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Reference Library Articles

Henry Lockey Hill

The Hill family is the longest and most respected of English violin making dynasties, and the generation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century became the world's leading authority, supervising one of the greatest workshops in Europe. The acquisition of this unchallenged authority and expertise came through the dedicated work of previous makers of the family, starting in the eighteenth century with Joseph Hill of Haymarket in London, whose violas and cellos are still very much in demand. From Joseph came Joseph II, William and Lockey, all makers rather typical of the London trade at the time, and largely wedded to the patterns and mannerisms of Jacob Stainer.

Lockey Hill was born in 1756, but his death is disputed- it seems he came to trial on some serious charges and may have met a sticky end. However his fourth son, Henry Lockey Hill, or Lockey Hill II, was born in 1774 went on to become one of the best makers of the turn of the century, and left a very distinguished legacy of fine violins, violas and cellos.

He served his apprenticeship with his uncle, Joseph II, and with John Betts. At Betts' workshop, shortly before 1810, he took templates and measurements from a 1690 Stradivari cello, which were to become an important part of his future work. In 1810 Henry Lockey took over his father Lockey Hill's workshop, located in Southwark, where he started a family of his own. In 1818 the family moved to Market Street in Borough, still south of the river, opposite the City of London, but by 1826 they had moved again, a short distance to 7, Brandon Row, Newington Causeway. He died in 1835, but by then he had raised and trained three sons to maintain the family tradition. The most important and successful of these was William Ebsworth Hill, Henry Lockey's fourth son born in 1818. William Ebsworth was the founder of W.E.Hill and Sons, the Bond Street business that came to dominate London and Europe by the time of his death in 1895, under the aegis of his sons, William Henry, Arthur Frederick and Alfred Ebsworth.

Henry Lockey's great achievement was to change from his father's rather workmanlike and unambitious copies of Stainer, to work in a more imaginative and artistic manner following the Cremonese models that had inspired his grandfather Joseph. The atmosphere at John Betts' workshop must have been quite inspirational- the work of Vincenzo Panormo and the Fendt's there had lifted the London trade to a new level, and great and authentic masterpieces, such as the Stradivari cello already mentioned, and the famous Betts Stradivari, as well as the custom of Viotti would have had an immense effect on the young Henry Lockey Hill.

He must have seen the commercial and artistic advantages of the more advanced Stradivarian models, and his lifelong absorption in the violin-maker's workshop gave him the skills to exploit a more refined market than that in which his father operated. His workmanship is of a very high order, and stands beside the best of the period. His modelling is very convincing, exhibiting the low arching of Stradivari, and finesse in all the details of scroll, soundholes and purfling.

The purfling is in fact quite distinctive, and follows in a very English tradition. The white core is made from a very dense, featureless material that may be holly or a similar native hardwood- it is noticeably bright white under the varnish. The black strips are either ebony, or very well stained hardwood that gives the impression of ebony. Henry Lockey manipulated this highly intractable-sounding material very well, and produced a flowing, even inlay that is faithful to the edge, and ends in dramatic and delicate extended mitres at the corners. The edge is quite flat, but the corners well-formed. The scroll is usually very elegant, with a lighter chamfer than Stradivari himself employed. In terms of construction, it is hard to guess precisely the method he used; the interior is neatly done, with hardwood linings and typically large English-style blocks, but they are not morticed. Henry Lockey did not use locating pins in the upper and lower back, but he did follow a Stradivarian method of pricking out the centre line of the scroll. Materials vary; he seemed to use first-class imported timber for some of his best work, but generally speaking there is a familiar look to home-grown sycamore in the backs, and some rather rugged pine used for the tops that may well have been grown in Scotland, or at least nearer to home that the high Alps. There is also a distinctive dark maple with a particular soft figure that appears in many of Lockey Hill's instruments, which is said to be a Japanese species that was imported into London at that time.

His varnish is well-applied, and comes in a fairly narrow range of gold-browns, but has the appearance of a soft spirit recipe rather than a traditional oil.