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Mollie Whitaker (1915-2004)



















Mollie Whitaker was born in 1915 in north Norfolk (possibily in Erpingham and her parents moved around a fair bit before settling in Wells-next-the-Sea, a small port and holiday resort on the north Norfolk coast where Mollie lived for the rest of her life.

She played a small north Norfolk style dulcimer, which she inherited from her father Jimmy Rutland and which is thought to have belonged to her grandfather as well. It’s probable that Mollie did not have her own dulcimer between 1935 when she married Dick Whitaker and 1951 when her father died. Two of her sisters, Kathie (b.1910) and Alice (b.1920) could also play the dulcimer, with Kathie reputedly being the best, but it was Mollie who inherited the dulcimer and continued to play it.

According to Kath Youngman (wife of dulcimer player John Youngman) ‘Dick Whitaker, who she (Mollie) married; he never did drink and she was in The Bowling Green that particular night and she said, ‘I shall get ever so told off when I go home.’ I don't think he was very keen on her going in the pubs playing. I mean, she never did drink a lot! She just loved the music.’ Dick made her a case to keep it in, which Mollie needed as although she didn’t play in pubs (she and Dick were actually Methodists) she regularly entertained for local clubs and parties and at one time was part of the Holkham concert party.

In the 1970s she came to the attention of David Kettlewell and in 1981 John and Katie Howson first visited her. She was then living in Knitting Needle Lane and the dulcimer was kept under the bed. With some encouragement, and many protestations along the lines of ‘Oh, I can’t play like that Mr Bennington!’ Mollie got the dulcimer out. John set his equipment up, and suspecting that such an apparently reticent little old lady would play rather hestitantly, he set the recording levels quite high. The indicators on the dials suddenly hit maximum, as we became acquainted for the first time with Mollie’s lively playing style! According to David Kettlewell, her beaters had been made for her by Billy Cooper, but she found the red wool covering too quiet, and used string instead for a more striking sound. Her repertoire largely consisted of popular songs, interspersed with the occasional step-dance tune and waltz. Her style was actually quite complex, as she played the melody mainly with the left hand whilst playing an accompaniment with the right hand beater.

Mollie's tune list

 She enjoyed herself hugely on the musical outings arranged by the Howsons in the 1980s and 90s, and in particular she was thrilled to meet her dulcimer hero, Billy Bennington. Although she didn’t play much in her later years, she always enjoyed a yarn and a chance to listen to the old music. When she died in 2004, she left her dulcimer to John Howson.


Chris Holderness's article about Wells-next-the-sea http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/wells_ns.htm



Mollie Whitaker was recorded by David Kettlewell and Steve Shipley in 1975 and John Howson in 1981 to 1987.


Mollie Whitaker recordings



Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer which she inherited from her father Jimmy Rutland who had inherited from his father.

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Click on a thumbnail to see a larger picture


Dimensions of this dulcimer



Photo descriptions & sources

First main photo: Mollie Whitaker (David Kettlewell)

Second main photo: Mollie Whitaker (DK)

1. Mollie Whitaker  (John Howson)

2. Mollie at the Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket with stepdancer Cyril Barber 1987 (JH)

3. Mollie at the MEAL, 1987 (JH)




4. Mollie at the MEAL, 1987 (JH)

5. Mollie at the MEAL, 1987 (JH)

6. Jimmy Rutland with a young Mollie (from the family)

7. Daisy Rutland with Mollie's brother Valentine (from the family)




8. Mollie Whitaker c.1930s (from the family)

9. Mollie Whitaker c.1930s (from the family)

10. Mollie Whitaker and husband Dick 1930s (from the family)

11. Mollie Whitaker and husband Dick (from the family)


a. Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer front (John Howson)

b. Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer back (JH)

c. Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer sound holes (JH)


d. Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer bridges (JH)

e. Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer handle (JH)

f.  Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer stand (JH)



g, Mollie Whitaker's dulcimer profile (JH)

h. Mollie Whitaker's beaters (made by Billy Cooper) and tuning key (JH)


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