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Square pianoforte

Pianos like this one, made by J. Longman of London, became an increasingly popular item in the parlour of the more affluent mid-nineteenth century farmer. As his profits increased, he and his family could afford to detach themselves from the manual labour - and labourers - on their farm, pursuing instead more leisurely activities in the privacy of a farmhouse now largely out of bounds to the worker. In a modern, mahogany-furnished parlour the farmer's daughter might learn a foreign language or how to play the piano. Reading, writing and painting all became popular pastimes, and the spread of railways introduced the advantaged rural population to the consumerism of town life - including fashionable clothing wholly inappropriate for farm labouring. So it was, then, that when agriculture hit a period of decline in the 1870s due to a succession of poor harvests and the increased availability of cheaper foreign imports, it was the piano that came to "symbolise all that was wrong with the farming community" Eveleigh, "The Victorian Farmer", p.28). It became a symbol of the corroding influence of new urban fashions on rural life. Learning to play a musical instrument required hours of practice - hours of leisure time that didn't sit comfortably with the traditional view of farming as a hard but honest way of life. In his 1880 book "Hodge and his Masters?", Richard Jefferies complained of the pretentiousness of these farmers who were trying to emulate the luxurious lifestyle of the landowning classes, complaining that "the old stubborn spirit of earnest work and careful prudence" was rapidly being lost.

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    Longman, John [Person]
  • Collection:
    Museum of English Rural Life
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    London (Timezone: Europe/London)
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  • Repository:Museum of English Rural Life