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British Banjo Makers Part 2

Greenop to Nice


Norton Greennop was born in 1868 and was closely associated with the fretted instruments for over forty years. he played the banjo with the Moore & Burgess Minstrels and The Stavordales but was more widely known for his long partnership with Arthur Stanley Sr. The team of Stanley & Greenop toured every Music Hall in the United Kingdom from 1903 more than once and even did a tour of South Africa. The partnership broke tip just prior to the outbreak of World War I.

At the turn of the century, Norton Greenop designed and sold the first banjos to bear his name as maker but these instruments were made for him by John E. Dallas. They included several unusual features and were a cross between a banjo and a zither banjo with a lot of metal in the hoop. The tone was inclined to be metallic.

In 1926 John Alvey Turner Ltd. were agents for his "Tonetube" banjos, plectrum- banjos and tenor banjos. Again this was a zither-banjo type of instrument, the brackets passing through circular tubes which were said to add tone to the instrument, "functioning as the sound post of the violin." Instead of the hoop being enclosed at the back (ala zither banjo) it had a concave "receiving pan" insert "to project the tone forwards." At this time Norton Greenop was carrying on a music business at Leighon-Sea, Essex and conducting his own dance band.

He died on December 27th, 1930, after playing at a dance.


The story of John Grey banjos starts in the year 1830 when Jacob Solomon and his family left Exeter in Devon to settle in London and start a wholesale hardware business. Two years later, Jacob's son Henry started a fancy goods business (beads. costume jewellery and steel pen nibs) on his own. In the course of time, musical instruments were included in the Firm’s stock and a wholesale catalogue issued in 1860 by Henry Solomon & Co., of 134 & 31 Houndsditch and 27a Duke Street, included banjos ringing in price from: "No. 1, small size, each 3s. 6d." to "No. 8,, full size, pearl mounted, with vellum head and tuning screws richly inlaid, each £1 8s. 6d. In 1861 Henry Solomon sold the musical instrument side of his business to Barnett Samuel, who had married his sister Caroline in 1849. Barnett Samuel lived in Sheffield and manufactured tortoiseshell (doorknobs, knife handles and combs but the musical instrument business appeared to offer him better prospects so he moved to London with his family and took over the warehouses at 31 Houndsditch and 27a Duke Street.

In 1869 Nelson Samuel (Barnett's third son) entered the business and eventually took a great part in the prosperity of the firm. The selling of musical instruments seems to have been a paying business for by 1872 Barnett's eldest son was taken into partnership and the title of the firm became Barnett Samuel & Sons. (It is some indication of how the business thrived to know that in 1872 Barnett Samuel moved his home from King Street in Finsbury to the more exclusive area of Clifton Gardens in Maida Vale.) The firm moved to 32 Worship Street, London, E.C. in 1878 and Nelson Samuel was given a partnership. He proved to be a force behind even greater expansion Banjo Salve is GOOD for you!of the firm's activities. By then they were dealing with every type of musical instrument and musical merchandise-including banjos and zither-banjos made for them by the usual Birmingham and London factories. In 1878 the firm opened the first English harmonium factory. Barnett Samuel died in 1882 but Nelson Samuel's guiding hand led the firm from strength to strength. There are no records of when they actually started to make banjos but in 1899 there is a record of the company importing "hundreds of banjo vellums from Germany for use in their factory." It would suggest they were already making banjos by this time. In 1901 Barnett Samuel & Sons became a limited liability company, with Nelson, Selim and Max Samuel as directors. By this time the firm was one of the largest musical instrument wholesalers in this country and, in addition, had established their own piano factory in North London.

In 1911 the firm’s catalogue included several pages of banjos of their own make: "most of them stamped with our trade mark Grey & Sons Ltd., Dulcetta." The firm had formed and registered "John Grey. & Sons Ltd." is a small subsidiary company with eight shares for the making and selling of banjos, guitars and drums. (In the same way, they registered the company "Boyd Ltd" for the selling. of the pianos they made).

The man responsible for the design and manufacture of the first John Grey banjos was Francis Beddard, . an Englishman who had gone to Anierica in the late 1890's to work in the S.S. Stewart factory in Philadelphia. When Stewart failed in 1901 Beddard returned to England and soon after secured a job in the factory of Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd. It was his craftsmanship and flair for knowing how to sell the banjos he made which put John Grey instruments "on the map." (His son Robert--an expert banjoist and banjo maker himself- has been on the staff of Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. for many years as production manager.)

