Wednesday, 25 January 2017

John Hudson

In my last post, I mentioned briefly, in the discussion about the post Boehm improvements to the simple system flute, John Hudson, the English flute maker, who many believe to have been the éminence grise behind such flute designs as those of Siccama, and later Pratten.
For a period, a few years ago, I was buying quite a few flutes at auction, and I managed to accumulate a few nice bits and pieces. Having considerable experience in the restoration of simple system flutes, I was able to buy flutes which other collectors would pass over as being too damaged or even unrestorable, and bring them back to life, as it were.
I've often remarked that a flute with almost no visible damage can in reality be beyond repair, whereas another, literally in bits, can be restored to almost mint condition. ( by someone who knows what they're doing )
The only problem with this was that any time I had to restore the flutes was taken up doing work for other people, so I was accumulating drawers full of flutes which I was really dying to work on, but couldn't find the time.
So, sometimes at Xmas, or to be more accurate in the period between Xmas and New Year,  I try to set time aside to do things for myself. This year it was supposed to be some book binding ( another project on the long finger is the rebinding of a 1st edition set of "Holtzapffel's Turning and Mechanical Manipulation") but in the end I managed to restore two of the flutes on the waiting list, and the first one to be finished is the subject of this post.

I've always tried to buy instruments that are unusual in some way, or in some way illustrate the wonderful imaginative diversity of the English 19th century makers, and this flute ticks all the boxes.

But back to John Hudson. Hudson was initially a maker on his own account, making standard 8 key flutes like many of his contemporaries. He appears in Langwill's Index as a flute maker,  only from 1853-1857. It appears that after this he worked for Siccama, and later for Boosey.
There is a useful account of Hudson and some of his flutes on Terry McGee's website.

A few years ago I did some work on one of Hudson's standard 8 key flutes, confirming that it was absolutely unremarkable, and identical to many other good quality London flute of the time. The flute under consideration here was different, but differed in a different way than either the standard Siccama or Pratten"s Perfected did from the standard 8 key.
We'll come back to Hudson the man, how his work came about, and its significance, later, but lets look at the flute itself...

The flute is stamped:


It is stamped on the head and body
And on the foot and barrel 


It is basically a standard 8 keyed flute, but with the addition of a brille mechanism to correct the c and c# between the first and second octaves, and a similar device to correct the tuning of the F#, while also allowing for a smaller more accessibly placed hole for this note.
What makes it unusual however is that in the style and nature of the keywork, and the size of the finger holes, it is a very atypical of what we generally associate with Pratten.

The finger hole sizes from the head down are as follows:
7.5mm 9.5mm 8.0mm 9.0mm 7.6mm 6.5m
and the keyed notes:
Long C 7.25mm, Bb 6.3mm, G# 6.25mm, the Fs 8.5mm, Eb 12.25mm, C 12.25mm, C# 9.9mm

Here's the same dimensions for a Boosey Pratten's Perfected.
8.0mm, 10.0mm, 8.5mm, 10.2mm, 11.3mm, 7.0mm.
Long C 10.2mm, Bb 9.5mm, G# 10.0mm, The Fs 9.9mm, Eb 12.5mm, C 11.5mm, C#11.5mm

As you can see, these are radically different. The Boosey Pratten's is essentially a large holed flute
with the keyed notes being particularly large. Hudson  no. 185 is essentially a medium holed flute similar to flutes of several decades before.
It's interesting to note at this point that even after Nicholson encouraged the manufacture of flutes with very large open finger holes, that the keyed notes tended to remain much smaller. Siccama seems to have been the first to make flutes that had larger holes overall ( I'm open to correction on this, it's just my personal experience)

The extra keywork on this flute is designed to correct two of the most notoriously out of tune notes on the simple system flute, the C/C# between the first and second octaves, and the F#.

The issue with the C/C# is that of trying to use one hole to produce two notes. The upper hole on the flute, that closest to the embouchure, is the major control of the pitch when the flute is sounded with all fingers off, i.e. all six holes open and all keys still closed - C#.
In the absence of keys, C natural is produced by cross fingering, flattening this C# to C natural. This is usually done by closing the second and third holes while leaving the first open. The problem with this arrangement is that using this system, the C# is too flat, and the C natural too sharp. Thus correcting one of the notes by adjusting the size or position of the first hole, makes the other worse. The brille key ( or the spectacles, as it was sometimes known in English ) solves this conundrum by having a small hole in-between the first two upper holes which is controlled by two ring keys on the first two holes. Thus as long as a finger remains on either of the upper two holes, this small hole remains closed, but lifting both of them at the same time opens it, giving a sharper, in tune, C#, while fingering the normal 1 x x 4 5 6 C natural keeps it closed flattening the C natural into tune.
The device on the F# works in a similar fashion. The F# is in the odd position of being the largest hole on the flute beside the smallest ( the 6th ). In the scale of the old flutes, the F# is way too flat. The maker's dilemma is that to sharpen the note you must either make the hole bigger, or move it towards the embouchure. Since it's already rather large, particularly on "large holed" flutes, the maker tries to avoid that, since it's harder to control and also comes into a tonal and volumetric contrast with the E below it. Moving it towards the embouchure makes the stretch between fingers 3 and 4 of the right hand worse. In this case the ring key on the F# controls a small hole above it. Thus the third finger of the right hand controls a small hole but because of the ring key, allows it to be sharp enough to be in tune when opened.
Otherwise the keys are standard for the period, which is in itself unusual. Beginning with the flutes that Hudson made for Siccama, he used a characteristic style of key that has become associated with his name...much easier to illustrate than describe.

