Piano manufacturer strikes a unique chord

This story was published 27 May 2021

A North Yorkshire business that is nurturing a traditional craft has made the best of the lockdowns of the past 12 months to carry on doing the thing that makes it unique in England.

Outside Yorkshire Pianos

Yorkshire Pianos is currently the last piano maker in the country and while the shop was closed for long periods in recent months, the small, skilled staff have carried on making instruments.

Owner Adam Cox said: “The shop has been closed, but in terms of manufacturing it has given us more time and space to do that, because we would normally be dealing with customers coming into the shop. We have had time to get on and make pianos.”

The company’s pianos are marketed under the Cavendish brand. Former North Yorkshire County Council chair Cllr Jim Clark, who stood down this month, recently visited the workshop off the A59 near Bolton Abbey as part of his ambition to visit all 68 county council electoral divisions during his time in office, which was extended because of the pandemic.

“I was amazed to visit this place that makes pianos in North Yorkshire,” said Cllr Clark, who dropped in as part of a visit to the Skipton East division. “It is an excellent example of the business initiative that we associate with North Yorkshire. Not only has Adam built a unique business, but he has brought on a young staff and offered rare opportunities for what I am certain must be a most fulfilling apprenticeship.

“During my visits to each of the electoral divisions, it has been my privilege to meet a wide range of people all contributing to making North Yorkshire the wonderful place it is to live and work, from innovative businesses to selfless volunteers and community groups and our own dedicated staff. I am grateful to have had the opportunity during my time in office to meet and thank these people, who are just a few of those who make the county so special.”

Yorkshire Pianos has existed as a shop for 25 years, but began building pianos nine years ago, after Yamaha bought Kemble, the last UK manufacturer.

Adam trained at Leeds College of Music, taking a course in piano technology, before opening the shop.

“As we say, after having done 15 years of market research, we started building pianos,” he said.

“Yamaha closed UK production of Kemble. That was the trigger. There was then a now or never moment when we thought there has been an unbroken chain of piano manufacture in the UK for nearly 200 years and if it misses a generation it will be pretty much the end of the line.

“We feel it is quite important to carry on with the tradition of piano making and, thankfully, it pays its way. We have quite young people with us who are starting off in the world of pianos and hopefully will carry on the tradition of piano making into the future.”

The business has a staff of six, including two apprentices.

“We hope the apprentices will carry on and stay with us,” said Adam. “We have a member of staff – also called Adam – who started as an apprentice over ten years ago and he now runs the workshop.”

Cllr Clark was able to see the Cavendish manufacturing process during his visit. Most are sold in the UK, but they also sell to China and Canada.

“It is somewhere between a craft and an art,” said Adam. “We like to think it’s more of an art, of course.”