|WILLIAM ATKINSON -(1851-19290 - VIOLIN MAKER - TOTTENHAM|
1992 Vignette by Professor B. W. Harvey, Faculty of Law, The University of Birmingham)
Atkinsons career is different to other eminent Victorian violin makers, in
that his working life spans a period from 1869 to the year of his death, 1929. His mature
work, therefore, belongs to the reigns of Edward VII and George V.
There was also sufficient interest in Atkinsons life for biographical snippets to be published before his death in local newspapers. We have, too, the benefit of the accounts drafted by the indefatigable Meredith Morris, who did a profile of this maker for the Strad of November 1900 [p. 203] and then reused much of his material in the biographies contained in the two editions of his book British Violin Makers.
has been selected because, in the present authors opinion, he is one of the most
refined makers of the early part of the twentieth century in England and, unlike some of
his professional rivals, made every part of his instruments himself, down to the purfling.
William Thomas Reed Atkinson was born in Stepney, London, on October 23rd 1851. He had the
advantage of a pay-school education at a grammar School in Mile End Road,
Stepney, until the age of 11. Atkinson always maintained that he made his early acoustical
and varnishes experiments at school.
|He married in 1880
and shortly afterwards moved to Tottenham, to the north of London, and not connected to
the metropolis as it is now.
(Development at Tottenham occurred partly because the rail service from Liverpool Street to Enfield went through the area.)
Pictured Left: WILLIAMS SON, WILLIAM THOMAS CAMPER ATKINSON.
OUTSIDE THE FAMILY SHOP IN CHURCH ROAD.. c1940S
|Atkinson took a double fronted shop, in Church Road, which was a general hardware and drysalters store, selling, as his granddaughter remarks, Most things from a pin to a pitchfork: oils, pigments and varnishes were a speciality.. The shop also displayed specimens of Atkinsons work: violins, violas and cellos, which were fashioned in the workshop to the rear.|
marriage produced three sons, one of whom died and another who eventually took over the
shop from his father. Atkinson worked there until 1911.
The building no longer survives but Haringey Council, having compulsorily acquired it, made in 1972 what is perhaps a unique gesture for any local authority, by naming a nearby precinct for the elderly (thirty-nine one-bedroom flats) after a British violin maker: William Atkinson House.
WILLIAM ATKINSON HOUSE - JAN1991
(Photographs by Great Grandson Peter William Thomas)
in the 1900s, Atkinson suffered a serious accident while helping his brother-in-law, the
builder (Arthur Porter) who was responsible for the construction of some local churches
and the first stand to be created in the Tottenham Hotspur football ground. Atkinson's leg
had to be amputated below the knee and, for the rest of his life, he had to wear a wooden
Atkinson set great store by his varnishing. In an interview with a reporter from the Southend Standard, in October 1928, he is quoted as saying, If I were asked what was my greatest gift, I should say it was to make a violin, but I would not spend five minutes on it if I had not got the varnish I use. That varnish is my own, and I would stake my life it is the same varnish the old masters used.'
(NOT TRUE: William & Mary set up shop in Toddington Beds
in 1911, moving to Paglesham years later)
survived until 1929, losing heart when his wife died. A contemporary local press report
quotes him as saying:
There is no pleasure in the work for me now. A little time ago my wife died on her birthday and she was the best man about the shop.
(Southend Standard, Oct. 1928)
Post Card Written by William Thomas Reed Atkinson on the Day Mary, Died - Sent to his son, William Thomas Camper Atkinson
regime and honest business practices sprang from a character of considerable strength and
He is buried with his wife in Tottenham Cemetery.
Article prepared from original article provided by Peter Thomas (Great Grandson - William Atkinson)
Alan Swain May 2015