Thu 24th March 22

The Complete and Utter History of W.E. Hill and Sons

By John Dilworth

Posted by

Sarah Buchanan

The company of W. E. Hill and Sons dominated the violin trade in England and throughout much of the rest of the world during the twentieth century. The success of the firm lay in its family tradition, which can reliably be traced back to one Joseph Hill, born in Alvechurch in Worcestershire in 1715. William Ebsworth Hill, the founder of the business, was born in London in 1817, and was the fourth generation of violin makers in the family. His sons, Arthur (born 1860) and Alfred (born 1862) steered the company into its greatest period, and Arthur’s stepson Albert Edgar Phillips, although not of the direct lineage, adopted the Hill name and became the sixth generation of Hills. His son Desmond, and his grandsons David and Andrew Hill sustained the company through the post war period and finally oversaw the dissolution of the business in 1992. The company itself made much of an even longer tradition, reaching back to a Mr Hill, who repaired the diarist Samuel Pepys’ lute in 1660, although they were unable to consolidate the connection in their own researches.

This durability and commitment over eight generations is exceptional within the world of violin making, and in business generally. It provides a fascinating view of violin making in England over almost its entire history, and the nature of family enterprises. What makes the Hill family exceptional can tell us why other dynasties fail. The trajectory of other violin making families in history usually describe a declining arc, from a first, second and rarely a third generation of great achievement, to a protracted diminution of quality. The Gaglianos of Naples, the Testores and the Guadagninis in Milan illustrate the phenomenon well. The Hills started from a firm base of solid good quality, yet rose in aspiration and status with virtually every generation until the final years of the late twentieth century.

Joseph Hill and sons (1715-1810)

Joseph Hill was plainly a businessman as well as a craftsman, a combination of talents that appears irregularly, but can be seen in other celebrated London violin makers such as Richard Duke and John Betts. Both of these men ran enterprises with shopfronts in major London thoroughfares, Duke in Holborn and Betts in the Royal Exchange. They were not isolated artisans making instruments for individual clients, but fully engaged in commercial trade, dealing in other instruments, in sheet music and all the accessories familiar in a general music shop today. They employed a staff of craftsmen and probably other assistants, and Joseph Hill’s son Joseph (II) was briefly employed by Betts in 1790.

How the first Joseph Hill was introduced to violin making is unknown, but he was the son of another Joseph Hill of Alvechurch, who married Sarah Pateman there in 1713. Their son Joseph was born there in 1715, and only left the town sometime after 1746, following his marriage in 1742 and the baptism of two daughters in the parish church in 1743 and 1746. The text of Hill certificates in the twentieth century claims that he was apprenticed to Peter Wamsley in 1742 alongside Benjamin Banks, but the known chronology makes this seem unlikely. Wamsley himself died in 1744, and there seems little stylistic continuity between the particularly graceful, even fragile designs of Wamsley, and the characteristically robust style of Joseph Hill. What is sure is that by 1753 he was established independently in High Holborn, ‘opposite the New Inn and French Horn’. In these days before street numbering, practical directions were necessary to guide customers to the shop. The New Inn was on the north side of High Holborn, just west of Red Lion Street, so Hill’s shop would have been on the south side, with Lincoln’s Inn Fields behind. If Joseph was, as it would seem, already over 30 years old when he came to London, it would imply that he had already served some sort of apprenticeship in Alvechurch that enabled him to start a business in the city of London, or that he was indeed trained in London and returned to his native Alvechurch to marry.

