CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in the Midlands & the North

Earlier 20th century

There are memories of a number of players in the earlier part of this century, and a few details are known about nine of them;

1. Alf Roberts used to play on his knees outside the pubs, both in Town and in the suburb of Nechells. c. 1923-26 ; his instrument had long bridges, and he used no hammers, but plucked his dulcimer (31);

2. Charlie Biddle, c.1910,

"the best dulcimer-player in Brum [Birmingham], who earned enough playing a summer season on the river at Stratford to keep him all the winter."

He plucked his dulcimer:

"pins, ordinary pins he used to use, though he could play with hammers; he lived in Small Heath ... he's been dead oh, 30 or 40 years now, he was in his 70s when he died. He wouldn't go on the BBC because they wouldn't pay him his money what he wanted, coz in those days it was only 10/6d, you see, that's only a packet of cigarettes now, isn't it" (32)

Leslie Evans tells how they used to play together:

"Mr. Biddle used to bring his up, he was on one side of the table and I was on the other, we were like a dulcimer Rawicz and Landauer, sort of effort"


clicking on this thumbnail will bring you to Fred's web-site, where you can see a closer view

3. Ernie Biddle

Fred Woodley gives a photo from before 1914 at a street fair.

Two dulcimer-player-playing Biddles seems too much to be coincidence, but it is not know what the connection between them might be.

clicking on this thumbnail will bring you to Fred's web-site, where you can see a closer view

4. Fred also has a photo of a gang of people outside 'The Swan' pub, Yardley, c.1890, among whom are three musicians, who might or might not be a band, with violin, dulcimer and cello.

5. The "big architect in Town" who brought his 'German dulcimer' to Leslie Evans for restringing, but who does not seem to have played very much.

6. Howard Wilkes, about whom a little piece was written in the Sunday Mercury of 28.1.1951, was photographed sitting at a table to play an instrument with chessmen bridges, strung with 28 IV, using cane harmers held between finger and thumb; he was not known at the Wolverhampton' address given in the paper.

7. Leslie Evans rememebred a pair of buskers:

"There used to be two dulcimer players in Paradise Street outside Queen's College, they used to play as duettists on the pavement: they were very good, I won't say they wasn't, but it wasn't played properly to my thinking; you couldn't distinguish it, you see, they never damped it down, it was continual ring all the time, their hands were going ... it was showmanship if you like to call it that way, not artistry ... they were using plectrums but not the type I was using, more of a metallic... You couldn't tell what they was playing because they didn't distinguish one chord from another like I've done ... in the 1930s, that was when I was going up to Broad Street, up to Broadcasting House ... they were very quick, but it was too much of a gabble ... I suppose there were [other players around], but I didn't come across them ...

8. A guest at a Tudor banquet at which I played in 1975 joined us with great gusto on the spoons, and just before he disappeared in the press, mentioned that his uncle made and played dulcimers, and only plucked his; his parting shot was "he could play anything: when I last saw him in 1964, he was playing on his father's coffin..."

9. Albert Fell cont. >