This was intended as an article for the 100th Issue of the British Violin Making Association’s Newsletter. However a deep dive into history brought surprisingly fruitful results and it ended up too long and with far too much to cram into the deadline. Instead of breaking it up, here it is for International Women’s Day and as a personal tribute to Jessica Palmer, my great-grandmother, who worked for W.E. Hill & Sons during the First World War so that the men could be sent for war work. She was instrumental in assembling the ‘Hill Papers’ on British makers that is so indispensable to my own research.  

I have been a little nervous about writing on the subject of women working in the violin world in the earliest periods for the worry of getting things a little wrong,  or misjudged. As a more general commentary about the way we perceive history, despite the enormous work on gender studies that has taken place in the last fifty-or-so years, in my experience, at least, there has been relatively little that deals with the division of labour between men and women within the kind of small family business model that best describes a violin making atelier. For anyone who wants to read further on the subject, Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (New Haven, 1998) stands out as both a very approachable work on the subject and one that really opens the door into the levels of society that equate to our understandings of the violin world of the time. 

As Vickery points out when she explores the historiography of academic feminism (Golden Age to Separate Spheres, 1993), “two very powerful stories structure the history of the changing roles of English women. The tale of the nineteenth-century separation of the spheres of public power and private domesticity relates principally to the experience of middle-class women. The other story, emerging from early modern scholarship, recounts the social and economic marginalization of propertied women and the degradation of working women as a consequence of capitalism.” In essence, although the idea that women only belonged in the private realm existed as far back as the writings of Aristotle, the view that emerged in our recent past is very much ordered on the experiences of such writers as the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen. To conflate these into a universal view about women regardless of social status or the period in history that they lived lacks nuance or sensitivity to the social or economic conditions in which people lived. For example, we know at the time of Jane Austen that destitute men and women alike were put to work in the workhouses in order to make a subsistence, just as the upper echelons of society engineered their lives to be as leisured and free from work as possible regardless of their gender. Here, the lesson is that we should open our eyes and be less assuming than most historians have been in the last 150 years: There is history to be found. Vickery (Golden Age) puts forward a rather brilliant argument that “where historians have researched the activities of particular individuals and groups, rather than the contemporary social theories, which allegedly hobbled them, Victorian women emerge as no less spirited, capable, and most importantly, diverse a crew as in any other century”. 

Although this is very bright news for us, it leads to that second problem, that because of the nature of social and economic organisation, the historical record is simply missing for many of the activities that women did, especially when they form part of a larger collective such as a family-business or within a small industrial manufacturing enterprise. Here, the issues of property ownership and patriarchal ‘head of the household’ status, mean that even when women played a leading role in a business, it was simply customary for the husband’s name to become the business identity. We think nothing today of firms such as J&A Beare or W.E. Hill & Sons being names that give businesses recognition, nor do we think anything less of the many men and women who worked under those names despite the fact that neither John, Arthur, William Ebsworth or any of his sons are alive in living memory. Companies following this convention exist from at least the 18th Century. Often-times the heir to a business would share the same name as his father: There are, for example, four successive generations of Richard Meares from the approximate period 1650-1750, of whom three made instruments. During this period, it was unerringly common for people to call their firstborn son John and the number of these that married women named Elizabeth, means that many lineages flowed unthinkingly from one generation to the next. There is no question that Thomas Smith, the successor of Peter Wamsley retained the Wamsley ‘brand’ for some years in the middle of the 18th century, despite having no family connection. In a formal acknowledgement of this practice, in his 1823 Last Will and Testament, John Betts made the recommendation to his heirs that they “keep up my name therein as it is very well known and will be of benefit to them”. With this in mind, some women have escaped anonymity. I hope that a narrative of who they were and the environments they worked in gives us a better and more universal view of all the women who played a hand in our trade.


If John Rose is the ‘father of English viol making’ then Jone, his wife, is the mother. John Rose was active in 1552 when he repaired a Venice Lute, and made a viol of the best sort for the London merchant, Sir Thomas Challoner, and had already built outbuildings to add to his tenancy in the Chamber of Presence of Bridewell Palace at their ‘great charge and cost’ when the City of London formalised the lease of the apartments and outbuildings on 8 August 1561: 

“John Rose together with his wife Jone are of right virtuous and honest conversation and the said Rose hath a most notable gift given of God in the making of instruments even soche a gift as his fame is sped throrough a great part of Christendom and his name as moche and now both for virtue and conning commended in Italy than in his native country and in favouring all excellent work and virtuous people …” Bridewell Court Record Books, 8 August 1561

Portrait of Elizabeth I, painted around 1565, attributed to Levinia Teerlinc

By this time, there were already conspicuous women within the artistic milieu of the Tudor Court. In 1545, for example Levinia Teerlinc (b.1510, d.1576), one of the daughters of the renowned miniaturist, Simon Bening in Bruges, left for England where she was appointed as royal ‘paintrix’ with an annual salary of £40 for life, more than the other leading painters of Henry VIII’s court (Lucas Horenbout (£33 6s) and Hans Holbein (£30) included). Like other artists she received payment on top of her basic salary for producing paintings for the court, as well as for work that was commissioned from elsewhere. In October 1551 she was paid £10 for visiting princess Elizabeth ‘to drawe out her picture’. Under the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I she was employed as a gentlewoman of the royal household to further supplement her salary and status as a court artist. Meanwhile, although the term means something entirely different in Tudor court hierarchies, it is nonetheless significant that George, her husband who accompanied her to England, merely appears as a ‘gentleman pensioner’ as a form of employment in the royal household. 

The so-called “Master of the Countess of Warwick” also active around the 1550s-1560s, was in my opinion probably a female painter who styled herself after the reputation of Sofonisba Anguisola. We discovered the part books in this painting contained a motet of Josquin des Prez.

Some years ago, Mark Weiss of the Weiss Gallery in Jermyn Street asked me to look at a painting of a group of children with music books and instruments that was attributed to an anonymous painter ‘The master of the Countess of Warwick’, also active around the 1550s – 1560s whose oeuvre appears to be almost exclusively female and juvenile male portraits except for a few family groups where adult males are involved. (The painting turned out to include motet part books of Josquin des Prez, which separately put the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of Renaissance musicology and the perennial question of Josquin’s influence in England – my friend and colleague Kerry McCarthy published on this after we identified it together.) The pattern of etiquette of these paintings more-or-less mirrors the conventions of another remarkable paintrix of the Renaissance, Sofonisba Anguissola in Cremona. Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of Painters was published in 1550, that included her biography, implying that the prototype that she presented would have been digested by Vasari’s English readership within the years immediately following, if this was not already common knowledge prior to this point because of the network of Italian artists, particularly Florentine ones who both inhabited Vasari’s circle, and visited or worked England (see Sinza Maria Sicca, “Vasari’s Vite and Italian artists in sixteenth-century England” Journal of Art Historiography, Number 9, Dec 2013). A tantalising connection comes from Vasari’s visit to the Anguissola house where he recalled in his 1558 second edition: “I have seen this year in Cremona, in the house of her father a painting made much with much diligence, the depiction of his three daughters, in the act of playing chess, and with them an old housemaid, done with such diligence and facility, that they appear alive, and the only thing missing is the speech.”  

