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British Industrial History

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Alfred Knight

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of Granville Park Works, Brettenham Road, Upper Edmonton, London, N18. Telephone: Tottenham 6716 (2 lines).

1898 Alfred Edward Knight, piano manufacturer, was born at 99 Camberwell Road, south London, on 26 December, the son of Alfred Edward Knight, journeyman piano maker, and his wife, Florence Jane.

His family had been involved with piano making for the previous four generations, his great-great-grandfather having worked in the Broadwood workshop when it was at Westminster.

Knight attended the West Square Central Boys' School, Southwark, where he showed a talent for wood- and metalwork. He spent part of his spare time, while at school, helping in the factory of the Hicks company in the New Kent Road.

1913 He entered an apprenticeship with Hicks, at the age of fourteen.

By 1919, having successfully completed his training, he had started to work for the piano manufacturers Squire and Longson of Medlar Street, Camberwell.

In 1923 he married Florence Jenny, daughter of Alfred George Slodden, a machinist; they had two daughters and possibly other children.

British piano makers were confronted by turbulent industrial relations, changing economic circumstances, and in some cases, weaknesses in management, which led, for example, to the collapse of the Brinsmead firm in 1920. Nevertheless, Squire and Longson survived the period, making good quality instruments under the brand name of Cremona, and also under the name Welmar for Whelpdale, Maxwell, and Codd until 1929, when their premises were destroyed by fire — a fate suffered so often by instrument makers. The factory was rebuilt.

1931 Knight left to set up a new business, Booker and Knight, at a factory in Carysfort Road, Stoke Newington. This bold step in the most severe years of the depression was rewarded with success.

By 1935 Knight was able to buy out Booker and set up his own Knight Piano Co

Alfie, as he was known, was ‘a bustling cheerful Londoner, with a brisk line in chat, a consummate salesman, as well as a fine craftsman. He was gregarious and loved meeting people’. Among the honours bestowed on Knight were the freedom and honorary citizenship of the city of Santiago, as well as a knighthood of the honorable order of Kentucky colonels.

1955 The Knight Piano Company moved to a new factory at Loughton in Essex, and there the firm concentrated on a range of standard upright models.

1966 Knight was appointed OBE for his services to music and to musical education. In both areas he was an active participant, having been president of the Association of Blind Piano Tuners, a competent pianist, and a devoted educator. He toured schools, lecturing and expounding the philosophy that: Music is something you can do and appreciate for the whole of a lifetime... When parents give their children a musical education they are giving them the greatest gift possible. The playing of a musical instrument and appreciation of music is about the only thing left that can be done from nine to ninety.

Knight is noted chiefly for his innovation in the use of plastics in place of wood in piano construction, and it is significant that in a number of reference books on the piano, it is almost only in this connection that he is mentioned. By personal research he developed a nylon impregnated with glass fibre and graphite as the main material which could give stability in a wide range of hostile environments. His lead in the development of piano actions was significant, and the world dominance of actions by Herrburger, Brooks and other American firms was successfully challenged by the setting up of British Piano Actions at Llanelli in south Wales, a company of which Knight was a director.

1974 Knight died at his home, 26 Wellfields, Loughton, Essex, on 3 September. Sylvia Florence - Alfred's daughter - married John York, a director of Alfred Knight Ltd, and succeeded to the chairmanship of the company on her father's death. They had two children together, Gillian and Michael. Gillian worked for the company until her marriage, and after taking charge of the technical side of the firm, their son, Michael, became the company's general manager.


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