Making music: Finchcocks houses a celebrated collection of instruments

PUBLISHED: 01:16 05 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:05 20 February 2013

Housing a celebrated collection of more than 100 historical keyboard instruments, of which more than 40 are in full working order, Finchcocks makes a wonderful day out for all the family

Housing a celebrated collection of more than 100 historical keyboard instruments, of which more than 40 are in full working order, Finchcocks makes a wonderful day out for all the family.

Many people who visit Finchcocks share the sentiment of its owner Katrina Burnett when they first see this magnificent Georgian building: It might have been in desperate need of repair, but when Richard and I first saw Finchcocks we simply fell in love with the place.

But the couple, who bought the house in the early 1970s, are just one in a long list of previous owners.

It was originally built in the early 1700s for Edward Bathurst, a local barrister, says Katrina. The Bathursts lived in it until the end of the 18th century, and then it went to another local family, the Springetts who lived here until the mid 19th century, when the Husseys of Scotney bought it. They never lived there, renting it out until 1919, when it was sold again.

The main house then had a variety of owners, including the picture collector Lycett Green in the 1930s and the Legat Ballet School during the 1960s.

The Legat sold up in the early 1970s, which was when my husband and I entered the picture, says Katrina. We had been looking for somewhere to house our collection of period keyboard instruments for over a year, looking at barns and old mills but not really having any luck.

And then we came across Finchcocks. Externally it was so beautiful, it just took our breath away. It was the right size and internally blessed with wonderfully high ceilings and beautiful period details, and so we had to buy it.

So in love with the building were they that both Richard and Katrina were able to see past its many problems.

It was a bit shabby, laughs Katrina. It had been used as a ballet school and I dont think theyd had the money to really keep up with the maintenance. Luckily there was nothing structurally wrong and so it just took a bit of loving care to get the place looking good again.

And once that had been taken care of the Burnetts were free to begin creating the Finchcocks we see today. The most important use of the building, and the reason that the couple had been looking for a house in the first place, was as somewhere to house and display Richards collection of instruments.

The collection that we have here is quite remarkable, says Finchcocks curator, Dr Alistair Laurence. We have more than 100 different instruments available to display, consisting of pianos, organs, harpsichords and clavichords. These mostly date from the 18th century and include many beautiful pieces.

Pianos make up a significant part of the collection, with 70 examples that embrace most of the types produced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

We have two pianos which are similar to those that Mozart knew, continues Alistair. The grand piano (or fortepiano as it was often referred to on the continent) by Sebastian Lengerer, built in the Tyrol in 1793, is old fashioned for its date. The other Mozart piano is the grand by Michael Rosenberger, dating from the last decade of the 18h century.

In addition to the instrument collection, Finchcocks is also home to John Broadwood & Sons, the oldest and one of the most prestigious piano companies in the world. Its a company whose instruments have been enjoyed by such famous people as Mozart, Haydn and Liszt and which currently holds the Royal Warrant as the manufacturer of pianos for the Queen.

Broadwoods is a small company using traditional skills to make a small number of pianos each year, says Dr Laurence. A big company like Yamaha could probably make thousands of pianos a year, but here we are carrying on the hand-made, high-quality tradition that has been part of the company since the early 1700s.

These skills have virtually died out in Britain, yet here they are still alive; put to good use in the making of pianos and the maintenance of the many instruments housed in the collection. Despite the age of the instruments at Finchcocks, visitors are not compelled to stand behind a red rope to enjoy them.

Were not one of those stuffy museums, says Katrina. We want people to come and get a connection with the instruments and I dont believe you can really do that without touching them and listening to the sound that they make.

This is something that I know our younger visitors really enjoy doing. And if hearing them tinkered with isnt enough and you really want to hear them played professionally, then I suggest that people come along to one of the regular concerts, where you can really get a taste of what these remarkable instruments sound like.

For those with real musical flair who want to spend a little more time with the instruments, Finchcocks also offers the opportunity for people of all ages to study and play at the house.

Educational visits usually include a short demonstration or recital on the instruments in the main hall, followed by a chance to look round the rest of the museum and play an instrument with guidance from our tutors.

More advanced pupils can receive personal tuition or a master class. The visit can end with a short informal concert given by the players in the group. You are welcome to bring any additional instruments you want. Its important that the whole group enjoys the visit and feels included in the musical experience, says Tyna Carter, head of sales and marketing.

But the house is about more than just music. The Finchcocks Collection has recently become an important resource centre for pictures and prints relating to the London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th century. Many public pleasure gardens were opened in London in the 18th and 19th centuries, including Marylebone Gardens, Royal Surrey Gardens and Vauxhall Gardens. Several contained large concert halls, or hosted promenade concerts and some less- discussed gardens were home to harems and haberdasheries, says Katrina.

We have a wonderful collection of prints and pictures of these gardens as well many satirical prints by Gillray, Cruikshank and others says Katrina.

And the connection with gardens such as those that existed in Marylebone and Vauxhall extends beyond the collection. Finchcocks is also home to its very own pleasure garden. When we first moved in the garden was in a terrible condition, says Katrina. Since then we have made a lot of renovations and improvements.

The shrub borders and Orchard Platt were first established, then the Autumn Garden was opened up and finally The Walled Garden was developed in the 1990s with the help of Hadlow College. We originally thought it was a 19th-century vegetable garden, but two years ago Kent Gardens Trust discovered evidence that the Walled Garden was from the 18th century, so the Pleasure Gardens theme is spot on for this.

Although it often gets tagged as a musical museum, Finchcocks is so much more. Interactive, interesting and inspiring theres something for everyone; whether you want to try an instrument, listen to it played professionally or just enjoy the lovely house and its gardens.

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