13 July 1846
David James Blaikley
Also Known As
- James (♂)
David, known to his family as James, was born in London, the eldest son of nine children. He was educated privately but left school at an early age. Nevertheless, he was always interested in acquiring knowledge, read the numbers of Chambers Encyclopedia as they were published and considered himself to be a self-educated man.
As was the custom in mid-Victorian days, he had chosen for him a career quite early in life and at thirteen entered the factory of Messrs. Boosey & Co. (now Boosey & Hawkes), who at the time were making harmoniums.
However, at the age of seventeen, David left the service of Messrs. Boosey and entered the surveying office of Smith, Knight & Co. There he worked as a railway surveyor until, in 1868, the company collapsed as a result of a national financial crisis.
He returned to Boosey's. and was appointed works manager of a Henry Distin & Co., makers of brass musical instruments, a company recently purchased by Boosey's. He became sole manager of the company in 1873 and under his guidance their manufacture of instruments acquired international fame.
Throughout his life David was ceaselessly engaged in research work in the science of acoustics and was widely known as an authority on woodwind and brass. In 1874 he devised a system of compensating pistons, which revolutionised the playing of brass instruments. His many inventions include other improvements for trumpets, horns and trombones, and also tools used in the making of musical instruments; Boosey & Co. continued to use equipment designed by him until the late 1980s.
A visitor to the Boosey factory was greatly impressed when, while discussing the practical use of the foundation notes of the B flat tenor trombone, David “raised the instrument quietly to his lips and produced without any apparent effort the four ponderous and fearsome low pedal notes.”
In 1875 David joined the Royal Music Association and in 1878 delivered a highly technical discussion on resonance. He also gave lectures to the Royal Society of Arts, the Physical Society, the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Organists and the Worshipful Company of Musicians. He was particularly interested in pitch but other subjects that he concerned himself with include tone, the velocity of sound in air, the trumpet scale, the french horn and reed instruments.
In 1876 David married Rachel Barnard and they lived in Hampstead. They had nine children and although never wealthy, employed maids and had a family nurse for the younger children. The nurse subsequently married a farm bailiff and moved to Sussex, where the Blaikleys often visited them.
Later, David and Rachel lived at 13 Elsworthy Terrace, London. The house was in a cul-de-sac from which a path led to Primrose Hill, a grassy open space of some acres with links to Regent's Park and the London Zoo and which has a magnificent view south over London.
David was a keen collector and in 1915 he made a presentation of manuscripts relating to Michael Faraday, to the Institute of Electrical Engineers. This significant collection, includes a volume recording Faraday's trip to Europe with Sir Humphrey Davy in 1813-14, and another entitled “Chemical notes, hints, suggestions and objects of pursuit”, in which Faraday began speculating about the relation of magnetism and electricity, as well as some 600 letters from a vast range of 19th century scientists and men of affairs.
In 1919 David retired as Manager at Boosey & Co. but continued to carry out scientific experiments and investigations in their research department.
He was said to have “more than an ordinary share of cheerful grace.”
- Notes: Professional history.
- Notes: Biographical notes.