3: Richard Major 
Music Engraver and Printer
William Warner Major

Jill C. Major, Author

Map: 43 Bedford Street, Strand

London, The Early Years

 Richard and Constantia Major closed down the shop in Bristol, packed the family belongings in a horse-drawn wagon, and moved to London. The catalyst for this career shift was probably the death of Contantia’s father, William Warner. He disappears from the Bristol Directories at this time. Certainly there was communication and perhaps visits with the London Major family. Richard’s sister, Elizabeth Major Campbell, lived with her husband and four children in London. 

The move must have been exciting to seven year old William Warner Major, brother Henry, five, and Richard Jr. a toddling two. As they neared the great city they first saw "small villages, then rows of buildings, and people, and twinkling lights, and all kinds of sound." Then suddenly the town lights revealed the "moving crowds" for even at that time Greater London was packed with over a million people.

Covent Garden Piazza and Market was just around the corner from the Major home.

This is how it looked before 1828. 

Cheap Music Warehouse

It was in this unique cultural atmosphere that William Warner Major matured. Richard Major dropped the book trade completely and opened up a "wholesale music warehouse" on 43 Bedford Street on the Strand.  (The Stand is a main road through London famous West End.  Bedford street is a small narrow street that runs parallel to it.)


Jason Major (3rd great grandson of William Warner Major and Sarah Coles Major) and Racheal Johnson Major, his wife, standing in front of 43 Bedford St., Strand where W.W. Major engraved, printed and  advertised his music  at the "Cheap Music Warehouse."


He engraved, printed, published and sold music.  It was the beginning of the Regency era. King George III was insane and his son, also named George, was dubbed Prince Regent. He held this title from 1811 to1820, until his father died. Then the Prince Regent was crowned George IV.5 Even as the Napoleonic wars (1799-1814/15) raged on, Richard Major’s business appears to have flourished. According to one expert, "The national fondness for popular music, ever a part of the British spirit, found new objects, especially after the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Popular music in such forms as playhouse songs, ballads, and dances was published in extraordinary amounts during this time.6 Even so, there were few people who had knowledge and skills to engrave and print music in England in the early 19th century. In 1823-24, there were only 7 music engravers in London, yet this populated city boasted of 68 music sellers, and 479 booksellers. Engraving music not only involved the faithful reproducing of notes, but also required knowledge of the principles of music in order to create pleasurable sounds to the ear. Richard Major was adept at his business. He produced music for voice, German flute, flute, harp, violin, organ, and pianoforte. He engraved and printed scores for a duet, trio, quartet, sonnet, rondo, hymn, dance, and waltz. His music haled from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Germany.


                                          43 Bedford St.  On the Strand.  The Major family passed through a door

                                                                 here  from 1811 to 1821. 

A one-hundred and fifty year old tradition passed down to Henry Major, Grandson of William Warner Major claims a close acquaintance of the London Major family and the multimillionaire, John Jacob Astor who established the Fur Trading Company in 1809 and subsequently began buying up New York property. Of course, I discounted the tradition when I heard it in the early 1970's. Years later, when researching this book, I discovered that John Jacob Astor had a brother in London, George Astor. He ran a successful business making fine flutes and pianos during the same time Richard Major printed music for flutes and pianos. Astor’s music business on Cornhill Street was within walking distance of Major’s music business on Bedford Street. This family tradition appears to be true. 

London 1818

London was continuous night and day movement. In 1818 American Minister, Richard Rush, wrote in his diary that "Well dressed persons, men and women, throng the streets…The roll of chariots, and carriages of all kinds, from two until past four was incessant. In all directions they were in motion. It was like a show – the horse, the coachmen with triangular hats and tassels, the footmen with cokades (knot of ribbons on the hat) and canes – it seemed as if nothing could exceed it all…Sometimes with this glitter of private equipages, you saw a stationary line of hacks, the worndown horses eating out of nose-bags; and sometimes at a slow, tugging walk, immense wagons, filled with coals, in black sacks, drawn by black horses, large and shaggy, and fat as those in the Portsmouth wagon."