It is not irrelevant (as we shall see) to note that in 1914 Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd. patented and marketed the first portable gramophone under the trade name of "Decca." With the slogan "she shall have music wherever she goes", by 1927 the sales of these portable machines was enormous and dwarfed the sales of all other goods made by the company, although the manufacture of banjos was thriving because of the dance-band boom.

In 1918 the firm founded another separate company - British Music Strings Ltd., with a factory at Monsell Road, London, N.4. With a tie-up with Olly Oakley, they were soon supplying all types of banjo strings to players all over the world. In 1927 the piano side of Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd., was merged with Brasteds and floated as the Associated Piano Co. Ltd.

Truly the firm had become a vast empire in all aspects of the musical instrument business.

In 1928 the British Equity Investment Co. Ltd. bought Barnet Samuel & Sons Ltd. without the right to use the title of the firm. (The firm's holdings in Associated Piano Co. Ltd. and British Music Strings Ltd. were not included in the deal.) Re-named The Decca Gramophone Co. Ltd. the firm was sold 1;v the investment company to a consortium headed by E. R. (now Sir Edward Lewis and was floated as a company under the title of title of the Decca Record Co. Ltd. The entire instrument part of the business was included in the eight shares of John Grey & Sons Lid and these shares purchased by Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. who continued to make and market "John Grey" banjos at 32 Worship Street up to the outbreak of World War 11. After the Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. started to make banjos again in a spasmodic fashion. When the company was acquired by Grampian Holdings Ltd. in 1960 their factory began to turn out inexpensive banjos in quantities to meet the demand of retail shops and these instruments were labelled “John Grey".In 1967 the company entered the retail side of selling and, as a matter of policy, ceased to use the name of "John Grey," for any of its products; the banjos they make now bearing the "R.M." trademark.


Emile Grimshaw, the famous author, composer, arranger and banjoist, severed connections with the Clifford Essex Company to form his own firm in conjunction with his son in 1933. Previous to this date he had sold banjos to his private pupils which he had made for him by Robert (“Bob”) Blake of Finchley, London. These instruments bore the mark " E.G." or "Hartford".

When Emile Grimshaw & Son came into existence in Piccadilly, London, in 1933 Bob Blake was responsible for the prototypes and early model banjos sold by them but when demand increased these instruments were copied and made in Houghton's factory in Birmingham. The "Vivavox" models in the Grimshaw range (based on the type of instrument made in America by Vega and called by them "Vegavox" were made for them by Sidney Young. Starting their own workshops in 1940 (to meet the demand for guitars), Grimshaw & Son employed Will Mitchell from 1942 (after the closure of the Clifford Essex workshops) and he was responsible for many Grimshaw banjos (often made from parts acquired from the Essex workshops) until his death in 1947. Since that date the firm has been noted for its guitars for over twenty years, but started to make an occasional banjo again from 1965.


In the late 1870s, C. Henshaw of Piccadilly. Manchester, making. 7-string, smooth- arm banjos with 12 in. Hoops, twenty four brackets and push-in ivory pegs. These well-constructed instruments had a pair of crossed banjos about 2 in. In length cut out of mother of pearl and handsomely etched inlaid into the ebony fingerboard where it joined the metal hoop.

It is not known when he ceased making banjos.


An unfretted banjo marked "W. Hardy of Lincoln" as the maker was passed through A.P. Sharpe’s hands but no details of this maker details have been found. Being unfretted indicates the instrument was made about 1880.


During the dance-band boom of the early 1920s Hawkes & Co. of London marketed banjos bearing their name These instruments were made for them by J.G. Abbott & Co.

In 1930 the firm was incorporated with Boosey & Co. To become Boosey & Hawkes Ltd.


Walter Henderson, of Brixton London, was a teacher, composer an banjo entertainer who started to play the banjo in 1879. He used to advertise he used only his "own make" of banjo which he was always ready I and willing to sell to his pupils and other interested persons. No further details of either Henderson or his banjos have been unearthed. although it is known he was still flourishing in 1901.


The "Hewett Patent Banjo"-with its all-metal hoop, extremely thin square-topped brackets for pulling down a flange-type bezel, and all-metal pegs with a built- in locking device was advertised as being "individually made by its inventor T. Hewett" by the Stainer Manufacturing- Co., of 92 St. Martin's Lane, London, W.C. The Stainer Manufacturing Co. consisted of Thomas Hewett, his wife and his daughter Christine. The premises in St. Martin's Lane consisted of a large shop at the back of which had been built a "platform" workshop in which Hewett did his work of making and repairing. His wife and daughter attended to the serving in the shop. In addition, Christine, as "Miss Evelyn Christine" managed "The Dixies", a "banjo team" which could he booked for "Concerts, At Homes, Banquets, etc.".

