Conquering the Concertina / The Concise English Concertina

Conquering the Concertina: A Comprehensive Guide to the English Concertina, by Les Branchett.
Gloucester: Sherborne House Publications, 2002. 49 pp.

The Concise English Concertina: A Tutor, by Dick Miles.
Cork: Milestone Publications, 2002.32 pp. € 17.

Reviewed by RACHEL HALL

Players of the English concertina fall into a number of categories in terms of their style of playing. There is the ‘classical’ school, which traces its lineage to a mixture of the Victorians—one thinks of Regondi, Blagrove, Case, et al.—and the somewhat later Eastern European school as exemplified, most notably, by the Matusewitch family. The great majority of players, of course, cultivate folk music of one sort or another: some play Irish music and/or a cross-cultural blend of American, Celtic, and Quebecois tunes that are common in the contradance repertory; some focus on English country dance music, while others use the instrument to accompany the voice. A few players have recently begun to revive a number of early twentieth-century traditions, namely those associated with the music hall and vaudeville, on the one hand, and the klezmerin, on the other. And finally, there are those who explore new directions, such as the jazz-inspired playing of Simon Thoumire.

Given this wide range of preferences and styles, how should the newcomer to the English concertina choose a tutor? Clearly, the answer depends on a combination of the player’s level of musical training and the style that he or she prefers. Most recent tutors for the instrument focus on single-line playing of Celtic or English folk tunes. Some also contain suggestions for accompanying songs. In general, these tutors assume an adult player with some prior musical training, an assumption that certainly fits the majority of players I know, most of whom take up the concertina as a second (or even third) instrument.

Two new tutors are now available: Les Branchett’s Conquering the Concertina and Dick Miles’s The Concise Guide to the English Concertina. Of the two, Branchett’s tutor aims at the more elementary level, though it covers a wider range of repertory, as it includes both well-known classical themes and popular songs. Miles, on the other hand, deals exclusively with the folk music of England and Ireland, and though nominally aimed at the beginner, it is really more appropriate for the intermediate player.

Starting with the assumption that ‘readers with at least a basic musical knowledge will wish to skip the preliminaries’ (in other words, the basics of musical notation), Branchett begins with a brief introduction to the keyboard, and follows immediately with the C-major scale, arpeggios, and several well-known melodies in that key (for example, ‘Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes’, and ‘Morning has Broken’). He then proceeds through the keys of G, D, F, and B flat (all major), offering, once again, scales, arpeggios, and tunes for each key. Obviously, this key-by-key method helps the beginner: it is easier to concentrate on learning to play in one key at a time, and Branchett’s use of familiar melodies eliminates some of the difficulties associated with learning unfamiliar material. Following all of this is a selection of pieces, including tunes with chords. Only after these does he address ‘the preliminaries’: general issues such as the basics of musical notation and how to hold the concertina. Finally, he has a section on harmonized scales and chords. In all, I recommend Conquering the Concertina for the beginner, though Branchett’s fairly gentle introduction to the elements of music will not be sufficient for someone with little or no musical training.

Miles’s introduction to the instrument is bound to frustrate the beginner, or at least one with little general experience in making music. For instance, while page 3 deals with so basic an item as holding the instrument, pages 7-8 throw the novice into the ‘Atholl Highlanders’—surely a tune for those with some facility—in A and B flat! On the other hand, Miles offers useful advice for the intermediate player: tips on ornamentation, fingering, and playing chords. Perhaps the most valuable feature of the tutor is the series of seven songs that Miles has arranged for voice and concertina, including two very satisfying treatments of ‘A Fair Maid Walking’.

My main complaint about many tutors for the English concertina is their neglect of how to use and control the bellows (one exception is Allan Atlas’s recent Contemplating the Concertina).1 To my mind, the bellows are the soul of the instrument. Without musically intelligent use of the bellows, the English concertina becomes a musical typewriter of sorts. And though full control of the bellows is difficult to achieve (more so than getting the right finger on the right button), players should be encouraged to explore this aspect of the instrument from the start. Here Branchett does a better job than most. He encourages the player to strive for a ‘bounce’ on some tunes, though he is vague about how this is done. One exercise that I often suggest is to repeat the same note (with or without changing fingers) while using pressure on the bellows to accent first every fourth note, then every third note, and finally every other note. For reels, practice accenting beat two and four of a 4/4 measure. Branchett also suggests that the player experiment with staccato and legato playing, phrasing, and a range of dynamics.

In the end, both Branchett and Miles satisfy a need among concertina players. I would recommend Branchett for the beginner, no matter what style he or she wishes to play. Miles, on the other hand, is probably most appropriate for the intermediate folk player, especially one interested in developing the art of song accompaniment. Both Branchett and Miles, then, have given us welcome additions to the growing number of tutors for the English concertina.2


1. The full title: Contemplating the Concertina: An Historically-Informed Tutor for the English Concertina (Amherst: The Button Box, 2003).

2. Since we’re not likely to see these tutors advertised in neon lights, certainly not in the States: Branchett’s tutor can be had from Sherborne House Publications, 25 Spa Road, Gloucester, GL1 1UY, UK; Miles’s from Dick Miles, Cooragurteen, Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland (or

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some readers will no doubt notice that two other recent tutors are not reviewed here: my own Contemplating the Concertina (see note 1) and Pauline De Snoo’s Concertina Course, vol. 1 (Schijndel [NL]: De Snoo, 2002). To have included a review of my own tutor would have constituted a rather blatant conflict of interests. As for Ms De Snoo’s tutor: though we invited Ms De Snoo to send a review copy, she declined the invitation.

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For its Spring 2006 event, the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, will mount a concert titled ‘VIVA REGONDI’. Among the performers: concertinists Douglas Rogers, Wim Wakker, and Allan Atlas, together with guitarist Alexander Dunn, mezzo-soprano Julia Grella O’Connell, and pianist Jin-Ok Lee. As for the repertory, one thing seems fairly certain at this point: the concert will conclude with Regondi’s arrangement of melodies from Verdi’s La Traviata arranged for two trebles, baritone, and piano. This is likely the first live concert devoted entirely to Regondi’s music since he was laid to rest in 1872. The precise date, time, and venue: Friday, 17 March 2006, 7:30 P.M., Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue (Fifth Avenue and 34th Street), New York. We will try to organize workshops for the following day. For further information: <> (scroll down to ‘Announcements’ in the left-hand margin).

We might note the founding of a new scholarly society (and a very friendly one at that): the North American British Music Studies Association, which is devoted to fostering research on and performances of—as well as generally publicizing—the rich tradition of British music of all styles and periods. Information about NABMSA (yes, that ‘BM’ is tough) can be found at <>. Needless to say, new members are always welcome!

On Friday, 18 June 2005, the Horniman Museum, London, went public with its digitized, online version of the twelve extant nineteenth-century Wheatstone ledgers/day books. Digitized by Robert Gaskins in truly spectacular fashion, the ledgers consist of nine sales ledgers, which are housed in the Wayne Archive (named after Neil Wayne) and list day-to-day sales of instruments from 1835 through 23 May 1870 (with names of buyers, serial numbers of instruments, and, as of 1 January 1851, prices paid), two salary books, one for 1845-1846, the other for 1848-1849, and one production book that dates and describes instruments with serial numbers 18061 (March 1866) – 21353 (22 December 1891) as they came off the ‘assembly line’. One can view the ledgers at <>.

To understate things: with the ledgers now just a click-of-the-mouse away, the Horniman Museum and Robert Gaskins have provided an invaluable impetus to historical research on the concertina. Hats and thumb-straps off to both of them.

Two New Concertinas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Two New Concertinas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Introductory note by J. KENNETH MOORE

As part of a continuous effort to augment and refine its collection, The Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City purchased several free-reed instruments offered at a June 2003 auction in Vichy, France.

