Ephemera from the Great War can be found in unusual places. This is a story of something that literally resonates with history:
An Italian former piano restorer – Massimo Piemontese (of Quintessential at 65 The Old High Street, Folkestone) – came across this 1880s Gors & Kallmann piano at the back of a house clearance second-hand shop opposite the Folkestone Library in Grace Hill, in June 2012. It had a £150 price tag. The outside was damaged, stained, marked and discoloured but he opened it up and noticed the excellent condition of its interior, and the quality of its sound. He put down a deposit but was soon overtaken by other priorities. Knowing I was looking for a new piano for my gallery he came and told me about it. We went to see it together and I immediately bought him out, paid the remaining balance and arranged delivery. Massimo helped me sand down and repair the exterior and prepare it for painting, which I did, keeping the undamaged original wood around the keys.
I contacted Chris Pearson – a professional piano tuner from Hythe and told him what I knew about the piano I had acquired. He became very excited and told me the following story:
“I know the exact piano you have very well. I first started tuning it in the seventies when it belonged to the Burlington Hotel. At the time there were people who drank at the bar in their late eighties who told me all about its history. The piano had belonged to the Leas Pavilion over a hundred years ago, but during the First World War it was put on the Folkestone Bandstand on the Leas.”
When he came to tune it, Chris explained that after its spell on the Bandstand, the Leas Pavilion no longer wanted it given that it was a German piano and Britain was at war with Germany. The Burlington adopted it until the 1990s, when it acquired a grand piano. Chris was then unaware of what happened to it until he was asked to tune a piano at Trinity House, an old people’s home in Manor Road, Folkestone where it stayed until a few years ago. It then ended up in the hands of music teacher in Hythe.
“She didn’t want to get rid of it,” explained Chris, “but it took up so much space in her cottage she needed a smaller piano. And now it is back in a public place in Folkestone. When I first tuned it, I opened it up and I found all this sheet music with First World War songs. To think who would have listened to it and stood around it!” He shook his head. “If only this piano could talk…”
Story and Photos by Shane Record