A complication in all this is the presence of another Joseph Hill with a music shop in The Minories, a street close to the Tower of London, already extant in 1731 when the Joseph Hill of Alvechurch was only 16. His son, also named Joseph Hill, was apprenticed to John Gilbert, a mathematical instrument maker of Great Tower Hill in 1747, and made a Freeman in 1759. It seems extraordinary that these Joseph Hills were active as instrument makers within the City of London at the same time, but in all likelihood true. The Mr Hill in the famous quotations from Samuel Pepys Diary, entries dated 17th February 1660, ‘early in the morning, came to Mr Hill the instrument maker & I consulted him about ye altering my lute & my vial’, and 5th March of the same year ‘Early in ye morning Mr Hill comes to string my theorbo, which we were about till past ten o’clock, with a great deal of pleasure’ has sadly yet to be linked in any way to the Hills of Alvechurch in the eighteenth century. As with Joseph Hill of the Minories, it may just be another appearance of a fairly common English surname.

Joseph Hill’s earliest recorded label dates from 1753, and 1756 he moved to ‘Ye Violin’ in Angel Court, Westminster, near St James’s on the west side and closer to the cultural centre of London. In 1757 Richard Duke, another important and influential violin maker of the period moved to Red Lion Street, ‘by Gray’s Inn Passage’, just a short walk to the north of Joseph Hill’s previous shop in High Holborn. The number of violin shops then established within a relatively small area of London demonstrates the status of the violin in society in the mid eighteenth century; a rising group of professional players alongside amateurs and dilettantes as well as those keen to invest in the value of old instruments. At around this time, a small colony of violin makers and dealers was developing amongst the publishers and book sellers in St Paul’s Churchyard, then a thriving market place over to the east side of the city. Many music shops advertised stocks of old Italian instruments. Auctions of old instruments were taking place, like that advertised in the ‘Daily Journal’ of May 16th 1724, of ‘Mr Corbett’s Choice collection etc. to be sold at the Nags Head Inn Orange Court; Amatus, Old Stradivarius of Cremona, Maggini and Gaspar’.

By 1761, Joseph was located in Haymarket at ‘the Harp & Flute’, just east of St James’s, near Piccadilly. This was just becoming established as the centre of the theatre world in London, as it remains today. Hill’s shop was adjacent to the King’s Theatre, founded in 1720 and later known as the Haymarket Theatre, which preceded the opening of the Royal Opera House in 1732. W.E. Hill & sons continued to use the ‘Harp and Flute’ as their insignia right up until the closure of the enterprise in 1992.

Throughout this time, Joseph was a prolific maker of violins, violas and cellos. It seems obvious that he must have had some assistance from his sons and other workers, one possibly being Thomas Tilley, who also worked in St James’s at this time, and whose independently labelled work shows a strong affinity to Hill’s. Nevertheless Joseph’s work is very consistent, generally on an adapted Stainer form that is readily identifiable amongst the very many other Stainer imitations made within the London trade of the time. It is not always fully refined, with scrolls often a little askew and quickly finished, but his soundholes are always graceful, open and upright. The archings are full and beautifully worked, with the characteristic English purfling of the time showing a broad white core of remarkably featureless hardwood. His varnish varies considerably, and it might be assumed that he reserved his best, deep red-brown and thickly applied stuff to his most expensive instruments, reserving a pale golden yellow mixture for others.

Joseph Hill had five sons, William (1748-1790), Joseph II (1750-1818), Benjamin (1754-1793), Lockey (1756-1796), and John (1757-c.1810). William and Benjamin became musicians, performing regularly at the Haymarket Theatre and in Covent Garden, Benjamin joining the Royal Society of Musicians in 1784 as violinist, cellist and organist of Trinity Chapel. With Joseph (II), the three brothers played at the Handel Commemoration concert in Westminster Abbey in 1784. In 1762, J. C. Bach came to the King’s Theatre and lived and worked in London until his death in 1782, and would have no doubt have been familiar to the Hills. In 1785, the Royal Society of Musicians Anniversary Concert included William as a cellist and Benjamin as a double bassist.

John is recorded as a violin maker, but his independent work is rarely encountered, and he moved to premises in Thomas Street, Southwark in 1777 where he worked latterly as a piano repairer from 1806 at no.9 London Road Southwark. These addresses south of the river, beyond the City of London and the fashionable reaches of Haymarket and Holborn, marked a sharp decline in circumstances.

