Author Archives: Merel van der Vaart, Associate Curator Public History

Making rules for family historians


This article was written by Bruce Eadie, intern on the Family History project.

Front of nineteenth century trade card for Dring & Fage. The Science Museum Library and Archives at Wroughton (Archive ref: D&F 5/8)

You wouldn’t happen to be called Bushby would you? Well, down at the Science Museum we know something about your great-great grandfather that you might like to know.

 With the huge and growing popularity of genealogy, the Science Museum is keen to make its collections and archives available to family historians. Many family historians begin by hearing family stories told by older relatives, by leafing through photograph albums and then progress to the more accessible public records: national censuses, army records, wills, immigration records. Some may even be lucky enough to own a treasured object of a forebear, like a watch or a family bible.

 The Science Museum may be able to help extend your knowledge further. At Wroughton near Swindon, the Science Museum holds the historic archives of many British companies both great and small: the civil engineering company Pearson; the tyre-maker Dunlop; coach builders Hooper and Co. These company archives are full of names that might include that of a family member.

 That’s where the Bushbys come in. On a recent trip to Wroughton, I was looking through the archive of Dring & Fage or as the company would have it “The HOUSE of DRING & FAGE at the sign of the Half Moon and Dagger in Blackfriars – the oldest makers of Hydometers and Scientific Instruments inEngland”.


Back of nineteenth century trade card for Dring & Fage. The Science Museum Library and Archives at Wroughton (Archive ref: D&F 5/8)

Amongst the mass of papers and trade cards was the apprenticeship indenture of one Charles Bushby of Albany Place, Neate Street, Camberwell in the County of Surrey. As the document – signed by Charles’ father Thomas and dated 31 March 1877 – went on to say, Charles was indentured as an apprentice to Alfred Jones master rule maker at Dring & Fage.

Apprenticeship indenture of Charles Bushby. The Science Museum Library and Archives at Wroughton (Archive ref: D&F 2/2)

So if you are the great-great grandson or daughter of the young and hopeful Charles Bushby, who started out in his profession that March day in 1877 then you could come to the Science Museum in London and see the extensive collection of slide rules, gauging rods, circular rules and weird and wonderful objects like the “Ewart cattle guage with ivory slide” which were all beautifully crafted at Dring & Fage by men like the young Charles Bushby under the watchful eye of master Alfred Jones.

Detail of timetable or rent rule made by Dring and Fage. The Science Museum, London. Rent rules, such as this example made by Dring and Fage of Tooley Street, London, were used by dock companies to calculate the number of days for storage charges. (Object No. 1954-305)

And, by the way, you don’t need to be called Bushby to find objects and documents that relate to your family history down at theScienceMuseum. If you are interested in researching your family history through the Science Museum’s Archives or Collections, visit the Library & Archive webpage or contact us via


The Amazing Adventures of Kastner’s Miraculous Pyrophone (Part One)

This article was written by Rob Sommerlad, Volunteer Research Assistant for Electronic Music.

There’s more to the relationship between fire and music than simply bad metaphors and innuendos, as I learnt this week at Blythe House. In a dark corner of the Science Museum’s storage facility sits a small, awkward-looking wooden box with intriguing glass pipes sprouting out of it. However, this unassuming little object just so happens to be one of the world’s last remaining pyrophones, an instrument which, as the name suggests, combines fire and sound!

Pyrophone, 1869. (Science Museum, London)

 Patented by the Strasbourg-born musician and scientist Fréderic Kastner in 1873, the pyrophone was a musical instrument in which flames encased in pipes similar to those of a traditional organ were used to produce musical notes. Kaster took advantage of Dr B Higgins’ 1777 discovery that a hydrogen flame positioned at the lower end of glass tube could produce a note and combined this with his musical knowledge (his father was the composer Georges Kastner) in order to produce a “Fire Organ”, as the instrument was also known.  This name perhaps suits the device better than pyrophone, as it did in fact function much like any other organ, with the size and shape of the pipes regulating the note’s pitch and a keyboard acting as the musical interface. The only real difference is that the pyrophone’s notes were produced not by air pressure, but through a quirk of combustion first discovered by Higgins.

Poster advertising the Orchestral Fire Organ, Electric Singing Chandelier Lustre and Electric Singing Candelabra. (Science Museum, London)

 Sadly, the pyrophone and its cousins the Electrical Singing Lustre and the Electrical Singing Candelabra, did not set the musical world alight (with excitement). Both Hector Berlioz and Cesar Franck visited Kastner in order to try the pyrophone, and Charles Gounod considered using it in a production of Jeanne d’Arc, but in general the public’s reaction to the instrument was somewhat underwhelming. The only composer to actually write any music specifically for the instrument was Theodore Lack who wrote several pieces, including an arrangement of God Save the Queen that was later performed publicly. Kastner wrote a book about his instrument and The Times also paid the pyrophone some attention, but the instrument’s success was limited.


"Le Pyrophone, flammes chantantes" by Frédérique Kastner, 4th edition, 1876 (Science Museum, London)

To discover more about the pyrophone, its bizarre conection with the Red Cross and how it found its way into the Science Museum you’ll have to tune into the second part of The Amazing Adventures of Kastner’s Miraculous Pyrophone next week.