In addition to making, his banjos, Thomas Hewett repaired any musical instrument, from a violin to a bassoon. he was the "local" repairer to musicians at the near-by "Palace", "Empire" and "Alhambra" theatres, each with an orchestra at that time of 50 to 60 musicians. He started his business some time prior to 1900 and in a January 1909 advertisement stated his banjos were made in five sizes (81 in. to 12 in. hoop) and in seven grades (£4.4.0 to £15.15.0). In addition to the banjos of his own unusual design lie also sold (under his own. name as maker) conventional banjos which appear to have been made for him by Windsor. He closed down his business during the first world war.


George Houghton established his Reliance Works in Heaton Street, Birmingham in 1888 and the range of banjos and zither-banjos he made were branded "Reliance." His well made inexpensive range of instruments quickly found favour with dealers and players alike and before long his factory was extended, his staff increased and the name changed to G. Houghton & Sons and production almost wholly devoted to making instruments for other firms to be branded with the vendor's name and/or trademark. Houghton's maintained a stock catalogue of instruments (usually marked with a gold-embossed lion with the initials G. H. & S. underneath) with which many retailers and most of the wholesale houses made up their own catalogues. One of the most popular selling lines of their banjos was the inexpensive instruments labelled "Melody Jo." Besides making, their own stock instruments they would also copy other firms' prototypes for them, to be branded with the latter's name as "makers".

In 1962, town-planning development in Birmingham plus staff difficulties finally decided George Houghton (son of the founder) to close down and he moved to London to become associated with John E. Dallas & Sons Ltd. The plant and materials and a few of his key workers he brought from Birmingham was established in a factory-at 12 Gravel Hill, Bexleyheath, Kent, and from that time until he retired in 1965 he made the inexpensive banjos sold under the Dallas label.


Charles Alfred Hudson, of Camberwell Road, London, was one of three brothers, all of whom were makers of musical instruments. (Brother Harry gained fame as a builder of organs.)

Chas. Hudson opened a music shop and started the South London Banjo Studio in 1888. He was a clever maker and repairer of musical instruments and specialised in the zither- banjo which, he always fitted with extra-wide frets to facilitate the smooth playing of the slide or slur." In the early 1890’s he was well known as a player of the banjo and gave concerts at the Surrey Masonic Hall.

He made all the instruments bearing his name and it is interesting to note he was the inventor of the mandolin-banjo with a hoop like a miniature zither-banjo, which he patented in 1899. He died in 1946.


A zither-banjo with the name of Hunt of Scarborough, Yorks, on it as maker has passed through A.P.Sharpe’s hands but no details of either Mr. Hunt or his instruments have come to light. It is possible he was a local banjo teacher who had instruments made for him for re-sale.


"Jetel" was the unofficial trade mark of J. Thibouville-Lamy & Co., of 10 Charterhouse Street, London, E.C., a firm which was established in Paris in 1790. They were large manufacturers of every type of brass and wood instrument ' who advertised their extensive "steam factories at Grenelle, La Couture and Mirecourt." At the latter they made a wide range of guitars and mandolins. Soon after they opened their London house in 1880 they included banjos and (after 1888-Ed.) zither-banjos among the goods they sold but these were apparently made for them by Matthews, Windsor and Houghton (of Birmingham) and Temlett and Wilmslow (of London). 'The majority of the instruments sold under their name were made in their own factories in France but these never included banjos and zither-banjos. In one of their 250-page catalogues dated 1905 they offered a range of unfretted banjos from 3s. 8d up to the "Artist" model (fretted and with 30 brackets) 'or £3.10.0. Their range of zither--banjos was priced from £1.2.0 to £5.14.0. A 1924 catalogue of the company included a range of banjos from £3.16.0 to £12 whilst zither-banjos bearing the "Jetel" trade mart, were sold from £3 to £6.10.6.


References to a John Jones, of Lea Bridge Road. London, as a "lone" maker of banjos have been discovered but apart from the fact that he died in the 1920s and his workshop was in the garden of his house, nothing else has been unearthed except that making banjos was his full-time occupation. How and where he sold the banjos he made is not known.