The sisters Lucia, Minerva and Europa Anguissola with an old maid playing chess, as painted by Sofonisba in 1555.

An English portrait, that of Edward, 3rd Baron Windsor, his wife, Katherine de Vere and their family, dated 1568 has too much in common with Vasari’s description from Cremona for coincidence and suggests that the painter as well as the subject had a conscious knowledge and interest in promoting a parallel imagery, confirmation that the master of the Countess of Warwick was probably a paintrix in English noble circles, working in a gender-specific manner inspired by Italian Renaissance practice and specifically that of Sofonisba. From a purely lutherie point of view, I like to look at these paintings from around 1555 and 1568 as a stodgy copy of a Cremonese masterpiece (.. ahem).

The family of Edward, first Baron Windsor with his family and an old maid, by the paintrix known as the Master of the Countess of Warwick.

This segue into art history is important to challenge perceptions of not only what women were able to do, but equally what they were accepted for doing within elevated circles. The Paintrix of the Countess of Warwick, as I think she should be called, produced portraits that ranged from merchant families right the way through the nobility: Much the kind of market we would imagine for musical instrument makers of the time. 

With this context, we look closer at the nature of the City of London lease from 1561 and what it actually meant. There is nothing whatsoever that is ordinary about it and some further clarification is helpful for in 1563 King Edward VI had gifted Bridewell Palace to the City of London for use as an orphanage and a prison for “disorderly women”. Because it sat on the western bank of the River Fleet it was out of the jurisdiction of the City itself, enabling its use for that purpose, but it also allowed John and Jone Rose, alongside whosoever was working with them to trade outside of the jurisdiction of the Corporation of London, free of any requirement of guild membership. Some confusion has existed about the apparent contradiction of Rose’s lease with the other purpose of the building, but this is clarified by examining the Ralph Agas map of 1563 with maps from the Fire of London and the John Roque map of the 1740s. Here it becomes clear that the Chamber of Presence and associated area comprised the earliest phase of the palace which was built along the Thames riverside, the courtyards in the northernmost part of the estate being the Bridewell that appears on all later maps and images. Rose’s lease was therefore for quite a separate area – the original London-pad of Cardinal Wolseley that later served as the residence for foreign ambassadors (Holbein painted The Ambassadors there in 1533). This was destroyed in the Fire of London this was cleared to make way for timberyards and wharfs and was not redeveloped for some generations. 

In addition to the great charge and cost with which the Roses had added buildings prior to 1561, there is some evidence to suggest that they had occupied the palace at least as early as 1553, on account of an organ-making workshop having been also established there briefly around 1515. It is possible that this had lingered on as a general instrument making workshop of royal patronage, remaining so until the Rose family took over its control. There are numerous indications, including the scale of the various buildings and rooms included in the lease to suggest that the lease was intended as a provision for commercial workshops as well as a dwelling place, and it would make some sense that the agreed lease in 1561 was as a relic of whatever patronage had been applied to the establishment in the fifty years prior. 

“In favouring all excellent work and virtuous people have for this stage and the stage of his good wife granted unto the pair John Rose and Jone his wife that they shall inhabit abide remaine and conuynue as a tenant in this sayd house of Bridewell and possess the rooms and place which he now possesseth … to have and to hold to the same John and Jone his wife the several rooms before expressed during their natural life and the lyge of the longest time of them if they themselves shall remain and continue in honest name, fame, life and conversation and do not let or set the same rooms and any part of them to any person or persons but by special assent and consent and agreement of the Governors of this house of Bridewell.” 

Under public or private law, there was no provision for the rights of Jone as a woman, in the event that John predeceased her, and it would be expected for the lease to come to an end if it were in John’s name. (See Pearl Hogrefe’s “Legal Rights of Tudor Women and the Circumvention by Men and Women” (The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 3. No. 1. (Apr., 1972) 97-105). Sometimes, a contract could afford protection to the ‘survivors’ of the person to which the legal title was made. This allowed for a number of things such as the risk of mortality. If a wife died, and the assignee subsequently remarried, any rights would remain valid to them, as exemplified in the 1575 patent to Thomas Tallis and William Byrd to control music printing in London: “full privilege and licence to our well beloved servants Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, two of the gentlemen of our chapel, and to the survivor of them, and to the assignees of them and over the survivor of them for eleven years next ensuing.” The specific terms of the lease in this case favour Jone, rather than any wife that might survive John Rose, determining that the lease would hold in law until the last of them died. This seems to raise questions in the light of the evidently commercial nature of the property, so on these grounds alone it suggests that Jone had some agency in the family business. Equally important, there were explicit clauses within the lease that would invalidate the lease if John or Jone changed from their business from that of instrument making. Here we fall on direct evidence: If John predeceased Jone, her tenancy would remain contractually valid as long as she “shall remain and continue in honest name, fame, life and conversation”. Whichever way we interrogate this archaic description, this returns to inexorably to the conclusion that she herself was equally participant in the making of instruments, or the organisation of a commercial workshop in which they were made. The writing is particularly knotty, and but the more that one tries to untie it, the more it becomes clear that the Governors of Bridewell Palace regarded her as equal in status to her husband, setting aside provisions in the lease that were superior to public law for her specific benefit. 

John Stow, in 1631 writes: “In the fourth Year of Queen Elizabeth John Rose, dwelling in Bridewell devised and made an instrument with wyer strings, commonly called the bandora and left a son, far excelling himself in making Bandoras, Voyall de Gamboes and other instruments”. This gives us a clue as to the end-game of the Rose workshop. The patriarchal succession would seem to indicate that John (I) predeceased his wife, and that their son continued to work with her under her provision in the lease. On Monday xvii March 1599/1600 “This day Mr Rosse had warning of this court to depart out of this hospital at midsummer next” which would seem to indicate the expiry of the lease following the death of his mother. In 1605 he had reduced his rent and relinquished some of the rooms. He was still there in 1607, and in 1611 John Rose instrument maker was buried  on 29 July at the parish of St Bride. The following day the Commissary Court of London issued an act of administration to Anne Teesdale alias Rose, natural and legitimate daughter of John Rose formerly of Bridewell. 

I think the implication is that Jone was recently deceased in 1600, and her son managed to extend the lease to the end of his life in 1611, but there are a number of extended reasons to believe that the workshop ceased to function in any significant way promptly after Jone’s death. In 1604 the Corporation of London commanded the Fletcher’s Company to give Henry Jaye, Thomas and Floris Barnard to become freemen on the company, suggesting that entertaining the Bridewell instrument making concern was no longer of interest to the City of London. An anecdote collected by Roger L’Estrange concerning the passing of fine old viols as the work of John Rose cannot date later than the end of the 1630s on account of the English Civil War. Although we cannot date the anecdote it is quite clear that there was a well-acknowledged terminal date for the Rose workshop shortly after 1600.  