Still Minister Rush was surprised and displeased at the sight of mansions and shacks crammed into the same acreage: "I am disappointed in the general exterior of the dwelling-houses. I had anticipated something better at the west end of the town; more symmetry; buildings more by themselves, denoting the residences of the richest people in the richest city in Europe." Instead what he saw were rows and rows of houses with one house built upon the wall of the next with no division between rich and poor, worker, beggar or king. "I see haberdasher’s shops, poulterers’s shops, the leaden stalls of fishmongers, and the slaughtering blocks of butchers, in the near vicinity of a nobleman’s mansion and a king’s palace."

The Major family were living in a multi-story brick flat stained gray from London’s coal-choking smog. It was in the heart of London’s fine arts purveyors. Richard Major advertized that his music, "I Never Lov’d any Dear Mary But you" was "sung with universal applause by Mr. Dignam at Vauxhall Gardens." "The Blue Bell of Scotland" was "A Favorite Song, sung by Mrs. Jordan at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane."  "Ah How Sophia" was "The Favorite Catch Sung at the Noblemen & Gentlemen’s Catch Club At the Thatch’d House St. James." Obviously, the Major family was tuned in to the popularity of the music played around the city.

 La Famille Stamaty, 1818 sketch by Ingres:


In 1818 Frances Constantia Major would have been rocking little Mary Jane, who was born that year, while the family maid cleared up dinner. The Major family was healthy enough financially to have employed a least one hired helper.  Elizabeth, age 6, joined the family in 1812.  It’s likely that William, Henry and Richard, ages 15, 11, and 9, were involved in some music training, by their father. William probably spent part of his day in a school for artists, because he was training to be a miniature painter. (This is proved by the 1841 census.  This subject will be discussed in later chapters.)  Art training was a future investment that could be used to embellish  engraved music.  Map: 43 Bedford St., Strand

Perhaps William Warner Major accompanied his father to the theater in search of new music to engrave and sell in his shop. The fashion in 1818 was a short white waistcoat, dark blue tailcoat, white knee breeches, and black boots. The knee breeches were going out of style, but this was a middle-class family and they probably couldn’t afford to change clothes because the dandies of London were trying to outdo each other. His neck cloth would be tied neatly around a turned up collar, which lightly brushed his jaw. Curly dark hair, although trimmed short, might have bushed out beneath his black top hat. The curly hair has been the bane and pride of at least four generations of Major men. William’s grandson, Henry Vincent Major, was called "the man with the parasol" because his hair resembled and open umbrella atop his head. Raised by two generations of men who claimed the title of "gentleman," William would have had a refined British accent. The family associated with educated, cultured people in the book selling and music selling businesses.

On the way to the theatre the travelers would cough as they sucked in the heavy smog belched out from London’s coal burning stoves. Visibility was often limited to a few yards. William may have felt a little nervous if he had read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was published in London in 1818. Maybe he could feel Dr. Frankenstein’s eight-foot yellowish skinned monster stalking him on the narrow, gas-lit streets. More real and inescapable were the poor who were nearly freezing to death; women and little children with little clothing and no fire to warm them who lived in streets and alleys. The father and son would have walked through Covent Garden, where live animals were sold for butcher as well as wares of all kinds.  Richard and William would have had to walk single file on the far side of the road to avoid mounds of manure piled deep in the street, the tramping feet of horses, and heavy wheels of carriages. Groups of well-dressed patrons hovered around the entrance to the Theatre Royal at Covent Garden, chatting and laughing.

Theatre Royal, Covent Garden

The women wore high-wasted dresses that dropped to their ankles. The style accented the bottom of a full skirt, which was often heavily decorated with trim such as satin cockle-shells, branches of hand-made grape-blossoms, artificial roses or lace. Leather shoes and gloves, reticules (small purses) and ivory fans set off the costume. Bonnets decorated with flowers or ostrich feathers often covered all the hair, but the small vertical ringlets that framed pale faces.


