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Walter Jeary (1901-1981)



Walter Jeary was born on 10th May 1901 in Bodham and in 1918 the family moved to Gunthorpe, where his father (also Walter) took on the licence of the Cross Keys pub, staying as landlord until 1951. Walter senior was a great stepdancer and encouraged his sons Walter, Herbert and Ernest to dance too, playing the concertina for them to practise. It is believed that Walter senior had a dulcimer but didn’t play it – Walter junior’s first steps on the dulcimer were taken when the family were still in Bodham, from a blind musician, and the social life of the Cross Keys gave him the opportunity to play in public. It was probably this musician (who might have been Herbert Burgess, a blind dulcimer player from Briston) who inspired Walter’s party trick of playing blindfolded.


Walter’s son, Jimmy, recalled that his father used to carry the dulcimer on the crossbar of his bike to the King William pub in Docking, where they lived when he (Jimmy) was young, in the 1930s: ‘He’d play in there on Christmas Eve. He’d bring home enough pennies and that home to see us right through Christmas. If he got a bit of silver in with that, he was pleased!’ It would be interesting to know if this was the same pub in Docking that welcomed Billy Cooper in the 1950s and 60s.

Docking - 07.07.1996


The King William, Docking 1986


Later the family moved to Northrepps and Walter continued playing, often in the Foundry Arms, through the 1940s. Following an injury when kicked in the face by a horse, Walter lost sight in one eye and was also partially deaf, but it didn’t spoil his enthusiasm for playing music. He was never keen to teach any of his children to play, although his son Jimmy would often accompany him on the bones. He and Jimmy travelled to pubs such as the Vernon Arms in Southrepps and the Albion in Cromer, where there was always stepdancing, music and singing. Walter sang comic songs in the pubs, but never played for dancing in village halls, considering that to be the preserve of bigger bands. 


Foundry Arms, Northrepps

In the 1970s, Walter was visited by David Kettlewell for his dulcimer research. Kettlewell described Walter’s style as ‘very personal’, with ‘a constant crotchet rhythm, whatever the rhythm of the original tune.’ This insistent rhythm may in part have been due to his keen involvement in stepping: in the late 1970s Ann-Marie Hulme and Peter Clifton met him while researching stepdancing and greatly admired his neat, light style even at the age of 76 and wearing carpet slippers!
Walter died in 1981.

Chris Holderness's article:  www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/w_jeary.htm

Walter Jeary was recorded by Russell Wortley in 1958.

Walter Jeary recordings



Click on a thumbnail to see a larger picture


Photo descriptions & sources

Main photo: Walter Jeary (from David Kettlewell)






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