In 1774, Joseph senior moved to a private house he purchased in Avery Row, behind New Bond Street. The ‘Harp and Flute’ was carried on by the younger Joseph until a disastrous fire in 1789, started in the Theatre, destroyed both premises and all of Joseph’s stock. There is a persistent story that a Stradivari violin belonging to one of the players in the Theatre orchestra was destroyed in the blaze. As a result Joseph II briefly went to work for John Betts in the Royal Exchange, and a cello is recorded with the label ‘Joseph Hill/ from Betts/ Royal Exchange 1791/ for Mr Isaac Bawden’.

The effect of the fire was far-reaching. The King’s Theatre was rebuilt and extended over Hill’s old shop, and Joseph moved to join his younger brother John in Southwark. John and his brother Lockey seem to have already split apart from the rest of the family; while Benjamin, William and Joseph II all assisted their father at some time, neither John nor Lockey are mentioned in Joseph’s will. The unusual name ‘Lockey’ seems to have been a family tradition, and several Lockeys are recorded in the Alvechurch baptismal records, but in 1772 Lockey Hill was married at the age of 16 in Cripplegate church, several miles north east from the Haymarket. Thereafter he was based in the north east of London, moving between Shoreditch and Islington.

Lockey is the most significant of these two brothers, and was a very productive violin maker, although never issuing the same quality of work as his father. Much of his work was sold by the company of Longman & co, and often bears their brand. The company was founded by James Longman around 1767, and joined by partners Lukey in 1769 and Broderip in 1775, eventually became known as Longman & Broderip, with branches in Margate and Brighton, selling the work of many London violin makers of the period. Lockey Hill’s work is quick, effective and Stradivari-influenced, but often unpurfled, and the scrolls left very crudely worked, with distinctively long, straight pegboxes topped by a diminutive scroll. It scarcely reaches the standards set by other members of the family. In 1782 Longman’s opened a shop in Haymarket, which must have been a threat to his father Joseph Hill’s business, some years before the fire of 1789.

The difference in status between Joseph Hill running his own shop in fashionable Haymarket, and sons accredited by the Royal Society of Musicians, contrasts strongly with the circumstances of Lockey, and is startlingly accentuated by the records of the Old Bailey Criminal Court, where he was found guilty of horse stealing in 1796, then a capital offence. His trial occurred on 2nd December, and he appeared with his ‘former servant’ Edward Bowtell, who testified that they had taken a gelding from a field in Aylesbury, and had both been previously involved in stealing two cart horses from a field in Worcester. This seems to indicate that Lockey remained familiar with the county of his forebears (Alvechurch is in Worcestershire). Interestingly Lockey’s only defence relied on character witnesses, Mr Thompson, a fellow violin maker of St Paul’s churchyard, and his agent Mr.Longman, but rather pathetically, neither could wait long enough at the court, being ‘in a great way of business’ to give their statements. There is no record of sentence being carried out, but there are records of his detention in Newgate Prison in February 1796. This information was unsurprisingly kept discreetly away from published histories, since earlier sources such as Sandys and Forster and Henley give his year of death as 1810. That Lockey became involved in such a sordid business is remarkable.

H. Lockey and sons (1774-1835)

Remarkable and perhaps unexpected is that the lineage of the Hills comes through Lockey Hill, easily cast as a pariah in the family, rather than any of the other four sons of Joseph. Lockey’s first son was born in 1774, and baptised simply as Lockey (he later adopted the name Henry to distinguish himself from his father) in the church of St Martin’s Ludgate, not far from Longman’s shop in Cheapside. Brothers Henry, Thomas and Joseph followed, but made no mark as far as can be determined, on the trade of violin making. By 1800 Henry Lockey was the last surviving violin maker of the family, other than his uncle Joseph (II) and in 1806 was employed at John Betts’ shop in Royal Exchange, where Joseph II had briefly worked fifteen years earlier. It seems most likely that Joseph was the main influence on the young Henry Lockey Hill as a maker; on at least one label he identified himself as ‘L. Hill, nephew to the late Joseph Hill of Haymarket’, rather than the son of Lockey senior. At Betts’ shop in around 1810, Henry Lockey took patterns of a Stradivari cello, which had been sent by Frederick William III of Prussia to Betts for sale. These patterns seem to have provided him with the cello model he used for the rest of his life.