Among the instruments purchased were two concertinas manufactured by Wheatstone & Co. One is a very early English concertina, apparently without serial number (Acq. No. 2003.380— see Fig. 1). With its three-fold bellows, hexagonal rosewood casing, and twelve visible levers on each side (with mother-of-pearl key-flaps and ivory buttons), the instrument is a rare example of what Neil Wayne has dubbed Wheatstone’s early ‘open-pallet’ design, 1 and it can probably be dated from 1833-1834 by analogy with both Wheatstone’s well-known No. XXXII, currently housed at the Horniman Museum, London, as part of the Neil Wayne Collection, and an unnumbered Wheatstone in the private collection of Mr Stephen Chambers, Dublin. 2

The second purchase, dating from the 1850s, is an early ‘Duett’ concertina (Acq. No. 2003.381— see Fig. 2), designed in a way that permitted a melody, played in the right hand, to be joined by a simple accompaniment in the left hand. This instrument has a (German-looking) rectangular, mahogany casing, four-fold bellows, and twenty-four buttons, with a range of g to c’’’ (with the only ‘accidental’ being F sharp). 3 To help introduce the instrument, Wheatstone published an instruction book titled Instructions for Performing on Wheatstone’s Patent Duett Concertina (c. 1855),4 along with twelve books of arrangements of popular music. Both instruments were purchased with funds from the Robert Alonzo Lehman Bequest, and are currently on display along with other free-reed instruments, including a Wheatstone symphonion (Acq. No. 89.4.2985).

The museum’s collection also houses two other concertinas of note: another Wheatstone English, No. 11758, probably dating from late 1861/early 1862 (Acq. No. 89.4.1124),5 and a twentieth-century Lachenal, No. 46875 (Acq. No. 63.211.5a,b), which belonged to the well-known folk-singer Burl Ives (1909-1995), who donated it to the museum in 1963. 6

Within the next year the department hopes to mount a temporary exhibition of a selection of its free-reed instruments in the Musical Instrument Galleries.

Finally, the Department of Musical Instruments welcomes serious researchers by appointment. For access, please contact the department at the following address: Department of Musical Instruments, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028.


1. See Neil Wayne, ‘The Wheatstone English Concertina’, Galpin Society Journal, 44 (1991),Plate 2; this article is now available online:<>.
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2. Wheatstone No. XXXII is Item CMC 1278 in the Wayne Collection; for a photograph, see the article in note 1; there is a photograph of the instrument in the Chambers collection in Stephen Chambers, ‘An Annotated Catalogue of Historic Free-Reed Instruments from My Private Collection’, in Harmonium und Handharmonika: Bericht des 20. Musikinstrumentbau-Symposiums 1999. Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte, 62, ed. Monika Lustig (Blankenburg: Stiftung Kloster Michaelstein, 2002), Plate 10; now available online: Developed by Mr Robert Gaskins, the website contains a rich collection of materials relating to the concertina, especially the Duett/Duet concertina.
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3. On the early Wheatstone Duetts, the fingering system of which eventually formed the core of John Hill Maccann’s later Maccann-system Duet, see Robert Gaskins, ‘Early Wheatstone Duett System Duets’, online: The instrument is ‘German-looking’ enough to have deceived those who compiled the auction catalogue into attributing it to Friedrich Uhlig of Chemnitz.
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4. The tutor is conveniently available online:, as is the first known advertisement for the instrument, which appeared in the Daily News (London), No. 3064 (13 March 1856), 1:
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5. Although the Wheatstone sales ledger C1052 (Horniman Museum, London, Wayne Archive), which lists sales from 21 October 1859 to 30 April 1864, does not have a notice for this particular instrument, we may note the following: (1) an instrument numbered in the 11700s (No. 11734) is sold for the first time on 3 September 1861 (p. 57); (2) the first instrument from the 11750s sequence (No. 11753) was sold on 9 January 1862 (p. 64); and (3) No. 11759 was sold on 21 February 1862 (p. 66). My thanks to Allan Atlas for this information.
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6. I should note that this concertina was actually used in performance by Allan Atlas at a concert given at the museum in December 1997.
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Fig. 1. An early Wheatstone English concertina, ‘open-pallet’ design, c. 1833-1834

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Fig. 2. Early Wheatstone “Duett” Concertina; c. 1850

Ms Mary Baker with Concertina, c. 1857


Ms Mary Baker with Concertina, c. 1857


The PICTURE GALLERY for this issue features a photograph—after a daguerreotype from the London studio of Antoine Claudet, c. 1857—of Ms Mary Baker (d. 1882), nicknamed ‘Min’, holding an English concertina, probably a Wheatstone (see picture).

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Mary ‘Min’ Baker (d. 1882), as shown in a photograph after a daguerreotype
by Antoine Claudet, c. 1857; reproduced courtesy of the Rev. Ian Graham

Mary was one of seven children born to a well-to-do family of merchants with extensive sugar holdings in Jamaica and Mauritius. In 1855, Mary, still unwed (she eventually married into a family named Cawsten), became the surrogate mother to the children of her widowed brother Samuel White Baker (1821-1893), who, after his wife passed away that year, sought solace in hunting and travel. In fact, Sam Baker became well known as a big-game hunter and explorer, and together with his second wife, Florence Szasz (von Sass), set out to search for the source of the Nile and eventually discovered Lake Albert (named after Prince Albert) in 1864 (for which he was knighted in 1866).1

What is particularly interesting about the photo of Mary and her concertina is that we may be able to identify the instrument she is holding and when she bought it. As Allan Atlas has suggested, Mary may well be the Miss Baker who purchased Wheatstone no. 6628 for twelve guineas on 31 October 1854, and later treated herself to two more concertinas: on 3 December 1858, when she borrowed Wheatstone 10663, and 27 August 1859, when she paid £2.0.0 for Wheatstone 9981.2

Finally, Mary might not have been the only member of the family who played the concertina, as the Wheatstone sales ledgers also record transactions for a Mrs and Mr Baker, with the latter having purchased his concertina on 23 August 1859, just four days prior to Ms Baker’s final transaction.


1. I tell the story of the Bakers’ exploration in To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa (New York: William Morris, 2004).
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2. See his ‘Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers: The Gendered Concertina in Victorian England, 1835-1870’, forthcoming in the Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 39 (2006). The three transactions are recorded in the Wheatstone sales ledgers: 31 October 1854 in C1049, p. 29; 3 December 1858 in C1051, p. 54; and 27 August 1859 in C1051, p. 85. The ledgers are housed at the Horniman Museum, London, Wayne Archive, and appear online at
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Two Salvation Army Concertina Bands


Two Salvation Army Concertina Bands

Introductory Note by CHRIS ALGAR

Founded as a Mission in 1865 (its name was changed to the present one in 1878), the Salvation Army began as a movement to work amongst the poor in order to help alleviate their hardship. No doubt, the concertina was adopted early in the movement’s history because it was portable and thus suitable for the outdoor meetings that, in the early days, made up the bulk of the Army’s services. Our two photos of Salvation Army Concertina Bands illustrate the change that took place in their make-up during the early twentieth century.

As the photo of the Norwich Citadel Band (1907) makes clear (see Figure 1), the concertina of choice, at least early on, was the Anglo, perhaps because it had the advantage of being the least expensive of the concertinas, and thus the one most likely to be found in the hands of the people to which the Army ministered. The photo shows a band made up of twenty-one Anglos, at least three of which are Jeffries/Crabb-type instruments; in addition, there are a number of twenty-six-button Anglos, which, from the evidence of their gold tooling, might also be of the Jeffries/Crabb type.

Fig.1 The Norwich Citadel Band (1907)

In contrast, the Sergeants’ International Training College Band of 1931 (see Figure 2) had nine concertinas (alongside the brass instruments that were beginning to replace them). Here there are at least five English concertinas—including an Aeola and an instrument recognizable as having been made by George Case—and at least two Triumph Duets. There is not a trace of an Anglo.

