|Thomas Elliot's 1832 Organ at York Minster Cathedral.|
I usually only spend time researching the lives of our direct ancestors, but Thomas Elliot is such an intriguing family figure that for him I have made an exception. Thomas is the brother of Robert Elliot, our immigrant ancestor, and the uncle of William Elliot the manufacturer and pharmacist. He is one of the ten children of Charles Elliot and Lydia Bayley of Hayes, Middlesex. He was obviously quite musical since not only did he become one of the significant British organ builders of his time, but there are records of his belonging to a number of musical societies and performing as a singer at Westminster Abbey and Drury Lane. (Another of Robert's brothers, William Elliot, was a currier like Robert but also had a reputation as a singer). I don't have any formal apprenticeship records for Thomas, although he is thought to have a connection to John Snetzler, a Swiss organ builder who had immigrated to England. Thomas's daughter Mary married William Hill, another prominent organ builder, and William became Thomas's business partner and carried on the firm of Elliot and Co.after Thomas Elliot's death, renaming it W. Hill and Co., and later W. Hill and Son, when William and Mary's son, also Thomas (1822-1893), entered the family business. Here are a few biographical references to Robert's brother Thomas Elliot and his musical accomplishments:
Singer, Organ builder.
Doane's Musical Directory of 1794 listed Thomas Elliot, of No 10, Soho Street, Sutton Square, as a bass singer and builder of organs. Elliot sang for the New Musical Fund, the Choral Fund, the Longacre Society, the Cecilian Society, the Surrey Chapel Society, and in the oratorios at Westminster Abbey and Drury Lane Theatre. He was still a subscriber to the New Musical Fund in 1815.
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800; Volume V, Egan to Garrett. Philip H. Highfill.
Elliot & Hill: London. (1825-1832). Thomas Elliot was at Wharton's Court, Holborn in 1791. Doane's Directory for 1794 gives 'Thomas Elliot, Organ Builder, 10 Sutton Street, Soho Square, London.' Pigot, in 1827 gives him at 12 Tottenham Court Road, where he was as early as 1819. William Hill (died 1870) was partner of Thomas Elliot from 1825 until 1832 when Elliot died. Hill then continued alone until 1837 when he was joined by F. Davison cp. Hill and Davison.
Church and Chamber Barrel-Organs: Their Origin, Makers, Music and Location. Canon Noel Boston and Lyndesay G. Langwill.
It was another builder who seems ultimately to have been in a position to 'carry on' the work [of John Nutt, another organ builder]. This was Thomas Elliot, whose earliest surviving work is dated 1790, and who was first recorded in 1791 at Wharton's Court in Holborn and then at 10 Sutton Street (now Sutton Row), Soho Square in 1794. Again, his antecedents are not precisely known, though the 1790 organ contains metal pipes identical in style with those normally made by Hugh Russell of Theobald's Road, Holborn. His background...seems to have been at least as much musical as commercial, though a connection of some kind with Nutt has been posited. He is known to have sung bass at the 1794 Handel Commemoration at Westminster Abbey, and elsewhere. He may have been an organist, too, as one of the subscribers to William Russell's first set of Voluntaries (1804) was a 'Mr. Elliot, Organist of Curzon Chapel'.
Upon John Nutt's decease in 1804, it seems that Elliot moved next door to Ann Corbitt (nee Nutt) in Tottenham Court. It was from 12 Tottenham Court, New Road, that Elliot ran his business, first employing Alexander Buckingham (his foreman from about 1806 until about 1818) and then William Hill (working from 1815), as well as George Corbitt (who worked until 1835) and others...Hill's own early training is not known; he married Thomas's daughter, Mary, and eventually took over the business fully at Elliot's death in 1832.
The Life and Work of John Snetzler. Alan Barnes and Martin Renshaw. Scolar Press, Hants, England 1994.
Thomas Elliot, d. 1832.
Elliot, whose name may be found spelt variously with one or two T's at the end, was partner (1825) with, and father-in-law to William Hill, with whom he built a large number of organs including that in York Minster, an instrument designed quite remarkably badly by Dr. Camidge, the Minister organist. Elliot's workshop was in Tottenham Court Road. Details of two of his organs are as follows:
1. St. Michael Broome, Norfolk. This instrument was formerly in a private house in Surrey and was supplied in 1938 by Hill and Son, Norman and Beard. A painted label above the keyboard reads 'Thomas Elliot/London 1817'. There are no display-pipes, their place being taken by glass bookcase doors backed by blue silk. Painted flowers flank the maker's label, and there is decorative inlaid metalwork down each side of the upper case at the front...
