Monday, 5 August 2013

R. F. Stevens Ltd, Kentish Town

This ghost sign was certainly painted in 1951, the year organ builder R. F. Stevens Ltd moved to Leighton Place. The company was much older though, having been founded by Richard F. Stevens in 1853. Orginally it was based near Euston Square, first at 180 Drummond Street, then from 1887 at 180 Drummond Street, and finally from 1896 at 42b Hampstead Road. In the last decade of the 19th century R. F. Stevens also had a showroom at 343 Euston Road nearby. In 1906 it moved north to Kentish Town, settling first at 82a Leighton Road. In 1929 it moved to Royal Mail Yard, Kelly Street. Finally two decades later, in 1951, the company moved to what would be its last address, 9-11 Leighton Place.

For more than a century R. F. Stevens manufactured and restored both harmoniums and reed (also known as American) organs. The company also made reed pans and bellows for amateurs or other builders. While many organ manufacturers were rather small (there were over 200 reed organ builders in London alone in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), R. F. Stevens was one of the largest companies in its field, with up to 50 employees. It also offered more portable organ styles than any other company, not only in Britain but certainly in the world. However high numbers do not guarantee quality and R. F. Stevens's organs did not always compare well with those of its competitors, musically and above all aesthetically.

In spite of this R. F. Stevens's portable organs were particularly popular and the company counted amongst its customers the Salvation Army, the prison service and the armed forces. Indeed all Royal Navy vessels had to have an organ on board for playing hymns on Sunday and to entertain the troops from time to time. Portable organs would also have been used to celebrate mass near the front line whenever possible. Thanks to these contracts, R. F. Stevens did remarkably well during both World Wars.

R. F. Stevens managed to remain in business long after most organ manufacturers had closed down. However, due to a lack of demand, production ceased in 1966. The company continued to carry out restoration work but its financial situation deteriorated. In late 1978 it appointed a liquidator and in 1980 R. F. Stevens Ltd officially closed down.

R. F. Stevens Ltd
<--- Organ Works

Part of the ghost sign disappeared when the house next door was built but it is easy to reconstitute the missing part.

Location: Leighton Place / Pictures taken in July 2013

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