The Sergeants International Training College (1931)

This change in instrumentation appears to have taken place around the end of World War I. Prior to that time, it seems that the Anglo was the concertina of choice, only to be supplanted by war’s end by the English and the Duet. I suspect that the reason had to do with versatility: both English and Duet are completely chromatic, with the former being available in models whose ranges extended from bass to piccolo.

Finally, I recently bought a Lachenal amboyna Edeophone from an Army contact: appropriately, it had been painted black!

Barbara Bartell and her Golden Edeophone


Barbara Bartell and her Golden Edeophone

Introductory Note by CHRIS ALGAR

Our picture gallery features a publicity photo of Barbara Bartell (see Fig. 1), a 1920s-30s ‘variety artiste’ whom I met in the early 1980s when, well along in years, she was living in a Brixton (London) flat.

I was introduced to Barbara by her former theatrical agent after I had appeared on television, talking about concertinas. Barbara wanted to sell her two instruments, so I went to London to see her, and learned a good deal in the process.

Barbara was one of two daughters of Mr Stephen Bartle (she adopted ‘Bartell’ as her stage name), who, she told me, had been the ‘World Concertina Champion’ prior to Alexander Prince. When Barbara and her sister were of an age to perform (six or seven), they were taught the concertina, and, with their parents, formed the Royal Bartle Quartet (a performance before the royal family contributed to the name), which made a reputation for itself in the music halls. Barbara, of course, became an outstanding entertainer in her own right, playing concertina and musical glasses. She also did a lot of pantomime, usually as the principal boy (that is, the role of the juvenile male, customarily played by a young lady).

Both of the Bartle sisters played custom-built Lachenal Edeophones, which were made for them under special circumstances: while the Bartles paid for the parts, Lachenal provided the labour free of charge as a tribute to their father. The instruments were dazzling: amboyna casing, brown bellows, all finished off with gold-plated ends, buttons, and fittings.

I bought Barbara’s concertina, along with a miniature soprano that belonged to her father. (Her sister’s Edeophone was eventually purchased by one of the Richardson Brothers of Boys of the Lough fame.) And though I kept the instrument for some years, I eventually passed it on to a wonderful young musician in the Lake District who still plays it.

Looking back at the visit, I now have one regret. Though Barbara offered me a trunk-full of musical memorabilia—posters, programs, photographs, etc.—I politely turned down the offer down since I had no way of taking the materials with me. I guess they are now lost forever. I hope, though, that this little Picture Gallery feature will go some way in restoring the names of both Barbara Bartell and her father, who, though rarely mentioned nowadays, were once among the finest players of their generations.

POSTSCRIPT: My good friend Richard Harrison of Ferrybridge, Yorkshire, a concertinist and collector of 78-rpm concertina recordings, has a rare copy of Stephen Bartle playing ‘Hornpipe Medley/Under the Freedom Flag’ on a World War I-vintage recording issued on the Olympic label (No. 173). It features Bartle on English concertina with piano accompaniment; and, as Richard says, the playing is ‘brilliant’, even more engaging than that on the many 78s that he has of Alexander Prince.

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Fig. 1. Barbara Bartell and her golden Edeophone as shown in a publicity photo from the 1930s (courtesy of Chris Algar, Barleycorn Concertinas).

Concertinas in The Times, 1860


Concertinas in The Times, 1860


In my research for a forthcoming article, ‘Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers: The Gendered Concertina in Victorian England, 1835-1870’,1 I had occasion to sift through the pages of three years worth of The Times (1845, 1855, and 1860) in search of references to the concertina.2 I was not disappointed: notices about the concertina abound, and they contribute powerfully toward the history—the social history in particular—of the instrument in mid-Victorian England.

What follows are seven notices—with brief comments—from the pages of The Times for 1860.

* * * * * * * *

20 April (p. 3): AN AMATEUR is desirous of joining a select MUSICAL PARTY for mutual improvement in concerted music, either instrumental or mixed. Plays the bass concertina, and would take either the bassoon or alto part. Address, with full particulars, to Basso, Stanesby’s Library, Sloane-street, Chelsea.

By ‘alto part’ the writer refers to the viola, and thus attests to the practice of concertinists—both professional and amateur—to form ensembles in which they availed themselves of the string quartet literature. The opportunity to delve into this repertory was especially welcome among women, since string instruments were more or less off limits to them until the final quarter of the century.3

20 April (p. 3): MRS. ARTHUR STONE begs to announce she continues to give LESSONS in SINGING, and on the guitar and concertina—169, Great Portland-street, Portland-place, W.

Mrs Stone is listed as a Professor of Music in the Musical Directory, Register and Almanack for 1855 (p. 70), at which time she resided at 18 Great Portland Street. A frequent visitor to Wheatstone’s shop on Conduit Street—the Wheatstone sales ledgers record nine transactions for her from the late 1840s to 1859—she was one of twelve concertinists who participated together with Richard Blagrove and George Case at a mammoth concertina concert—it featured an ensemble of twelve concertinas—in June 1848. Finally, she is but one of a number of women who played and taught both concertina and guitar.4

19 June (p. 5): GERMAN and ENGLISH CONCERTINA MUSIC:— Regondi’s 200 sacred airs, 1s., and his 200 miscellaneous airs, 1s, for the German concertina; or both works, bound in one vol., cloth, gilt edges, 3s.; Regondi’s celebrated Hand-book, a complete tutor or the German concertina, with 60 melodies (100th edition), 1s.; Regondi’s German Concertina Melodist, in 18 Nos. (30 airs in each), 6d. each; Sedgwick’s 200 airs for the English concertina, 1s.; upwards of 100 books, 1s. each, of vocal and instrumental music. Published only at the Musical Bouquet office, 192, High Holborn.

23 June (p. 1): NOTICE.—Signor GIULIO REGONDI has never Composed or arranged any music for an instrument so called the German concertina.

This is fascinating! Regondi adamantly denies having anything to do with the German concertina (‘Anglo-German’) tutors and song collections that the firm of Charles Sheard was issuing under his name. Clearly, Sheard was cashing in on Regondi’s fame.5

13 July (p. 3): SHELLS of OCEAN, the beautiful Fantasia by [William] Abbot, 3s.; 88th edition of the song, 2s.6d.; two voices, 2s.6d.; glee, 2s.6d.; guitar, 1s.6d.; concertina and piano, 2s; piano duet, 3s.—Holloway, publisher, Hanwaystreet, Oxford-street, W., where may be had all the best music at half-price.

This advertisement attests to the common practice of arranging hit songs for myriad instruments and ensembles. The original song, ‘I Wandered on the Sea-Beat Shore, or The Shells of the Ocean’, was written by Cherry and Lake and published by Holloway & Co. in 1855. William Abbott’s ‘Fantasia’ was one of a number of arrangements for piano.6 I do not know who arranged the song for concertina.

26 July (p. 4): EDUCATION (superior) for YOUNG LADIES: inclusive terms 40 guineas a year.—In old-established finishing school, of high standing, conducted by a lady of talent, assisted by English and foreign governesses and eminent masters daily for all the accomplishments. The instruction comprehends all the higher branches of English, modern languagues, piano, singing, concertina, guitar, drawing, dancing, and calisthenics. The domestic arrangements are on a most liberal scale. The residence is a spacious mansion, delightfully situate, with extensive garden, and the locality not to be surpassed for salubrity. Address A.B., 9, Stanley-gardens, Kensington-park.

14 November (p. 3): MORNING or DAILY GOVERNESS.—A married lady, accustomed to tuition, wishes an ENGAGEMENT. She teaches piano, harp, concertina, singing, French, and Italian fluently, drawing, rudiments of German, and all other requisites To a Lady’s education.—A.B., 5, Lyndon-street, Sussex-gardens, Hyde-park.

These two notices express in quintessential fashion the Victorian notion that, for the well-bred young woman, music was a necessary ‘accomplishment’. They also show that the successful governess had to possess a background in music, with the concertina—and we are dealing with the English concertina only—taking its place alongside the piano, harp, and guitar among instruments that were considered suitable for women.7


1. To appear in the Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 39 (2006).
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2. For his help with the task, I am grateful to Mr Robert Wood, a candidate for the Ph.D. in Music at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York.
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3. On the gendering of string instruments, particularly the violin, see the fine survey in Paula Gillett, Musical Women in England, 1870-1914: “Encroaching on all Man’s Privileges” (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 77-140.
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4. On Mrs Stone, see Atlas, ‘Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers’, which also discusses the intersection between concertina and guitar circles, the most important female member of which was undoubtedly Catherina Josepha Pelzer, later Mrs R. Sidney Pratten. There is a review of the 1848 concert in The Musical World, xxiii/23 (3 June 1848), 3; a similar concert in May 1851, organized by Case, featured an arrangement of Rossini’s Overture to William Tell for twelve concertinas; see Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 68. The nine extant Wheatstone sales ledgers, preserved in the Wayne Archive of the Horniman Museum, London, are available online at
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5. The tutors are listed in Randall C. Merris, ‘Instruction Manuals for the English, Anglo, and Duet Concertina: An Annotated Bibliography’, The Free-Reed Journal, 4 (2002 ), 111-12; an updated version of the article appears online at
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6. There is a list of arrangements in the British Library’s Integrated Catalogue, online at
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7. See my ‘Ladies in the Wheatstone Ledgers’ for a fuller discussion of the concertina’s role.
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George Grove’s Article on the ‘Concertina’ in the First Edition of A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1878)


George Grove’s Article on the ‘Concertina’ in the First Edition of A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1878)

Introductory Note by ALLAN ATLAS

Published by Macmillan & Co. in four volumes over the course of eleven years—from 1878 to 1889—Sir George Grove’s A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) is a landmark in English-language musical lexicography. Its main goal was, as stated in a pre-publication announcement, to correct the following situation:

There is no one work in English from which an intelligent inquirer can learn, in small compass and in untechnical language, what is meant by a Symphony or Sonata, a Fugue…or any other of the terms which necessarily occur in every description or analysis of a Concert or a piece of Music; or from which he can gain a readable and succinct account of the history of the various branches of the art, or of the rise and progress of the Pianoforte and other instruments, or the main facts and characteristics of the lives of eminent Musicians.1

As such, Grove had an agenda: to teach the public (or at least the ‘cultivated’ portion thereof) about music, specifically the ‘high-brow’ music that was then in the process of being canonized and that his readers would have heard in the concert hall and upper-class drawing rooms. And among the things that he thought worthwhile informing them about was the concertina.

What must strike the present-day concertinist immediately—and perhaps it would have been noticed even by contemporary readers of the Dictionary—is that Grove accounts for one type of concertina only: the ‘English’. Nowhere is there even an allusion to the existence of the ‘Anglo’ or the ‘Duet’, though these would certainly have been known to—if not loved and easily distinguished by—Grove’s ‘intelligent inquirer’ through their presence in such places as street corners and other venues that made up the everyday Victorian soundscape. This, of course, should not surprise us. It is simply a consequence of the English concertina’s contemporary presence in the concert hall and upper-class musical circles in general (though by the late 1870s this was already on the wane), its chamber music repertory (cited in part by Grove), and Grove’s (and thus his Dictionary’s) own prejudices and personal tastes. In other words, it was only in the form of the English that the concertina and Grove’s agenda could share common ground.2

Beyond that, Grove’s article calls for a few comments with respect to its claims about both the instrument and its repertory.

(1) Grove writes that the concertina was ‘patented by the late Sir Charles Wheatstone June 19, 1829’. Now there are two patents that are pertinent to Grove’s claim: No. 5803 of 1829, which deals mainly with the Symphonion, but which alludes to what is at least the drawing-board state of the concertina—though without referring to it by name—in its drawings of a bellows-driven instrument; and No. 10041 of 1844, which offers a full-blown description of the English concertina as it then existed. Now even if the 1844 patent is ‘the definitive concertina patent’, as Neil Wayne calls it,3 Grove was quite right in dating the original patent from 1829. For instance, when Giulio Regondi performed in Ireland in 1834-1835, The Dublin Evening Post announced his concert of 12 June 1834 as follows: ‘Master G Regondi … intends to give two Musical Entertainments on the Guitar and on Wheatstone’s Patent Concertina …’.4 Likewise, when Regondi performed at London’s Haymarket on 28 June 1837, his instrument was once again described as the ‘Patent Concertina’.5 Moreover, as Stephen Chambers has pointed out, Wheatstone’s first real competitor, Joseph Scates, set up shop as a concertina manufacturer in his own right in 1844, that is, the very year in which the patent of 1829 would have run its fourteen-year course (and to chalk that up as sheer coincidence strains creditability).6 Finally, we may clinch the case for Grove. As Wheatstone’s claimed in their price list of 1848, titled The Concertina, A New Musical Instrument …: ‘No instruments, except those manufactured by Messrs. WHEATSTONE and Co. are constructed with the improvements for which a second Patent [my italics] was obtained by them in February, 1844 …’.7

(2) Grove claims that the treble is a ‘double’action instrument (producing ‘the same note both on drawing and pressing the bellows’), while tenor (about which, more presently), bass, and double bass are ‘single’action instruments (producing ‘the sound by pressure only’). He thus uses the ‘single/double’ terminology in two different ways: first to distinguish the English treble from the Anglo, on which the buttons produce different pitches depending on the direction of the bellows, and then to identify instruments that sound only when the bellows are being pressed in. It is a confusing use of the ‘single/double’action terminology, one that persists even today.

(3) With his statement that the tenor concertina is a single-action instrument (that is, that it sounds only when the bellows are going in), Grove opens up a can of worm-like questions at which we can only hint here.8 For instance, the Lachenal price lists of 1859 and 1862 make it clear that ‘Tenor or Baritone’ concertinas are double-action instruments.9 On the other hand, the Wheatstone sales ledger C1052 (p. 35) records the following transaction for 7 November 1860: ‘Boucher [name of customer] —— SH [second hand] Single Act[ion] Tenor’,10 while Rock Chidley exhibited both single- and double-action tenors at the Great Exhibition of 1851.11 Thus tenors were available as both single- and double-action instruments.

But what was the mid-century tenor concertina? As noted above, the Lachenal price lists refer to ‘Tenor or Baritone’ (my italics), and then go on to describe ‘Tenor or Baritone’ as sounding one octave lower than the treble, in which case their lowest note would be G. If, however, they shared the same range, how did they differ from one another? To add to the confusion: the Wheatstone price list of 1848 (see note 7) states that the tenor goes down only to c (an octave beneath middle C), so that it does not reach an octave below the treble (as the Lachenal advertisements claim it does), omits any reference to the baritone altogether, and says nothing about the single- or double-action question. And to further muddy the waters: although I am acquainted with a fair amount of Victorian music for baritone concertina (by Regondi and Case, among others), as I am also with the repertory for concertina ensembles (usually calling for some combination of treble(s) and baritone, with bass thrown in on occasion), I have yet to see a piece that called for tenor concertina. On the other hand, John Hill Maccann’s The Concertinist’s Guide (1888), notes that ‘At the Inventions Exhibition Messrs. Wheatstones’ Recitals … were greatly admired, and the Quartettes … were played on the Treble, Tenor [my italics], and Bass Concertinas …’ (p. 3);12 the Lachenal sisters performed on trebles, tenor, and bass when they toured Scotland in 1865-1866;13 and William Cawdell speaks of ensembles that consisted of tenors and baritones.14 In the end, then, the term ‘tenor’ may well have been applied to more than one kind of concertina, may have varied in its meaning from one manufacturer to another, and may have changed at least some of its characteristics as the second half of the century rolled along.