Rose the old Viole-maker, had a singular facultie in making sweete instruments for single-play, and, amongst other musical discourses, one was saying he knew where there was a choice Rose Viole, and he did not think but it was at least thirty yeare old. John Holman, being by, “I protest” sayes he, “my father has an excellent good Viole, I doe not think but it will be a Rosse within these two yeare, for I am sure ‘t is eight and twentie yeare old.

There is one instrument that I would like to flag with relation to the  idea that Jone was as important as John, for there is an argument that can be put forward in the light of these circumstances. Whilst it is by no means definite, there are compelling threads to it that are worth consideration. We know that Queen Elizabeth I used her musicianship as a significant part of her identity. It was said of her court that music could always be heard, and visitors to it in the 1590s – Baron Waldegrave, Thomas Platter and Paul Hentzer all wrote in detail of the musical instruments that they were shown, including a virginal made all of glass except the strings, that formed the centrepiece of the Great Hall, something that the Tudors coveted as the greatest treasure chamber in all of Europe. Although the term, virginals as a type of instrument existed from before Elizabeth’s reign, there is some strength in supposing that its status solidified as out of its identification with queen who famously resisted marriage.

Glass Virginal in the Victoria and Albert Museum is definitely not the one described by German travellers to the Elizabethan court, but it is the unique surviving example of this sort. It’s provenance to Elizabeth, daughter of King James I should be re-examined in the light of Hentzner, Platter and Waldegrave’s observations. It is entirely likely that this was in the royal collection alongside that which they describe.

Elizabeth was rather small in stature, so that it was not only remarkable that England was ruled by a woman, but a remarkably petite one at that. Her speech at Tilbury to her troops awaiting the invasion of the Spanish Armada puts her own propaganda into her own words: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too”. This was a well-trodden trope of the queen “Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind”. Through the arts, we see a flourishing of this self-fashioned idea, which equally fitted with an English self-consciousness that it too seemed to punch above its weight as a relatively small nation by comparison to France, or the Spanish Empire that was set upon its conquest. In the arts, the result was a flourishing of anything that could provide a metaphor for the smallness of the country or its monarch, and the potency of it that could reach far beyond its immediate scale. Edmund Spencer’s The Fairie Queen in which Gloriana, Queen of the Fairies was a thinly disguised eulogy to Elizabeth and the resilience of England against its enemies was published in 1590, just two years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and makes these politics and metaphors self-evident. Philip Sydney’s Astrophil and Stella (1591) sparked a fashion for a new prose form, that took its name from the Italian ‘little song’ form – Sonnet, that would last twenty years encompassing Shakespeare, Spencer and Drayton. 

Elsewhere, in the arts these ideas took on surprisingly different outcomes. Abraham Fleming’s Register of Histories (1576) sets out a philosophy of stripping away extraneous writings of ancient Roman histories in order to provide a condensed text with more clarity and hence more power. These metaphors can be detected in the architecture of English country houses of the time, or in such arcane things as the tapestries of William Sheldon that turned away from the millefleur decoration of empty spaces, to sustained micro-detail. Most of all, the portrait miniature tradition that had emerged with the Flemish illustrators working in England, Lucas Horenbout in the 1520s and Levinia Teerlinc flourished into a mainstream artform that achieved its zenith under Elizabeth with Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver. 

From painting to music, the way that Nicholas Hilliard defined the Impresa is almost interchangeable with Thomas Morley’s conception of the Fantasia, once again drawing something much larger out of something that is apparently small. William Byrd’s keyboard works – My Ladye Nevells Booke of 1591 – took specifically old English songs and madrigals of four parts, reduced them to be performed by a single player adding improvisational passages that rendered them of greater sophistication in the hands of one musician than the traditional ensemble of many singers was able to provide. 

Excerpt from My Ladye Nevell’s Booke, 1591.

Musical instrument makers added to this, with a specifically English technology of high-tension wire strings that seem to have been the foundation for such instruments as the Orpharion and Bandora invented in the Rose workshop and early experiments towards the Baryton. This technology was also central to the English improvement of the cittern, reducing it in size to the approximate length of a violin, and enabling the virtuosic flourishing – unique to England – of late Elizabethan repertoire exemplified by Anthony Holborne and Thomas Robinson. My article on the discovery of just such a cittern (from about 1620) is here.

This rather exhaustive context is necessary, in order to rethink the Cymbalum Decachordon (the name of the instrument, inlayed into the ribs – it is essentially a five-course wire-strung guitar) labelled for Iohannes Rosa in 1580. By reputation a gift to Queen Elizabeth I that she passed on to her favourite, Lord Tollemache, in whose family it remains. There is much to say about the extraordinary detail and care with which the instrument is made. Frankly, I do not see instruments such as this and the Rose ‘Beaufort’ bass in the Ashmolean as virtuosic, so much as demonstrating an investment of time, but this is in quite a league of its own. For all the immediate beauty of the form, or the wonder at the oyster shell grafted to the back of it, the true virtuosity seems to me to be the elaborate knots made from the thinnest purfling between each fret, and even the use of purfling to make the extraordinary jewelled rosette goes far beyond anything that emerges out of Italy. When considered from an art-historical critique, the nature of the instrument is replete with reinforcements of the kind of metaphors that the Elizabethan court embodied – it fits within the obsessions of the Elizabethan Miniature and the Shakespearean Sonnet. This is not without problems, as a heart at the bottom of the fingerboard signifies cupid, and the oyster shell surrounded by the undulating waves of the outline is as overt a reference to Venus as the many paintings of the Renaissance – Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus foremost amongst them provide. New Year’s gifts to the Queen (or King) were not meant to be kept, but were customarily things that would be passed on to court favourites as part of a system of favours, so there is no inconsistency that an instrument whose iconography embodied the goddess of love should have been given to Elizabeth if it was intended that she would pass it on. That might be seen as an expression of love by giving the instrument to a male favourite to play upon it bearing in mind that the invention of harmony in classical mythology was the consequence of the unlikely union between the Goddess of Love and Mars, the God of War. 

Despite this apparent inconsistency – which may not be an inconsistency at all – it is the way that the craftmanship pushes towards metaphors achieved by Hilliard, Byrd and Shakespeare, that is central to the way it is presented. An Allegorical scene by Hilliard’s protege, Isaac Oliver from about 1590-95 is equally as ‘inconsistent’ with a lute-playing woman apparently taking the role of seducer and a man, the seduced. Philosophical texts of the time were adamant about the use of music to pierce the hearts of women, and in turn for women to become virtuous in music so that they wouldn’t be seduced by just anybody.

Allegorical Scene by Isaac Oliver, circa 1590-95.

I don’t want to get into the trap of associating delicate work with women’s fingers and attention to detail (in my own lifetime, I have heard that claptrap about why women are better at bow rehairs than men). What I can say about the instrument is that it is designed within a conscious metaphorical schema that called to the nature of the English Court. With Jone as an active and capable participant in the Rose workshop, the question of her participation that arises is both obvious and one that cannot be ignored. It nevertheless remains an open question. 


