The Makers

James Tubbs


James Tubbs (1835-1921) was the pre-eminent British bow maker from the 1860s until his death.

James Tubbs has had a bad press. Violin literature has characterised him as a drunk, from a family of drunks who lived dissolute lives. The facts indicate something quite different. His working life extended to over 70 years, due to his enforced return to work following the death of his son Alfred in 1909 (not 1912 or 1911 as in previous printed/current online sources). If a succesful working span of over 70 years is the result of a drunken, dissolute life maybe more of us should try it.

Misinformation, either deliberate or accidental, occurs elsewhere. Aside from the inaccurate date of Alfred’s death, printed/online sources tell us that his daughter-in-law (Alfred’s widow, Jane Matilda) looked after him in his old age; in fact a look at census material from 1901 and 1911 shows it was his sister-in-law, Lucy, (William IV’s widow) who lived with him, not Jane. Jane appears in the 1911 census, living and working at 94 Wardour Street, as a bow maker and employer, presumably having taken over the business; James at this time was working from 31 Twilley Street, Earlsfield, Wandsworth. Very soon after, James took over control again and the business name of James Tubbs and Son, then briefly, Jane Tubbs, reverted simply to James Tubbs.

In terms of marketing James was no slouch. In 1874 he became bowmaker to the Duke of Edinburgh and in 1876 began an annual prize of a gold mounted bow to be given to a student of the Royal Academy of Music. In 1877 he joined the Belgrave Freemasons Lodge, obviously aware of the advantages of networking. His sons, Alfred and William James, joined the same lodge in 1883. He was also an early advertiser in The Strad magazine (founded in May1890) offering his bow making and repairing services under the banner, James Tubbs & Son, in November 1891. In the same magazine in February 1893 Beare & Son announce that they are the sole wholesale supplier of ‘James Tubbs’s celebrated bows’ In June 1894 he places the following advertisement:

The line, ‘no connection with any others of the name of Tubbs’, was perhaps due to family commercial rivalry; Charles Edward Tubbs might be considered the most serious contender, his move to Wardour Street at about this time may not have helped fraternal relations. It could also be a desire to distance himself socially  from Charles Edward, given his brother’s arrest on theft charges a few years earlier (1890). The direct impetus, though, is probably from an advertisement placed by his brother John in New York (see 1889 entry for John Tubbs II).

All three of his children, Alfred, William James and Jessie, predeceased him yet James continued working, producing bows, when lesser men might have succumbed to their hard fate. The widely used photograph of Tubbs is of a rather disheveled and shabby old man working in a small cluttered workshop: there is another which readers should see, that of a more formally dressed man in his late seventies with a pinned cravat and a fob chain exhibiting a masonic symbol, proudly staring-down the photographer.

James Tubbs 1913

James Tubbs (25 March 1835-19 April 1921)
1837 28 June, baptised, St Mary’s, Lambeth, address of parents, Regent , Lambeth.
1851 19 Princes Street, violin bow maker1857 25 July, married Elizabeth Bennett by banns in the Church of St James Westminster. Both James and his father are called violin bow makers. James, his wife, and his father-in-law all sign the document, along with Eliza Blake, whose relationship to them is unknown. James’ address is given as 18 Great Windmill Street, Elizabeth’s as 45 Rupert Street, which is also William Tubbs’ address.
1858 Rupert Street, violin bow maker.
1862 Prize Medal for bows (which bore the W E Hill brand) at the International Exhibition, London.
1865 5 Church Street, violin bow maker.
1866/7 53 Greek Street, Soho.
1868-72 39 King Street.
1873 47 Wardour Street.
1874 Became bow maker to the Duke of Edinburgh
1876-1910 James Tubbs & Sons (sic) Prize, Royal Academy of Music. A similar prize was offered to a violin student of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
1877 Joined Belgrave Freemasons Lodge.
1879 47 Wardour Street. It would seem Tubbs worked on the second floor. A report in Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 28 of men, ‘unlawfully committing lewd acts’, has James and his son, William James, giving evidence. Certain acts were said to have taken place on the second floor of 86 Wardour Street, his workshop is described as directly opposite on the corresponding floor. Later William James
confirms this, ‘I was at the time in my father’s workshop, second floor.’
1880 94 Wardour Street, [Wardour Street was renumbered 1878/9], violin bow maker.
1881-91 94 Wardour Street, violin bow maker.
1885 Gold Medal at the Inventions Exhibition London.
1891 Stradivari Villa, 115 London Road, Stanwell, Staines, Middlesex . Lists himself in the census as neither employer nor employed,. Name entered by the census taker as James Tubb.
1891 94 Wardour Street, James Tubbs & Son, violin bow makers.
1901 50 London Road, fiddle stick maker.
1911 31 Twilley Street, violin bow maker.
1919 9 March, the Weekly Dispatch carries a short article on James Tubbs: ‘Everyone in the violin world know “Tubbs, of Soho,” the veteran violin bow-string maker, whose portrait in watercolours is on show at the Grosvenor Galleries.’ It goes on to quote Tubbs, ‘“I have been making bowstrings all my life, and though I am now 84 I am still at work … I hold the Royal Warrant which was granted to me by the late Duke of Edinburgh, who insisted that the fiddle used by his Royal Highness must be made by myself.”’[Should this read fiddlestick?] He goes on to list a few famous players who had been his customers; Wilhelmj, Kreisler, Paganini, Bottesini,Sivori, Piatti, Gompertz and Strauss and concludes, ‘“Yesterday a bow was brought in to me and I discovered by the name stamped on it that it was made by my grandfather 100 years ago. Not long ago I was asked to repair a bow and recognised it as one I had helped my father to make 64 years back. It was in excellent condition, and is now good for another half-century at least.’”
1920 94 Wardour Street, James Tubbs, violin bow maker.
1921 April 19. Died at age 86 of influenza and bronchitis at 94 Wardour Street.
1921 23 April, buried, Hendon Cemetery, section E10, interment number 26209


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