       Bedford Street on the Strand was a narrow cobblestone street.  One building supported the wall of the next building even from 1811-1821


 Richard and William greeted music-loving customers, tipping their hats and nodding. They walked up several steps and stood under the protection of the Theatre Royal’s portico. Four huge, fluted columns support the pediment high over their heads, protecting them from the wet evening sky. The portico was patterned after the Temple of Minerva on the Acropolis at Athens. Perhaps young William Warner Major wandered off to examine the two basso-relievos on either side of the portico and inspect the art. The first compartment was sculpted to represent ancient drama and the second, modern drama. After paying 2 shillings each for gallery seats, the father and son eased themselves into the crimson-backed chairs and waited. That night the Theatre Royal was playing the Burletta (or burlesque) of Midas by Kane O’Hara (____-1782). O’Hara’s Irish jokes were amusing, however, it was not strictly for pleasure that the Majors attended this evening; business occupied Richard’s mind.

Young William may have gazed at the gilt ornaments that decorated the theatre. They were tastefully fashioned into the shapes of the national emblems: the rose for England, the shamrock for Ireland, and the thistle for Scotland. A grand chandelier, illuminated by gas, was suspended from the ceiling. It radiated streams of light, which reflected off the golden ornaments, causing them to shimmer. Finally the burletta began. It was during the first act, scene four that Richard tilted his head just a little to the right side. Mr. Sinclair sung out in his deep voice, "Pray, Goody, please to moderate the rancour of your tongue! Why flash those sparks of fury from your eyes? Remember, when the judgment ‘s weak the prejudice is strong. A stranger why will you despise?" Skilled musicians accompany the vocal performance, but Richard knew that the score could be rewritten as a duet for voices or flutes. As the last strains of music float away, raucous clapping thunder out, echoing off the high walls. Richard Major, music engraver, had chosen his next piece of music to engrave, print, and sell at his wholesale music warehouse.


        British Library, London, received by correspondence.  Music dates from 1811-1821.



Pray Goody,  engraved and printed, Richard Major (1811-1821)  in possession of Jill C. Major

Other Music Engraved, Printed and Sold by Richard Major

UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO LIBRARIES,  Buffalo, New York, Music Library, http://library.buffalo.edu/music/special-materials/british-vocal-music-collection/

(Richard Major’s sheet music at the University of Buffalo, can be viewed on line.)

*I never Lov'd any Dear Mary but you, A favorite Song Sung by Hook, sung by Mr. Dignum, at Vauxhall Gardens... London: R. Major [WM 1813] 2 pp. 

*The Blue Bell of Scotland, A Favorite Song, sung by Mrs. Jordan, at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. 
London: Major [WM 1811] 2 pp.  (Mrs. Dorothea Jordan, born Dorothea Bland and later Mrs. Ford - Say Can You Deny Me? A Guide to Surviving Music by Women From the 16th through the 18th Centuries, by Barbara Garvey Jackson). 


McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  Archives and Research Collections[JM1] ,  http://library.mcmaster.ca/archives/g/georgian.2.htm

*Scots what have we Wallace bled, or Bruce’s Address. Words by Burns, sung by Mr. Incledon and Mr. Broadhurst, with an accompaniment for the piano forte. R. Major [ca. 1816]. Pp.2-3. Additional accompt. for flute.

*The Soldier Tir’d. Sung by Mrs. Billington. Major’s Music Warehouse. [ca. 1809]. Pp.[2-3].

*Ah How Sophia or A House on Fire, John Wall Callcott, The favorite catch sung at the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club, at the Thatch’d House St. James’s. R. Major. [ca. 1818]. Pp.[2]-3. 

*The Grand National Air Rule Britannia. Verse and chorus. [When Britain first at Heav’ns command]. Printed and sold at No.1 Clare Court, Drury Lane. [ca. 1805]. Pp.[2-3]. Additional accompt. for German flute.  (1 Clare Court, Drury Lane was MAJOR’S London address)


National Library of Ireland, Kildare St, Dublin, Ireland, http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000380296

*Away with Melancholy a Favorite Air or Duet, with an Arrangement for the Piano Forte, composed by M. Mozart.  London: Major’s Music Warehouse, [WM1815] 1 score (2 p.); Fol. Call Number JM 3607 (9).