Emilia Lanier, née Bassano by Nicholas Hilliard

In answer to Henry VIII’s 1538 call for “ministers of pastime”, artists, musicians and tapestry weavers to be brought to Britain, the five brothers Bassano, who had visited with their father at different times in the decade previously, arrived by 1540. They were fêted by the king – and obtained favour similar to that for Rose, being housed for the first years after their arrival in England at the Charterhouse which, until the reformation, had been the most wealthy monastery in England on account of its position against the northern wall of the City of London. At court, they formed the recorder ensemble, but they also comprised the finest woodwind-instrument-making workshop of the Renaissance. In court documents, they are described not as musicians or makers, but as ‘brothers in the science of musick’. 

Baptiste Bassano married within the very tightly-knit community of musicians to Mary Johnson, a relative of the court composer Robert Johnson. Their two surviving children were Emilia and Angela, but aged seven her father died, and with the inheritance of a dowry of £100 Emilia was taken to live with Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent. Hence, her life in a family of instrument makers was cut short. 

Under the Countess of Kent she received a Renaissance humanist education, and learned Latin, Bertie believing in the importance that girls should have the same education as boys. It is not clear if this was a formal fostering, or a means to training to become a Lady-in-Waiting on account of her pedigree amongst the celebrated musicans of the court, but she moved at some point to  the household of the Duchess of Cumberland. Not long after her mother’s death, when she was eighteen she became the mistress of Heny Carey, Lord Hundson, the Queen’s first cousin and special confidant, receiving a pension of £40 per year for life. She became pregnant with his child in 1592 and he paid her off. She married her first-cousin, the court musician Alfonso Lanier, but a miscarriage of a child named Henry in 1593 was probably Lord Hunsdon’s. 

The earliest surviving casebook of a medical practitioner, the astrologer Dr Simon Forman, provide details of Lanier’s frequent vists – the kind of information that a psychotherapist would be mindful to delete.  The historian A.L. Rowse was the first to identify the similarity between Forman’s confessed attraction to her and William Shakespeare’s turmoil for the Dark Lady of his sonnets. Though it remains a strong speculation that Emilia Bassano was the attention of Shakespeare’s infatuation. Certainly the names Emilia in Othello, Bassanio  in The Merchant of Venice, and Aemillius and Bassianus each holding a crown in Titus Andronicus tighten the probability that Emila Bassano had Shakespeare’s attention. 

Salve Deus Rex Iudaeorum by Mistress AEmilia Lanier, 1611.

In turn in 1611 she published a set of poems Salve Deus Rex Iudaeorum one of the most significant early works of poetry published by a woman: A vindication of virtuous women against their detractors, and a narrative of the death of Christ as told from the point of view of the women that surrounded him. The aim of her writing, much like her own education under the Countess of Kent, derives from the desire to raise women to the level of men. Her son was Nicholas Lanier, the first Master of the King’s Musick under Charles I who became in addition his confidant and art consultant. Emilia would have witnessed the rise of her son. Having established a school after Alfonso’s death in 1613, she lived until 1645. As one thinks more on her son’s documented achievements as a Renaissance Humanist connoisseur, it is clear that his extraordinary upbringing – for his time – was deeply rooted in his mother’s role and learning. Coming out of an instrument making family at such a young age, she barely counts in her own right as connected to the trade, but her history is nevertheless one step closer to understanding the families in which instrument makers grew up, and the alternatives that were open to them owing to their place in society.

Nicholas Lanier, probably a self-portrait drawn by Lanier and executed by the various artists in his circle – painter, Master of the King’s Musick, connoisseur of Italian art. His achievements seem to directly reflect his mother’s extraordinary education and upbringing. Our work on this painting is here.


Fleet Street in the middle of the seventeenth century was full of musical landmarks. A blue plaque marks the site of the Mitre Tavern where the diarist Samuel Pepys listened to John Bannister playing a concert in January 1660. The chiming clock at St Dunstan’s in the West was erected in 1671 to celebrate the church’s salvation from the Fire of London. It was the first public clock to have a minute hand, and the wooden characters of Gog and Magog venture out from the portico to strike the hour with their clubs. In its shadow, John Benson had been the principle stationer selling sheet music in London from 1635, making his mark as the publisher of the complete works of Ben Johnson. Read that sentence again, and you’ll understand why. John Playford, his apprentice, emerged out of the turmoil of the English Civil War as a propagandist, and from 1651 became the most important music publisher of the seventeenth century until his death in 1687.

When Roger North designed the new Middle Temple Gate, his friends John and Katherine Carr were the sitting tenants in the shop at its foot.

Playford’s music publishing emerged for a mass audience largely concentrating on a repertoire of common English dance tunes and working out different ways to fit them to different instruments, as well as works taken from the popular Restoration theatre repertoire. Although he published some works that were more sophisticated, part of his enormous success as a publisher was curating a conservative catalogue of works. Playford’s business had enlarged sufficiently that around 1669 John Carr ‘had a secretary’s office … for wrighting the theatricall tunes to accomodate learners and country fiddlers” yet before long he and his wife had cultivated a virtuosic music circle, supported by Roger North, an ambitious barrister of the Middle Temple. North is known as an important commentator on music, but he brought innovations to music publishing including making etched plates. These directly led to Carr’s adoption of engraving as a means of publishing polyphonic music with double stropping and articulation marks that had proven too challenging for moveable-type. In 1684 a fire in the Middle Temple lane destroyed Carr’s shop. The opportunity enabled North to direct his dilettante enthusiasm as an architect into designing a new building (with the oversight of Sir Christopher Wren) in the emerging neo-classical style. Hence although this is not the Middle Temple Gate of the saga of 1672 that we shall attend to presently, it is the building erected for John and Katherine Carr in 1684 as sitting tenants with provision for their music shop. There is a lovely catch written by Carr and set to music by his friend Henry Purcell, published in Comes Amores: Or the Companion of Love, printed in 1687 by John Carr and Samuel Scott (his Maggott Man). It is very helpful in a matter of fact way at describing how his wife sat within the general day-to-day business. 

The question of whether Carr sold violins is settled in some while back from a rather unusual source during the extraordinary events that took place on the eve of the Battle of Sole Bay. England was already gripped by the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and on 6 May 1672 the Press Gang was sent along Fleet Street as part of the mobilisation of the British Fleet to meet the Dutch. These were the circumstances that brought Richard Sadlington, Captain of the 32-gun fifth-rate frigate “Dartmouth” into the Carr shop. The deposition  in the State Papers that follows tells of how John Hudgebut, Katherine Carr’s ‘apprentice for the trade of instruments’ and the boy ‘Stipkin’ were pressed into the Navy. Katherine remonstrated with the captain, explaining that Stephkins was a musician and a servant of the king, but affairs turned to blackmail: “The Captain told her, if she would give him a violin out of her shop, he would release the prentice”. Remarkably Katherine held her ground, risking the fate of the two boys instead of succumbing to blackmail. Her actions are recorded in the State Papers, and stand out: There is no queue of petitioners against the press gang, just her. By the end of the day she had received an audience from Prince Rupert of the Rhine and won their release. As for Sadlington, the Dartmouth survived the battle which was otherwise a disaster for the Royal Navy. Hudgebut became an important instrument seller in his own right, and Stephkin followed his father into the royal court. He became friends with the violinist and nobleman Gaspar Visconti on his visit to England in 1703, and it was his sister Christina that married Visconti, travelled with him to make her life in Cremona, and for whom Stradivari made a viol. 