Henry Lockey was perhaps the finest violin maker of the Hill family. He was working at a time when the Stradivari model had at last been fully recognised as the definitive pattern for the violin, and Henry obviously had many opportunities to examine original works while employed at Betts’ shop, at that time one of the leading dealers in Europe. His work is precise and beautifully varnished, with a particularly well-executed scroll, and sometimes varnished in reproduction style, with shaded colouring. His work has been mistaken for that of Panormo and Fendt, and the assisting hand of Richard Tobin can sometimes be detected.

Henry Lockey had four sons, Henry (1808-1856), a violist, Thomas (1810-1876), and Joseph (1815-1838), but it was the youngest, William Ebsworth (1817-1895) upon whose shoulders that the firm of W. E. Hill & sons was finally built. The distinctive name Ebsworth, repeated in successive generations of Hills, came from another family related to them by marriage.

Henry Hill opened a shop in 1829 with Tibaldo Monzani, a Genoese flautist, as Instrument and Music Sellers at 3 Old Bond St., later at 28 Regent Street, but without Monzani. He continued to appear as a patent flute manufacturer in directories up until 1845. Far more significantly, Henry came to be regarded as the best English viola player of his time, playing in quartets with Joachim, and in 1848 he played the solo viola part for the debut London performance of Harold in Italy, conducted by Berlioz himself. The piece had been written for Paganini, and previous European debuts had been played by Alard, Ernst, Joachim and David. Of Thomas and Joseph Hill very little is known.

W. Ebsworth Hill and sons (1835-1897)

William Ebsworth worked with his father from the age of 14. In 1835, Henry Lockey Hill died. William Ebsworth was sent to Oxfordshire to work with Charles Harris junior, seemingly an odd choice of master. Harris has an interesting history. His father, also Charles, was a Customs official or ‘Tide Waiter’ and occasional violin maker working for the London trade, who labelled his own instruments from Cannon Street or Ratcliff Highway, a notorious thoroughfare through the Shadwell Docks beyond the city wall; in 1811 several apparently random murders shook Victorian society and remain a mythologised Ripper-like mystery, but Harris had left for Oxford in about 1810 to settle with his wife’s family. His son Charles junior was born in 1791, and also passed an apprenticeship in the London violin trade first with his father and later with John Hart. In 1828 however he inherited a large estate in Oxford through his mother and moved to Steeple Aston, where young William Ebsworth Hill joined him. William remained there for only a year or two. Charles Harris gained a reputation locally for excess, known as ‘Lord Harris’, given to card sharping and drink, and William apparently kept many stories of gambling and smuggling to entertain his own children in later life. What he gained from his experience with Harris is moot; Harris’ instruments can be very fine, and slight idiosyncrasies can be traced from him to W. E. Hill in the few instruments made by William himself. His dissolute lifestyle at least seemed to have no effect on William.

William Ebsworth returned to London in 1838, to live at the home of his elder brother Joseph, who died in that same year. The house was in St George’s Road, Borough, in the southeast part of London that the Hill family now gravitated around. He remained there until 1859, and fairly early on established himself as a repairer and restorer and to some extent, businessman. In 1860, the Cobden Chevalier Free trade Treaty lifted import duty on instruments, making it uneconomical to make new violins in the face of cheap supplies from Germany and France. William devoted his time to repair and garnering expertise in old instruments, and in many ways invented the modern processes of intensive and discreet restoration rather than the somewhat brutal past customs that usually meant the replacement of broken parts with often ill-matched new pieces. He also began an association with the bow maker James Tubbs (1835-1921).

