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William Chilvers (1809-1878)


William Chilvers was born in 1809, St Paul’s Norwich. His parents were weavers, and lived in St Martin-at-Oak at the same period as Mark Widdows.

In 1826 he married Ann Tooley and in 1841 they were living with their young family in St Mary Coslany in Norwich, working as weavers, but by 1842 they had moved to the east Suffolk town of Halesworth, where a couple of years later, White’s Directory records him as a musical instrument maker and music teacher in Chediston Street. In the 1851 census he is listed as a master tuner – indicating that he worked with pianos, which were becoming very popular at the time, creating a growing demand for tuners in the provincial centres and country villages as well. He appears again in a directory from 1855 and in the 1861 census, still in Chediston Street, this time described as a ‘music master’ and he stayed there until 1870 when family circumstances forced a move back to Norwich. His younger brother James, who had also worked as a piano tuner in the early 1860s, had subsequently established a music shop in the St Andrews area of the city, at 5 Bedford Street. James died in June 1870 and in January of that year had made a will laying out arrangements for William to take over the business and run it with two of James’s sons. In the 1871 census, William and his family are found in Norwich – not once but twice – once at the home address and once at the business address.

William Chilvers died on 18th September 1878. The 1879 Kelly’s Directory carried an advertisement which must have been placed before his death – for Chilvers and Nephews music warehouse in Norwich. By 1888 his nephew was running the business on his own and it had moved premises to 10 St Stephen’s Street.

Three dulcimers are known to have been made by William Chilvers: one was played by several different generations of the same family – James Philpot (who had been a neighbour of William Chilvers), Charlie Philpot, Reg Reader and Tom Knights. Another identical one is owned by John Howson, provenance unknown, but bought in the early 21st century in Hingham and the third is currently owned by Steve Pena and has the inscription ‘William Chilvers, April 8th 1859, Halesworth Suffolk inside the instrument. It’s possible that it also says ‘maker’ after Chilvers’ name, but that is partly masked by some black paint applied during a poor renovation job. It was when Steve removed the unsatisfactory replacement soundboard in 2009 that the signature was discovered, so at least the ‘restorer’ did us this favour! The instrument had been found as part of a house clearance in the Sandringham area in north east Norfolk.

The Philpot family had lived in Chediston Street from the mid 1880s and bought their dulcimer from a Mr Howard and they believed he had made it. There was a family called Howard, also on Chediston Street and they were carpenters and picture framers. It could be that they made the instruments in partnership with William Chilvers, or that Mr Howard put the finishing gilt decorations on the dulcimers, having that specialist skill.

Further family research may be found on the website of Julian Chilvers, a great grandson of William.





in particular


Reg Reader's dulcimer which he inherited from James Philpot and Charlie Philpot

     a      b






Chilvers dulcimer bought by John Howson from a piano dealer in Hingham Norfolk


Click on a thumbnail to see a larger picture


Photo descriptions & sources

Photo of the William Chilver's headstone (Julian Chilvers)

a. Reg Reader's dulcimer front (John Howson)

b. Reg Reader's dulcimer back (JH)

c. Reg Reader's dulcimer bridges (JH)

d. Reg Reader's dulcimer sound hole  (JH)

e. Reg Reader's dulcimer stand  (JH)

f.  Reg Reader dulcimer profile (JH)

g. Reg Reader's dulcimer above  (John Halliday)

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