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James P Mathews [1828 – 1901]

James Mathews was an amateur flute player who has enjoyed some degree of notoriety as the owner of a remarkable gold flute named ‘Chrysoston’ (greek: golden-mouthed*). Mathews (or Matthews) was a very accomplished amateur flautist and highly popular with audiences in the Midlands during the latter part of the c.19th century. During 1860 – 1880 there are numerous reports of concerts given by him including several performances of the Manuscript Concerto for Flute and Harp by Mozart and also of the Andante by the same composer.
The Birmingham Daily Post, reporting on the success of the Birmingham Schools Choral Union Festival (1866) in which nearly one thousand choristers took part, wrote that ‘the second part of the concert was agreeably diversified by the flute solos of Mr. James Mathews’ adding that ‘Mr. Mathews consulted his own taste, we suspected, more than those of his probable audience in the selection of the Beethoven Romance for his first performance. It was played, of course, with great skill and refinement, but in its dreamy poetical nature was so obviously unsuited to the occasion that the encore which greeted the performance could clearly only be intended as a tribute to the performer’s powers. His subsequent performance [works by Bache & Nicholson] was better suited to the taste of his audience’
A review[1] of Mathew’s playing at the Edgbaston Amateur Musical Union concert in the Exchange Assembly Rooms on 21st December 1868 was even more enthusiastic, announcing that
‘..Mr James Mathews’s performances on his golden flute of Schubert’s Introduction and Variations on the theme of ‘Trockne Blumen’ were real masterpieces of flute playing – the perfection at once of tone, sentiment and execution’
This gold flute, now part of the Bate Collection in Oxford so carefully tended by curator Andrew Lamb, is a weird but strangely beautiful instrument having an 18ct gold body and an extraordinary 28 silver keys. Two other flutes that belonged to Mathews also are in the collection. The oldest of the three flutes is Barbiton, a silver instrument built c.1852 that looks comparatively unremarkable and Chrysostonides which, with its extra keys and square toneholes, looks most odd. Sadly the latter is presently in an extremely poor state, fragile and lacking a crown or stopper and with string wrapped around the upper part of its body. All of them were built by Rudall Rose & Carte to specifications by Mathews, a practice quite common at that time when all sorts of fingering systems were in use, and all of them have a lip plate of ivory with a completely square hole. Mathews choice of a square hole was no doubt influenced by Cornelius Ward who had stated in his book The Flute Explained (1844) that ‘… the square hole is unquestionably the best.’ However, nobody yet has been able to fully explain the purpose of Chrysostom’s extra keys. Dayton Miller examined the flute in the 1930’s, fifty years later Paul Lewis carried out a more thorough investigation of it for the Galpin Society[2] and more latterly Robert Bigio photographed and described the flute[3]. Lewis and Bigio detailed the functioning of the keys but were unable to ascertain exactly how they benefited the player. My own cursory examination of the flute suggested to me that the intention possibly was for the whole hand to move position in order to play either naturals or flats – a most interesting prospect that I would love to have been able to investigate further. The plans for the extra keys had been drawn up by Mathews during the years 1865 to 1868 and then developed by his friend Frankland who was an amateur engineer in Dudley. Rudall Rose & Carte then used these designs to make the instrument.
The gold flute Chrysostom had been purchased with money raised by subscription from all parts of the country[4]. It was engraved and presented to Mathews in October 1868 ‘by his friends’. Four months later the Birmingham Daily Post was writing that the ‘gold flute is fast acquiring for itself and its talented owner a reputation second only to that of the magic instrument immortalised by Mozart.’

Mathews was energetic as a soloist and also as ensemble player. In 1856 he founded the Birmingham Flute Society and carried out the duties of its vice-president for many years[5]. The society which was formed ‘to encourage a taste for the performance of classical concerted flute music, and for the improvement of its members[6] and, since the Manchester had ceased to be active, it was the only one then existing in England[7]. By 1867 the society had acquired a vast collection of flute music ‘consisting of nearly all the concerted flute music published, British and foreign’[8] and in September 1886, still going strong, its members celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the society by driving to the Mathews’ home in the village of Clent where they performed a concert of music including quartets by Kuhlau, Walkiers and Cardon, trios by Tulou, and an arrangement by Mathews of the Nocturne & Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Then the revellers moved on to the Lyttleton Arms hotel for dinner plus toasts and speeches in which Mathews quoted an article in The Times regarding Frederick the Great ‘who loved his flute almost as much as his sword, and stood in awe of his teacher, Quant, much more than he did of the combined wrath of two empresses and a king.’[9]

Mathews began his professional life as a Commercial Traveller in Firebricks, then graduated to Managing Clerk of Stourbridge Fireclay Works before becoming a partner, in the brickworks of F.T. Rufford[PB]. In June 1854 he married Charlotte Lamb and by 1871 they had four children and three servants[PB] although none of them are recorded as being flute players. He lived in Stourbridge for much of his life but moved to at a house called ‘Summer Bank’ in the village of Clent in 1882[10] where he lived until his death on December 31st 1900[PB].
The ‘Romance in A flat’ had been composed by December 1868 when Mr. Mathews performed it ‘with immense effect’ on his gold flute[11]. It is dedicated to his friend George Ingram who was a pianist and organist in Birmingham. The work subsequently was published in the "Amateur Flute Player's Journal. Second Series" (1883) and my new edition of this work is based on the copy held by the British Library Music Collections h.232.e.(20)
The piano part for this edition is available from the publisher at with a performance of the work.

*The greek word is spelt with an ‘m’ but Robert Bigio has told me that, after considerable debate, the decision was made to retain Mathews’ own spelling of the name.
[1] [6] [9] [10] [11] Birmingham Daily Post
[2] Barbiton and Chrysostom [1980]
[3] Rudall, Rose & Carte [2011]
[4] Worcestershire Chronicle
[5] [7] [8] Birmingham Journal
[PB] local historian Peter Bloore

Colour photographs by Roz Trübger ©Bate Collection