James Tubbs was the heir, and greatest maker of the Tubbs family, bow makers who themselves took on the mantle of English bow making from the Dodd family. Tubbs began the long association with fine bows continued by W. E. Hill & sons, but the relationship between William and James was fraught. He supplied bows to Hill, which he branded ‘W. E. Hill’, two of which gained medals for Hill at the 1862 Great International Exhibition, a prestigious world fair held in South Kensington. The two subsequently parted company, and Tubbs later took to superimposing his own brand on such bows. Nevertheless, William Ebsworth claimed credit for nurturing and refining the young Tubbs’ workmanship.

Hill moved his workplace to Waterloo Road, slightly closer to the city but still on the south side of the river Thames, but in 1866 he moved to Wardour Street in Soho, then the very epicentre of the London violin making trade, home at that time to, amongst others, members of the Panormo family, Edward Withers, and George Chanot. In 1867 the shop of John and Arthur Betts, up until then the leading London violin traders, at whose shop William’s father and great uncle had worked, finally closed after seventy-five years.

William Ebsworth Hill has an almost mythical reputation. His shop and workroom were visited by the greatest and best of the violin world, to be greeted ‘… with the same mild and tolerant inattention, born not of incivility, but abstraction’ according to the Rev. H. R. Haweis in his book ‘Old Violins and Violin Lore’ published in 1898. He also called W. E. ‘the Jupiter of Judges’, and credited him with an extraordinary memory for violins, poorly contrasted with his ability with accounts. He was dry of humour and abstemious, and clearly regarded with great fondness by his sons, William Henry (1857-1927), Arthur Frederick (1860-1939) Alfred Ebsworth (1862-1940) and Walter Edgar (1871-1905).

The name above the Wardour Street shop became W. E. Hill & sons in 1880. In 1882, the company moved to 38 New Bond Street, and the efforts of Alfred and Arthur Hill brought world fame and respect. To quote Haweis again, ‘the boys inherited violin tendencies. They were steeped from childhood in violin tradition. They had special chances for seeing, handling and diagnosing most of the great violins now extant. No time or money was spared by their father on the boy’s education, and certainly no boys ever made a better use of their privileges.’

Alfred and Walter went to Mirecourt to study violin making, Alfred, in fact, being the first Englishman to register there in about 1885. Walter returned from his studies there in 1891. They worked under Isidore Delunet (1838-1897) alongside Charles Francois Langonet, who subsequently returned to London with Alfred and Isidore’s son Auguste Leon to join in the new business. Arthur remained with his father in order to manage the company. William Henry seems to have been primarily occupied with the series of seminal books that were published by the company from 1891. The contribution of the youngest son, Walter Edgar, was limited by his early death from pneumonia at the age of 34.

Alfred and Arthur were the principals in the new company, and on their father’s death in 1895, from ‘exhaustion of brain power’, as Haweis quaintly put it, firmly at the head. Arthur continued to run the business, while Alfred was in charge of the workshop, which grew exponentially. Steeped in violins and violin making from their birth, and benefitting even further from apprenticeships in Mirecourt, which provided a knife edge polish to their technical facility, the brothers built the firm up into an almost monolithic command of the violin trade at the turn of the new century.

W.E. Hill and Sons (1897 – 1918)

By 1897, W.E. Hill and Sons were established at the now famous address of 140 New Bond Street, with its lavishly decorated stone façade with two magnificent glass-domed bay windows on either side of double doors. It must have represented quite an investment for the relatively young, but clearly very successful company, and in strong contrast to their father’s Wardour Street shop, always described as somewhat small and dark. The family themselves had already moved to Heath Lodge in Hanwell, 9 miles out of London on the new Great Western Railway, and a rapidly developing middle class suburb. In 1887, they began building their violin and bow workshops there, adding a large extension in 1907.