This particular flute was made by ( or perhaps for ),  S. A Chappelle of 52 New Bond St. sometime between 1871 and 1901, and it's unlikely (but not impossible ) that the keys were made by Hudson, but they illustrate exactly the style, with a very large flat cup, with a central  male threaded stud which was screwed into a female thread in the shaft. This flute was also stamped Siccama Patent, and you can see the typical Siccama key for L3.

The early Pratten's Perfected, made by Hudson himself have similar keys, but later Pratten's, like this Boosey and Co. example...

have more or less standard keys where the cup is soldered or cast integral with the shaft. The cups are still large and flat to cover the large key holes noted above. ( sorry about the pic )

So here's a few pics of the keywork of this particular flute, which as you'll note, combines block mounted and post mounted keys.
First of all, the brille key

and above, a general view of the long C and Bb keys, showing the style of cup and shaft. Below then, is the F# correction key.

It might be tempting to think that the post mounted keys which are in fact the two pitch modifying keys, were an afterthought, but in fact give the sizes and positions of the six open finger holes they must have been part of the original design.

So back to Hudson, the maker. Early accounts give little attention to the maker, but rather the patentee, so we know much more about Siccama and Pratten, who took out the patents for these designs ( or at least put their imprimatur on them) than about Hudson.
I'm inclined to think though, that Hudson's role in the development of these flutes might be crucial.
Look at the sequence of events:-
We know that it was Hudson who made the Siccama Diatonic Flute which was patented in 1845.
We know that R.S. Pratten was one of the professional players who adopted this flute, and that his Pratten's Perfected flute, in its initial form as essentially a large holed simple system instrument, was in effect a Siccama flute without the " Siccama keys for  L3 and R3. The early ones, made by Hudson and sporting the Hudson style keywork are unashamedly similar to the Siccama flutes ( in bore design as well), and in fact are stamped as this one is, "Hudson from Siccama".
Hudson then becomes the foreman for Boosey and Co., who were the major manufacturers of the Pratten's Perfected flutes.
 So if we look at the Pratten's Perfected (and I mean in the form that Irish players think of it...a simple system cone bore large holed instrument ) we can see that in essence its origin is with Siccama and his Diatonic Flute, but I think a lot of flute scholars, those who are also makers in particular, think that it may have had more to do with Hudson than Siccama.

Abel Siccama was an amateur flute player, who made his living as a language teacher in London. Was he a man capable of coming up with new flute design? I quote Rockstro, who was not noted for hiding his true feelings about makers or performers with whom he didn't see eye to eye. ( but who is not always an entirely reliable source)

"Abel Siccama was a teacher of languages in London, and an amateur flute-player of very moderate capabilities. About the year 1842 he conceived the unfortunate idea that he was destined to be the inventor of a new flute that should eclipse everything that had been made or imagined...He had little knowledge of the flute, and less inventive genius, but he determined to bring out a flute associated with his name, and he did so."

Mind you he did convince many people, among them Pratten as noted above, and another major player of the day, Richardson, to adopt his flute. It appears to have been a commercial success, because Hudson's work was exemplary, and many of the instruments survive in good condition.
Hudson himself gets no mention from Rockstro, but he does say this speaking of Pratten and his development of his patent flute...

" he associated himself with a clever man who had once been Siccama's constructor, and the musician and the mechanic worked together with some success"

and then later...

"Pratten's able coadjutor became foreman to Messrs. Boosey and Co., who then undertook the manufacture of the 'perfected flute'"

So I think it's safe to assume that the clever man was Hudson.

Who really came up with the ideas that began as the Siccama flute and ended as the Pratten's, and had such an influence on the new simple system Irish flutes of today? Of course we'll never know, but the maker in me says Hudson all the way.
He's one of my favourite makers and I'm proud to have this fine example of his work.

As an afterthought, I thought I'd check the pitch of this flute, with the slide extended about 10mm.
I know these old flutes are in sharp pitch, but this extension gives A=462!


  1. The sad ending to Mr. Hudson, of course, was that he was deaf at the end of is days.
    As a young man, his parents were quite elderly, but they were good to ensure he had a trade worth pursuing.
    Nice piece of work, Hammy, as always.

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  2. Since Pratten's flute followed Siccama's, yet he dropped the two extra keys, what did he perfect? Wouldn't the absence of the keys and thus the need to reposition the holes, spoil the intonation? Isn't that "perfection" of intonation what Siccama achieved, along with a more powerful sound?

    1. A good question Alan. In fact the whole thing with the various "Perfected" and "Improved" flutes tells us more about the commercial aspects of the flute business than about flute design. Whether it was Siccama himself or Hudson who came up with the original Siccama design is unsure, but I suspect Siccama himself, since he had already put out a few other rather strange designs which attempted to use as few keys as possible, none of which came to anything. ( see Bate's The Flute) The design, which we currently know as the Siccama flute, with the positions of the third and sixth holes corrected, and keys to make them playable did well for a while and was taken up by several well known players, including R. S. Pratten. It seems that Pratten and Hudson got together and, as you point out, reversed Siccama's system back to a standard 8 keyed, with larger holes and bore which is what characterises the "Pratten's Perfected"
      So in effect, he didn't perfect anything, except the commercial advantage of using his name to sell flutes. In fact there are very many quite distinct types of flute which bear the "Pratten's Perfected " stamp, including many cylinder flutes with widely varying keywork. What unifies them all is that they all attempted to use old system fingering, and catered for that large body of players who refused to make the change to the Boehm fingering.

  3. I have a Hudson siccama flute it’s old and wooden with a screw nipple at the top and signed
    Can anyone give me any help with age etc

    1. If you could E-Mail some pics to hammy(at), I should be able to date it for you. Make sure you include a photo of the address stamp.

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