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British Banjo Makers Part 1

This is a mirror page from Terry Holland's British Banjo site.

Abbot to Goodman


John G. Abbott was a maker of banjos from about 1890 and sold under his own name and made for other firms and teachers (e.g. Barnes & Mullins, John Alvey Turner, Norton Greenop, Charles Skinner. Len Shevill, G. Scarth).When Barnes &, Mullins came to London in 1901,and soon after, started their own workshops at Harrow, Middx. John G. Abbott supervised the making of the Barnes & Mullins banjos and zither-banjos.

In 1905 he left Barnes & Mullins to form his own company with the title of J. G. Abbott & Co. and a factory at 97/99 Hampstead Road, London, N.W.l. The instruments they made were grouped under the general names of "Mirabile" (banjos), "Monarch" (plectrum-banjo and tenor-banjos) and Amboyna" (Zither-banjos). About 1928 his workshops were transferred to 44 Chalton Street,Euston Road (where his son-learned the art of instrument making) and four years later he became, part of the Besson Co., when his works were transferred to Besson?s premises at Stanhope Place, Marble Arch, London, when the making of banjos virtually ceased, his activities being devoted to making plectrum guitars (sold under the brand of "Aristone").

In 1936 he suffered from serious internal trouble from which he never fully recovered. He died on February 11, 1938 after a brief illness. John (?Jack") Abbott-son of the above learned the craft of instrument making in his father's workshops. When his father joined Besson & Co. in 1932, he established his own one room work-shops at various addresses in London for the making of, mostly, guitars. He did make a few banjos which were branded "Abbott-Victor?. He gave up business in 1957.


Will Van Allen (whose real name was William Dodds) was a highly successful variety artist who used the banjo in his act. At the turn of the century. He was conducting a successful teaching studio at 38 Newington Butts, London, but his increasing professional engagements made it necessary for him to finally give up teaching. In 1902 he toured the U.S.A. for twelve months.

It is not known when he first started to make banjos, but his first models were called "Revelation", the wood hoop of which was covered by an S-shaped metal casing with a projecting flange at the bottom through which the brackets passed. When he went into partnership with Olly Oakley in 1926 with a shop at 61, Charing Cross Road, London, the ?Will Van Allen" banjos, well made modern instruments, appear to have been products of the John G. Abbott workshops. He dissolved his partnership with "Olly Oakley in 1929 or 1930 and very few Van Allen banjos appeared to have been sold after this date.


Towards the end of the 1920?s three engineer brothers named Barnes in the Woolwich area decided to make banjos They slavishly copied the Essex "Paragon" model and named their product "Paratone." At a superficial glance it was difficult to tell the two makes apart, it is not known when they ceased making banjos


Samuel Bowley Barnes and Edward Mullins were boyhood friends in their home town of Bournemouth As young men they decide to join forces to become dealers in musical instruments; mainly selling, and mandolins in which they were particularly interested. Being- players of no mean ability. their public appearances helped them to sell their goods and soon they were despatching instruments all over the country because of their advertising and the launching (in February 1894) of their monthly fretted Instrument magazine called ?The 'Jo." ("The 'Jo" title was changed to ?The Troubadour" after a couple of years.) They started to sell their "own" make of banjo but these were made for them by J. G. Abbott, W, E. Temlett. Windsor, Matthews, etc. - the usual makers "to the trade" at that time. It was in 1897 they patented their ?mute attachment" which was fitted to B. & M. zither-banjos and worked from under the vellum. At the end of 1900 they moved to London and established themselves at Rathbone Place, off London's Oxford Street, as a wholesale house in all musical instruments and merchandise and, soon after, started their own workshops at Harrow, Middx. which at first were under the supervision of John G Abbott. During the dance-band boom they marketed- their "Lyratone" banjos plectrum banjos and tenor-banjo which enjoyed considerable popularity. A feature of these instruments was the all-metal construction of the hoops. They ceased making banjos soon after the outbreak of World War II. the instruments branded "B. & M." sold from about 1965, have been made for them in Germany.


Ball Beavon established a wholesale musical instrument business in Pinder Street, Bishopsgate, London, in the 1880's and 'although he marketed. banjos bearing his name as maker. they were made for him by Matthews and Houghten of Birmingham. In the days of the 7-string banjo, he sold an unfretted instrument with 40 brackets on the hoop and fitted with push in pegs. The firm went out of business during the First World War, probably due to the cessation of supplies of cheap musical instruments and merchandise from the Continent.


