1307 - Cylindrical wooden Boehm flute by Rudall, Carte & Co. (West) #7620 

In late 2013 I was informed by Robert Bigio that Margaret Walker, widow of Tony (d.2011) (who had been a flautist in the BBC Northern and BBC Philharmonic orchestras) wished to sell his flute. That the instrument was a thinned-throughout wooden Rudall Carte from reputedly one of that company’s finest periods – the late 20s-early 30s – made this compelling news to someone whose entire history of involvement with the flute had been seeded by early contact with performers on such instruments. As a seven year old I played the cello, but – derailed by the sudden death of my young teacher – I was persuaded by my mother’s cousin that the flute might be a suitable alternative. Inspired by his thinned throughout Rudall Carte, I bought his second flute, a wooden Franz Adler instrument (7001), for £200, and went for lessons with his teacher Christine Ring, who also played a thinned-throughout Rudall Carte – made in the 1930s by West, one of the company’s finest makers. At the time of my lessons (late 1960s-early 70s) wooden flutes were unfashionable, Gareth Morris being the chief active proponent of such instruments. Local flautist David Haslam of the Northern Sinfonia was another.

 

The flute I bought from Margaret Walker early in 2014, no 7620, had not in fact been her husband’s instrument, but had been the main flute of his father Eddie Walker (d.1982) who had played in the LSO, before joining the Philharmonia to be second flute to Gareth Morris. The flute had featured on hundreds of well-known recordings, and Margaret’s archives provide an extraordinarily full photographic record of these recording sessions – a rich seam of information on the practice of orchestral and chamber music recording over a period of some 30 years. Although sold to me as Eddie Walker’s main flute, it later transpired that Eddie had taken over the instrument in 1955 from his father, the eminent flautist Gordon Walker (d.1965) who had previously used it for many years in his role as principal flute of the LSO.

So this is the flute. It was made by West, and sold initially on 3 April 1933 to a C.J.R. Brown (the J could be an L or a T). Shortly afterwards it was bought by Gordon Walker as his main instrument, before he gave it to Eddie in 1955.  The story is complicated by the fact that the ‘engine’ of the instrument – the headjoint, has been different at each point in its use. The headjoint I bought with the flute was Eddie Walker’s, featuring an extremely heavy added silver lip-plate. Gordon used what may have been the flute’s original silver-lined wooden headjoint, but also bought several such replacements, one of which I now own.  I use the flute primarily with an unlined all wooden headjoint made by Robert Bigio, which opens up the lowest register – an area often not entirely successfully driven by Rudall Carte’s typically smaller oval embouchures. But perhaps equally importantly, my first teacher Christine Ring had also used her flute with an unlined wooden headjoint (in that case made by the Flutemaker’s Guild).  

Margaret Walker’s records also provide evidence of Gordon Walker’s purchase of other Rudall Carte instruments, so we know that my flute was preceded in Gordon’s attention by no. 7023 (by Schumacher, and now in possession of Walker's great-granddaughter) and before that by no. 4416, also by Schumacher, the whereabouts of which is now unknown. According to this receipt Gordon ordered no 4416 (and piccolo no.4771 now also owned by Walker’s great-granddaughter) on 18 Jan 1910, putting down a deposit of £3.00 (here acknowledged by the r/h stamp-bearing sticker countersigned MO – Montague George). Rudall Carte records indicate that Schumacher finished the flute in Feb 1910 (some time between 3-18th) and that Walker paid the remaining £29.19s on 11 March 1910, presumably on receipt of the flute and piccolo.

Once Eddie Walker had made no.7620 his main instrument in 1955, the flute which Gordon Walker then used until his death in1965 was #7690 – made by Handke and finished on 19 October 1934, when it was initially sold to W.P Welsh of York, who immediately returned it. In 1965 it was put into a drawer and not used, and was sold by the family in May 1980, as evidenced in a letter from Eddie Walker to the new owner.

The Handke instrument is a particularly elegant thinned throughout flute with a monel metal lined headjoint. The sequence of instruments used by Gordon Walker is therefore no.4416 (1910-1927), no. 7023 (1927-c.1935), no.7620 (c.1935-1955) and no. 7690 (1955-1965). Eddie seems to have used no. 7620 exclusively, and Tony Walker used no.7023 from c.1967/8-2011. Tony Walker sometimes used a metal headjoint, and the family seems also to have had an entirely monel metal instrument, though this has disappeared. I am extremely grateful to Margaret Walker for her help in establishing the sequence of events, and for her support and friendship. No 7023 is pictured below: