A Nest of Mice!

Here’s a short article I found from the Kent & Sussex Courier dated Friday 30 November 1900.

Nest of Mice.— This week Mr Pickett had a double bass from London firm instrument makers, for the police band, in which were enclosed number of articles, taking these out, a nest of mice was discovered in the instrument, and these ran about in the Muster Room until they were caught the members of the police force present.

Neal Heppleston
Briggs and Tarr in West Yorkshire
Taken from London Era December 7th 1889

Taken from London Era December 7th 1889

Whilst doing some research on Wakefield double bass maker James Briggs, I came across a small advert relating to him having a shop in Albion Street in Leeds with Tarr. It is well known that Briggs apprenticed with William Tarr before moving back to Wakefield. By 1889 Briggs had moved to Leeds, however William Tarr was no longer able to work at this point. I found that Shelley Tarr, one of William’s sons had two children, Cora Tarr (born 1888 in Wakefield) and Lily Tarr (born 1890 in Leeds). This corresponds not only to Briggs’ whereabouts, and the advert in the London Era, but also the same time as Briggs started making double basses in the style of Tarr. So it would be probable that they worked together once William became too ill to work.

By the time the census of 1891 came around, the Tarr’s were back in Manchester following William’s passing, and Briggs was to move to Glasgow, Scotland in 1893.

It’s an interesting but short lived partnership for West Yorkshire double bass making, which also culminated with both Briggs and Tarr showing a double bass at the Leeds Exhibition of 1890.

The latest Strad magazine has an extensive history about the Northern School of making, which I was able to contribute this research to.


Neal Heppleston
Exempt bows of stringed instruments from the Ivory Act registration requirement

May I draw your attention to a petition which was published recently - ‘Exempt bows of stringed instruments from the Ivory Act registration requirement.'


The UK Ivory bill became an Act on 20th December 2018, and as soon as it passes into law (expected late 2019) all owners of elephant ivory-tipped bows for stringed instruments will have to first register their bows and then obtain permits in order for them to be allowed to be sold outside the UK (or outside Europe if Brexit does not occur). To obtain these permissions, owners will need to provide proof, which is often difficult to obtain, that their bows were made before 1975.

The music community fully supports measures to tackle the illegal trade in ivory and the poaching of elephants. It is well known, however, that bows are no longer made using elephant ivory and are not connected to elephant ivory trafficking. The time and expense involved for those in the music professions as well as the authorities will be huge and quite burdensome, without providing any countervailing conservation benefit. These resources would be far better spent on tackling the true sources of poaching and trafficking. It should be noted that replacing the original ivory tips damages and devalues the bows, the petition seeks to exempt bows from permitting requirements.

If you would be willing to take a moment to sign the petition it would much appreciated by all, especially by the many musicians and makers who depend on bows for their livelihoods. When 10,000 signatures have been obtained, government will respond to this petition and with 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in Parliament. Please feel free to forward this email to family, friends and colleagues, and to use your social media accounts to help publicise this petition. Thank you very much for taking the time to help this important effort.

Details of the Ivory Bill itself can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ivory-bill-2018

Neal Heppleston
My New Workshop is Open

Happy New Year. After a month of taking down my workshop in Sheffield, moving all my gear up to Mirfield and setting up the new workshop here in Holme Bank Mills, I am happy to announce that my new workshop is open. I will be continuing to make new basses and specialising in double bass repair and restoration but am also now offering repair service on all orchestral string instruments (violin, viola, cello, double bass). I am also now offering bow rehairs, student instruments and accessories. Have a look around the website and get in contact if you have any questions or instruments that need some work.

Moving Workshop

In December I will be leaving Sheffield and moving to a new workshop in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. The new workshop is located at Holmebank Mills which is ideally situated between Leeds and Huddersfield, and is on a direct train route from London, Manchester, Leeds etc. There is also a free car park and ground floor access.

I will be resuming taking repairs again from January, so please get in contact if you have a repair that you would like to book in. I will also be offering a range of new services which will be announced after the move.

I look forward to welcoming new and current customers to my new premises.

Neal Heppleston
Joseph Scholefield

During the spring months of 2018 I had a repair job from a customer with a bass attributed to “Schofield”. There was little to no information about the maker, who he was, where or when he lived. We had a few little snippets of information with some suggesting that he was a farmer or blacksmith, and that he made basses for churches around Leeds, this was commonly agreed upon but nothing much else was known. After researching occasionally for a few weeks I gave up thinking that there was no more information to be found for the customer.

Fast forward a couple of months, whilst doing some other research in some newspaper archives I saw a glimpse of something odd, looking closer, I had inadvertently stumbled on the correct spelling of his name, a small advert from 1914 of someone selling a “double bass made by Scholefied”. From this piece of information I was able to find out a lot more.

Joseph Scholefield was born in Birstall, near Leeds in 1790, and was married to Elizabeth Gill (1794-1861) on 17th August 1814, the two never had children, and his main occupation was listed as a Machine Maker. At the time, the area was very important for cotton manufacturing and it is probable, but not definite, that he would have made and repaired hand looms and spinners for the local workers. During this time most of cotton spinning work was done residentially before it moved into factory work later. He had two apprentices through his career, John Yates and Luke Kelsall (Joseph's nephew), the later taking over Joseph's business when he died.

During his lifetime he made at least 11 basses, however it is likely that there were 13 or maybe even a couple more. They were all of the same model, whether he used a mould or an outline is unknown. All known basses have the same violin corner outline, arched back, and cello shaped top bouts, some have since been cut down or raised at the top bouts. The scrolls are all of large proportion and would have originally been made for 3 strings, there are no labels or branding by the maker.