The Battle of Solebay in 1672. An narrow escape for Katherine’s apprentice.


We think today of the world of music publishing as a universe apart from musical instrument making, but the reality of the seventeenth century was of two entities with a far more symbiotic c0-existence. John Playford and John Carr, both publishers,  sold instruments and musical instrument makers and sellers also sold printed music in a model that has much in common with the way that a traditional village shop sells newspapers. Whilst musical instrument makers were unbound by any guild (those who made their way into the City of London, did so by membership of proxies; – the Weaver’s, Fletcher’s and Draper’s Companies), Stationers were the most regulated of all the city guilds because of their ability to publish and spread seditious literature if left unchecked. All publications were subject to license. All could be censored, and under Cromwell’s rule the compromises that maintained the company’s status as independent of government led to the employment of  ‘searchers’ as a kind of secret police with the power to sequester goods and imprison stationers, sometimes without trial and sometimes with fatal consequences.

John Playford’s own career as apprentice to the established printer, John Benson had begun before the Civil War as a dangerously subversive political publisher working around the Inner Temple and putting forward arguments that were critical of the King’s abuse of the Royal Prerogative – the legal basis that set Crown and Parliament apart. As the war progressed, their moral line set them dangerously against Parliament. In 1647 Playford’s debut publication as a master in his own right was as an advocate of the interests of the Council of the Army as they mutinied against the Parliament that they had fought for, and that was swiftly proving to be a greater tyranny than the King himself. In October, he published The Desires of His Excellenice Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Generall Councell of the Army. The ‘Putney Debates’ were the stand-off between the army and parliament that outlined the grievances held by the army, and tried to set forth a constitutional pathway for Parliament that was free of tyranny. It failed, and Cromwell ordered the searching out and burning of all pamphlets relating to it. Henceforth, the army was branded ‘enemy of the state’ and as they ceased to be neutral, so did the John Playford. 

There is much evidence that Playford became the fall-guy for any serious repercussions within a broader network of ‘resistance’ to Parliamentary tyranny. By the time of his debut publication, it was already apparent that the army’s grievances would be overruled by parliament. Playford had separated from his old master, John Benson, but evidence from a few years later suggests that Benson was essentially a secret partner or trustee protecting Playford’s financial interests – his anonymous ‘knowing friend’ as he was described in the 1651 edition of The English Dancing Master . Lastly, his shop was set up in a lean-to shack against the porch of the Temple Church, an entirely temporary concern that didn’t have much in it, so that if it was raided by the ‘searchers’, there would be little to seize and burn. An endless flurry of political publications come from Playford, never propaganda or exaggerated in nature,  but earning him the eptithet of “Honest John” by 1651, and certainly getting unwelcome attention from Parliamentary agents. In 1649 he was so trusted by the army, that – fearing that the trial of King Charles I would be held in secret – they commissioned him with Francis Tyton and Peter Cole to publish and distribute the daily transcripts of the trial, confounding the wishes of Parliament to keep it within as a closed court as possible. Upon the king’s execution, the army used Playford again to license Eikon Basilike, the prayers of the dead king to his children that laid out his forgiveness of his executioners and the roadmap of how to rule a nation of free-born subjects. Playford’s subsequent failure to assert his copyright on the first publication of Eikon meant that there was no recourse in law for the Stationer’s company to advance on his behalf against the hundreds of pirate editions that followed as publishers across the country reproduced and distributed their own copies. It also meant that Parliament could legitimately rule the publication to be a forgery leading to a flurry of claims and counterclaims in the press. Eventually in 1649 tensions snapped with a warrant of the Council of State on 17 November 1649: “C.O.S. to Edw. Dendy. To apprehend Peter Cole, Fras. Tyton and Jno. Playford printers for printing a book entitled ‘King Charles’s Trial &c.’ and to seize all the said books’. It was a punitive strike as the work had been censored and licensed back in February of that year, however the trio were working around the license, to create a second edition ‘much enlarged, and faithfully corrected’ at the time of their arrest. Within ten days of the arrest, Playford was out of prison, possibly with the coercion of his allies in the Army, for a payment of £2 15s (about a month’s wages) from the secretariat of the Army for printing done on his behalf suggests that he was free and supported through army funds. In the months that followed, it is clear that Playford had been burnt as an asset for the army. Heavy pressure from the State had turned Tyton and Cole into double agents, and a number of political broadsheets that were seditious to the Army’s cause appear in the following months licensed ominously and uniquely “by Order of the Lord Protector” in the Stationer’s Company register. Playford stood back and rather than being coerced into being a double-agent, effectively retired from political publishing. Here it seems that his ‘knowing friend’ John Benson assigned him the rights to his intended publication of The English Dancing Master prepared in the 1630s and until then unpublished, as the foundation for his musical business. Indeed, A Breef and Easie Introduction to the Skill of Musick, also from that year was also grounded in pre-Civil War writings of Thomas Campion, and these feed into a broader repertoire of theatrical and poetic works that Benson had specialised in before the country got political. His collected sonnets of Shakespeare in 1641 warned of the impending Puritan censorship of the theatre, and there is no surprise in the Jacobean wit that made John Benson the publisher of Ben Johnson’s collected works. Playford’s 

publications never ceased to be subversive throughout the Interregnum even if he had overtly retired from political activism, as his musical works of the 1650s set about a fine line between what could pass the censor and the political entertainment of a knowing audience, increasingly dispossessed by the Puritan ideologies of Parliamentary rule. His reputation was such that he kept the wooden shack by the porch of the Temple Church, as he kept the sobriquet “Honest John” that related more to his time as a political agent than to his booming business of publishing music. He may not have crossed the line again, but his actions as an agent provocateur certainly show that in the uncertain years ahead he was never far from the same political activism that would get him into trouble with authorities. 

It seems that Playford’s unique situation was enabled by a divestment of wealth and assets so that he never actually needed to own very much more than what the searchers could take from him. This provided extra danger in the case of any spouse, as their property and dowery became that of the husband, so they would stand to lose everything in the event of sequestration as well. This may provide good reason as to why Playford remained unmarried until what was for the time a relatively late age of thirty: Hence, his reason to withdraw from the dangers of political publishing in 1651 may just as much been about looking to his future, as it was avoiding the pitfalls that would have stood in his way. In 1653 as things were smoothing out, he  married Hannah, the daughter of Benjamin Allen, publisher in Cornhill (d.1646).


We have no voice for Hannah, and do not know if their relationship emerged out of John’s availability on the single’s market in around 1650, or whether she had waited out his years as an agent of the army when marriage was too risky a prospect, making a career for herself in the meantime. The evidence is highly circumstantial, we don’t even know her age at the time, but I suspect the answer was probably closer to the latter.  The reason for coming to this conclusion is that soon after their marriage, we have advertisements in Playford’s musical publications advertising the school in Islington that she had established , “over against the church where young gentlewomen may be instructed in all manner of curious work, as also reading, writing, musick, dancing and the French tongue”. 

