 wrote Musick’s Monument: or A remembrancer of the best Musick that ever was, (the clue is in the title) Chamberlayne (or Evelyn) was harking back to a golden age or Elizabeth I and James I before the corruption of Charles I slid the country into Civil War.

The ‘Chiefest Artisan’ ‘Mr. Scottny in Lincolns-Inn-fields’ has until now been completely unknown as a wind instrument maker, but he was evidently of extreme importance in his own time. In 1688 his flutes appear in the inventory of Meeres Clarke (more of whom will be revealed in a future newsletter), valued for probate (far below their retail price) at 20 shillings, the same price as a bass viol. In 1699 likewise, the composer Benjamin Hely owned an Old Flute by Scotney’ once more valued at parity with his old antique viols. Edward Millington’s auction of paintings in 1692 at the Vendu included ‘divers flutes by Scotney’ along with ‘A number of curious violins Cremonia and others’. The constant comparisons between Scotney’s work, antique viols and Cremona violins indicates a craftsman of significant importance.


‘The Bandore, the Ghittern, Cittern &c. The treble Viol also is much out of doors, since the Violin came so much in request’ follows parallel commentaries by Roger North and Anthony a Wood testifying to the enormous surge in popularity for the violin that took place in London in the second half of the seventeenth-century, and it is interesting to examine Chamberlayne’s claim that superseded older kinds of instrument: ‘The Violin is now of all others generally of the highest esteem, and is indeed a very useful Instrument in Consort, and now arriv’d to that perfection of performance … The best Workmen for the making of this Instrument have been accounted Comer, Raimund, Florence Barnet.’

‘Raimund’ is an obvious transliteration of Rayman, active in Bell Yard in Southwark. Comer remarkably may have been a descendant of Zuan Maria da Cremona who came to England in 1540 as a musician in Henry VIII’s court, followed by his two sons, George and Innocent ‘Comy of Cremona’ who seem to have been charged with transporting instruments, a task normally associated with keepers and reparers of instruments. Richard Comer, one of the violinists in the court of Charles I was described as an instrument maker working in St Martin-in-the-Fields in legal documents from 2 May 1647. He had died before 1660 and upon the Restoration and his place as court violinist was taken by his son, Henry Comer. This is probably the Comer in question when Edward Lowe, the professor of Music at Oxford acquired for the ‘2 violins with their bowes and cases, bought of Mr. Comer in the Strand’ for the music school of the university in the early 1660s.

The Cockney-sounding violin maker, Florence Barnet (privately I ascribe any unknown 17th century English violin as a Florence Barnet – it amuses me) is the finest comical transliteration of the entire text, almost certainly referencing Floris Barnard, who with his brother Thomas and alongside Henry Jaye were admitted as instrument makers to the Fletcher’s Company in 1605. A document from 1641 identifies ‘Thomas Barnard of Fleetstreet’, which may provide a location from where they worked.

The most famous musical instrument maker in Chamberlayne’s opinion is John Shaw, ‘But for all sorts of Musical Instruments in general, the Violin, the Base and Lyra Viol, the Harp, the Ghittar, the Lute, (even the Flageolet and Flute not altogether excepted) Mr. John Shaw living near the May-pole in the Strand, is acknowledg’d by the most skilful in Musick of all sorts, to be a Workman in a great measure superior to any that have been in this Nation’. Shaw’s surviving bass viol (the only known instrument by him) labelled ‘Carved and Made by John Shaw / and sold by John Carr his Master / at the Middle Temple Gate in Fleete / Street / 1673’ does nothing to contradict this assessment of the quality of his work. The following year, according to a label seen by the Hills, he was free of his apprenticeship and working in the Strand at the sign of the Golden Harp.

Shaw’s reputation was very significant, if poised with tragedy. The Royal Court seems to have reformed the musical establishment in the mid-1680s as a reaction to corruption amongst the musicians, leading to the establishment of a ‘musical instrument maker in ordinary’ to the King. Shaw seems to have had the interests of a future family dynasty at heart, so passed the position to his son, but on 15 June 1692 the younger John Shaw made out his will in favour of his father, and on 24 June he surrendered his court position in favour of the family’s apprentice, John Walsh. By 22 December the younger welsh had predeceased his father.

The label of a viol by John Shaw made in 1673 whilst indentured to John Carr at the Middle Temple Gate. 

Of the final maker in Chamberlayne’s description, all we know is what he reports, but it is more or less miraculous to have the name of the man: ‘For Pegs for Lutes, Viols, &c. Mr Bland is reported the only Man at predent that serves all the Instrument-Makers in Town’.

The final paragraph provides a tantilising mystery. As already discussed, it is clear that Chamberlayne’s information comes directly from John Evelyn, so there may be nothing more to the paragraph than an opportunity to acknowledge and thank the source of musical information. Nevertheless, the description of varnish recipes at the end of a seventeenth-century source on instrument makers is of interest. Evelyn did indeed collect varnish recipes during his exile in in France and Northern Italy during the English Civil War, and he appears to have used these and other collections of recipes (including perfumes) as a kind of calling card amongst his peers in the Royal Society. Robert Boyle’s papers include a note in Evelyn’s hand including ‘The Vernish for Gilding Picture-Frames’, and another recipe for ‘white varnish’ seemingly from Evelyn was passed from Robert Hooke to ‘Mrs Pepys’ in 1676, providing the solitary evidence that Samuel Pepys remarried after the death of his first wife from smallpox in 1669. There remains the fabulous possibility that he could have picked up a varnish of pertinence to instrument making in his travels and that it is sitting somewhere in the papers of the early members of the Royal Society and could become a future article for this newsletter.

A full transcript of Chamberlayne’s notes on music follows, with significant further information about the leading musicians of the day:

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