This maker had premises in High Street, Peckham, London and flourished during the banjo "boom" (1880 to 1914) and is said to have been a maker of cheap zither-banjos for the retail trade. Many of the zither-banjos in the shops for less than ?1 at this time would have been produced by him.


When the American James Bohee established his teaching. studio in Coventry Street. London, in 1882 he first sold S. S. Stewart banjos at exorbitant prices to his pupils but before long he decided it was more profitable to sell his "own" banjos. These had a 12 inch hoop, plain nickel-silver, fingerboard without any fret markings, and push-in ivory pegs. It is said he was a shrewd business man and asked as much as ?50 for one of his banjos, a truly great price when one realises the highest-priced instruments at that time were 9 or 10 guineas. Bohee banjos were branded "Champion" and Alfred Weaver made the majority of them, although some were said to have been made by Arthur Tilley of Surbiton. Bohee died in 1897.


Banjos and zither banjos bearing the name made of Boosey and Co., of London were made in the early 1900's by both Windsor and Weaver, while a few of the cheaper models were of German origin. When the dance-band boom started in the early 1920's the banjos sold under the Boosey name were imported from the U.S.A.

Boosey & Co. became incorporated with Hawkes & Co. in 1930 to become Boosey & Hawkes Ltd.


T. Bostock, of Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, London, was a wholesale maker of banjos and zither-banjos from about 1880 to the middle 1920's when nothing further is heard of him.


J.E. (John Edward) Brewster was a teacher. and player of the banjo who was born in Twillingate, Newfoundland, and came to England about 1872. He established a successful teaching connection in London and became well known for his public performances and contributions to fretted instrument publications. He was the author of "The Brewster Banjoist" and compiled ?Howard?s Banjo Tutor? and ?Chappell's New Banjo 'Tutor?. He was a skilled wood-worker and in 1873 set up a small workshop in London's Oxford Street with John E. Dallas (q.v.).In 1896 he was granted a patent pertaining to zither-banjo construction in conjunction with a Richard Langham but all the banjos and zither banjos he sold bearing his name as maker were actually made for him in the workshops of John E. Dallas. He died in Paris on August 15th, 1912.


The range of banjos sold under the name of "Broadcaster" were stamped: "Made by J. & A. M. of London."

In actual fact they were made by the huge furniture, gramophone and radio company J.& A.Margolin Ltd. The banjos were inexpensive instruments, their wooden hoops being covered with nacrolaque, as were the fingerboards. The metal work (bezel, shoes, brackets, tailpiece, etc.) was of very thin lacquered brass.


Bromley, of Camden Town, London, has been noted as a maker of banjos but details of his activities and/or his instruments have not been discovered.


A display advertisement in the April 1928 issue of "B.M.G." proclaimed:- BUCHANAN BANJOS Makers and repairers of all fretted instruments. 6 Granville St. West, GLASGOW, C.3. but nothing has been discovered about "Buchanan" banjos nor has any other advertisement about them been found.

From early 1927 to late 1940 a Miss Elizabeth Buchanan of the above address advertised herself as a teacher of the Banjo, Tenor-banjo, Mandolin, Guitar and Ukulele and, for a period, her advertisements included "instruments repaired on the premises".


A zither-banjo marked "Butler, Haymarket, London" passed through the hands of A.P Sharpe but no details of this maker of (or possibly dealer in) musical instruments have been discovered.


When Clifford Essex arid Alfred D. Cammeyer dissolved partnership in 1900, Cammeyer took over the workshops (established in 1896 at 13 Greek Street, Soho) for the production of Cammayer instruments. These were mainly zither-banjos but some banjos (and later, plectrum banjos and tenor banjos) were made. The man in charge of the workshops was Sidney W. Young who was responsible for the designs of the famous "Vibrante" and "Vibrante Royal" zither-banjos and the "New Era" banjos bearing the Cammeyer name.

When Cammeyer retired from business ill 1939, Sidney Young took over the workshop at Richmond Buildings, Soho, and continued to make instruments under his own name up to the outbreak of World War II. After the war he established a workshop at 70 New Oxford St., "here he worked in conjunction with John Alvey Turner Ltd. until his retirement in 1963. When Cammeyer died in 1949, Mr. Young acquired the stock of Cammeyer "parts" and timber and from these Produced many "Vibrante" zither banjos but these instruments do not carry the facsimile signature of Alfred D. Cammeyer, which first appeared on Cammeyer instruments after July 1st, 1900 and was attached to all his instruments until the date of his retirement.