Harvard University, Songs in the English language, 1675-1870: A Finding Aid. (Ms. Coll. 143)  http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/findingAidDisplay?_collection=oasis&inoid=169&histno=1. (folder 1242a) 

*Lovely Nymph Assuage My Anguish,  R. Major, [c1810]. 2 folders. Vocal score and flute transcription. Sung by Mr. Sinclair at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in the Burletta of Midas.


City of Westminster, Library Catalogue, Victory Library, Shelf Number, 781.11, item bar code, 30117032625887.


*The musical companion or complete pocket museum for the flute : an admired selection of elegant music, consisting of favorite songs duets, marches, waltzes &c &c. Forming a collection of choice pieces superior to any thing hitherto offered to the public at the price. Major, R, editor. 1815, London : Engd. & printed by the editor, [1815], 4 vols. in 1.


British Library St Pancras 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB

*Lovely Nymph assuage my anguish ... Song ... in the burletta, etc.London : R. Major, [1815?], System number 004526289 Music Collections G.805.i.(11.), UIN: BLL01004526289, http://explore.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=BLVU1&afterPDS=true&institution=BL&docId=BLL01004526289 https://bay181.mail.live.com/ol/clear.gifhttps://bay181.mail.live.com/ol/clear.gif

*Ah! how Sophia, or a House on Fire ... Catch, etc., John Wall Callcott, 1766-1821., London : R. Major, [1800?],  System number 004252063,Music Collections G.800.m.(12.), G.800.m.(12.)

*The Plough Boy, a favorite song, etc., William Shield, 1748-1829 [London : R. Major, 1815?] System number 004655669, Watermark date 1815, fol, G.809.kk.(16.)

*Pleyel's German Hymn, with variations for the piano forte, & flute, Ignaz Pleyel, London : R: Major, [c. 1820.], Quartets, strings, B. 349, G major. Variatione (Andante); System number 004584842, Music G.425.mm.(33.) 

*Hush ev'ry Breeze, let nothing move. A favorite Sonnet, etc., Hook,, Mr. (James), London : R. Major, [1820?], System number 004419753, Music Collections H.1652.o.(7.)  

*Here's a Health to all good Lasses. A favorite glee [by F. Giardini] for 3 voices, [London] : [R. Major], [WM 1810], System number 004408715, Music Collections G.425.tt.(28.)

*Gentle Airs, melodious Strains, as sung by Mr Braham. [Song with violoncello obbligato. Score.]George Frideric Handel, 1685-1759, London : Printed by R. Major, [c. 1810], System number 004384342, Music Collections H.1980.mm.(16.)

*When War's Alarms, a Favorite Song ... for the Piano Forte or Flute, Thomas Linley, 1733-1795, London : R. Major, [1820?], System number 004485429, Music Collections G.424.a.(24.)

*Assist me ye Lads. One Bottle more. A favorite Irish Song ... for the Piano Forte & Flute, London : R. Major, [1815?], System number 004180401, Music Collections H.1650.q.(1.)

*The Nightingale. A celebrated Rondo, for the Piano Forte. [By T. Latour.] London : R. Major, [1815?], System number 004554874, Music Collections g.443.q.(7.)

*Pray Goody, as sung by Mr Sinclair ... in the burletta of Midas. <2d edition. With an arrangement for 2 voices or flutes, London : R. Major, [c. 1810], System number 004526293, Music Collections G.295.xx.(15.)

*How sweet in the Woodlands. A favorite duet with an accompaniment for the piano forte,  Henry Harington, 1727-1816, [London] : [R. Major], [WM 1815], System number 004392772, Music Collections G.809.kk.(9.)

*The Hardy Sailor, sung by Mr Braham ... in the Castle of Andalusia [by Samuel Arnold], London : Printed by R. Major, [WM 1815], System number 004259170, Music Collections G.296.a.(24.)