(4) Much of the music cited by Grove was seemingly never published and is apparently lost. Thus we no longer have either Molique’s concerto in D (while Regondi’s E-flat concerto survives only in manuscript) or the series of pieces by Silas, while Macfarren’s Quintet, the two-movement Romance and Allegro agitato, reaches us only as a single-movement Romance for concertina and piano.15

Grove’s article on the concertina appeared in A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. I/fasc. 4 (London: Macmillan, 1878), 386-87.


CONCERTINA, a portable instrument of the Seraphine family, patented by the late Sir Charles Wheatstone June 19, 1829.

It is hexagonal, and has a keyboard at each end, with expansible bellows between the two. The sound is produced by the pressure of air from the bellows on free metallic reeds. The compass of the treble concertina is four octaves [a music example shows the range extending from g to g’’’’, and thus a 56-button instrument], through which it has a complete chromatic scale. This instrument is double action, and produces the same note both on drawing and pressing the bellows. Much variety of tone can be obtained by a skilful player, and it has the power of being played with great expression and complete sostenuto and staccato. Violin, flute, and oboe music can be performed on it without alteration; but music written specially for the concertina cannot be played on any other instrument, except the organ or harmonium. Nothing but the last-named instruments can produce at once the extended harmonies, the sostenuto and staccato combined, of which the concertina is capable. There are also tenor, bass, and double bass concertinas, varying in size and shape. These instruments are single-action, producing the sound by pressure only, and are capable of taking tenor, bass, and double bass parts without alteration. The compass of these is as follows—[a music example shows the ranges of the three instruments: tenor = c – c’’’; bass = C – c’’; double bass = C’ – c’] making the total range of the four instruments 6 5/8 octaves. The late Signor Regondi was the first to make the instrument known, and was followed by Mr. George Case. Mr. Richard Blagrove is now the principal performer and professor. Among the music written specially for the instrument are 2 Concertos in G and D for solo concertina and orchestra, by Molique; 2 ditto ditto in D and Eb, by G. Regondi; Sonata for piano and concertina in Bb, by Molique; Quintet for concertina and strings, by G. A. Macfarren; Adagio for 8 concertinas in E, by E. Silas; Quintet in D for piano, concertina, violin, viola, and cello, by the same; 6 Trios for piano, concertina, and violin, by the same. Much brilliant salon music has also been written for it. Messrs. Wheatstone & Co. are the best makers. [G.]


1. ‘Preparing for Publication: the Dictionary of Music…’ (London: Macmillan, March 1874); cited after Leanne Langley, ‘Roots of a Tradition: the First Dictionary of Music and Musicians’, in George Grove, Music and Victorian Culture, ed. Michael Musgrave (London: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003), 169; Langley’s article provides a fascinating glimpse into the Dictionary’s concept, design, editorial processes, publication, and reception. For a well-rounded portrait of the multi-talented Grove (1820-1900)—he was an engineer, biblical scholar, long-time editor of Macmillan’s Magazine, secretary of and writer of program notes for the Crystal Palace concerts, authority on the music of Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, and first director of the Royal College of Music—see the collection of articles just cited; for a biography, see Percy Young, George Grove, 1820-1900 (London: Macmillan, 1980). Finally, the Dictionary itself went through five editions as of 1954 (with a change of name along the way to Grove’s Dictionary); in 1980 the Dictionary was totally revamped, expanded, made more global-minded, and renamed The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, which in turn has now gone through a second, revised edition of 2001; note that New Grove/2 is available online at <>, though a subscription is necessary.

2 Indeed, it was not until the Dictionary was totally overhauled in 1980 as The New Grove Dictionary (see note 1) that it began to afford proper and ample coverage to the likes of folk, popular, and non-western music traditions (as well as to the instruments with which those musics are made). Admittedly, my own article on the concertina in The New Grove/2, vi, 236-40, lavishes more space on the English than it does on the Anglo and Duet combined.

3. Wayne, ‘The Wheatstone English Concertina’, The Galpin Society Journal, xliv (1991), 120; available on line: <>.

4. Cited after Tom Lawrence, ‘Giulio Regondi and the Concertina in Ireland’, Concertina World: International Concertina Association Newsletter, 411 (July 1998), 22; available on line: <>.

5. My thanks to Alessandro Boris Amisich for calling the announcement of this performance to my attention. Mr Amisich’s article, ‘Where was Giulio Regondi Born?’, will appear in PICA, 3 (2006).

6. Chambers, ‘Louis Lachenal: “Engineer and Concertina Manufacturer”, Pt 1’, The Free-Reed Journal, 1 (1999), 13, sees the 1844 patent ‘largely [as] an attempt to prolong the life of [the] . . .original Symphonium [and concertina] Patent of 1829’ (p. 13); available online: <>; the two patents are online: <>.

7. The price list is available in Chambers, ‘Louis Lachenal’, 16-18, the passage just cited appearing on p. 17; the pricelist is available online: <>.

8. The brief discussion that follows owes much to a stimulating exchange of e-mails with Stephen Chambers, Robert Gaskins, and Chris Algar during the first days of 2005.

9. The price lists are conveniently reproduced in facsimile in Stephen Chambers, ‘ Some Notes on Lachenal Concertina Production and Serial Numbers’, PICA, 1 (2004), 5-6; the pricelists are available online: <>.

10. The entry lacks a serial number for the instrument. The ledger is housed in the Wayne Archive, The Horniman Museum, London. The complete series of nineteenth-century Wheatstone ledgers are available online: <>.

11. See Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851. Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue (London, 1851), 470; for a convenient summary of all the instruments exhibited at the Exhibition, see Peter and Ann Mactaggart, Musical Instruments in the 1851 Exhibition (Welwyn [Herts]: Mac & Me, 1986).

12. Maccann’s Guide is available online: <>.

13. My thanks to Robert Gaskins for this information; Mr Gaskins is preparing his research on the sisters’ Scottish tour for publication online: <>; see also the article by Faye Debenham and Randall C. Merris in this issue of PICA.

14. Cawdell, A Short Account of the English Concertina (London: William Cawdell, 1865), 10, 15; available online: <>.

15. For further information on these pieces, see Allan W. Atlas, The Wheatstone English Concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 58-68; available online: <> (by subscription, though one can ‘preview’ things).

Mayhew’s ‘Concertina Player on the Steamboats’


Mayhew’s ‘Concertina Player on the Steamboats’
from London Labour and the London Poor, vol. 3 (1861)

Introductory Note by Allan W. Atlas

Although Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) will need little introduction to those familiar with Victorian London (he was a journalist, novelist, playwright, travel writer, author of moralizing books for children, one of the founding editors of Punch, and, in a sense, a proto-sociologist), perhaps a few words of background are in order about his famous London Labour and the London Poor. Published in what would be its definitive, four-volume form by Griffin, Bohn in 1861, the origins of the work go back to a series of articles—called ‘Letters’—about London’s working poor, including street musicians and entertainers, that Mayhew contributed to the Morning Chronicle from 19 October 1849 to 12 December 1850. After falling out with the publisher of the newspaper along the way over political matters, Mayhew continued the series independently, publishing new installments on a weekly basis throughout 1851-1852. Finally, after breaking off work on the project altogether—he had to flee to Germany to escape his creditors—he picked it up once again in 1856, at which time he interviewed a few other street musicians, including the young concertina player who plied his craft on the steamboats that ran up and down the Thames.

