Walter John Ransom, Gramophonist

Click to enlarge

Could we have a very early DJ in the family?

On the 1891 Census, the occupation of Walter John Ransom (1851-1901) was recorded as “Gramophonist”. If you look up the word Gramophonist on Collins Dictionary, it states that the word is now obsolete, but that it means, rather obviously, “a person who uses a gramophone”. Gramophone is the old name for a record player.

Collins also helpfully give a little graph which shows when the word was actually in use.


Walter Ransom was not my favourite ancestor, as will become clear in a future blog post, but he is interesting. He was my great, great, grandfather Henry’s eldest living child (which makes him my second great uncle). Henry’s first two boys sadly died aged 2 and 3 of scarlet fever when Walter was just a baby. Walter’s entry, in his own handwriting, in the birthday book of his youngest brother, Horace, my great grandfather, confirms that he is the eldest as shown below. He even goes so far as to underline the important words … but it is written with tongue in cheek.


Walter was ten years older than his wife Jessie, nee Greedus. They were married on 14th March, 1880. In 1871 Walter had been listed on the Census as a 19 year old Shopman, possibly working in his father’s drapery business. At 29, in 1881, he was listed as a Draper, and was living with his new wife Jessie at 17 Cambridge Gardens, Kensington. He has the rather posher sounding title of “Costumier” on his marriage certificate.


So what was Walter’s connection to Emile Berliner’s new invention, the Gramophone? Perhaps he was demonstrating it in a drapery store to his more well-to-do clients? Going back to Collins again, their definition of Costumier reads as follows: “a person or firm that makes or supplies theatrical or fancy costumes”. That makes it sound more interesting, perhaps there was more to do with the stage than I know … theatrical costumes and accompanying music? In a quick search of the newspaper library on Find My Past, I found the following two reports, from 1897 and 1898, that mention Gramophonists.



1897 Berliner Gramophone record (Wikipedia)

There is an interesting article about Emile Berliner on Wikipedia: “Emile Berliner (May 20, 1851 – August 3, 1929), originally Emil Berliner, was a German-born American inventor. He is best known for inventing the phonograph record (called gramophone record in British English and originally also in American English) and the gramophone. He founded the Berliner Gramophone Company in 1895, The Gramophone Company in London, England, in 1897, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover, Germany, in 1898 and Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899 (chartered in 1904).”



Click below to listen to an Emile Berliner recording from the 1890s of Waltzes from the Prisoner of Zenda performed by the Higgins’ Orchestra. [Link to the original website].
Credit: Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division


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