0304 - 5-key conical flute by William Milhouse

It's a pervasive myth that the development of the keyed flute was a simple, sequential business, in which the design moved from 1-key (via Quantz's 2-key) to 4- and 6-keys, but the instruments which survive give the lie to this simple trajectory. Many surviving 4-key instruments, for example, date from the 1830s and 1840s, long after the 6- and even 8-key instrument had become ubiquitous. In Germany, in particular, there are many 2- or 3- keyed flutes in which any combination of Bb, G# and F keys have been added to an existing 1-key instrument. And flutes survive from France from the 1740s or early 1750s with 3 keys: the D#, C# and C on the foot joint, but no 'body' keys. The popularity of keyed flutes in London (irrespective of futile arguments about who made them first) was undoubtedly hugely influenced by Florio's playing of such instruments, and by their production in significant numbers by the workshops of Richard Potter and Thomas Collier from the 1760s onwards.  A further myth is that 5-key flutes are uncommon, but most London makers of the period could and would produce 5-key instruments if required. There are numerous examples by Potter, and this one is certainly not the only example by Milhouse. It's a pretty, stained boxwood instrument with a larger than average bore and a small embouchure. It's tempting to take these features, and the large ivory rings, as evidence that the instrument is 'early', but Milhouse was a conservative rather than innovative maker, and it may have been these very qualities which made his instruments so appealing (along with those stamped Astor) to regional churches and church bands, in whose inventories and records they often appear.  Milhouse appears to have sustained a presence in Newark, Nottinghamshire, where his father Richard made wind instruments, even after setting up in London at 337 Oxford Street (the address on this instrument). Around the turn of the century he was briefly in competition with his mother, Hannah, and brother Richard, who also set up a workshop in London (both businesses appear in Doane, 1794). Later he employed his own son, also, confusingly named Richard. Unlike some manufactories it appears that Milhouse was actively involved in making instruments, and many hundreds of his flutes, clarinets, basins and oboes survive. The undersides of keys on such instruments are often stamped WM, as are the ebony barrels of many clarinets. In August 1801 Milhouse took on an apprentice, Robert William Keith, for seven years, who was later to become an even more successful businessman through his partnership with William Prowse (brother of Thomas Prowse Jr.) in Keith, Prowse & Co.