Joseph Chamberlain was born in Leicester on June .5th 1898 and learned the craft of woodworking from his father. He started to make banjos in the 1910's. Although his main activity started to make banjos ill the 1920's, although his main activity was teaching arid conducting a successful music shop with emphasis on the fretted instruments.He concentrated on producing one grade of high-class banjo, although he was known to have produced a cheaper instrument of varying design at different times during his banjo-making days. Since 1939, when he ceased to make banjos, he was concerned mainly with making -guitars. He died in 1967.


J. Clamp, of Newcastle, appears to have started to make banjos (unfretted) about the year 1890. He later made some fretted banjos and zither-banjos. A player who told A.P Sharpe he knew J. Clamp, said that he did not make more than about thirty instruments during. his lifeline. The instruments bearing the name of Clamp are extremely well made and many have elaborately carved necks at the head and heel.


L. (Leon) Clerc was born in London about 1864 and made his debut as a banjoist at the age of 18 with "The Star Minstrels" an amateur organisation. When he was 22 he had become established as a teacher of the banjo in London's East End and about the year 1888 he opened a factory at 44, 46 -& 48 Commercial Street, Shoreditch, London, for the manufacture of musical instruments and his banjos and zither-banjos carried the brand names of "Athena", "Crescent" and "Marvel." In 1891 he formed the "Athena Quartet" which became known in all the best concert halls in and around London and did much to publicise Clerc?s own make of instruments. Production appears to have ceased about 1908.


The banjo-making firm of W. G. Coker & Co. of London was, in the beginning, a partnership between W. G. Coker and G. H. Young; sometime prior to 1886 for in that year they took out a patent for "doing away with the necessity of drilling holes in the banjo hoop for the shoes" by using a "ring, angular in section something like the figure 7", this being either "hooked on to the hoop or attached by means of a flange turned round at the lower edge of the hoop." It is also interesting to note that in the patent specification they also suggested a flanged bezel - an idea used by several modern makers of banjos both in America and England. The banjos these two craftsman made were extremely heavy instruments, solidly built and all with a short scale length of about 14 inch. They were fitted with Coker's own patent non-slip pegs which had a knurled adjusting screw at the top to tighten the mechanism and, if necessary, lock it. Coker's "trade mark" was a large raised metal star fixed to the face of the peg head on which the name Coker was-punched in. Young eventually left, and the name of the firm was changed to W' G. Coker & Son with the address of 41 Melville Road, London, E.17. No instruments were made after Coker's death in 1954(?).


In 1895 the London firm of Essex & Cammeyer was appointed British agents for the Cole (Boston U.S.A.) banjos


Born in 1856 John E. Dallas started to make banjos with J E. Brewster in a small workshop in London's Oxford Street in 1873 and two years later set up as a publisher and banjo maker at 415 Strand, from which address it is said he made banjos for the Moore & Burgess Minstrels and the Mohawk Minstrels. Dallas was a fine wood craftsman who fashioned some exceptionally high-class banjos and zither-banjos.

By 1893 the demand for his instruments made it necessary for him to take over the entire premises at 415 Strand; enlarge. his workshops; and employ men to make the large range of instruments he had put on the market. For some years he advertised that he personally tested every banjo and zither-banjo before it left his workshops.

At the height of the banjo boom he was making banjos and zither-banjos for other firms and teachers and some of the latter whose "branded" instruments were made for them by Dallas included W.H Plumbridge (Brighton), J. E. Brewster (London) and Norton Greenop (London). In 1905-6 the three sons of John E. Dallas were rewarded for their work with the firm and were given directorships and the firm's title changed to John E. Dallas & Sons.

In February 1914 the firm moved to 202 High Holborn and by the late 1920's the banjos and zither-banjos bearing the company's name were truly mass-produced instruments and started to bear the trade name of "Jedson." John E. Dallas died in 1921 and in August of that year the firm became a private limited company. Soon the activities of the company had spread far beyond the fretted instruments and with it came growth. In 1926 the firm moved to larger premises , at 6-10 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London, W.C.2 and there started to lay the foundation for the large wholesale distribution of everything musical for which the firm is today known. In 1937 the house of Dallas moved to Ridgmount Street and finally to the present address in Clifton Street, E.C.2. In June 1947 John E. Dallas & Sons Ltd. became a public company with an issued share capital of ?500,000.

With the outbreak of World War II, Dallas ceased to make banjos but in 1947 they started to produce in small quantities the inexpensive banjos which have been sold by music shops throughout the country. These -bear the "Jedson" trade mark but are in no way comparable to the pre-war instruments bearing the same name. It was in 1963 that the Houghton works in Birmingham were closed down and George Houghton set up workshops for the Dallas company at Bexleyheath, Kent and it was from here that most of the post-war banjos bearing the Dallas name have been made.