As our concertinist tells us, he is almost fifteen years old, plays an imported ‘twenty-button’ German instrument for which he paid 16s. (he has a more expensive one at home), and spends 1s. each week to keep it in good order. Though he plays primarily on the steamboats, he supplements his earnings there (he seems to average about 5s. a day over the course of the year) by playing in a ballroom—with fiddle, harp, and fife—three evenings a week, where he earns another 2s. 6d. (plus food and drink) a night. He plays entirely by ear.

The entire four-volume work has been reprinted by Dover Publications (New York, 1968), with our document appearing in vol. 3, pp. 182-85. The bibliography on Mayhew is large, with an excellent starting point being the comprehensive study by Anne Humpherys, Henry Mayhew. Twayne’s English Authors Series 396 (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984), to which should be added the recent study by Bertrand Taithe, The Essential Mayhew: Representing and Communicating the Poor (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996).

* * * * *

“I was always very fond of music, and if ever I heard any in the streets, I always followed it about. I’m nearly fifteen now; but I can remember when I was seven, being particularly taken with music. I had an uncle who was captain of a steamer that run to Richmond, and I was always on board with him; and they used to have a band on board. It wasn’t in particular a passage-boat, but an excursion one, and let to private parties, and a band always went along with them. I was taken along to run after orders for the steward; and when I had nothing to do, I used to go and listen to them. I learn all their tunes by heart. They mostly played dances, and very seldom any sentimental songs, unless anybody asked them. For myself, I prefer lively tunes. I don’t know much operatic music, only one or two airs; but they’re easier to play on the concertina than lively music, because it’s difficult to move the fingers very quickly. You can’t hardly play a hornpipe. It makes the arm ache before you can play it all through, and it makes such a row with the valve working the bellows up and down, that it spoils the music.”

“I had not got my instrument when I was in this steamboat. When I heard a tune, I used to whistle it. I asked my father to buy me a instrument, but he wouldn’t. I was always on the steamboat, helping uncle; and I could have had lots of time to learn music there. When they, the musicians, put the harp down in the cabin, I’d get playing on it. There was a hole in the green baize cover of the harp, and I used to put my hand in and work away at it. I learnt myself several tunes, such as the ‘Sultan Polka.’ I must have been eight years old then. I didn’t play it with both hands: I couldn’t do the bass.”

“I never had any lessons in music. I’ve done it all out of my own head. Before I had a concertina, I used to go about amusing myself with a penny tin whistle. I could play it pretty well, not to say all tunes, but all such as I knew I could play very well on it. The ‘Red, White, and Blue’ was my favourite tune.”

“I have a brother, who is younger than I am, and he, before he was ten, was put out to a master to learn the violin. Father’s a labourer, and does something of anything he can get to do; but bricklaying generally. He paid so much a quarter for having my brother Henry taught. I think it was about 16s. a quarter. It was a great expense for father at first; but afterwards, when we was hard up, Henry could always fly to the fiddle to earn a crust. Henry never took to music, not to say well. I can play more out of my own head than he can by notes. He’s a very good player now.”

“I was about getting on for twelve when father first bought me a concertina. That instrument was very fashionable then, and everybody had it nearly. I had an accordion before; but it was only a 1s. 6d. one, and I didn’t take a fancy to it somehow, although I could play a few tunes on it. I used to see boys about my own height carrying concertinas about the streets, and humming them. I always wanted one. There was a little boy I knew, he got one, and then I wanted one worse. He used to come to our house, and play all sorts of tunes, for he played very well. I like the concertina, because it’s like a full band. It’s like having the fiddle and the harp together. I used to ask this little boy to lend me his instrument, and I’d work the keys about a little, but I couldn’t do any airs.”

“I play entirely out of my own head, for I never had any lessons at all. I learn the tunes from hearing other people playing of [sic!] them. If I hear a street band, such as a fiddle and harp and cornopean playing a tune, I follow them and catch the air; and if it’s any sort of a easy tune at all, I can pick it up after them, for I never want to hear it more than twice played on an instrument.”

“At last, after bothering father a long time, he bought me a half-crown concertina. I was in bed when he brought it into my room, and he put it on the bed; when I woke up I see it. I instantly set to work, and before I had got up I had learnt ‘Pop goes the Weasel.’ I was just pleased. I was up and dressed, and playing it all day long. I never used to let anybody touch it, not even my own father hardly, for fear he should break it. I did break it once, and then I was regular dull, for fear I should lose all my tunes.”

“It took me six months before I could play it well, and then I could play a’most any tune I heard. The fingers had learnt the keys, and knew where the notes was, so that I could play in the dark. My brother could play the fiddle well, long before I could do any tunes. We used to play together duets, such as ‘A Boat, a Boat unto the Ferry.’ We never hardly went out together in the streets and play together, only once or twice, because a fiddle and a concertina don’t sound well together unless a harp’s with it, and then it’s beautiful.”

“How I came to get on the steamboats was this: father went to take a trip up to Kew one day, so I wanted to go, and he said if I could earn my fare I might go. So I thought I’d take my concertina and try. So I went, and I earned that day about 9s., all in halfpence and 4d. bits. That was only by going up to Kew and coming back again. It was on a Whitsun-Monday. Then I thought I’d do it again the next day, and I think I took about the same. Then I kept on them all together. I didn’t keep to the Kew boats, because they had got their regular musicians, and they complained to the superintendent, and he forbid me going. Then I went to the Woolwich boats, and I used to earn a heap of money, as much as 10s. every day, and I was at it all the week for the season.”

“I usen’t to pay any fare, but I got a free pass. It was mostly the crew. When I got out at the pier, I used to tell them I’d been playing, and they would let me pass. Now I know near every man that is on the river, and they let me go on any boat I like. They consider I draw customers, and amuse them during the trip. They won’t let some hardly play on board only me, because I’ve been on them such a long time—these three years. I know all the pier-masters, too, and they are all very kind to me. Sometimes, when I’m waiting for a boat to go up anywhere, I play on the piers, and I always do pretty fair.”

“In winter I go on the boats all the same, and I play down in the cabin. Some of the passengers will object to it if they are reading, and then I have to leave off, or I should put my own self in a hobble, for they would go and tell the captain; and if he wouldn’t say anything, then they would tell the superintendent. In winter and wet weather is my worst time; but even then I mostly take my 3s. In the winter time, my best time is between three o’clock and six, when the gentlemen are coming home from office; and I never hardly come out before two o’clock. In summer its good from twelve till eight o’clock. The passengers come to go to the Crystal Palace in the morning part. Those that are going out for pleasure are my best customers. In the summer I always take at the rate of about 6s. a-day. Pleasure-people mostly ask me for dancing tunes; and the gentlemen coming from business prefer song tunes. I have got a good many regular gentlemen, who always give me something when they are coming from business. There are some who give me 6d. every day I see them; but sometimes they go up by a different boat to what I’m in. There’s one always gives me 6d. whether I’m playing or not; and it’s about four o’clock or half-past that I mostly see him.”

“In winter my hands gets very cold indeed, so that I can scarcely feel the keys. Sometimes I can’t move them, and I have to leave off, and go down below and warm my hands at the cabin fire.”

“In the summer I sometimes go out with a mate of mine, who plays the piccolo. He’s very clever indeed, and plays most extraordinary. He’s a little bigger than me. He lives by playing music in the boats. We don’t play in the streets. I never played in the streets in my life. He don’t play in the winter, but works with his father, who makes hair-oil and that, and sends it out in the country. He’s a regular perfumer; and serves chandlers’ shops and that like.”

“There’s a tune we play together called the ‘Camp at Chobham.’ It begins with my doing the bugle, and he answers it on his fife. Then we do it in the distance like. Then come all the different marches the soldiers march to. Some people are so fond of it, that when they see us they come up and ask us to give it them. It takes a good quarter of an hour to play it. When I’m with him, I earn about the same as when I’m alone; but I like to go with him because it’s company.”