Puritan beliefs from the sixteenth century had encouraged the education of women, and one of the benefits of the Interregnum was the increase in schools for girls. The biography of Suzanne Perwich, A Virgin’s Pattern, published in 1661 gives an idea of the scope of education that these provided, very much in line with the curriculum that Hannah offered. These kind of schools were known as “Dame Schools” in references dating back to the sixteenth century, because they were the product of a tradition in which young unmarried women or widows would set them up as private schools within their own houses to supplement their income. Therefore the strong implication would be that Hannah was already a dame-school-mistress earning her own living before she married John Playford. Here we might romantically suppose that she formed part of the network that supported him during his political period. Together they seem to have been extremely successful entrepreneurially. It is unclear what size Hannah Playford’s school had been in the early 1650s but although John kept the shop at the Temple Church, in 1655 he moved with his wife to Islington were her school was properly established in a house next to the Church on Upper Street. She died in 1679 and Playford moved back into town to Arundel Street, but the Thames. An advertisement in 1681 for the remainder of the lease of their Islington home and school gives some sense of how outstandingly successful Hannah’s business had become.  

In the High Street over against the Church in Islington, is to be let a fair house containing about 20 rooms, one whereof is 45 feet long, with outhouse for a wash-house, coach-house, with a convenient courtyard before the said house, and behind it a fair garden opening into the best fields for air about the town: Also two pleasant summer houses in the said garden. The person who will let the house has 16 years to come in his lease which he is willing to dispose of for a moderate fine without any rent, or otherwise, by the year for an easy rent (under £20 per annum) without any fine. Notwithstanding, he has laid out in improving the premises above £400. Enquire at Mr Playford’s shop near the Temple Church, or at Mr. John Hall’s a goldsmith, and near the Nag’s head Tavern in Leadenhall Street, or at the said Mr. Hall’s country house over against Islington Church aforesaid.


1679 was the last year that the plague sporadically hit London. Perhaps Hannah died of it, for William Godbid, Playford’s printer and business partner also succumbed in that year, and John Playford suffered a long illness before retiring to Arundel Street near the Thames, and putting his son Henry in his place. The Godbid press was the only one with musical type, and from 1680 Anne Godbid entered into a partnership with Playford’s younger son, John (II) – she being very much the leading partner. She died in 1683 and the press was entirely taken over by John (II) but he died shortly after in 1685 predeceasing his father by just a few months. At this point another of the Playford siblings rose to the challenge of operating the press, his daughter Eleanor, but things worked against her. 

Back in 1662 The Licensing Act had been passed into law as ‘An Act for Preventing Abuses in Printing Seditious, Treasonable, and Unlicensed Books and Pamphlets, and for Regulating of Printing and Printing Presses’. Over the years that followed the act relaxed and was allowed to elapse completely in 1679. However the death of Charles II in 1685 saw tensions develop around the succession of his brother, the hapless James II (who would flee from the throne just three years later). With fear of social unrest surrounding his ascent to the Crown, the Licensing Act was re-applied with full force of the law. 

This put Eleanor Playford in a difficult position. It seems that the lax application of the regulations of the City of London had allowed her to maintain her deceased brother’s business, but with guild regulations suddenly strengthened, her position was untenable. As a sister, she was not entitled to the rights to conduct business in the city afforded to a widow of a master. Her choices were to assign the press into the hands of her brother, or to marry another member of the Stationer’s company in order to maintain the integrity of the business – neither option appealing to her. At the time, she was engaged in setting the opera Albion and Albanus for Louis Grabu, Master of the King’s Musick, and it is possibly these circumstances that allowed her case to be brought before the king. 

To the Kings most Excellent Majesty The humble Petition of Elenor Playford

Humbly Sheweth

That your Petitioners Father suffered sequestration and was ruined for his Loyalty to your Majesty’s Royal Father, and your Petitioners Brother John Playford in his Life a Printer in little Brittaine in London, in a house that has been a Printing house above Forty years, whose Chief business was to Print Musick, the Mathematics & Algebra, there being no other that could Print the same, only one man who does some small matters in Musick, The said John Playford dyed some time before the late restraint on the Printers, left his Printing house to Your Petitioner who did Exercise the said Art before the restraint, designing to sell the concern as soon as Possible, and has sold great Part as she would do the rest, but there being no Persons that do that work, and your petitioner having nothing else to subsist by she has begun and almost Finished an Opera for Monsieur Grabu, which he must have sent to France to have it Printed had your Petitioner not done it for him, as he will own. 

Your Petitioner therefore most humbly Prays That your Majesty will Graciously commiserate her Condition, and Grant her your Majesty’s Order in Councill That she may Continue and Keep up her Printing house for Printing Musick Mathematics and Algebra, and that she may have the Honour to be your Majesty’s Servant for Printing the Said Music, Mathematicks and Algebra, There being no other that can do the same at present,

And as Duty Bound your Petitioner shall ever Pray etc.  

Eleanor’s tactic was to try and win the protection of the Crown, specifically because of the work she was doing for Louis Grabu, with the idea that as His Majesty’s Printer, a role also held by Thomas Newcomb and Henry Hills, then she would be exempted from the Licensing Act. Sadly, Eleanor was royally stitched up. Quite literally, for before hearing the petition the Privy Council called witnesses to order ‘that his Majesty’s printers to whom a Copy of the Petition is to be sent, do shew Cause, if any they can, why the Petitioner should not be gratified in her Request’ before the King would ‘declare His further Pleasure’. The result was an assassination. Henry Hills and Thomas Newcomb sought to question Eleanor’s claims that her father had suffered in the name of the King: “That they humbly conceive that your Petitioner is Disabled to keep a Printing House by the late Act of Regulating of Printing, and also by the Act made in the 5th year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, and for that she not being so qualified…”. The witnesses sought to downplay the fact that Eleanor had possession of the only set of musical type in the country. 

The weakness that seems to have sealed Eleanor’s fate rested on the the fact “that your Majestys Servant Henry Hills hath bought several of the Peticioners Printing Materials since her Brothers death, and she may dispose of the rest as soon as she please upon such Rates as it shall be indifferent persons be appraised at, as those he Bought were”. The petition was dismissed because Hills had weakened her position and forced the sale of her business. A year later the following advertisement appeared in The London Gazette on May 3 1686. 

An Ancient Printing House, in Little Britain, late in possession of Mr. John Playford Printer deceased, well known, and ready fitted and accommodated with good Presses, and all Manner of Letter for choice Work of Musick, Mathematicks, Navigation, and all Greek or Latin Books, with a fair and convenient Dwelling-house, and convenient Rooms for Warehouses; All which are to be sold as they are Ready Standing, or Lett by Lease or Yearly Rent. Enquire of Mrs. Ellen Playford at the said House over against the Globe in Little Britain.

