Mystery over Whithorn violin maker

Franzeska with the cherished violin
Franzeska with the cherished violin

THE owner of a special violin beautifully crafted by Whithorn’s William Turner Hawthorn in 1922 is hoping some of our readers can shed a glimmer of light on its history.

Franzeska Ewart from Lochwinnoch already knows of two similar pieces, one housed in Stranraer Museum which was made in 1917 and a 1909 violin, sold at Christies London in 1984.

Franzeska was left the piece by her late father and said: “I am interested in finding out more about Hawthorn for a number of reasons. One reason is that I have had my father’s violin restored and now play it myself, and it has a very good tone. Although Hawthorn was not a professional violin maker (his name does not appear in professional registers and there are some stylistic features on his violins which mark him out as a ‘gifted amateur’), everyone who hears the violin agrees it is well-made.

“Recently, I had its tone improved by Philip Solomon, a violin maker and repairer based in Port William who works with very fine violins, and he agreed it was a good instrument.

“Another reason I would like to find out more about the maker is that, up to now, I have found no one in the Whithorn area who knows about Hawthorn’s violin-making skills, and it seems a pity that such local talents are not more widely celebrated.”

Franzeska has been researching the history of the man who created her beauty and discovered thatthe 1901 census reveals William T Hawthorn was born in 1856 and lived at 19 George Street Whithorn with his two sons, William John and Francis Charles, and a servant.

She said: “Incidentally, my own maternal grandparents, whose name was Hannay, lived above their chemists’ shop at number 26.

“Erica Johnson, Research Officer at the Ewart Library in Dumfries, was able to tell me that there is a grave inscribed ‘wife of William Hawthorn’ in Whithorn Church graveyard. She died in 1893, but there is no reference to Hawthorn’s own burial.

“However, Janet at Whithorn Library discovered that he died on 6th May 1936, aged 81. She also told me he had been “an agent of the National Bank of Scotland”, his wife was called Margaret Findley, and he had a daughter called Ruth. There is no mention of a daughter in the 1901 census, so perhaps Ruth arrived later, or died earlier.”

Erica Johnson also found three references to Hawthorns in the Galloway Gazette archives and, with the help of the staff of Stranraer Library, Franzeska learned from these that William T Hawthorn was Treasurer of the Whithorn Ball in 1918, and that he was referred to as a ‘Justice of the Peace’ in 1922.

The Galloway Gazette archives provided one other piece of information which clears up a confusion regarding Hawthorn’s middle initial.

Franzeska explains: “Christies’ catalogue refers to the violin they sold in 1984 as having been made by ‘William J Hawthorn’. This would mean that the son, not the father, was the violin maker. Certainly, at first glance, the middle initial could be read as a ‘J’ rather than a ‘T’, but I have always wondered whether this could really be the case because it would mean that William John, born in 1888, would only have been 21 when he made the 1909 violin, and it seems unlikely that the son of a banker could have had sufficient skills at such a young age.

The tell-tale piece of information is in the 13 April 1915 copy of the Galloway Gazette, where William J is mentioned in the Roll of Honour as an R.E. Coupled with the rather poignant inscription inside Stranraer Museum’s 1917 violin: ‘fecit, 1917, in the year of the great war’.

“I believe that when William Hawthorn wrote these words, his own son was serving in that war – with little time on his hands to make violins!

“I would like to thank Erica Johnson, Janet of Whithorn Library, and the staff of Stranraer Library and Stranraer Museum for the help they gave me, and in particular Gina Young of Stranraer Museum, who also took the photograph.

If anyone has any additional information about Hawthorn and his violins, they can contact me through my website at www.franzeskaewart.com.”