“One of the songs I play is, ‘Mother, is the battle over?’ That’s lately come out. It is a lady’s song, and they generally ask me for it. They also ask me for the Varsovienne. At the present time, the girls mostly ask me for ‘Polly, won’t you try me, oh!’ Sometimes I forget the tunes; they go right out of my head, and then, perhaps, a month afterwards they’ll come back again. Perhaps I’ll be fingering the keys, and I’ll accidental do the beginning of the air I’d forgot, and then I remember it all of a sudden the same as before. Then I feel quite glad that I’ve got it back again, and I’ll keep on playing it for a long time.”

“When once I begin to play, I can scarcely leave off. I used at first to play as I went along the streets, but now I feel too tired to do it. If I haven’t been out in the boats, I must have a play just the same. I like it very much. I don’t like any of the other instruments, now I’ve learnt this one so well. The fiddle is pretty good, but nothing, to my fancy, like the concertina.”

“The concertina I use now cost me 16s. It’s got twenty double keys—one when I pull the bellows out and one when I close it. I wear out an instrument in three months. The edges of the bellows get worn out: then I have to patch them up, till they get so weak that it mostly doubles over. It costs me about 1s. a-week to have them kept in order. They get out of tune very soon. They file them, and put fresh notes in. I get all my repairs done trade price. I tune my instrument myself. The old instruments I sell to the boys, for about as much as I give for a new one. They are very dear; but I get them so cheap when I buy them, I only give 16s. for a 25s. instrument.”

“I’ve got a beautiful instrument at home, and I give a pound for it, and it’s worth two. Those I buy come from Germany, where they make them, and then they are took to this warehouse, where I buy them.”

“Once I was turned off the penny steamboats. There was such a lot of musicians come on board, and they got so cheeky, that when they was told not to play they would, just the same, and so a stop was put to all music on board. If one was stopped all must be stopped, so I was told not to go. I still had my fourpenny boats. I never used to go on the penny boats hardly, for I never used to get much money in them. Now I am allowed to go on them just the same as before.”

“I can’t say how often I’ve been up the Thames. I never go as far as Chelsea hardly, only about twice a-day, for most of the people get out between London-bridge and Nine-elms. My general run is down to Hungerford and back to Blackfriars; and I do that about fifty times a-day.”

“I never go out on the Sunday. I mostly go to a Sunday-school, and then take a walk. Father wants me to be a scholar; I can read and write. I’m a teacher at the Sunday-school, and make the children read their lessons. I know multiplication, and addition, and all them. I go to school every night at half-past six and come home at nine. Father makes me and my brother go to school every day, and we pay 1s. each a-week. It’s a very good school, and the master is very kind. There are about 30 night scholars and 50 day ones, besides about 20 girls. His daughter teaches the girls.”

“At night when I leave school I go and play music three nights a-week at a ball. My brother goes with me. We go to a place in the Westminster-road on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. It’s a very nice ball-room, and there are generally about 200 there. They pay 1s. each. There are four musicians, a fiddle, a harp, a fife, and a concertina. It isn’t a Casino; it’s an assembly-rooms. We teaches on three nights in the week, and the pupils assemble and practice on the other nights.”

“The room is like a street almost, and the music sounds well in it. The other three play from notes, and I join in. I learnt their airs this way. My mother and father were very fond of dancing, and they used to go there nearly every night, and I’d go along with them, and then I’d listen and learn the tunes. My brother regularly played there. He was about ten years old when he first went to play there; but he could play any music that was put before him. In the daytime he blows the bellows at a blacksmith and engineer’s. The first time I played in a orchestra I felt a little strange. I had been to rehearsal. I went twenty times before I was confident enough to appear at night. I could play the tunes well enough, but I didn’t know when to leave off at the exact time they did. At last I learnt how to do it. I don’t have any stand before me. I never look at any of the others’ music. I look at the dancing. You’ve got to look at the time they’re dancing at, and watch their figures when they leave off. The proprietor knew father, and that’s how I came to have the job. I get 2s. 6d. a-night for playing there, and plenty to eat and drink. There’s bread and cheese and a drop of beer. On the other three nights when I’m not at the ball I stop at home, and get a bit of rest. Father sends us to bed early, about half-past nine, when I come home from school. On ball-nights I’m sometimes up to two o’clock in the morning. ”

“I take all the money I earn home to father, and he gives me a few halfpence for myself. All the year round it comes to 5s. a-day. I buy my own food when I’m out on the boats. I go to a cookshop. I like pudding or pie better than anything, and next to that I like a bit of bread and butter as well as anything, except pie. I have meat or veal pies. They charge you 6d. a-plate, and you have potatoes and all. After that I have a couple of pen’orth of pudding with sugar. I drink water. My dinner comes to about 9d. a-day, for I generally have a pen’orth of apples as dessert. It makes you very hungry going about in the steam-boats—very much so.”

“I’m the only boy that goes about the steam-boats with a concertina; indeed, I’m the only boy above-bridge that goes about with music at all on the boats. I know the old gentleman who plays the harp at the Essex pier. I often go and join in with him when I land there, and we go shares. He mostly plays there of a morning, and we mostly of an afternoon. We two are the only ones that play on the piers.”

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Henry Mayhew

A Note on Salvation Army Concertina Bands

In his contribution to the ‘Picture Gallery’ in PICA 2 (2005), Chris Algar gave a clear account of the transition that took place with respect to the concertina types used by The Salvation Army.1 Both historical circumstances and documentary evidence confirm that instruments of the Jeffries/Anglo type gave way to English and Triumph (Crane) systems during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The five-row system adopted by the Liverpool music dealer Crane & Sons—and subsequently manufactured for them by Lachenal—was not patented by John Butterworth until 1896.2 Thus any adoption of this system, and the change of name to Triumph by The Salvation Army, had to occur after that date. As for the introduction of the English fingering system: though early paintings and engravings clearly show Jeffries/Anglo types,3 and though Salvation Army advertisements from the turn of the century still give prominence to the Anglo-German concertina, the 1904 edition of the Army’s Concertina Tutor, whilst still being primarily for the Anglo-German instrument, contained ‘a Supplementary Part. . .giving a complete course of Instruction for the English Concertina’ (see Fig. 1).4

salvation_fig_1.gif (88927 bytes)

Fig. 1. An Advertisement for the 1904 edition of the Salvation Army’s Concertina Tutor in The Salvationist, 18/Pt. 12 (June 1904), outside rear cover.
(Click to enlarge)

Thus from a starting point set early in the twentieth century, the adoption of the Crane and English systems was, as Algar points out, accomplished by the end of World War I, in a matter of less than twenty years. The evidence for this is compelling. In addition to photographs, there are numerous personal accounts. For instance, Bramwell Thornett recounts purchasing a Triumph model, with thirty-five bone keys and rosewood ends, in 1920 for a little over £5.5 He had been inspired at the time by Brigadier Archie Burgess, himself a master of the Triumph (Crane) duet.6 Although Thornett chose the same model as his teacher (Burgess), he notes that his parents ‘played a Jeffrey’s [sic] model tuned to B flat for band use in earlier days’.7 Ernest Ripley records purchasing his Triumph concertina on 2 May 1932 for £14.15, obtaining it from the ‘S.P.& S.’, the Salvationist Publishing and Supplies retail centre, as a used instrument ‘guaranteed in perfect condition’, and, by strange coincidence, ‘used by Major Burgess in Staff Band programmes as a solo instrument’.8

By the 1930s, then, the Triumph (Crane) and English systems were clearly the Army’s instruments of choice, a conclusion reinforced by the definitive tutors that they issued for those instruments at the time.9 Significantly, there is nothing for—or even a reference to—the Anglo system.

