CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > 'British' dulcimers 1800-1945

Dulcimers with banjos, concertinas - and puppets

A shop dulcimer of a common Victorian pattern was played on board HMS Edinburgh during the celebrations at the time of the Diamond Jubilee Review in 1897. The occasion is shown here, also reproduced in Henry Baynham's Before the Mast (1971), and William Samson's Victorian Life in Pictures (1975)(17). Although ship's bands were popular, the only other connection between dulcimers and sailors which this study discovered is that mentioned by Peter Eden in East Anglia.

The ensemble is, to say the least, unusual, with - apart from the dulcimer - three banjos, two guitars, two violins, a cornet and a bugle; one suspects that some of these must surely have simply been posing for the photograph, rather than that they played together; the sailor's finger-grip is also unusual, for hammers were normally held between the first finger and thumb after the Baroque.

A close view of the dulcimer player suggests that he, at any rate, is playing for all he's worth - the hammers are blurred; other nice details are the bare feet, and the coil of rope supporting the dulcimer. The banjo on the dulcimer-player's right seems to be fretless.

Mr. Powell, the undertaker of Totton in Hampshire, remembers that the puppet-man used to come round every year to the club-room of the 'Swan', and ended the show playing popular tunes of the day on a dulcimer (18), one of several references to puppets and dulcimers together

dulcimers and puppets:
Samuel Pepys, 17thC.

And a little further North, in an unnamed Berkshire village - but specified as near the Thames and within sight of the Great Western Railway - the dulcimer was so common as to be put aside on the most festive occasions:

"Once indeed, the ordinary frequenter of the leafy shades fled affrighted to coverts new from the clamour that prevailed throughout a long hot memorable June day, the remembrance of which abides with us still.

'The village was left to take care of itself while young and old, every soul the place could number, save the absolutely bedridden, repaired to the parson's meadow, there to speed the sunny hours with the strains of a real brass band - no mere dulcimer and concertina - and sports many and curious, including a greasy pole surmounted by a leg of mutton" (19).

Eleanor Hayden was writing of her own memories from the days prior to 1905.