Andrew Bellis - bowmaker and violin repairer

Andrew Bellis is Dorset's longest established violin repairer and bow maker. Andrew is based on the border between Bournemouth and Poole. He is also a well known local viola player.

Wessex area violin makers

This is an attempt to list and give some history of local music shops that have or had violin interest, and individual makers/repairers who have set up, in the Wessex area

Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire violin makers, repairers and shops after 1945

This is an attempt to list and give some history of local music shops that have or had violin interest, and individual makers/repairers who have set up, in the area Bournemouth/Dorset/West Hampshire, South Wiltshire, perhaps better known to locals as ‘Wessex’ plus a bit to the east. Start at Havant then go north and west to Winchester, Romsey, Salisbury, Sherborne, finishing at the border with Devon. Basically it’s the area I cover as a freelance viola player. The opinions where given are purely my own based on observation of work done by the shop and/or maker; it is impossible for me to see or to have seen all their work however. I’ve been playing in Bournemouth since 1965 and making bows professionally since 1980 so I’ve had longer than most here, if not all. All correct at the time of writing (January 2011) though I’d appreciate corrections and recollections especially for those marked*. The letter (w) means they have a website.

There may be some absentees from the first section, of makers working currently. A look at the popular directories will show those who advertise; I've seen quite a few come and go! Otherwise I’ve put this in (roughly) date order (date of birth of an individual maker and if known, date of opening if a shop), so test your memories……it is an attempt to honour those skilled craftsmen who became involved in our precarious business and would otherwise go unappreciated.

Andrew Bellis, b.1957. Bournemouth. Viola player and bowmaker. Learnt with John Clutterbuck and Arthur Bultitude. First bow made in Birmingham 1978, to date some 170 completed; also 16 instruments including one double bass and one harpsichord. Has taught bow work at Oxford University and West Dean College, currently Halsway Manor. (w)

Jeremy Walsh, b.1955. Lives and works near Maiden Newton, Dorset. Jeremy is a recovering would-be double bass player (his words not mine!) and makes excellent instruments. His restoration work is similarly fine. He is – in my opinion - currently by far the best worker in Dorset. I have had two violas from him, made in the style of Maggini.

John Matthews, Gosport. Aircraft engineer. Bow maker since 1999. Learnt with Derek Wilson privately. (w)

Sonic Violins was founded by Richard Roberts (b.1962) in 2004 in Corfe Mullen, Dorset. Having been previously employed in engineering, Richard has always been a folk music violinist. He developed an excellent wireless system for amplified violins and instals them in Chinese made violin/viola bodies. (w)

Now onto the historical ones:

Paul Denley, working 1980’s, Bishop’s Waltham Southampton. An excellent maker and player, interested in baroque instruments. Still playing but not making.

Richard King, Lymington, working 1988, then went into the health profession as a student in 1992 and gave up violins.

Paul Bickle 1945 – 1988. Classical guitarist, studied violin making at the Newark School with Maurice Bouette and Wilfred Saunders. Set up in Winchester 1978 as maker, repairer and restorer; copied old Italian and French instruments, experimenting with varnish and ageing techniques. Moved to Bishop’s Waltham in 1979 then later to 4, Lenten Street, Alton in rooms over Buck’s Bakery. Taught violin making from there to foreign students and took on trainees.

James ‘Jim’ Sheriff, d.2005. Jim will be remembered as one of the greatest makers Dorset will ever know, but he didn’t start until the late 1970’s after making a cello for his daughter, having previously taught sculpting in London; Jim and his family moved to North Dorset in the early 1960’s so he could commute to London by train. He did excellent repair work that limited his new work.

Self taught, but with an excellent eye and attention to detail, he played a bit; Jim was always open to constructive criticism. He made me three violas between 1983 and 1996 and other instruments of his are currently being used professionally. Jim ceased working in 2003 due to a cruelly unfair degenerative disease. His output of orchestral string instruments wholly built by himself was 41, but in addition he made one viola da gamba, one viola d’amore and two guitars.

*Geoffrey Beazley, b.circa 1937. Worked as a double bass repairer on the Southampton Road, Ringwood. Died of an asthma attack c.1977/8. His workshop may have been cleared by another repairer who then established a small shop in the back streets of Ringwood town, but it went after a short time. I was in the H.C.Y.O. around that time and heard this from others. More information/corrections on both would be welcome.

