The Old History and the Legacy
Joe Wood, organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's in Huddersfield, started his business in 1850 with the name of 'J Wood Music' selling pianos, and later sheet music. By 1861 he was manufacturing pianos and his business was later named ‘J Wood’s Pianoforte & Harmonium Depot’.
Around 1874, Joe took on his apprentice, and brother-in-law, Joshua Marshall as his partner and the shops were re-named ‘Wood & Marshall’.
In 1877 Wood extended his empire to Bradford, sending his son William to take over a music business already established there (d'Este's). In 1882 the shop in Huddersfield was moved to 39 New Street and re-named ‘Beethoven House’.
Joe died in 1884 and in 1885 Joshua Marshall was bought out of his partnership by Joe’s sons but they still used the ‘Wood & Marshall’ name together with ‘J Wood & Sons’. In 1886 another apprentice of Joe, John North, became a partner in the firm and the business became ‘J Wood & Sons & North’.
North died aged 39 in 1891 and the name reverted back to ‘J Wood & Sons’ though quite often with ‘Late Wood & Marshall’ or ‘Joe Wood’s Sons & North’ printed underneath.
From 1886 Joshua Marshall opened his own shops in Huddersfield and surrounding districts (Joshua Marshall & Co) but in 1902 all the Marshall's shops reverted to the sole ownership of the Wood family and the business became a Limited Company in 1903, ‘J Wood & Sons Ltd’.
The business flourished all through the Victorian era and has sometimes expanded, sometimes contracted: at various times there have been shops in Halifax, Hull, Leeds and Skipton. It has also survived three fires, two in Bradford (1905 and 1977), and the other in Huddersfield (1964).
In recent years, the most significant developments have taken place in the firm's Bradford arm which, after receiving in 1962 a fairly large invitation to tender for the supply of musical instruments to the old West Riding Education Authority, and after visiting in the Frankfurt music fair the stand of Moeck and meeting Otto Steinkopf, one of the earliest pioneers in the reconstruction of early instruments, initiated its specialization to Early Music and started to operate in 1968 with the name 'The Early Music Shop' and a small selection of recorders and crumhorns.
In Germany, the Early Music revival movement had begun much earlier than in England and the small workshops of Moeck Verlag, Rainer Weber and Günther Körber produced most of the world's only available early instruments since the 50s. But the Early Music Shop created much interest from local amateur musicians in the Huddersfield area, for it was at this time that David Munrow and many of his pioneering contemporaries were generating so much enthusiasm for early music.
Supply still outstripped demand throughout the 1970s to the extend that 'J Wood & Sons Ltd.' began making their own instruments in a workshop in the firm's attic. Under the direction of Jonathan M. Askey, the attic became two floors of the shop, the catalogues became more comprehensive and the firm's clientele soon covered the entire globe, with agents in most countries of the world.
In 1995, the firm was demerged into two separate companies. The original J Wood & Sons Ltd operated in Bradford; the other in Huddersfield. In 1999, Richard Wood, the founder's great-great-grandson, sold separately the Bradford's showroom to G A Williams of Darlington and Newcastle that continued operating it as 'The Early Music Shop' and the workshops were sold to Jonathan M. Askey -who had managed the business since he joined the company back in 1972- and who continued to drive the workshop with a new name: 'The Renaissance Workshop Company Ltd'.
Located in the same building until 2004, having been in the past part of it, and sharing the same product catalogue, the Renaissance Workshop Company (RWC) grew under the shadow of the Early Music Shop (EMS) and not all the customers realised that the EMS, now owned by the Williams group, had become a mere dealer of RWC, the authentic soul of the J Wood & Sons Ltd. The confusion grew up because the Early Music Shop marketed the RWC products as if they were still made in their own workshop, that is, they continued offering the RWC production with the brand EMS. J Wood & Sons Ltd. finally ceased trading in 2008.
Now the RWC has recently re-established its workshops in a new premises in Spain and still maintains the company's headquarters and a commercial infrastructure located in West Yorkshire (UK).
At Renaissance Workshop Company we take our heritage very seriously and endeavour to provide the exceptional level of service that has become a standard in our long history.
Most of the information of this article has been obtained from the book 'Music Making in the west riding of Yorkshire', published by Richard H Wood and Adrian Smith in November 2000 and from the comments of Janette Hamilton (a great-great-grandchild of Joe Wood).