The circumstances of Eleanor’s sale may have been nothing more than an application of the law. Hills and Newcomb invoked the 1563 Statute of Artificers. This in turn ratified the Order of Precedence instituted in 1515 that related to the governance of the City of London. The legal argument that they sought to pursue rested on whether a patent royal could usurp the sovereignty of any Livery Company to conduct its business within the City of London – they themselves, in order to be ‘His Majesty’s Printers’ had served seven-year apprentices within the Stationer’s Company, and worked within the jurisdiction of the Company. Likewise, the principle explained why an Islington-dwelling music publisher with a shop outside of the City (in the Temple) would have kept his printing house in Little Britain: An obligation that rested on the licensing and control of printing presses which forced for them to be within the territory of the Stationer’s Company’s jurisdiction i.e. the walls of the city. 

Hence, the application of law would seem to have ‘disabled’ Eleanor from operating her printing press. However, there would seem to have been some uncertainty as to whether the King would, or could, exercise his Royal Prerogative over the matter, for just as the 1562 Statute of Artificers would seem to win the argument, the 1575 patent and privilege to Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, giving them sole licensee powers over all music printing in London may have offered a precedent that could have saved the Playford press. These circumstances show how unfair the world could be in terms of the legal protections for women. It is ultimately significant that the only publisher that Louis Grabu could trust to print his opera was one who was banished from owning a company because of her sex.

It seems that Hills and Newcomb may have felt that their legal argument was weak, and conspired with some unfairness against Eleanor. They argued that she was not competent as a printer because she hadn’t the seven year apprenticeship in the art. They argued that her specialist offerings of music, algebra and mathematics rested on her ownership of specialist typeface rather than her skills, and that the only impediment to fulfilling the King’s interest was her ownership of these printing materials. If she would complete the sale of the business that she had already embarked upon, then the matter would be settled. In order to strengthen the affidavit, Hills emphasised that he had already purchased part of Playford’s printing materials. It seems as the sale was forced through, that he and Newcomb divided the press between them. Newcomb’s apprentice, Edward Jones took possession of the musical type, and having the only set in London, Henry Playford was forced to turn to him as his printer from 1688 to 1697. Ouch. 

As a postscript: There was one consolation. Music printing from moveable type was giving way to engraved music thanks to the innovations of John Carr and Thomas Cross. Ultimately the market had come to an end, and whoever invested in the musical type was unlikely to have made their money back. Shucks.  


Much of the everyday activities of women are obscured by their roles within the companies ostensibly run by their husbands, and sometimes their role only becomes visible when, as widows, they became the principle actor within the business. Widow Pool in Edinburgh is an interesting example, simply as a host to Ralph Agutter in 1707 during one of his several journeys that extended to Newcastle as well as Edinburgh to do business outside of London. Later newspaper adverts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries show how merchants across the country established trading links to London retailers, although they seldom extended to bringing the London merchants with them. Widow Pool’s advertisement fits within this broader pattern of trade, and suggests a regular corresponding agency to supply instruments to the Scottish market: The Edinburgh Courant, 13 May 1707:

Ralph Agutter of London, lately come to Edinburgh, Musical Instrument maker is to be found at Widow Pool’s, perfumer of gloves, at her house in Stonelaw’s Close, a little below the steps; makes the violin, Bass violin, Tenor violin, the Viol de Gambo, the Lute Quiver, The Trumpet Marine, the Harp; and mendeth and putteth into order and stringeth all those instruments as fine as any man whatsoever in the three kingdoms, or elsewhere, and mendeth the Virginal, Spinnet, and harpsichord at reasonable prices. 

In the town of Bath, the physician Claver Morris was a fantatical amateur musician who kept extensive accounts. His first receipts for purchases from Edward Lewis (1615-1717) date from 1697, and unusually he bought a violin (from John Barrett) in 1715 ‘for my Daughter’, quite an early incidence of women playing the instrument. On 8 December 1711, Mrs Lewis sent him a Bass-violin via courier on approval, priced at £5. Her identity is made clear in December 1716 when he bought from “Mrs Lewis, at the Harp in St Paul’s Alley”, a variety of harpsichord, violin and viol strings plus items of printed music to the sum of £3 3s. Later that month he purchased from her “2 Stands to set a Bass-Viol on to make it sound louder in playing on it”. Like Barak Norman and Richard Meares, Edward Lewis attended All Hallows London Wall even though they performed Parish duties in St Gregory by St Paul. It was here that he was married first to Elizabeth Besouth on 23 May 1683 who must have passed away for the christening of his son Edward (II) on 20 February 1697 gives Ann as the mother). The Lewis shop came to an end with Edward’s death in 1717. Richard Meares (II) bought up much of the stock in trade, if we are to judge from the several viols by Lewis that exist which he completed and labelled: 

To be sold by Auction. The Musical Instruments of Mr Edward Lewis, late of St Paul’s Churchyard, London, Instrument-maker, deceased, to be disposed by his Widow at Mr Heweston’s at the two Golden Balls in Great Hart Street … The Sale is to begin on the 1st May, and to continue four Days; where Attendance will be given on Monday and Tuesday before the Sale begins, to shew or try the said Instruments, they being made by the best Masters in Europe. 

I suppose I can say that a four-day sale of instruments by the best masters in Europe may have afforded Mrs Lewis a good retirement. Edward Lewis (II) continued to make instruments in Drury Lane, perhaps capitalising on business around the Theatre Royal, and pre-empting the move westwards that would see other makers arrive at Piccadilly. In the absence of very clear church records, this might also raise questions over the inheritance if Edward (II) was the son from the first marriage and how these relations played out. There are questions yet to be satisfactorily answered.

I have written elsewhere about the fortunes of the two daughters of Barak Norman, whose occupation as “actresses of the lower class at the Theatre at Goodman’s Field” was as part of the most celebrated theatre company of the eighteenth century, that led by David Garrick. It is a comment whose meaning became lost to later commentators, and ended up meaning quite the opposite of the compliment it was intended to be. 

Barak Norman had lived through three marriages, to Mary Turner in 1684/5 and shortly after her death in 1701 to Sarah Watts who only lived a few years. His final marriage was to Elizabeth Seale, “a maid of St Olave, Southwark, and at her own disposal”  in 1703. Between them, they had six children, William (1705), Ann (1706), Barak (1708 died in infancy) and another (1710), Elizabeth (1711) and Mary (1713). In 1711, the shop moved from the Western end of St Paul’s Churchyard to the East, nearer to Cheapside, where Norman leased “The Bass Viol in St Paul’s Churchyard” from the family of John Smith. He died in 1712/13 and it seems that he had come to an arrangement with Norman towards the end of his life that allowed his widow to live out her life in the property as landlord with Norman sub-letting. She remained a part of the household until 1719.