With a nostalgic look to the past, Norman Armistead would comment: ‘It seems to me that The Salvation Army ethos—musically speaking—is best represented by the humble concertina’.10 This versatile instrument—Crane and English—now came to play three roles, as concertina bands were formed in many places throughout the United Kingdom—Bristol, Plymouth, Doncaster, Harlesden and Norwich, to mention but a few. The concertina became invaluable as a solo instrument, adding worthy variation to any musical programme, and was considered by many to be indispensable as an accompaniment to voices, particularly when used in the Army’s open-air evangelical meetings. Some players became very efficient, so that Alf Lockyer was known to both lead and accompany a choir as he played directly from the four-part S-A-T-B vocal arrangement. Bramwell Thornett admits to having an instrument to his own specifications, dropping some of the duplicated keys and reeds on the left hand side and substituting bass notes, thus extending the instrument without adding to its weight.11 And if Frank Butler deprecated this practice, regretting that concertina makers were always prepared to build exceptional instruments,12 Neil Wayne takes a rather more philosophical view of such idiosyncratic systems: ‘Wheatstones would have made anything, however bizarre!’ 13

In all, the evidence for the change from the Anglo system to the Crane and English systems is undeniable. Moreover, the shift coincides precisely with what was happening among the ‘secular’ concertina prize bands of the same period. As Nigel Pickles points out, the Mexborough English Concertina Prize Band was formed in 1897 as an Anglo concertina band, but quickly changed to the more flexible English concertina prior to winning a competition at Woodkirk in 1903.14 Likewise, having excelled at the Crystal Palace competition of 1909, the members of the Heckmondwike English Concertina Premier Prize Band were pleased to pose with their instruments, their English-system layout clear for all to see.15 Finally, a 1913 photograph of the New Bedford (Massachusetts) Concertina Band shows that, while English-system instruments still formed a minority, they were taking their place among the Anglos.16

Whilst Chris Algar’s conclusions in the ‘Picture Gallery’ regarding the date of the change in instrument types are well substantiated, his juxtaposition of the two photographs is somewhat unfortunate. The Norwich Citadel photograph (page 66) is correctly referred to as their Concertina Band, but the second photograph (page 67) requires further comment. The caption to the photograph is correct, stating that the subjects are the Sergeants at the International Training College in 1931. However, the text inadvertently refers to them as ‘the Sergeants’ International Training College Band of 1931’. The photograph was taken on the entrance steps to The Salvation Army International Training College,17 opened just two years earlier, as a memorial to their founder, William Booth, for the purpose of training its officers, that is, its Ministers. The Sergeants were the ‘elite’, chosen from the Cadets of the previous session to act as junior staff over the next incoming group of Cadets. Typical of the photographs of that period—these were frequently taken by Robert M. Barr Photographers of Denmark Hill, who seemed to have the contract for several decades—it shows the male Sergeants assembled prior to their evangelical campaign, which usually lasted around ten days. It is very doubtful that the brass instruments would have combined with the concertinas to form a single musical ensemble. Rather, the brass would have been used to present instrumental solos or duets during the various meetings that the Sergeants would have held.

We may even doubt whether all nine of the concertinas ever played as a single group. There are two reasons for asserting this. First, it was not unusual, on occasions such as these, for the sergeants to present a somewhat inspirational picture that typified their evangelical zeal. Yes, they certainly possessed concertinas. Yes, they are likely to have had concertina lessons as part of their optional curriculum. But whether they could all yet play to a sufficient standard to form a coherent group is quite another matter.

A 1950s snapshot in my possession upholds this assumption. It shows nine Cadets with three concertinas, two accordions, a guitar, banjo, and flute; the flute, however, was the only instrument ever seen out on Campaign. Other records from the 1930s confirm this. A formal photograph of twelve Cadets actually on Campaign at Bletchley in 1931 shows two concertinas, which would have been used to accompany singing, to attract a crowd, and even to ‘drown out’ unwanted disturbances (see Figure 2). Another photo from that year shows a Brigade of eighteen at the Training College with but one concertina and a guitar, whilst a group photo from 1932 shows ten Cadets, but only the Officer with a concertina in hand.

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Fig. 2. Party of Officer Cadets on evangelical campaign in Bletchley,
Buckinghamshire, 1931. The author’s mother is seated front left
(photo in author’s collection).
(Click to enlarge)

When comparing these photographs with the group of Sergeants in the ‘Picture Gallery’, then, it is necessary to bear in mind that the Sergeants were selected for their all-round proficiency, so that we might expect to see a higher proportion of concertina players amongst their number, but not necessarily to the extent suggested by their photograph.


1. The feature was entitled ‘Two Salvation Army Bands’, 65-68.
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2. Butterworth’s patent is available online at For a brief discussion, see Phil Inglis, ‘The History of the Duet Concertina’, Pt.3, Concertina Magazine (1985), 11-12, who notes that although the Crabb family claims to have invented the system in the 1880s, they neither patented nor made any such instruments at that time; Inglis’s article is available online at
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3. See, for example, William Strang’s 1889 painting of a Salvation Army march (through typical London East End, Docklands surroundings) headed by concertina and tambourine; and E. Borough Johnson’s 1891 engraving of a Salvation Army prayer meeting, the leaders of which have a concertina and violin. Painting and engraving are reproduced in Cyril Barnes, God’s Army (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1978), 27 and 31, respectively.
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4. The advertisement appeared in The Musical Salvationist, 18/Pt. 12 (June 1904), outside rear cover; published for the The Salvation Army Page 32, Pica 3 2006 Publishing Department by W.L. Simpson, London. On the various editions of the tutor, see Randall C. Merris, ‘Instruction Manuals for the English, Anglo, and Duet Concertina: An Annotated Bibliography’, The Free-Reed Journal, 4 (2000), 98, 105; also online at
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5. Bramwell Thornett, ‘Why I Play the Concertina’, The Musician (2 March 1985), 136.
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6. Brigadier Archie Burgess was an accomplished player, and often provided a concertina solo item on the programmes of the Army’s International Staff Band. Though rare, his recordings on the Regal Zonophone label are still to be found in some private collections.
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7. Thornett, ‘Why I Play the Concertina’, 136.
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8. Ernest Ripley, ‘Fourteen Pounds Fifteen Well Spent!’, The Salvationist (10 June 4000), 24.
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9. Arthur Bristow, The Salvation Army Tutor for the Triumph Concertina, new and rev. ed. S.A., 102 (London: Salvation Army Publishing and Supplies, 1935), and The Salvation Army Tutor for the English Concertina, new and rev. ed., S.A. 103 (London, Salvation Army Publishing and Supplies, 1935). On the tutors, see Merris, ‘Instruction Manuals’, 98, 117.
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10. Norman Armistead, ‘Symbol of an Authentic Army Spirit”, The Salvationist (21 January 1989), 3
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11. Kurt Braun notes that Harry Crabb’s Crane system was designed so that the left- hand side extended to F (below the bass clef) and had a key to sound the low C (two octaves below middle c’); see
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12. Frank Butler, The Concertina (New York, Oak Publishing, 1976), 4
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13. Neil Wayne ‘Wheatstone’s 12-sided Duet: A Report on its Origin, Condition and Provenance’, online at; for a far more detailed discussion of this instrument, see Neil Wayne, Margaret Birley, and Robert Gaskins, ‘A Wheatstone Twelve-Sided “Edeophone” Concertina with Pre-MacCann Chromatic Duet Fingering’, The Free-Reed Journal, 3 (1999), 3-16; also online at www.concertina. com/wheatstone-edeophone.
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14. Nigel Pickles, liner notes to recording The Mexborough English Concertina Prize Band, Plant Life Records PLR 055 (1983), 3.
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15. See the centrefold illustration in Concertina & Squeezebox, 23 (Summer 1990).
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16. The photo is online at
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17. Situated on Denmark Hill, South London, and overlooking Kings College Hospital.
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