*Major's Selection of ... Fashionable Dances, Waltzes, &c. for the Piano Forte or Violin. No. 11., London : R. Major, [1820?], System number 004504303, Music Collections h.141.a.(11.)

*Major's Annual Collection of Twenty four ... Country Dances for the Violin or German Flute, for the Year 1820. With proper Figures, etc., R. Major, [London], [1820?], System number 004504301, Music Collections a.9.d.(7.)

*The Musical Companion or Complete Pocket Museum for the Flute. An admiral selection of elegant music ... arranged for the Flute ... by R. Major, London : Engd. & Printed by the Editor, [1815?], System number 004504302, Music Collections b.515.



The University of South Carolina, Music Library, http://library.sc.edu/music/bmp_cl.html

*Let the Bright Seraphims, Sung by Miss Stephens Composed by G. F. Handel. London. Printed by R. Major [2 unnumbered pages of music; "M Abraham" written on reverse (recto) of first page of music; voice and b.c. only]



*Will you come to the bow'r; a favoite song with an accompaniment for the piano forte, written by Thos. Moore.  London, Printed R. Major [181?}


*A Short-Title Cataloge of Music Printed before 1825 in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, Edited by Valarie Rumbold and Iain Fenlon, (Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge: New York, 1992).

What's this dull town to me, Robin Adair.....with an accompaniment for the piano forte, ff.[2]. Major's Cheap Music Shop: London [1810] fol. MU. 1288. B24


Jill C. Major collection

*The Grand March - In the Romance of "Blue Beard" - For Pianoforte, composed by Michael Kelly, London: Printed and Sold at Major’s Cheap Wholesale Music Shop, 43 Bedford Street, Strand.

* Away With Melancholy, a Favorite Air or Duet, with an Arrangement for the Piano Forte, Composed by M. Mozart, second edition, London:  published by R. Major, Music Engraver & Printer.

*Hush Ye Pretty Warbling Choir, Sung by Miss Stephens, Composed by G E Handel, London: Printed by R. Major

*O! Nanny Wilt thou Gang With Me, A Favorite Song Composed for the Piano Forte or Ger. Flute by T. Carter, London: Printed by R. Major, 43 Bedford street, Strand.





“Clare Court. Some sheet music, circa 1815-20, has the imprint: — ‘ London, printed and sold at No. 1, Clare Court,  Drury Lane.’"

“Major, R.,  7, High Holborn, published Twenty-four Country Dances for 1820, and engraved, printed and edited a small quarto work in numbers: - “The Musical Companion, or Complete Pocket Museum, for the Flute,” reaching to at least four volumes, circa 1825-30.”  P. 76.


Exeter Working Papers in Book History, Biographical and bibliographical information on the book trades,  http://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-m.html

MAJOR, R., music engraver, printer and publisher, 43, Bedford Street, Strand c1800-18; 1, Clare Court, Drury Lane c 1818-20; 7, High Holborn 1820. Ran cheap music warehouse. Humphries and Smith.


A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, compiled by Phillip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans (Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1984,) 61.

"Richard Major was a music engraver on 10 Broad Street, Bristol in 1811; an R. Major was a music publisher at 43 Bedford Street, the Strand from about 1800 to 1818 and No 7. , High Holborn, in 1820 and a William Major had a printing shop and sold music at St. John's Steps, Bristol, in 1819" (Could this possible be Richard's younger brother, William?)


Charles Humphries and William C. Smith, Music Publishing in the British Isles from the earliest times to the middle of the nineteenth century, A Dictionary of engravers,printers, publishers and music sellers, (Cassell and Company LTD: London, 1954), 224-225

Major (R.) Music engraver, printer and publisher, London; at his cheap music warehouse, 43 Bedford Street, Strand, c. 1800-1818; at 7 High Holborn, 1820.  Many of his publications are without any address.  

Major (Richard), Music engraver, 10 Broad Street, Bristol.  Printed and published, "Eight Anthems, in four parts, with an Accompaniment for the Organ or Piano Forte ... By William Holmes, of Ideford Devon." Preface is dated April 8, 1811.