Street View: 85
Address: 27 Soho Square

elevation 27 Soho Square

Piano making had been a cottage industry, the makers working from home, but like so many other crafts in the nineteenth century, it gradually developed into an industry with dedicated factories, such as Broadwood’s in Horseferry Road, Westminster. Besides the makers, another group of tradesmen developed, that of piano dealers. One such is the firm of John Browne. He no doubt started out small, but in 1836 he could announce that at his Pianoforte Repository at 27 Soho Square he had “a valuable stock of superior cottage, cabinet, square, and grand piano-fortes” and anyone wishing to obtain a genuine Broadwood, would “find at this Repository the most extensive assortment in Town”.(1) In another advertisement he said that the “Repository was established expressly for the sale of Broadwood’s Pianofortes”.(2)

Interior of Broadwood's piano factory

Interior of Broadwood’s piano factory from G. Dodd, Days at the factory, 1843

John Browne, who was born in Yarmouth, can be found in London at least from 1836 onwards. His shop was located on the south side of Soho Square on the corner with Greek Street. We find him living above the shop in the 1841 census at the age of 38 with his wife Mary (age 35), his sons Henry (age 20), Richard (age 19), Charles (age 17) and his daughters Ellen (age 16) and Jane (age 15). Ten years later, in the 1851 census, most of the children have moved out, except Ellen (now called Helen). The ages given are slightly off course, either in the 1841 or the 1851 census, as John is now 56, Mary is 48 and Helen is 24. In the 1861 census they are 63, 62 and 35 years of age. In 1861 they also have two granddaughters living with them, Fanny and Helen Murray, 11 and 3 years old. They were the daughters of Jane who had married John Allan Murray, another pianoforte maker, on 20 January 1849. On the marriage certificate, they are both given as living in Soho Square and John’s father is also listed as a pianoforte maker, just as John Browne is.(3)

cabinet piano

A cabinet pianoforte from G. Dodd, Days at the factory, 1843

John Browne died 6 July 1862 at the Soho Square address and probate was granted to his widow Mary Ann Philips Browne, one of the executrixes. The estate was valued as under £1500.(4) A handwritten note in the margin says “Double Probate passed at the Principal Registry January 1864”. And indeed, we find another entry there. This time probate is granted to his daughter Helen Edlington Browne, “spinster, the daughter one other of the executrixes”. The effects were still under £1500.(5) The Registrar’s General’s Directions say that when one of the executors is absent at the time of the granting of the probate, he or she can apply to be granted probate later, which is then called a double probate. Why double probate was granted in this case is not clear. Had Helen been abroad?

There had been a house at 27 Soho Square at least since 1684, but that had been rebuilt in c. 1794 by architect and builder Richard Pace for Robert Hervey Gage or Gedge, a linen draper. In the early 1800s, Thomas de Quincey, of opium fame, lived there for a time, but he did not like it much, “it wore an unhappy countenance of gloom and unsocial fretfulness, due in reality to the long neglect of painting, cleaning, and in some instance of repairing”. Fortunately, when he returned in 1821, the situation was less gloomy, and he described the house as “roomy and respectable” and no longer neglected.(6) Who occupied 27 Soho Square after the death of John Browne is not clear; the family may have continued living there for a while, but the 1871 census shows the house occupied by George Wiliams, a draper and his wife Elizabeth. In the 1881 census 27 Soho Square is occupied by Thomas French, “manager of coffee tavern” and in the 1891 census the tavern is in the hands of Alfred Kerdel. In 1901, the coffee house has disappeared and eight Italian men live there, all employed in the catering business. Just to make sure the situation is clear, the official who filled in the census wrote ‘(Italian Club)’ underneath the address. Sometime in the 1890s, the lease had been acquired by the Societa Italiana Cuochi-Camerieri (Italian Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ Benefit Society, founded in 1886). They took over the ”furniture and fixtures of the coffee tavern”.(7) The current building at 27-28 Soho Square, Nascreno House, was designed by the architects Douglas and J. D. Wood and erected in 1937-8.(8) At the moment it is occupied by various businesses. For a picture of the current building see here.

(1) Advertisement in J. Alfred Novello, The Musical World, issue 54, 1837.
(2) Advertisement in J. Alfred Novello, The Musical World, issue 25, 1836.
(3) London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Anne, Soho: Dean Street, Westminster, Transcript of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1849 Jan-1849 Dec, DL/t Item, 087/094. Jane’s name is given as Jane Eglington.
(4) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1862, p. 47.
(5) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1864, p. 54.
(6) The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey , ed. D. Masson, vol. 3, 1900, pp. 350 and 358.
(7) J.H. Cardwell et al., Two centuries of Soho, its institutions, firms, and amusements, , 1898, p. 104.
(8) Survey of London, ed. F.H.W. Sheppard, vol. 33, p. 106-107.


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