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Mark Widdows (1818-1889)

Mark Widdows was born in the Coslany area of Norwich in December 1818 and started his working life in the family trade of handloom weaving, work which was done at home. In 1835 he married Frances ‘Fanny’ Thurston, both aged just 16 and by 1841 they had two young children and were living either next door, or in the same house as his parents. However, he changed direction – the weaving trade was declining and in 1844, Mark was admitted as a hereditary Freeman of Norwich, as a cabinet maker. He combined his various trades with being a publican from at least 1845 to 1859, as evidenced in various trade directories of the time: Lamb Inn Coslany St, where in the 1851 census he is listed as a musical instrument maker; the Arabian Horse on nearby Oak Street in 1856 and the Shoulder of Mutton on St Andrew’s Hill in 1858-9. In the 1861 census he is listed as a cabinet maker at the Grapes Inn, but he was not the licensee there. By 1864 he had another string to his bow, as White’s Director lists him as musical instrument maker and boat owner at Ferry Yard, King Street. In 1864, Harrod’s Directory has him as a boat builder, the same description as appears in the 1871 census. In the 1881 census, he is a musician and in an 1883 directory he is again a boat builder.

John Blackburn, a researcher whose wife is related to the Widdows, found the following quote from Whit Monday in 1880, in a 2004 book called ‘The Trowse Triangle’ published by the Norwich Rivers Heritage group: ‘Our boat has been booked since last Saturday week from the old schemer Thompson’s at the Ferry, and I don’t think he has one more to let. Charley Wright has not one left; though you might get something at Widdows.’

There were other Widdows in Norwich known for their musical abilities: Charles, born 1822 (son of Samuel and Elizabeth - probably a cousin of Mark’s) had a long involvement in music-making, operating for over forty years as a teacher from the City Arms on St Andrew’s Plain, where he was also the publican, and leading the Norwich City Police Band.

Mark Widdows and his wife both died early in 1889.

The details of Mark Widdows’ life have been put together with instruments made by him by the power of the modern media and the internet! In 2005 the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust ran a year long project in Norfolk called ‘Playback’ and part of this was a Dulcimer Day held at Gressenhall Museum. In the run up to the event, local press coverage was extensive and resulted in a number of phone calls, letters, and an email from Tony Widdows in Australia, who had seen his relative’s name mentioned in the online version of the Eastern Daily Press. Until then, although he had known a fair bit of family history, he hadn’t known what instruments his second cousin, three times removed, had made. Two owners of instruments made by Widdows also came forward, and one of them turned out to have belonged to a known player, Herbert Sadd. Widdows and Sadd had both been mentioned as players by the well known dulcimer player Billy Bennington.


There are currently five Widdows dulcimers known to us:
(1) Tony Singleton
(2) Herbert Sadd
(3) Henry Edwards - Frank Read

(4) Evan Stiewing

(5) Dulcimer for sale


Tony Singleton's Widdows dulcimer

All are marked with Widdows’ name, and all are superb examples of the East Anglian dulcimer style. Henry Edwards dulcimer would have quite a story to tell if it could speak, as it travelled to the USA during the First World War period.

Herbert Sadd's dulcimer made by Mark Widdows


     a      b







Frank Read's (Henry Edwards) dulcimer made by Mark Widdows (now owned by John Howson)










Evan Stiewing's dulcimer made by Mark Widdows (in the process of restoration)


     o      p      q


A Widdows dulcimer which is currently for sale (26/2/20) see EA dulcimers for sale








Click on a thumbnail to see a larger picture


Photo descriptions & sources

a. Herbert Sadd's dulcimer front (John Howson)

b. Herbert Sadd's dulcimer back (JH)

c. Herbert Sadd's dulcimer maker's name (JH)

d. Herbert Sadd's dulcimer profile (JH)

e. Herbert Sadd's dulcimer stand (JH)

f. Herbert Sadd's dulcimer bridges (JH)

g. Herbert Sadd's dulcimer sound hole (JH)

h. Frank Read's dulcimer front (JH)

i. Frank Read's dulcimer back (JH)

j. Frank Read's dulcimer sound holes (JH)

k. Frank Read's dulcimer profile (JH)

l. Frank Read's dulcimer stand (JH)


o. Evan Stiewing's dulcimer front (Evan Stiewing)

p. Evan Stiewing's dulcimer bridges (ES)

q. Evan Stiewing's dulcimer front 2 (ES)




r. Widdows dulcimer front (Richard Prescott)

s. Widdows dulcimer back (RP)

t. Widdows dulcimer corner 1 (RP)

u. Widdows dulcimer front edge 1 (RP)

v. Widdows dulcimer front edge 2 (RP)

w. Widdows dulcimer corner 2 (RP)

x. Widdows dulcimer, beaters & tuning key (RP)



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