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No wind-up, this is on record

PUBLISHED: 16:48 27 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:52 30 June 2010

The oversized violin above Wolsey and Wolsey in King Street.

The oversized violin above Wolsey and Wolsey in King Street.

IT always struck me as odd that Great Yarmouth's two principal radio, gramophone and record shops in the last century had names in tune with one another in style: Carr & Carr and Wolsey & Wolsey.

IT always struck me as odd that Great Yarmouth's two principal radio, gramophone and record shops in the last century had names in tune with one another in style: Carr & Carr and Wolsey & Wolsey.

Both have long gone, and the staff who, down the decades, diligently acquainted themselves with their wares so they could advise their customers knowledgeably would scarcely recognise the sweeping technological advances that were to revolutionise their business.

I preferred Carr & Carr in Regent Street where we teenagers spent our pocket money on 78rpm 10in records by Guy Mitchell, Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Phil Harris, Danny Kaye, Jo Stafford, Pee-Wee Hunt… My family's first radiogram, complete with stacking automatic changer, came from Carr & Carr. Wonderful!

So I was barely acquainted with its rival, Wolsey & Wolsey, round the corner in King Street, but I now know much more about that firm, thanks to ex-Gorlestonian Mike King, now resident in Lowestoft.

His late father-in-law, Sidney Howes, began his working life with Wolsey & Wolsey as a French polisher, his skills bringing out the beauty of the real wood encasing the pianos, pianolas, organs, radios and gramophones in which his employer specialised; at that time the workshop was in Regent Road, a building later the showrooms of St John Motors.

In addition to his polishing skills (in his 80s, he was still doing touch-ups for musical instrument retailer Allen's), he was a talented artist and drew excellent cartoons, some published in the official magazine of the giant His Master's Voice company, and was also a dance-band saxophonist. He died in 1997, aged 93.

Among his memorabilia was a reprint from a 1922 publication called The Holiday Maker, an article about Wolsey & Wolsey in which the visiting journalist wrote: “Whilst walking down King Street, Great Yarmouth, recently, our attention was attracted by a landmark in the shape of a large golden fiddle outside the shop of Wolsey & Wolsey.

“We learned that this landmark has been standing since the year 1864 at which time the business was established. Wolsey & Wolsey are piano, pianola and organ merchants. They are also fine tuners, toners and repairers, and are the district representatives for His Master's Voice gramophones and records. They stock pianos by all the best makers, and specialise in pneumatic piano players.

“The original proprietor was Mr W H Pyemont, a veteran musician now organist at the parish church in the Welsh resort of Barmouth. The present proprietors took over the business in 1910 and Mr Noel Wolsey is the manager.

“We were forcibly impressed by the very attractive window display which was very smart and artistic. Great credit is due to Mr Wolsey who was responsible for this display. The exterior of the premises naturally gives some indication of the high-class business carried on in the interior, and when we looked through the showrooms we must confess we were very much impressed both by the roominess of the different departments and the general arrangements.

“It did not take long to convince us that this establishment was of the very highest order, conducting a very high-class trade and dealing only with goods of distinction.

“Music establishments are generally much alike but it must be admitted that Wolsey & Wolsey is one of the best equipped and organised outside London. It is representative in every respect of all that is best in the world of music, and we may say that it reflects great credit upon the management. These people deal in all the best known makes of pianos, and it would therefore be superfluous to mention any particular make, but naturally their own fine make of piano was in evidence.

“Besides stocking pianos by the world's best makers, Wolsey & Wolsey are thoroughly alive to the needs of the times, and fully realise the enormous value the gramophone has become in the world of music, and have developed this side of the business accordingly.

“The gramophone now holds an honoured place in practically every home, and every year sees fresh developments in this wonderful instrument. They specialise in His Master's Voice instruments, the popularity of which is unbounded, and the very fact that it has been adopted by all the great singers and musicians of the present day proves its value beyond all manner of doubt. Their stock consists of thousands of records,

“Musicians will find that this firm can supply their every requirement. They have always made a point of being the first in the field with every new development, and for a period of close on 60 years have introduced all that is latest and best in music for the benefit of their ever-increasing clientele. It has always been their policy to be thoroughly up-to-date.

“The firm makes a speciality of every kind of repair and repolishing, and a thoroughly efficient staff of tuners are retained by them, and work is undertaken for 100 miles around. Contracts for tunings are also taken, and the firm's services are always in great demand due to the efficient and intelligent manner in which such work is carried out.

“It should be realised that a first-class pianoforte is worthy of the attention of a first-class tuner only, if it is to fulfil its proper function. The firm's own pianos are built throughout in their extensive and modern piano factory in Albion Road which is named Wolsey Hall.

“The facilities and conditions they offer will merit the attention of all discerning music lovers, and a visit to the shop of the 'Golden Fiddle' is in all respects a pleasure, and one to be repeated at every opportunity by those who desire to keep in touch with every development of the musical world.”

This flattering feature was illustrated by no fewer than ten photographs.

While preparing today's column, I speculatively Googled Wolsey & Wolsey and was surprised to get one hit: the catalogue of a March auction in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, included a “An HMV oak-cased table-top gramophone retailed by Wolsey & Wolsey, Great Yarmouth”, with a guide price of £60-£90. It sold for £85.

That's true - it's not a wind-up!

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“GOLDEN FIDDLE” - the oversized instrument above the display windows of Wolsey & Wolsey in King Street, Great Yarmouth, that signified its stock-in-trade in the 1920s.

OTHERS

SHINING EXAMPLES...two French polishers in the store's workshop, with 17-year-old Sidney Charles Howes on the right.

NOTE-WORTHY JOB! Staff busy in the piano and organ repair shop.

Pictures: MIKE KING COLLECTION

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