Friday, August 12, 2011

W.E. Hill & Sons - The Rise of England's Greatest Violin Firm

Written By Stefan Aune

The Hill family of London is synonymous with high quality instruments, even higher quality bows, and for operating one of the most famous violin shops in the world. Particularly noted for being experts on the identification and restoration of older instruments, the Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers by William Henley calls the Hill guarantee "the most reliable in the entire world." The Hill family's roots go back hundreds of years in the history of English violin making, and they are one of the true institutions of the trade.

Most violin historians trace the family back to Joseph Hill, born in 1715. A well known and respected London maker, Joseph Hill had four violin-making sons, of whom Lockey Hill is considered the most distinguished. His son, Henry Lockey Hill, was the first Hill to adopt the Stradivarius model for his instruments, and to this day his instruments, particularly the cellos, remain some of the most valuable English instruments produced. His adaptation of the Stradivarius model raised the Hill family standard above that of general trade work and further engraved the Hill name into the annals of violin-making history. Henry Lockey Hill had five sons, and his fourth, William Ebsworth Hill, carried the family name even further when he founded the violin firm W.E. Hill & Sons in 1887 in London.

The bridge on the 'Lady Blunt' Stradivarius- W.E. Hill & Sons
(C) Tarisio 2011


W.E. Hill was born in 1817 and was working at the bench in his father's violin shop by the age of fourteen.While working in London, W.E. Hill formed a relationship with bow-maker James Tubbs, who made bows for W.E. Hill that bore the Hill name, rather than the Tubbs name. This is considered the beginning of the Hill family association with great bow-making. The Hill shop would continue to employ a string of world-class bow-makers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, in many ways revolutionizing the art of bow-making. In addition to establishing the Hill name in the world of bow-making, W.E. Hill is often credited with inventing the art of violin restoration. By choosing to focus on acquiring and working on older instruments, rather than the crafting of new instruments, W.E. Hill was well positioned to ride the rising tide of interest in older violins and cellos. He collected, restored, and sold many fine instruments, particularly Cremonese, and through his restoration and repair work built up W.E. Hill & Sons into the preeminent violin shop in England. By the time he died in 1895, W.E. Hill & Sons was a thriving business in the hands of his well trained sons.

W.E. Hill & Sons at 140 New Bond Street, London

One of the most valuable contributions W.E. Hill & Sons made to the violin world was the extensive study they made of the makers Antonio Stradivari, the Guarneri family and Giovanni Paolo Maggini. With the 19th century rise in the value of older instruments, along with an explosion in demand, a widespread but unreliable trade had developed full of mistaken attributions, counterfeits, and outright lies. Thanks to the thorough study conducted by W.E. Hill & Sons, modern research is still primarily based on the work of Hill sons William Henry, Arthur, and Alfred. W.E. Hill & Sons collected, restored, and sold many older masterpieces, and they became the definitive authority on instruments by master craftsmen such as Stradivarius.  

Stay tuned for future blogs about W.E. Hill & Son and their impact on the stringed instrument world.

W.E. Hill & Sons Violin Bows
A Violin with the label of W.E. Hill & Sons

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