Barak appears to have fallen ill in 1724 or slightly earlier (there is a sharp drop off in work after 1722), to the point that he no longer had control of his business. The expression “widow” applied in a technical sense not only to women whose husbands were deceased, but those whose husbands had put their affairs into their wife’s hands, being no longer capable because of sickness or incapacity. Hence when she is described as ‘Widow Norman’ as one of the retailers subscribing to A Pocket Book for Gentlemen and Ladies, Barak was still alive. By this time, Nathaniel Cross had been serving as a journeyman within the business for a decade, and he seems to have been interested in taking over the shop. Labels during the last years of Norman’s lifetime are for Nathaniel Cross and Barak Norman jointly, although the instruments are manifestly Cross’s work and he had a habit of obsessively marking them with crosses, as if to make it plain that he was the ‘real maker’. If there was any tension between the two, the burgeoning opportunities with Barrett and Wamsley in Piccadilly must have been an enormous attraction to Cross and he moved there before the end of 1725. This left Elizabeth Norman running the shop for another five years. She finally gave up the shop, with an auction sale of the stock-in-trade. 

Elizabeth Miller’s Trade Card (British Museum)

Of Elizabeth Miller, almost nothing more can be said, except for that which is on her magnificent trade card from London Bridge. I have written at length about the various makers there in the , and it would seem that she took over her husband, John’s shop at the Sign of the Violin anad Hautboy in 1707, and it was sufficiently large in 1715 that Dudley Ryder (later one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital) recorded in his diary the simple entry: “went to Mrs Miller’s concert upon London Bridge. There was no great matter of a concert.” By 1728 it seems that Joseph Collingwood had taken over the shop. 

This takes us finally to the Hare family of John (1672-1733) and Joseph (1698-1733). John had established the family’s business as musical instrument makers and publishers in the 1690s in St Paul’s Churchyard and had diversified around 1697 to a second shop in Cornhill, near the Royal Exchange about the time he entered a partnership with John Walsh in the Strand. Together they would command the major part of the music publishing business. Around 1720 John’s son Joseph appears on the imprints of his works, taking over the business before John died in 1725, buried in the New Vault at St Michael’s Cornhill. It makes sense that it was John’s wife – named Elizabeth – who carried on his stake in the business, because the Sun Insurance policy of 1728 is made out in that name for a sum of £1000. However, to complicate things, greatly, when Joseph died in 1733, his wife, also Elizabeth, took on the business. It must have been John’s wife who died in 1741, having stood back from the business, because her burial record at St Michael’s Cornhill reads “Elizabeth Hare, widow, from Islington in the New Vault” (buried along with other members of the family). Elizabeth (widow of Joseph) seems to have been assisted by John Simpson, their apprentice for a few years, and there seems to have been some kind of arrangement to enusure his timely succession to the business. An imprint after 1741 reads: “sold also by John Simpson, musical instrument maker, at the Viol and Flute, in Sweeting’s Alley, near the Royal Exchange, from the late Mrs. Hare’s, in Cornhill.” Things were not quite as finished as it would seem. It would appear that Simpson and Hare were working in tandem up until 1748 when the most significant fire since the Fire of London broke out in a peruke-maker’s in Exhange Alley, destroying the Hare shop amongst one hundred or so other buildings. Elizabeth moved for the rest of her years to “Opposite the Mansion House, near Cornhill”. There are various works that the Hare women published, though mostly undated, which makes things a good deal more difficult. Henry Purcell’s Genius of England,  and some duets by George Morgan. In 1750 she seems to have been more enterprising, publishing for that year and the next sets of dances entitled: Twenty four country dances for the year 1750. : with proper tunes figures or directions to each dance. The dances perform’d at court, bath, Tunbridge & other publick places the tunes proper for the violin German flute or hautboy.

“Elizabeth Hare / At the Viol and Hautboy / over-against Birchin Lane / in Cornhill, London” from the violin below. The date inked along the border on the right hand side can’t quite be made out, but circa 1740.

I have heard, in total, of three violins by Elizabeth Hare including that which is illustrated here, and in addition I have seen a Daniel Parker violin of 1708 with a later head and belly that I now recognise as the same work. The example shown is the most complete that I know. All of Elizabeth’s violins are of the Stradivari long-pattern, following on from Daniel Parker, as well as Collingwood and Sexton on London Bridge, but show an arching that is particularly high and full, pushing out towards the edges. As a general point of style, this is found in certain London making of Peter and Robert Thompson, the successors to Barak Norman’s shop (as distinct from Charles and Samuel Thompson in the next generation), and most significantly from John Browne working in Cornhill, close to Elizabeth Hare’s own place of work. These instruments tend to be very thin and the arching is not very stable, so as a general point, these makers tend to be very unrepresented by surviving instruments even when they appear to be from makers with very productive careers, because they did not survive. Where there are exceptions, like this one, they have predictable condition issues. Hence, just because Elizabeth’s instruments are rare today, there is no evidence that she was not a prolific maker in her own right. The wood selection, and slightly muddy-brown varnish is very uniform across these makers. Elizabeth’s work is a little bit of a conundrum to me. As far as I know, all examples have ink purfling, but that should not detract from these instruments, for even Peter Wamsley was using ink to very fine effect on some of his best violins and cellos at this point, and I expect that the varnish was a little nicer when it was newly applied. The scroll is of most interest to me because of the way it is under-cut, which is quite different from other London work of the time. It is unfortunate that it looks a little amateurish, but on the other hand, it is distinctive enough to indicate that no other known maker produced instruments on Elizabeth’s behalf. She would seem, therefore to be the ‘real maker’ (to use an eighteenth century term) of the instruments that contain her label. We hope, slowly, to restore the violin because its history and significance far outweighs the damage that it has suffered, and to find an appropriate home for it when the work is done.  Made between 1733 and 1748, the violin is undated, but it is exactly contemporary with the life of Katarina Rota, wife of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù in Cremona, and her putative involvement that Roger Hargrave has argued for in his late and post-humous works. 

In my introduction, I quoted Amanda Vickery “where historians have researched the activities of particular individuals and groups, rather than the contemporary social theories, which allegedly hobbled them, Victorian women emerge as no less spirited, capable, and most importantly, diverse a crew as in any other century”. My analysis of these women and the moments that we can derive from history seems to work very well with this idea, and hence we can be secure that they speak for a much greater community of women who were makers, music sellers, and members of family businesses in London’s Early-Modern world. As a way of ending this, I give you Mrs Holt, whose trade card was engraved by William Hogarth. A later version of the same card (British Museum Cc.2.223) indicates that John Marchi had taken over the Italian Warehouse before 1772, moving it from “the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s Arms to the Three Jarrs & Two flasks nears the little Theatre in the Hay Market St James” so perhaps it was Mrs Holt’s shop in the 1760s. It is thought in some sources to date as early as the 1720s. Whatever the case, there isn’t a violin maker or musician amongst us who wouldn’t dream of buying their imported Italian strings here, amongst ‘all sort of Italian silks as Lustrings, Sattins, Padesois, Velvets, Damasks, &c, Fans, Leghorne Hats, Flowers, Lute and Violin Strings, Books of Essences, Venice Treacle, Balsomes, &c, And in a Back Warehouse all sorts of Italian Wines, Florence Cordials, Oyl, Olives, Anchovies, Capers, Vermicelli, Bolongnia Sausidges, Parmesan, Cheeses, Naples Soap’.

The history of women in every corner of the violinmaking world to me may remain hidden by history, but from these tantalising glimpses, we can be sure that it existed. I hope that more emerges.




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