Colin Grainger, b.1934. Initially, Colin worked in Bedhampton, near Waterlooville from 1977. He was pupil of Malcom Combes. Colin's first violin gained a Certificate of Merit at ‘Facta Britannia’. Colin is strictly traditional in his approach, working from Stradivari patterns. His early instruments were light in colour, with slightly thick, lustrous varnish but later violins are darker, the varnish apparently thinner, albeit showing the same or greater perfectionism. Colin moved to Ireland in May 1998 and has continued making, currently on his thirtieth instrument. He now lives at Lisfennel, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. (A.B. note: ‘Facta Britannia’ was a short lived, c.1981/6, exposition of British violin making held in the Portsmouth area, with prizes awarded for workmanship and tone. The judging string quartet was the then newly-established ‘Endellion’ quartet led by Andrew Watkinson, changing to the Delmé later.)

Nelson Tomalin, b.1914 d.2003, Gussage All Saints near Wimborne, productive period 1970’s/80’s. Had been in the oil industry and was financially secure. Nelson was taught privately by Maurice Bouette, who later headed the Newark School of Violin Making. Nelson had a new bungalow built in Gussage when he moved there, with a centrally heated workshop attached! I met him in the late 1970’s when he was about 63 after I bought a viola of his and it needed slight repair. One of his violins was commisioned by a member of the B.S.O.

Back problems caused Nelson to cease making prematurely in about 1988, so his total output was probably only 20 violins and violas (no celli as far as I know). His instruments were exquisitely crafted but tonally lacking (for the price) probably due to inexperience, and varnish choice varied bizarrely from transparent yellow to bright red.

Albert Cooper, near Winchester, d.2007. Employed at Hamble with Folland in WW2, aircraft manufacture. Wrote and published two books about his instrument and bow collection, lavishly illustrated, then completed the third ‘book’ on line. Some of his collection was gifted to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Robert ‘Bob’ Corbin, Christchurch died c.2002 aged about 75; he lived and worked in River Way, between Jumpers and St. Catherine’s Hill. Started violin making in the early 1960’s, still exhibiting in a local craft show in 1982. He was a self-taught repairer and got interested in bow making too. There may have been some sideways ‘tuition’ in bow making due to his friendship with a young bass player who was in the Bournemouth Youth Orchestra with me and was always asking questions. I cleared his workshop.

Kenneth Charles Cole working Swanage mid 1980’s. Mr. Cole was from Salisbury, Rhodesia. Nice clean work but few instruments. Died 1988.

William Luff, b.1904 d.1993. It is little known that one of England’s finest makers lived near Beaminster, Dorset for a short time. Retiring from London he had always wanted ‘a cottage in the country’ but made the mistake of telling everyone who read ‘The Strad’ where he was going, about 1968. Fed up with unsolicited calls he moved on to Goring-by-Sea, Sussex, in 1972, his new address known only to close friends.

Ernest Lant b.1901 d.about 1990, Gravesend and Sevenoaks but with family near Southampton. Made basses, at least one is still in the area. Instruments need to be seriously worked on in order to sound their best. Possibly made bows also, some from ‘Australian laburnum’. I think he’d had an article in The Strad. I cleared his workshop some time after he died.

*John Hoddinott, Corfe Mullen, north side of main road, brother a policeman? Working 1950’s/1970’s; died ?early 1980’s. Sold some instruments through Jack Stott. More information please.

Edward Forster retired to Bournemouth (Claremont Road, Charminster) from Blyth, in the 1960’s. Claimed related to the famous Forsters. Made two guitar shape violas for Bournemouth School on the suggestion of a teacher there – both instruments had wolf notes but they were responsible for introducing me to good viola sound.

Leslie Baron Leeson Road, Queen’s Park, Bournemouth. Local ‘play anything’ violinist of the 50’s (he owned a Rocca violin, but in those days they were affordable and obtainable) and latterly a bow maker. Taught by William Retford. Could have been a very good bow maker but he started too late and was affected by pernambuco dust. Worked until late 1970’s. Died 1991. His wife, Hilda, was a cello teacher, well respected, she died c.1993.

Jack Stott d.?2001 father in violin 'dictionaries'; the father made, Jack didn’t. Initially from the 1960’s Jack operated from his bungalow in Ensbury Park, Bournemouth, supplying school instruments and doing repairs. He kept a caravan in the garden as storage for the instruments! He moved to Winton in about 1974 buying a house on the south side of Wycliffe Road where Andrew Foot and I would often go in the evenings to play quartets with Jack playing his beloved cello, and Monty Ginsley violin. Jack established the “The Violin Shop” on the corner of Wycliffe Road and Ridley Road. About 1985 he sold the shop but kept the house. Later he separated from his second wife who I knew as ‘Vi’ and moved to a bungalow in Ensbury Park. He died in about 2001. Jack always helped me, for instance he gave me the blank from which I made my first bow, but he had a temper and could appear moody to some. He always had a risqué joke to tell and I thought he was great. I rehaired any ‘upmarket’ bows that came to him and inherited his books, bow parts and spares shortly before he died. His main business was repair work for schools at which he was most capable.

