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A Short (ish) History!

A short history of Dean Organ Builders and the Music Box Shop

LOCAL HISTORY & COMPANY DETAILS

Mechanical Music – A Local Tradition since 1816…….

The Bristol / Bath area is famous for many historical trades such as architecture, ship building and its aircraft industry. However, it is often forgotten that our locality has a long tradition of musical instrument manufacturing.

The first organ builder to have his works in Bristol was Robert Tanton, establishing his business in 1660. So followed a succession of organ builders, including manufacturers and hirers of barrel organs and pianos etc, dealers and shops selling all kinds of instruments, both mechanical and manual players.

By the middle of the 18th century, the area could boast such famous firms as Elizabeth Chew, the Bristol Harpsichord makers, and Brice Seede Organ Builders. As the music industry grew, apprentices to these firms started their own businesses like John Smith of Bath and Bristol who trained with Seede and was succeeded by his son, Richard Smith, who in turn was succeeded by Joseph Monday.

One of the areas closely linked to the music industry was Castle Street in Bristol, which at times could boast music box sales, pipe organ dealers & manufacturers and other musical instrument sales.

By circa 1805 the famous cabinet making family of Hicks had turned their attention to the building of musical instrument and are credited as inventing and building the very first street barrel piano in Bristol around this date. So by 1816 the firm of Joseph Hicks was well established as a leading supplier of barrel street pianos and organs. The Hicks pattern of street piano was so popular that other firms copied the design, including the German builders in the Black Forest area.

Following the success of the Hicks street piano, Hicks style pianos continued to be built in Bristol by his ex apprentices. At this point the firms of Henry Distin and Taylors were established and continued the tradition, although Henry Distin emigrated to America, leaving Taylors the English market.

Not only were pipe and string instruments popular, also reed playing organs were sought after. Bristol was not to be left behind in this field, with George B Briffett establishing his reed organ manufacturing business in Hulbert Street circa 1883, producing fine quality reed organs.

By 1909 mechanical music businesses were well established in the area and it was in this year that Arthur Oram was to found the Bristol Showmans Stores in Bedminster which went on to become sole agent for the Paris firm of fair organ builders, C H Marenghi & Cie.

It was Bedminster that was to become the first home for the Dean family when Walter Thomas Dean brought his family to the area from Dorset following his marriage in 1899 to the daughter of a local dealer, William Wyatt. Walter Dean’s son Edwin, was to move his business to Whitchurch in 1939 and so established the present site where our shops and workshops are today.

There is a long tradition in the Dean family in wood work, with carpentry and cabinet making. Each member of the family taking pride in becoming Master Craftsmen of their trade, producing only the finest items with a quality of service that you would expect in a traditional business.

Under the direction of Edwin Dean’s son, Michael, the family turned its attention to the building of ‘new’ traditional style fairground and street organs. It was at this time that the name of ‘Dean Organs’ was born and so the small family firm has become one of the, if not the, premiere names in the field. The family are responsible for a number of innovations taken as standard amongst today’s organ builders, such as the 20 keyless book playing organ and the 52 keyless book playing organ.

Following Mike and Pat Dean’s retirement from the business in the late 1990s, the business continues in the hands of their son, who have added extra scope to the business by opening the retail music shop, The Music Box Shop,’ and you can be sure whether you purchase a Dean made product or an externally sourced product, that the same care and pride has been used to manufacture or source it as is expected of a traditional firm.

“Dean Organ Builders, keeping Bristol’s Mechanical Music Tradition alive”.

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