The bow workshop, destined to establish a uniquely English style of bow and a lasting tradition of its own, was founded with Samuel Allen (1838-1914) in 1880, but consolidated and perfected under Alfred’s protégé William Retford (1875-1970), whom he recruited straight from school. Together they developed a unique method of bow making which still continues today through the numerous graduates of the Hill workshop. They also developed the distinctive ‘fleur-de-lys’ inlaid gold and tortoise shell mounted bow, the highest quality and most sought-after Hill bows, made from 1910 onwards. Subsequent bow makers Arthur Bultitude ((1908-1990) and William Watson (b.1930) maintained the high reputation of Hill bows, one of the company’s greatest achievements. In addition, the workshops produced cases and fittings of flawless craftsmanship.

W. E. Hill & Sons’ reputation was sealed in 1890 with the purchase of ‘the Messie’ Stradivari of 1716. Previously owned by J. B. Vuillaume, it was represented a strongly symbolic handing of the crown from the French master to the new leaders of the violin trade, the Hills in London. The first publication by the company was the 1891 monograph of the violin, known to them as the ‘Salabue’ after another previous owner, Count Cozio di Salabue.

This was an important step; earlier prominent makers had established themselves partly through publications in the eighteenth century. Nicolas Lupot was acknowledged as the source for l’Abbé Sibire’s book, ‘La Chelonomie’, which, in 1806, was the first serious investigation of the history of the violin. J. B. Vuillaume collaborated similarly with Francois Fetis, who published the first account of Stradivari in 1856. George Hart, the Hills’ chief rival in the London violin business published his own book ‘The Violin: Its Famous Makers and Their Imitators’ in 1875.

Energetic in their research and often still definitive in their accounts of the lives and work of the great makers, the Hills easily established themselves as the leading authorities in the violin trade. An enormous proportion of the known Stradivari instruments passed through their hands. Their life of Stradivari published in 1902 remains the best book on the subject, and their subsequent work on the Guarneri family published in 1932 enjoys equal status. This latter work is dedicated to the memory of William Henry, who died three years before its publication. Between these two monumental works lie the volume on Maggini written by Margaret L. Huggins, which is essentially an edited version of their own research and knowledge, Arnaldo Baruzzi’s ‘La Casa Stradivari’, monographs on the ‘Tuscan’ and ‘Messie’ Stradivaris (also a rare text on the ‘Archinto Stradivari cello) and several other catalogues and pamphlets, all under the W. E. Hill & Sons imprint. A volume on Gaspar da Salo remains tantalisingly unpublished.

Alfred Hill personally carried out restorations on many fine instruments of the very highest quality, and led a workshop built around Mirecourt trained makers, first among whom was Charles Francois Langonet (1861-1929), followed by his son Charles Frank (1888-1963). Other notable names were Auguste Leon Delunet (1867-1939) and J. M. Somny (d.1931). Alongside the important restoration work, a series of fine new violins and cellos were produced, copied from master instruments in the Hills’ collection. Early examples include a beautifully executed copy of the celebrated ‘Spanish Inlaid’ Stradivari of 1687, which first came to the Hills in 1883. The copy was dated 1889 and numbered 13. Copies of the ‘Betts’ of 1704 and the ‘Tuscan’ of 1716 followed, and by 1915 the labels were numbered up to 281.

Among the many informants that the Hills were able to turn to was Sir William Perkin. The Perkins family bought a Stradivari of 1728 from William Ebsworth Hill in 1876, and both families remained friends. Sir William was a colour chemist who played an important role in the development of aniline dyes, used for the colouring of varnish. He became fascinated in this aspect of the violin, and shared ideas and experiments with W. E. Hill and the brothers Arthur and Alfred. Another dedicated collector of violins, John Mountford, also became a good friend of the family. He was the landlord of the Wheatsheaf public house in Edgware, London, which became a popular meeting place for violinists and other musicians in London, including many foreign visitors introduced by the Hills, and in particular the social set gathered around the violinist Wilma Neruda, wife of Sir Charles Halle.