Performer, composer, arranger and teacher of the banjo, Joe Daniels (whose real name was Joseph Toledano) established a studio at 28 Bishopsgate Street, London, in 1870 and, after a few years, moved to 112 Leadenhall Street where lie started to advertise himself as "Musical Instrument Maker" and teacher of the banjo, mandolin and guitar - in addition to stage dancing. In 1887 he took out a patent for a metal casing (or "sound box") round the banjo hoop and a spring device to keep down the pressure bar of the banjo tailpiece.

Later he patented his ?Defiance? banjo which had a 9 in. vellum glued direct on to a 1/4in square bezel though which straining bolts passed to engage in a flange fixed to an all metal resonator-type back. The metal hoop had oval-shape vents cut into it at regular intervals all the way round its perimeter. The metal used in this unusual banjo was very thin aluminum (or some other lightweight alloy) and the instrument was extremely light to handle.

It is doubtful whether Daniels actually made the instruments himself. The hoops were obviously spun and the conventional arm used could have been made in the workshops of John E. Dallas. It is possible that Daniels assembled the instruments so in effect he could rightly call himself an "instrument maker." The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) presented Daniels with a silver medallion inscribed with the Fleur de Lys and this was fixed to the peghead of the banjo Joe Daniels always played in his public performances.

He died in March 1915, at the age of 73.


W. G. Davis, of 60 Colombo Road, llford, and then 100 Felbrigge Road, Goodmayes, was a successful teacher of the fretted instruments in the llford Forest Gate and Romford areas 0 Essex who flourished from soon after 1900 up to 1936. He sold a high- class well-made banjo which bore his name and address as "maker" but the characteristics of these instruments seem to indicate they were made for him by J. G. Abbott. He moved from Felbrigge Road in April 1930 and no banjos appear to have been sold by him after this date.


A.W. Deane, of Reading, Berks., put his name as maker on banjos round about the turn of the century'. A specimen seen had a 10 inch hoop of nickel silver with 36 brackets. 'The fingerboard was inlaid with 17 frets; the remaining space of the fingerboard being taken up with of a large crescent and star in mother-of-pearl inlaid into the ebony. The ornate inlays in the fingerboard were of mother of pearl and diamantƠ stars. No details have been discovered of Deane but it is possible he was a local teacher and the banjos were made for him - possibly Windsor or Abbott.


J. C. Bertolle was born in 1 874. His father was a banjoist and he taught his son to play the instrument at an early age. By 1897 he was playing duets in public with another banjo player named Heght and a year later organised a banjo club from his pupils. By then he had become a professional photographer with studios at 268 Caledonian Road, London, but managed to give between 30 and 40 banjo lessons every week.

In 1898 he formed a playing partnership with Gordan Tait and, calling themselves "The Dexters," made their concert debut at a Cammeyer concert.

Within a short time they had played at most of the concert halls within fifty miles of London. They were hailed as the "British Mays and Hunter." The instruments they played were "Dexter" banjos sold exclusively by Bertolle who, in his advertisements said he made them - but this is doubtful. It has been found impossible to who made the high grade banjos but it could have been Richard Spencer as they have all the features of the early Spencer instruments.

No "Dexter" banjos appear to have been sold after about 1930.


The firm of Douglas & Co., of 7 South Street, London, E.C., sold zither banjos with their name etched on a small celluloid disc let into the peghead. The design on the back of these instruments indicates they were made by G. Houghton of Birmingham.


A.V. Ebblewhite established a wholesale and retail musical merchandise establishment in Aldgate London, in 1840 and started to make banjos in the early 1880's; mostly of the smooth arm type); -- with 12in. hoops-- five, six and seven-string model. Between the years 1901 and 1918 they sold (as wholesalers and retailers) a great number of zither banjos bearing the name of Ebblewhite as maker but these where made by Arthur Windsor (a personal friend of Ebblewhite), Wilmshurst (of London) and Matthews (of Birmingham). They ceased to market their banjos soon after the outbreak of World War I. The firm closed down in 1966 soon after the death of the son of the founder.


