A French Connection: Further light on Urquhart and Cotton.
Simon Waters (2021)
This text is intended as a supplement to my publication ’An Indigenous London Flute-Making Practice in the Early Eighteenth Century: The Case of Patrick Urquhart.' in Galpin Society Journal 74 (2021) pp. 103-114
Further support for the centrality of the London workshop tradition started by Patrick Urquhart, and for the international reputation of instruments made by him and those who were apprenticed to him, comes with the recent discovery in France of another instrument stamped ‘Cotton’. This instrument, an alto recorder in stained flamed boxwood with large ivory mounts, is virtually identical in form and detail features to the known alto recorders by Urquhart (Oxford: Bate 110, Williamsburg VA 1985-113, A) and to the similar instruments with Bressan’s stamp which Jeremy Montagu (1992) suggested were made by a common supplier, recently identified (Waters 2021) as Urquhart. The Cotton instrument, at approximately 472mm in length, is somewhat shorter than the two Urquhart altos, both of which are 500mm long, though precise measurement of the former is hindered by a slight warp. Other than this it appears to have survived in good condition.
Apart from providing additional stylistically compelling confirmation of the already documented link between William Cotton and Patrick Urquhart, it provides evidence of an instance of an instrument played in France having originated in London. (The assumption has usually been that trade in instruments was in the opposite direction). The recorder, in addition to the ‘COTTON’ stamps, is also stamped on the reverse of the headjoint and footjoint ‘M.LE.D.DELUYNES/ N°1’, the first part of this stamp being inverted. Charles-Philippe d’Albert (1695-1758) who held the title Duc de Luynes from 1712-58, was one of the honnêtes gens of the court of Louis XV. His descriptive seventeen volume ‘Memoires sur la cour de Louis XV’ is an important source for historians and musicologists. The full text is available online (http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb308487818) but as the volumes are digitised as separate entities, each must also be searched separately, making working through it for additional evidence of connections with London a daunting task. Nevertheless the author’s interest, participation and considerable expertise in music is evident throughout, and it seems very likely that the recorder was made for Charles-Philippe, and was part of his inventory of instruments.
 “Blavet, fameux joueur de flûtes” makes an appearance on pp.292-3 of Volume 2, on Monday 22 December 1738, apparently having his 1500 livre appointment terminated for visiting the court only six times within a year.
William Cotton’s trade card from his workshop at the ‘Hautboy & two Flutes’ on Bride Lane Court (British Museum: Heal 88.18) describes him as making and selling “all sorts of Wind Instruments viz Bassoons, Hautboys, German and Common Flutes in ye neatest manner” and illustrates the last three named instruments. The date of 1789 ascribed to this card when it was part of the Banks Collection is implausible not least because Cotton died in 1775, and it has much in common with other makers’ trade cards dating from the 1730s and 40s. The name of the workshop and the illustration on the card indicate that - at least earlier in his career - Cotton regarded ‘common flutes’ (recorders) as an important element of his output, even as they were losing ground to the more fashionable German (transverse) flute.
Dating the instrument with any precision is difficult. William Cotton was still in the final year of his apprenticeship when Patrick Urquhart died in 1728 and it seems unlikely that the Merchant Taylors Company to which Urquhart belonged, and who oversaw Cotton’s apprenticeship, would have released him from this, allowing him to begin stamping instruments with his own mark, before 1729. In counter-argument Cotton would certainly have been working for Urquhart for long enough to have been capable of completing instruments, almost certainly contributing to the staggering number which feature in the inventory (National Archives PROB 3/29/102) made at the master’s death. Indeed is tempting to suggest that Cotton, who was also a witness to the making of Urquhart’s will in 1726 (National Archives PROB 11/628/312)., would have been eager to take on the finishing of some of the 686 Consort Flutes (recorders), 56 ‘Jarman’ (German or transverse flutes), 89 small Flutes and 10 ‘Houghtboys’ which remained as unfinished stock in the workshop at Urquhart’s death, and that the Duc de Luynes’ recorder might just have been among these. What is clear, given its close similarity to Urquhart’s own instruments, is that this particular instrument dates from relatively early in Cotton’s output, and a date of 1729-40 therefore seems plausible.
Charles-Philippe d’Albert (1860-65 publ.) Mémoires du duc de Luynes sur la Cour de Louis XV (1735-1758). T. 5 / publ. sous le patronage de M. le duc de Luynes par MM. L. Dussieux et Eud. Soulié 17 Vols - online at http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb308487818
Jeremy Montagu (1992) ‘As Like as Two Peas’. FoMRHIQ 92, Comm.1588 pp.1-2
Simon Waters (2021) ’An Indigenous London Flute-Making Practice in the Early Eighteenth Century: The Case of Patrick Urquhart.' in Galpin Society Journal 74 pp. 103-114
The original photographs from which the illustrations of the instrument used here were taken remain copyright of Cécile Convert and are used with her permission. The instrument will be auctioned on 6 November 2021 at Vichy Encheres. https://vichy-encheres.com/en/
The author would like to thank Robert Bigio, Cécile Convert and Michael Fleming for their expert input.