Fiddle once owned by 18th century Fife musician restored to its former glory

A fiddle which once belonged to an 18th century Fife musician, whose granddaughter married renowned Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, has been restored to its former glory by Kirkcaldy’s only professional violin-maker.

By Debbie Clarke
Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 5:21 pm

David Rattray is a dedicated maker and restorer of violins, violas and cellos.

He was contacted in early Spring by Frank Glynn from Aberdour who has owned the fiddle for several decades, but been unable to play it after it fell into a state of disrepair.

Frank was aware of the inscription ‘George Thomson’s Fiddle’ and had done some research, but wasn’t completely aware of the significance until the instrument came to Mr Rattray’s attention.

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Aberdour man Frank Glynn is delighted to have his newly restored fiddle back after it was repaired by David Rattray. The fiddle once belonged to Scottish amateur musician George Thomson.

It turns out the fiddle belonged to Scottish amateur musician and folk song publisher George Thomson (1757-1851) who was an early promoter of Beethoven’s music in Britain.

Thomson was born in Limekilns, but moved to Edinburgh in 1774 where he was employed for 60 years as a civil servant.

According to Mr Rattray’s research, he said this instrument appears to be the only known Scottish violin associated with Thomson and although unlabelled, the fiddle displays the working hallmarks of the renowned Edinburgh violin maker William Ferguson whose shop was located in St Mary’s Wynd, just off the Royal Mile.

Frank discovered that between 1793 and 1841, Thomson issued six volumes of Scottish airs, and these were published in arrangements by prominent composers including Haydn and Beethoven. Thomson also commissioned song lyrics from his friends Robert Burns, and Walter Scott.

David Rattray is a dedicated maker and restorer of violins, violas and cellos. He is pictured with the fiddle he believes belonged to Scottish amateur musician George Thomson and displays the working hallmarks of the well-regarded Edinburgh violin maker William Ferguson.

Thomson’s daughter, Georgina, became the wife of music publisher George Hogarth and his granddaughter Catherine married the Victorian novelist Charles Dickens.

Frank said: “I got the violin when I was 12-years-old. My mum bought it from a man called Eddie Foley at a big music shop Biggars in Glasgow. He never gave any indication the violin had any significance.

David spent a couple of months restoring the fiddle.

"I carried on playing it through my teenage years in youth orchestras, but through the years the violin fell into disrepair and became unplayable.

"I had had the instrument looked at before but was told it was worthless.”

He continued: “Someone recommended David so I brought it to him and his eyes lit up.

"He was able to tell by examining the inside of the instrument it was built by William Ferguson. David took a photograph of the handwriting inside the violin once he had it in bits and I sent it to a professor of music at Glasgow University who had done a PhD on George Thomson.

The inscription inside the fiddle.

"She had analysed the correspondence between Thomson and Beethoven but unfortunately she wasn’t able to state that it was that of George Thomson’s.

"That would have been the icing on the cake, but David found so many connecting elements that I am 95 per cent sure that this fiddle is his.”

Mr Rattray said: “The restoration work took a couple of months, the instrument had become distorted and required to be completely rebuilt. Old, badly undertaken repairs had to be redone as well as replacing missing edgework and some varnish retouching. The neck is now reset in original early 19th century style with gut strings.”

He added: “Restoring the instrument was such an interesting project. Frank and I are both really pleased with how it turned out.”

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The instrument had become distorted and required to be taken back to its component parts and completely rebuilt.

Scottish musician George Thomson.