Jimmie Edwards, well-known as a teacher of the banjo in and around Ilford, designed and made a specialt type plectrum-banjo in 1927. It had a zither-banjo type hoop with a 10 in. vellum, with the neck joined to the body with "shoulders." The open-type back of the hoop incorporated a sunken reflector plate about 1 in. from the base of the hoop, the wall being made of metal with round outlet holes some 2 in. Apart. Mr. Edwards' father was a wood worker of some considerable skill who had taught his son to use the tools of his trade. Jimmie Edwards had also spent some time watching the young Jack Abbott making banjos and in 1927 he designed and started to make the instruments that bore his name.

Over a period of years he made between 40 and 50, but increasing professional engagements and other activities connected with the entertainment profession eventually forced him to discontinue making banjos. In 1938 he commissioned Jack Abbott to make him a special banjo to his design and Jimmie Edwards used this instrument throughout World War II to entertain the troops in ten different countries. In 1963 Mr. Edwards resumed making banjos (copying this special Abbott-made instrument) but he is kept so busy teaching that his output has been limited to two or three instruments each year.


When Clifford Essex dissolved his partnership with Cammayer in 1900 he formed his own firm at 15a Grafton Street, New Bond Street, London. W. and instruments bearing. the name Clifford Essex Co." were put on the market. At first all the banjos were made for Clifford Essex-by Spencer, Weaver, Langham (in London) and Houghton (of Birmingham) -but in 1904 he started his own workshops at The Oval, Kensington, with Alfred Dare as foreman.

When Richard Spencer died in 1915, Clifford Essex bought his plant and stock and took his key makers into his employ. Although most of the CIifford Essex banjos sold in the early days were made in the Clifford Essex workshops, many he were still made by the above-mentioned outside makers; notably Richard Spencer. The Weaver- made banjos were made to Weaver's own design although they were sold with the Clifford Essex label on them. In December 1919 the firm's title was changed to "Clifford Essex & Son" and by then only their cheapest model (The "Popular') was made outside their own work-shops by Houghton of Birmingham.

In February 1936 the firm became a private limited company and the title changed to "Clifford-Essex & Son Ltd.?. Soon after the outbreak of World War II the manufacture of banjos (and other instruments) was greatly reduced owing,, to shortage of materials and the military call-up of workmen. When the firm went into liquidation in 1942 manufacture ceased. The new company. with the title "Clifford Essex . Music Co. Ltd." has made a few -special" banjos since 1945 and these bear the initials "C.E." in mother-of pearl inlaid into the peghead. From the cheapest to the dearest (?3.10.0. to ?60) Clifford Essex banjos carried the following model names : Popular" "Clipper", "Imperial", "C.E. Special", Boudoir Grand", "Professional" (the only 12 in. hoop model), "Regal", "X.X.'Special" (later called, Concert Grand"), "Paravox" (an instrument designed on the 'Vegavox" lines with an 11 in. vellum, "Paragon", "New Paragon", "Paragon Artist" and "Paragon de Luxe" (the last two being gold plated). In addition tile firm produced three grades of zither-banjo: "Grade 111" (the cheapest), "Grade 11" and "Grade 1?. To enable an owner of a Clifford Essex banjo to "date" his instrument, one can tell by the address in conjunction with the firm's title.

  • 1900 to 1936 15a Grafton Street.,
  • 1936 to 1942 90 Shaftesbury Ave., .
  • 1942 to 1957 8 New Compton St.,
  • 1957 on 20 Earlham Street.


In 1893 Clifford Essex and Alfred D. Cammeyer formed a partnership with offices and teaching studios at 59 Piccadilly, London. At first, the banjos and zither-banjos they sold under the brand name of "Essex & Cammeyer" where made for them by Temlett, Weaver, Wilmshurst and Windsor but early in 1896 they opened their own workshops at 13 Greek Street, Soho, and were soon employing fourteen workmen to make banjos and zither-banjos for them. The partnership was dissolved in 1900 when no more "Essex & Cammeyer" instruments were produced. A Clifford Essex instrument bearing the label "Clifford Essex Co." was made between 1900 and 1919., "Clifford Essex &, Son", between 1919 and 1936; "Clifford Essex and Son Ltd." between 1936 and 1942; "Clifford Essex Music Co. Ltd." after 1945. It should be emphasised that every Clifford Essex banjo (except the "Popular" model) was hand-made and each instrument individually assembled which often accounts for slight variations in models.


A. Goodman of 156 Beresford Street, MossSide, Manchester, was a successful teacher of the banjo from the late 1920's up to the outbreak of World War II. The banjos bearing his name as maker were well-made instruments of high class but without any outstanding characteristics. It is not known whether he made the instruments himself although it is possible, as he always advertised himself as a repairer of banjos.

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

This is a mirror page from Terry Holland's British Banjo site.

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