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A couple of years ago, I was given a three-quarter size violin in an old wooden case. It was in a shabby state and evidently hadn’t been played for many years. Nor had it ever been a valuable instrument: the scroll and pegbox were crudely carved, the fingerboard and nut were made out of dyed wood rather than ebony and although it had laid in purfling, the job had clearly been done by someone with more concern for speed than accuracy.

There was no label inside but a small brass plate on the wooden case gave a strong clue about its provenance. This was a Maidstone violin, probably made in Bohemia at the end of the 19th century and imported by John G Murdoch and Co in large numbers to provide cheap instruments for schools and for a contemporary movement that sought to bring music to the people by providing group instruction for adults. (See here for more information about this enterprise.)

Although restoring this violin made little sense financially, I thought it would be worthwhile – partly for the opportunity to practice repairing skills on an instrument of little value and partly for the pleasure of returning something that had fallen into a decrepit state back to its former glory. So I took off the fingerboard and substituted a decent piece of ebony, cut out and replaced some wormy wood at the bottom of the pegbox, rebushed the pegholes and fitted new pegs, renewed the edges where they had been damaged and gave it a new bridge, a new soundpost and a new tailpiece. It was an interesting exercise and a rewarding one too, because, when set up with Dominant strings it made a very nice sound indeed.

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3 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your article and well done for restoring the instrument. My Great-great grandfather, Thomas Mee Pattison started the Maidstone Violin Movement! He was born in 1845. The quality of the instruments that were imported for the movement varied enormously, but they were always pretty decent beginner’s instruments and many are still played today.

    • I would be fascinated to know more about Thomas Mee Pattison ever since buying a copy of the Maidstone method in a bookshop. In particular, I wondered why the movement fizzled out to some extent early in the 20th century when it was so revolutionary. And is it true that it was his daughter who persuaded him to set it up in the first place?

  2. well done! Thomas Mee Pattison was my Great Grandfather and it is very satisfying to read so much about his work on Google


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