Archibald Ramsden

The following description is available as spoken word in the 'Listen' section.

On this spot was the music warehouse of Archibald Ramsden, one of the most notable music dealers on Coney Street in the early twentieth century. In 1864, Ramsden set up a music establishment in his hometown, Leeds, selling harmoniums, pianos, and sheet music. He dealt in instruments purchased from specialist makers, including imports from North America, but also instruments made to his own designs.

Archibald Ramsden's shop on Coney Street. From 'Valentine's series' postcard, c.1905 (private ownership)

Ramsden went into manufacture with engineer William Dawes, patenting the Dawes Melody Harmonium. The Harmonium - a reed organ with bellows operated by foot pedals - was popular at this time in churches and domestic parlours, and Ramsden’s innovation was a mechanism that shut off certain lower notes when the highest notes of the harmonium were played. This resulted in a much clearer melodic line, which was also easier to sing along with: hence the name ‘Melody Harmonium’. The mechanism started life as an attachment which could be fitted to a regular harmonium, but Ramsden went on to develop his own harmoniums with the attachment already built in.

These were so successful that in 1867 Ramsden was summoned to Balmoral to perform for Queen Victoria and demonstrate the cutting-edge instrument. The Queen was so impressed by the harmonium that she kept it for herself! (1)

Ramsden’s instruments were thenceforth advertised ‘by Royal Appointment’. He expanded his business and opened showrooms in London and across the north, including a piano and organ ‘saloon’ in York, situated here on Coney Street between 1895 and 1905.

  1. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular. Vol. 13 no. 303, 1 May 1868, p.372.