One of the best known names in flute making is Rudall Rose, who were two gentlemen whose collaboration made some of the finest flutes from the classical period. George Rudall was a flute player and designer who met up with John Mitchell Rose in Scotland. John Mitchell Rose had served an apprenticeship with Edinburgh organ builders Wood & Co and was sought out to make flutes in partnership with George Rudall in the early 1800s. They worked together for 50 years We can see from catalogues of their work that 8 keyed instruments were available in the mid 1800s for a little under £20:00.
There are no records of the design criteria for the instruments made by Rudall Rose nor any other company records to help us to know such things as how many instruments were made and to whom they were sold. George Rudalls early flutes were made by a Mr. Willis who remained with the firm for some years after the arrival of John Mitchell Rose. Only a very few examples of John Mitchell Rose's flutes, made before the partnership, survive but it is obvious that he made flutes as a result of his apprenticeship. His work on Organ building must have been a great asset to him as a flute maker, even today the wisdom of organ makers is often quoted by those teaching flute making. There are, however many surviving examples of the 8, or more, keyed Rudall Rose instruments.
These instruments are the basis of many maker's, including my own, ranges of flutes for the traditional and especially Irish music. When the Boehm system flutes swept into popularity in the second half of the 18th. Century the 8 keyed taper bored instrument went into decline with very few being made after about 1860. The bonus which has come from this decline is the sudden availability of these instruments to players of traditional music who would previously not been able to afford them. The consequent effect on the development of Irish and other traditional flute music is difficult to chart but must have been huge. The exponents of such music have ever been quick to fall upon such a boon. Good, similar examples are the Irish bouzouki, originally a Greek instrument found to be available and well suited to the fast Irish jigs and reels, and the bodhran, which poses us a question as to weather it first appeared in Ireland as an indigenous instrument or if it came from India and the middle east where such instruments have been common for centuries, certainly many of the mass produced ones available today are made in India and retain some of the characteristics of the early ones from that country.
Today's makers of flutes based on those Rudall Rose instruments make a variety of types. Some being loosely modelled on the originals with no keys at all, which provides the interesting advantage that the holes under the keys spoil the quality of the tone achieved by the bore and so these keyless instruments can produce an improved sound. Others are furnished with one or more keys depending on the musicians requirements leading to a greater repertoire being available at the cost of more holes intruding on the all important bore and an ever increasing weight. Then there are those who produce faithful copies of the originals for exponents of early music in order that they may produce a performance as nearly as possible to the originals.
The medieval and Tudor flute was not largely different from the flute we know today. Like many modern folk flutes and whistles, the instruments were six holed and did not have any keys.