Frederic Hart b.1908, d.1989 started a shop in Charminster Road, Bournemouth in about 1973. Mr. Hart had been born in Kent but studied the violin in Vienna, returning to Britain just before the war. In Charminster he did repairs and sold old and new instruments, the new ones mostly German. He closed the shop in 1979, moving his workshop to a bungalow in Poulner near Ringwood, then moved to the New Milton area where he died in 1989 but his widow Jill is still there and still working. (w)

And three before 1945:

A. Warrick, working Portsmouth 1927. Killed in an air raid in WW2 – what a sad loss. In about 1986 I saw an excellent violin by him labelled as ‘Warrick, Whittington Chambers, 75 King’s Road, Portsmouth’. He was related to the Southall (London) Alan Warrick.

*K. M. Laurence “Resident at Worth Matravers, Dorset. Commenced making in 1934 in a wooden hut in her garden facing the sea. Said to be Britain’s only woman violin maker.” From Henley’s dictionary pub. 1959.

*C. W. Tiller “Cabinet maker at Boscombe, 1895. Resident at Bournemouth, 1927. Well constructed violins. Often one-piece backs. Oil varnish of a golden yellow shade carefully applied.” From Henley’s dictionary pub. 1959. I asked my grandfather who had been in the same trade (joinery/cabinet making) albeit some time later (1920 – 1939) if he had heard of Tiller, but he hadn’t.
(If anyone has any additional information on these last two I’d be very grateful – they deserve more recognition.)

The sheer number of makers in this area astonishes me. My hobby of restoring post-war lightweight cycles makes me realise there are comparisons between the two trades. But how many people in this area bought hand made lightweight cycles between 1946 and 1980? I’d venture it was quite a few, certainly more than those who bought new violins. But here we have about 15 violin makers during that period and only two cycle makers, Rotrax in Southampton (about 1946 – 1985) and Stan Pike in Crewkerne (about 1960 – 1975 and yes I know being just over the border in Somerset he’s strictly out of the area surveyed). Bear in mind that similarly to mass produced cycles of the Raleigh type, there have always been volume produced violins, albeit from abroad but readily available in the UK, yet these individual makers I have listed considered it worth their while to set up. There’s a lesson there. Many retired gents take up violin making as a hobby for pocket money then get upset when they don’t sell any, or have to sell them cheaply, then just as they are getting good at it they have to stop due to illness. In about 1998 I went to visit Jim Sheriff and someone had sent him a ‘catalogue’ with the pictures of ranks and ranks of instruments for sale. “Look at all these unsold, unloved, homeless violins, Andrew. Why do we bother?” And all I could do was agree with him. So if you are tempted to take up violin making (other than as a hobby purely for your own use), gather as much genuine advice from other makers and players as you can, and if you want to make something that will be acceptable in the profession make it play, respond, sound and look like those already in use there. Otherwise you don’t stand a chance and your instruments will join all the other has-been English instruments left unbidded for in the auctions. That’s tough I know, but true. Sadly, not all the tuition available in this country tells you how to make a professionally acceptable violin (it’s not that difficult, it’s just that some of the teachers don’t know either, or don’t want to tell – make sure you see some of their own genuine work), whereas my bow courses attempt to do exactly that, but only with the bow, because that is my passion.

And additionally, Bournemouth piano shops (possibly with other instruments):

These are a soft spot for me because my maternal grandmother’s stepfather had a piano shop in Wareham, previously working in Bournemouth. When I used Minns in the 70’s it was because they sold sheet music for other instruments, and of course the AB exam books.

PRICE had a large showroom where ‘Austin Reed’ is now, on the corner of Westover Road and Gervis Place. When the piano market slumped between the wars they moved into 5-7 Gervis Place that subsequently became Minns after WW2, now it is Blacks ‘camping and outdoor’ shop (I made sure I bought my latest tent there as a sort of homage to the past!). There was also a shop in Boscombe, almost opposite the (Christchurch Road end of the) Arcade.

GODFREY had a showroom at Horshoe Common. My grandmother’s stepfather worked for them as a door to door piano salesman! Later they moved to a smaller shop. The large original one became the British Gas showroom for years (displays of cookers, fires etc. and where one paid one’s bills), on the corner opposite the Common. Gone by the 1970’s.

FIELDS in Wareham c.1905. My maternal great-grandstepfather.

That’s it so far – but any other contributions gratefully received!