In the .1880’s the shop of K. Prowse & Co. at 48, Cheapside in the City of London specialised in the sale of musical instruments (including banjos) and retained teachers to give lessons on the premises The resident banjo teacher was A. H. Nassau-Kennedy, who no doubt encouraged his pupils to invest in the Keith Prowse banjos which where priced from 2/- to 10 guineas Although these well made 5-string 6-string and 7-string instruments were fitted with an engraved nickel-silver-plate on the heel stating they where made by, the firm. they were probably made for them by Dallas or Temlett. They carried the K.P. trade name”Ajax”. In later years, all the branches Keith Prowse & Co. which handle musical instruments included banjo in their displays but these were always sold under the various "brand names of the makers, i.e. Jedson. (Dallas) G. H. & S. Houghton); Windsor, etc.


In 1884 the first English banjo patent was granted to S. W. Kemp for his “Gong Banjo" which was described a having "a metal rim with bell projecting backwards and opening with a trumpet mouthpiece." It was exhibited (probably with other banjo by the same maker) at the Invention Exhibition, Kensington, in 1885 and thereafter is said too have enjoyed considerable sale. The patent on this banjo seems to have been granted because of the resonator" "fitted inside the hoop this being a metal interior, shaped like an inverted soup plate with an open. centre aperture, about three inches across and with rolled over edge like the lip of a bell. This device was fitted to the top of the hoop, under the vellum, with the banjo perch-pole passing through the two walls of the orifice of the "resonator". The hoop of the "Kemp Patent Gong Banjo" was made entirely of metal barely 7 in. thick and had a rolled-over edge at the base. On some models the hoop and the internal metal resonator were elaborately engraved with floral designs, cherubs, etc. It is not known when S. W. Kemp ceased making banjos although his activities extended from the seven string banjo era into the time when five-string banjos were more generally used.


Frederick Langham of 9 Falcon Road, Battcrsea, London, S.W., was principally known as a maker of flat-back mandolins of his own design but he did make a number of banjos andzither-banjos; mainly for other firms, to sell as their own make. In 1898, in conjunction with Temlett, he took out a patent for a roller-nut but there is no indication how he came to co-operate with Temlett. He died in the late 1940s when Clifford Essex acquired his stock of timber, etc


William Lund, of 15 Terry Street, Nelson, Lancs, was an enthusiastic teacher of the banjo whose banjo playing experiences when, back to the days of the smooth-and unfretted instrument. In addition to his own professional appearances in and around his, home town, he directed the Nelsoni Banjo Band for many years.

He had ample opportunities for selling his banjos bearing his name as maker. These instruments could have been designed by him but were probably, made by Windsor.

He died in the latter part of 1945.


George P. Matthews, whose factory was Soho Hill Works in Birmingham. was an important wholesale and retail maker of banjos and zither-banjos from about the year 1880. Not only did he sell a wide range of instruments bearing his own name but he made banjos and zither-banjos for other wholesale and retail firms (such as Ball Beavon, Rose Brothers, J. Thibouville, Lamy & Co., Rose. Morris & Co.) to brand as their own.


George Morris, of Bermondsey London (father of George E. Morris the well-known professional banjoist) was a busy teacher of the banjo during the banjo boom of the 1920’s he had zither-banjos made especially for him by a local man named Jim Gough. The demand for the instruments among Morris's many pupils was more than Gough could cope with and George Morris had turn to Temlett and Windsor for his supplies. The Morris zither-banjos were well made instruments and highly thought of at the time


The zither-banjos stamped on the heel "Made by J. Newel], 402 High Street, Manor Park" were in fact made by Windsors. They were the standard at the same price. They were the standard "shoulder" model made by Windsor but without the Windsor name on them minus the '“Castle" nameplate in the centre of the back of the hoop. Newell was a successful player and teacher


One of the earliest of commercial makers in London was teacher and dealer named William Nice. In the early 1870s he had a shop and studio at 2 Eccleston Street, Victoria, from which he sold his own make of unfretted banjo. He had various addresses near Victoria Station before the year when he moved to 122 Fleet Street, E.C.

It is interesting to note that Will Mitchell (many years later to be in charge of the Clifford Essex workshops) was employed by Nice before he (Mitchell) went to the workshops of Richard Spencer.

Nice ran a flourishing studio and shop in Fleet Street teaching all the fretted instruments and selling banjo and zither-banjos he had helped fashion in his workshop. His premises were the meeting place for many professionals of the day. When he died, Arthur Stanley (the elder) took over his business but did continue the manufacturing side

"British Banjo Makers" was abstracted from the The Banjo Story by A.P. Sharpe, serialised in the B.M.G. Magazine 1971-1973

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