In Profile: Jonathan Rushworth

Jonathan Rushworth (LLB Hons 1970) is a member of the Rushworth family who founded the famous Liverpool music business of the same name, which was formerly located in Whitechapel.  An alumnus of the University, he has recently made a significant donation to the School of Music to establish an annual concert and composition competition in the Rushworth name and has also commissioned a PhD entitled, ‘The history of the Rushworth music business, 1828-2002, and its contribution to the cultural life of the city of Liverpool’, which is being undertaken by student Nicholas Wong. 

1. How long was the Rushworths business in Liverpool?

The business was formed in 1828 as a pipe organ builder by my great great grandfather William Rushworth.  William’s son Edwin later set up a retail musical instrument premises in Islington, near the Walker Art Gallery, with the name E. Rushworth & Sons.  These premises were later expanded and contained the Rushworth Hall, a concert hall which seated 200, a lecture room for 150, a church organ practice studio containing a three manual pipe organ, 24 music teaching studios, a theatre and concert box office, and a lunch and tea room.  In 1901 the company bought W.M. & G.M. Dreaper of Bold Street, before merging under the name of Rushworth & Dreaper Limited.  In

1960 the business moved to its Whitechapel premises (pictured left).  The new building comprised five sales floors of musical instruments, televisions, record players and household appliances, together with sheet music, records and workshops, and was known as ‘the largest music house in Europe’.  The company finally closed in 2002.



2.  What contribution do you believe Rushworths has had on the city over the years?

The Rushworths business was a centre for music in all its forms, both in terms of selling instruments and contributing to the musical heritage of the city.  William (of the third generation) believed that, besides offering merchandise for sale, the music trade must offer services to the community.  He was Honorary Secretary, and later Treasurer, of the Rodewald Concert Society, which was the main source of chamber music performances in Liverpool at the time, then in 1922, the Liverpool branch of the British Music Society was formed, with William as the first Honorary Treasurer.  In the same year Rushworths also started the Liverpool Children’s Concerts.  In 1941, the Annual Rushworth Festival of Music & Verse was launched to encourage young musicians in the region and then, following William’s death in 1944, his son James established the William Rushworth Memorial Trust, which to this day continues to make grants for the study and appreciation of music.

3. Did Rushworths have many famous customers?

Many, but one of the best stories I heard was that in 1956 Paul McCartney’s father bought him a trumpet from Rushworths for his 14th birthday.  Paul wanted to sing as well as play an instrument so - with his father’s permission - he exchanged it at Rushworths for a £15 Zenith guitar, made in Germany by Framus.  It is reported that he could not work out how to play this guitar, until he realised that he had to restring it as he is left-handed.  In 1962, Gibson J-160E guitars were imported by the company from Chicago and sold to John Lennon and George Harrison for £161 each.  There is a well publicised photograph of James presenting the guitars to them, with the company name in the background.

4. How did you feel when Rushworths closed?

I felt sadness, as the family business with all its history and tradition no longer existed.  However, there was also a sense of pride at what it had contributed to the city and to all involved directly in the business, over nearly 200 years.  I wish to support this PhD because I am keen to learn as much as possible about the history of the business and the family members who ran it, as well as their contribution to the musical life and heritage of Liverpool, with a view to possibly writing a book on the subject.  But my main objective is to have a proper record for future generations of the family, and others who may be interested.  I feel strongly that it is appropriate to do this now while many people are alive who remember the business and all it stood for.

5. You’re asking alumni to provide their memories of Rushworths as part of your research – what sort of things are you particularly interested in?

We're keen to hear memories of people who worked in the organ building and retail business and really anyone who dealt with the business generally.  We would also like to find any written material there may be about Rushworths from any available sources.

6. What’s your personal favourite memory of the business?

I remember going into the Islington premises in the 1950s when I was quite young and seeing the magnificent collection of antique instruments my Grandfather collected in the 1920s, including a piano which Beethoven played regularly.  It was visited by thousands of people every year, was the subject of BBC programmes and was displayed at an exhibition in Olympia in 1928, when it was seen by Queen Mary.  The instruments were sold to the Liverpool Museum in 1967 and were displayed as part of the museum’s Good vibrations exhibition in 1993.

7. What does ‘Your Liverpool’ mean to you?

My Liverpool is my background of five generations of my family and their well-known music business established in the early 19th century. Concerts at the Phil ignited my deep love of music and my degree and subsequent training in the city were the springboard to my legal career – Liverpool formed and characterised my whole background.

Jonathan will be giving a talk about the history of the Rushworths business at a dinner at the Athenaeum, 18 Church Alley, Liverpool on 17 November.  There are a limited number of tickets available for alumni via the Alumni Relations team.  If you are interested in finding out more, or in contributing this research, please contact alumni@liverpool.ac.uk or visit: www.liverpool.ac.uk/alumni/events

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