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John Scarpe (1882-1970)


In 1981 the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket, Suffolk was donated a dulcimer by John Scarpe from Ipswich. As luck would have it, the conservator at the Museum at that period was George Monger, a dulcimer player himself with keen interest in the history of the instrument.

Through correspondence with the donor’s mother, George discovered that the dulcimer had actually belonged to another John Scarpe, the donor’s great uncle, born on 12th January 1882.

The Scarpe family’s roots were on the Shotley peninsula in south east Suffolk, with John having been born in Chelmondiston. His father Abraham seemed to have a variety of employment according to census records (including a spell as a ‘beer retailer’ before John was born), but there was certainly a link with the milling and baking trades, which both John and his brother Bertram were involved in for a while. John’s working life took a very different direction when he learned to drive, and by the age of 30 he was working as a chauffeur in Walton, near Felixstowe – apparently there were only two cars in the town when he started to drive! During the First World War he was seconded to the Admiralty in London due to this driving skills. He was chauffeur for Sir Frederick Wilson, the founder of the East Anglian Daily Times newspaper and drove all over England, Wales, Scotland and France in the early twentieth century.

Little is known about the dulcimer or his playing . In the family, it is believed that it was made on a barge at Pin Mill on the River Orwell. As a boy, John Scarpe spent a lot of time with an uncle by the name of Joe Death, a gamekeeper who lived at The Clamp, on the shore at Pin Mill and this fact seems to be linked with the dulcimer somehow in family memory.

Sometime before 1970 he moved into Ipswich and he died in 1970.

A discussion with George Monger elicited the information that there were two dulcimers “made by his father” (presumably William’s father i.e. Bertram?) and George renovated that and returned it to the family in exchange for the donation to the Museum of the other one.


John Scarpe's dulcimer (owned by the Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket)








Click on a thumbnail to see a larger picture


Photo descriptions & sources

a. John Scarpe's dulcimer front (John Howson)

b. John Scarpe's dulcimer back (JH)

c. John Scarpe's dulcimer bridges (JH)

d. John Scarpe's dulcimer sound holes (JH)

e. John Scarpe's dulcimer top (JH)



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