In a time before photography and any reliable published records of ancient makers, the accumulated history, archives, and the collective intellectual resources of the family made a powerful combination. The brothers travelled widely and regularly throughout Europe tracking violins and bringing them back to London. They commissioned researchers to gather information about the great makers, essential in making stylistic and chronological sense of the makers and their instruments, leading to an unprecedented understanding of the ways and methods of the old makers. They spent hours listening to and adjusting the instruments of the greatest and most iconic players of the times, from Joachim and Ysaye to Kreisler and Heifetz. Arthur was appointed Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians in 1911, a highly distinguished position first established in 1519.

Their musical commitment and involvement was every bit as strong as their craftsmanship and business skills. Perhaps what is most important to the present craft is their understanding of the importance of records, files and archives. What might seem most extraordinary to us today is the brothers’ erudition, breadth of reference and literary elegance, given that none of them appears to have had a formal education beyond the age of 14. They, and in particular Arthur, kept diligent notes, and the certificates they granted to instruments remain the gold standard of authenticity. A great deal of what we currently know about the history of violin making can be traced back to the initial efforts of the Hills in researching, comprehending, and publishing the books that remain the cornerstone of modern expertise.

W.E. Hill and Sons (1918 to the present day)

After the First World War, economic conditions drove the Hills to seek markets in America, despite their deep reluctance to lose sight of instruments that they felt belonged to a European heritage and to their own care. Despite this, the firm remained the focus of expertise worldwide. Even at the outset of the Second World War, by which time all four brothers had died, Alfred Ebsworth the last of them in 1940, preparations had been made to move the best of their collection out of London for safety, forming the Hill Collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, now the permanent home of the ‘Messie’ Stradivari. Only William Henry had a male heir, Paul Ebsworth (1896-1974). He was apprenticed to Alexandre Delanoy in Bordeaux and as a cellist himself, specialised in that instrument, and was a partner in the firm from 1921 until his retirement in 1960.

The passing of the figureheads Alfred and Arthur might have been the end of a lesser company, but the many previous generations of Hills provided a depth of expertise and ambition that continued across this potential crisis. Arthur had a stepson, Albert Edgar Phillips, through his marriage to Rose Phillips in 1896 and it was to him that the company was formally sold in 1940, when he changed his name to Phillips-Hill to preserve the family tradition. He also passed through an apprenticeship in Mirecourt, before joining Giuseppe Fiorini in Munich in 1904. He made at least one violin there, which bears a label ‘sub disciplina Giuseppe Fiorini/ Albert Hill/ fecit Munchen anno 1904’. There are signs that the name has been amended to ‘Hill’ from ‘Phillips’. He was still engaged in making instruments in 1975, aged 92. Ownership of the company passed after Albert Phillips-Hill’s death in 1981 to his son Desmond.

Desmond D’Artrey Hill (b.1916), led the business long before his father’s death, assisted by his own sons Andrew (b.1942) and David (b.1952). In 1974, he had closed the Bond Street shop and moved the operations to a new house and workshops in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. The Great Missenden business continued to train a generation of bow makers and violin restorers, but was finally closed in 1992, effectively bringing an end to 112 years of the firm of W. E. Hill & sons, and almost 250 years of the Hill family’s involvement with violin making.

The business, in fact, separated into two enterprises run by the brothers Andrew and David, who continued to act individually as violin brokers. In 2017, the name W. E. Hill & sons, and the archives and records of this great company were acquired by J. & A. Beare, on the 125th anniversary of the latter firm, who were the only serious rivals to the Hills in the second half of the 20th century under Charles Beare, and in the 21st. have brought the name back to London, in their Queen Anne Street premises.

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