2. All Saints, Thornage, Norfolk. This organ was formerly at Swanton Novers hall nearby and was sold to the church for 14 pounds. The painted label above the keyboard reads 'Thos. Elliot/ Tottenham Court Road London/1812'.
The case is well-balanced and delicate, with deep cornice, shaped toe-board, and display-pipes grouped in a number of small compartments...
A third chamber organ by Elliot is in the church at Gooderstone, Norfolk...
The English Chamber-Organ, History and Development 1650-1850. Michael Wilson. Bruno Cassirer Ltd., Oxford, 1968.
One of the highlights of Thomas Elliot's career must surely have been in 1821, when he was commissioned to build an organ for the Coronation of King George IV at Westminster Abbey. This is what the London newspaper Morning Post of July 2, 1821 has to say about Coronation preparations:
"By an order from the Lord Chamberlain, a new magnificent organ is now erecting over the altar of Westminster Abbey, built by ELLIOT of the City Road.--Mr. KNYVETT, senior (as ORGANIST to His MAJESTY) is to preside at it over the vocal department, which is to be confined to the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, and Choir of Westminster Abbey. The Instrumental, conducted by WILLIAM SHIELD, Esq. as Master of the King's band of musicians. Two New Anthems are composed for the solemn ceremony by his Majesty's composers, Mr. ATTWOOD and Mr. WM. KNYVETT; at the express command of the King, HANDEL'S Grand Coronation Anthem, ZADOK THE PRIEST, will be performed as at the last Coronation; but the musical service will be much shorter than the former."
We don't know if Elliot actually got to attend the Coronation ceremony, although I certainly hope he did. It must have been quite a spectacle: according to one of the official Royal British websites, George's "extravagance and love of pageantry was very evident in his Coronation on 19 July 1821 at Westminster Abbey, which cost around 240,000 [pounds sterling]. This was in comparison with the Coronation of his father which cost less than 10,000 [pounds sterling] in 1761." (George was a notorious spendthrift; indeed, one article I read called him "about the most worthless heir to the throne that any nation was ever saddled with".) The ceremony lasted for five hours and did include a bit of behind the scenes drama--Queen Caroline, George's estranged wife, tried to break into the Abbey against George's orders so that she could be crowned Consort. Apparently she "finally had the door slammed in her face by the deputy Lord Chamberlain." Queen Caroline died nineteen days after the ceremony to which she was refused entry.
|Coronation Portrait of George IV|
It's pretty hard to find a functioning Elliot organ kicking around today. The organ Thomas built for the coronation ceremony was moved out of Westminster Abbey within a few years and probably relocated to All Saints' Church in Sedgley . St. Margaret's Church in Crick Village has an Elliot organ with an interesting history but it has been extensively restored. The magnificent looking organ he built for York Minster Cathedral (see photo above) was almost completely refurbished in 1903.
The Elliot organs often made their way overseas, and at least three Elliot organs were imported to Canada. King George III gave Montreal's Anglican Cathedral Christ Church an Elliot organ in 1814 as a gift; it was known locally as the "King's organ". It gradually succumbed to old age despite some restorations and repairs and was finally replaced in 1948. The historic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Quebec City acquired an Elliot organ in 1803, which was destroyed by fire in 1922. The Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City also commissioned an Elliot organ:
"The organ was composed of two separate instruments, the great, and in front of it a smaller organ, called the choir organ. These were ordered on the 5th September 1801, from Thomas Elliot, Artillery Place, London, at a cost of 369 [pounds] 11 s. 10 d. cy., subscribed as follows..."
(The English Cathedral of Quebec, by Frederick William Wurtele, Published by the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec in Transactions, New Series, Number 20 (1890)).
This organ arrived in the early 1800s but Holy Trinity replaced it with another English organ in 1847.
I'm trying to figure out what social class an occupation like this would have placed Thomas in. My guess is that he would be considered a master craftsman...would that make him middle class? His addresses seem posh, and his will disposes of a host of comfortable living accoutrements:
"ffurniture plate linen china glass books prints and paintings...music and musical instruments...".
This is in addition to his workshop and tools, left to his son-in-law William Hill, and the annuities he left to his three surviving daughters. In contrast, three of Thomas's brothers, Robert (our ancestor) William and John were curriers or leather workers, a physically taxing and not particularly high-status occupation. Josiah, a brother of Robert and Thomas who also came to Canada, had run a pub called the Adam and Eve but had gone bankrupt. In Canada, Robert took up farming in Dundas Ontario and Josiah became a storekeeper in Beachville Ontario, a world away from their musical brother, who died just a few years after their arrival in Canada.