Liverpool

Liverpool Beatles guitar store Rushworth's researched

John Lennon and George Harrison in Rushworths, Liverpool
Image caption John Lennon and George Harrison were presented with Gibson guitars in 1962

In his small 1950s council house the 14-year-old Liverpool schoolboy had persevered with learning the trumpet.

He tirelessly practised his C scale on the instrument, a birthday gift from his father, but he wanted to sing and play at the same time and decided that what he really needed was a guitar.

Fortunately for Paul McCartney, his father had bought the trumpet from Rushworth's, a Liverpool store that was then Europe's largest music house, and somewhere that would allow him to exchange the instrument for a £25 German guitar.

"The story goes that he couldn't play it because he was left handed so he had to turn the strings round the other way", Jonathan Rushworth, great-great grandson of Rushworth's founder recalls.

Now, the 174-year history of the store is being researched for a three year University of Liverpool project.

Set up, in 1828, by William Rushworth, a pipe organ builder from Yorkshire, it was the quintessential family run business, inspiring loyalty in staff and customers.

"It rode on the back of the prosperity of Victorian Liverpool," Jonathan Rushworth said.

"That was the time when a quarter of the world's trade went through Liverpool. When it was a social standing thing to have a piano in your front room."

Image caption Nicholas Wong and Jonathan Rushworth examine some of the store's archive

Rushworth's main Liverpool store in Islington, where Paul McCartney got that guitar, included a 200 seat concert room, a 175 seat lecture hall and 24 music studios.

"The store would have 300 pianos on display at any one time, customers were able to come in and play them," Jonathan Rushworth said.

"People would go and spend the whole day there.

"My grandfather believed you couldn't just sell musical instruments, you had to give back to society and be part of the musical life of the city.

The firm set up and sponsored a music festival, which ran for 50 years, and the William Rushworth Memorial Trust still makes grants for the study of music.

'Altruistic trait'

Nicholas Wong, is working on the three-year research project for the University of Liverpool and has appealed for anyone with archive material or memories to contact him.

"The philanthropic and charitable element of what the family gave back to the city is going to be a key part of the research," he said.

"It is a legacy that continues to this day.

"They have an altruistic family trait that seems to run through the bloodline."

Image caption Rushworth's was set up as a family business in 1828

For all this there was a hard-headed business acumen at work too.

The Beatles' connection with the store continued when, in September 1962, having just secured their first recording contract, John Lennon and George Harrison called in to buy two Gibson guitars, specially imported from Chicago.

Never a man to miss an opportunity, Jonathan's father, James Rushworth ensured a camera was on hand to capture the presentation.

The photograph, in which Harrison sports the remnants of a black eye sustained in a Pete Best-related Cavern scuffle, hung on the shop wall for decades.

"My father may not have liked their music but he was a shrewd enough businessman to know they were going places," Jonathan Rushworth said.

"It's no accident that behind them is the Rushworth's sign."

The firm's city store also included something unique, a mini musical museum.

Five generations

"My grandfather built up a very fine collection of antique musical instruments in the 1920s including 15 instruments from the 1500s," Jonathan Rushworth said.

"There was a piano that was built in 1800, which Beethoven had played regularly, and people used to come in and kneel down and kiss the piano.

"They were all kept in working order so people could go in and play them.

The music finally stopped for Rushworth's in 2002.

"The economic climate changed," Jonathan Rushworth said.

"A business of that type, with big stores competing, it just wasn't going to go on any longer.

"The traditional thing about family businesses is that they last three generations.

"This one lasted five, which isn't bad going."

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