By 1839 he had made at least 10 basses and he continued to make and advertise them for sale until 1847. It seems as though the first 10 were made for churches around the local areas before 1839 when he started to try and sell them through newspaper advertisements, whether this was because he was in need of money due to the Industrial Revolution impeding on his main career or if the churches no longer needed or wanted them is unknown. The churches that had Scholefield's basses were:

  • Wesley Chapel, Leeds

  • Zion Chapel Wakefield

  • Gomersal Chapel

  • Calverley Chapel

  • Holmefirth Chapel

  • Birstall Chapel

  • Baptist Chapel Salendine Nook, Nr Huddersfield

  • Batley Methodist Chapel

  • Primitive Methodist Chapel, Holbeck

  • Eccleshill Methodist Chapel

They were also located, or bought by:

  • Mr. Marsden in Bradford

  • Mr Wardle in Beeston (Who played for the Leeds Choral Society)

  • The Liverpool Choral Society

  • Bradford Choral Band

Joseph Scholefield died on 16th December 1849 at the age of 59 years old and was buried at the Weslyan Chapel, Birstall.

The Strange Case of John Medling's Double Bass

Whilst doing research I came across this odd little story.

Transcribed from Huddersfield Chronicle, Monday 13th April 1891



At Leigh County Court, last Friday, before Judge Ffoulkes, the case of Beaumont v. Medling came on for hearing. This was a claim for teaching the defendant how to make violins, and also how to play the same from music. Mr. Grundy represented the plaintiff, and Mr. Whittingham defended. Plaintiff's case was that he told defendant what kind of wood was necessary, and he replied that he had two beech planks in the backyard which would do for the body of the double-bass, and an old cart shaft, which would do for the neck. Defendant also purchased some deal, and then the instructions began. Defendant was in a great hurry to finish the instrument, and when he had finished gluing the belly, it was found he had forgotten to take out the glue pot. The neck was made from the cart shaft, according to instructions; but defendant fixed it on the wrong end of the instrument. After everything was prepared for the strings, plaintiff told defendant to go to a music shop for them; but instead of doing so, he went to a watchmaker's, and got the catgut rope of an old eight-day clock. He put this string on, and when he was winding it up to tune the fiddle, the string broke, struck him in the face, and gave him a black eye. When all was completed, it was found that defendant had made the instrument so large that he could not get it out of the room. After hearing a mass of evidence on both sides, his Honour gave judgement for the plaintiff for £3.16s., and for the defendant on a counter-claim for 3s. 6d., which had been paid into court.

Neal HepplestonComment
Thomas Tarr
thomas tarr.jpg

As I am double bass maker in Sheffield the name Thomas Tarr had been floating around since day one and so I felt I should do some investigating. There is little published information on him as he is a lesser known maker and is overshadowed by his father. Following my research, I was lucky enough to be able to contribute a small amount of the information for inclusion in the new English Double Bass Book by Thomas Martin, George Martin and Martin Lawrence.

Thomas Tarr was born in Manchester in 1833, to the famous double bass maker William Tarr and his wife Eliza, he started training at his father's Manchester workshop in 1846 when he was only 13. By the time he was 14 he had completed his first violin and was already being played in the Theatre Royal in Manchester. Thomas continued training and working for his father for another 12 years.

In 1858 (at the age of 25) he moved to Sheffield with his first wife Mary Anne. At the time, Sheffield was famous for it's blind fiddlers, a group who gathered at the local 'Q in the Corner' pub in Paradise Square. Thomas and Mary Anne first moved into another pub, 'The Old Cock Inn' which backed onto Paradise Square, at the time it was known as a very rowdy area, with brawling and music late into the night. Thomas opened his business in a room there, as advertised in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (image above), but soon moved to his main workshop at 33 Orchard Street (which is currently a Fat Face clothing shop).

The Orchard Street shop was perfectly located, in the centre of the city, near many of the big piano stores, rehearsal rooms and music venues. It had a large showroom in the front where he sold violins, violas, cellos, double basses, bows, strings and occasional pianos. The back and upstairs of the shop was a workshop where he would make and repair instruments. Over the years he expanded his business by opening other shops around the city, (56 Division Street, 23 Lydgate, 49 Arundel Street, 13 Kearsley Street, 98 Norfolk Street). As he moved house regularly some of the workshops he had would have been in the houses (53 Suffolk Road, 35 Mckenzie Street, 35 Arundel Street).

At the time Sheffield had a great number of music and entertainment venues, Thomas played double bass and violin for a number of local groups and orchestras and would occasionally play concerts around the city.

Thomas had three children with Mary Anne, (Aubrey b. 1861, Charlotte b. 1863 and Annie b. 1867) and two children with his second wife Elizabeth (Charles b. 1885 and Jenny b. 1887).

On Monday 03 July 1899 Thomas retired, auctioning his remaining stock the following day through W.H. And J.A. Cadon. The instruments on the list included: Piano by Kirkman, Violin by Joesph Guanarius filimus Andreas, Cello by Richard Duke, Violin by Klotz, Violin by Schmidt, Violin by Martin as well as instruments made by himself.

Thomas Tarr died of heart disease on 20th November 1900 at the age of 67 on Crookes Moor Road, Sheffield (in a strange coincidence, this was the same road which I lived on when I first started learning instrument making), and was buried in Norton Cemetery on 23rd November 1900.

New Blog and more....

Hello, welcome to my blog, whilst working hard on repairs recently I have had some time to write a bit and so I will be sharing some of that in the near future. In the meantime I have recently set up a few new social media accounts for anyone who would like to find out more through that medium:

Twitter: twitter.com/hepplestonbass

Facebook: facebook.com/hepplestondoublebasses

As well as my on going Instagram: instagram.com/heppleston_doublebasses