The Famous Violin Maker of Berwick-Upon-Tweed

I am currently working on a research project in my spare(!) time. I’m trying to find out as much as I can about a specific violin maker who lived in Berwick upon Tweed in the 19th Century. In his day he was one of the best! I started this journey by talking to Margaret in the Music Shop on Bridge Street and she has unearthed some very precious items that were handed to her when his shop eventually closed down and was turned into a fruit a veg shop by Joe Youngman.

James Brunskill, violin maker, had premises in Berwick and Newcastle and people knew how good he was. But not only did he make violins he supplied all manner of musical instruments. I know that his pianos were shipped as far as the States.

The shop at 60, Bridge Street, Berwick upon Tweed.

Just look at all those violins hanging up!

 He is in my violin makers dictionaries with references such as

“…..worked at Berwick-upon -Tweed 1880-1893. Removed to Newcastle on Tyne. Died there 1901. Worked in the true spirit and straightforward simplicity of the old masters….splendid design incorporating Strad characteristics. All details skilfully executed. Scroll of superb contour. Difficult to find suitable words to adequately express the beauty of the golden-red varnish. Very free and mellow tone…. should bring the instruments to an illuminating future and get into the hands of soloists.”  Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers by William Henley

He appears to have been a fantastic business man and maker (the same two qualities that made Antonio Stradivari not just one of the greatest now, but the most sought-after maker in his day). Not only did he sell instruments but he was a very successful sheet music publisher.

Are the smart looking lady and gentleman standing outside the Newcastle shop Mr. and Mrs James Brunskill? More research needed to confirm. Watch this space!!

Newcastle shop with a smart looking lady and gentleman standing outside. I guess its Mr. and Mrs James Brunskill? More research needed to confirm that.

I have never seen one of his violins in person so if anyone knows a player who has one please let me know!!!

Is my ‘coat’ worn? I don’t just wear it in winter! 

Blue jeans … great for walking on the beach with the hounds … not so good for cellos

Does your instrument show signs of ……scratches, wear, bald patches, chips……….all a regular occurrence and often caused unknowingly in a normal days work for musicians. However, for your instrument, not so good.

The varnish on your instrument is the precious ‘coat’ it wears to protect it from the rigours of being handled daily, or manhandled in some instances.

When this is worn away (maybe where the hand sits regularly, rib areas are especially vulnerable), the instrument is itself more vulnerable and compromised. The ribs may be as thin as 1.2mm and having bare exposed wood is not clever. The elements can then affect the wood, with heat and moisture, cracks or shrinkage are more likely to occur.

Cellists in particular have a real problem on the lower bout edges where their trousers come into contact with the cello. Look closely, and if you have no varnish here and you play wearing jeans, I guarantee that over time the dye comes out of the jeans and into the wood. This is sometimes so engrained that it is impossible to clean all the blue dye out of the wood. Please check so we can sort it before your valuable cello has been permanently stained.

Just get in touch so we can address any issues. I can touch in the varnish and your instruments ‘coat’ will once again be doing the job it’s meant to. Not only will the varnish look good it will also protect the wood underneath.

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