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Billy Bennington (1900-1986)

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Billy Bennington was born on 5th June 1900 and spent most of his life as a gardener. His father kept the Barford King’s Head public house between 1922 and 1929 and it was he who gave Billy his first dulcimer.

 

His father, Horace had heard Herbert Sadd play

and he bought the dulcimer for Billy's mother who played melodeon, but it was Billy who took it up.

 

His father arranged lessons with Frederick Cooper, the father of Billy Cooper.

 

     Billy's father outside Barford Kings Head c.1928

 

After the First World War Billy Bennington teamed up with Billy Cooper and they played in Barford Kings Head where they palled up with fiddle player Walter Baldwin. On Saturday nights they would play in village pubs all over Norfolk, travelling on a motorbike combination which had a basket on the front, where they would carry the two dulcimers and the fiddle.

In the 1970s Billy was 'discovered' by the folk scene and from then until shortly before his death in 1986 he appeared at festivals and clubs all over the country and built up a strong following of admirers both here and in America.

Throughout his life Billy would tune other people’s dulcimers for them and acted as an informal mentor for a number of people who took it up, some of them quite late in life, such as Percy Garrod and Frank Read.

More information about Billy and his life can be found in : 'The Barford Angel' CD notes

and in two magazine articles:

Billy Bennington interviewed by John Howson - PDF - English Dance & Song (Vol. 46 No.1) Spring 1984

An interview with Billy Bennington by Mitzie Collins - PDF  Dulcimer Players News (Vol.11 No.2) Spring 1986
 


 

Billy Bennington was recorded by Tony Engle for Topic records in May 1972 a film instigated by Russell Wortley was made by Garland films for the EFDSS in 1979. John Howson recorded Billy in 1982 and returned with Mike Yates in 1985.

 

Billy Bennington recordings

 

Billy Bennington's dulcimer

 

Billy’s dulcimer originally had 22 bridges but after a motorcycle accident it was cut down to 20 bridges. Billy bought the dulcimer played here in 1922 from a 'professional' player called John Rose (1847-1931) who played in the Pigeon pub (now long gone) in St. Benedicts, Norwich. Rose was actually a shoemaker by trade, but reckoned he kept his wife and four children on the proceeds of his busking. The instrument had been played by Rose's father before him (Francis Rose, born 1810), whom Billy believed had been a sailor and so thought he may have bought the dulcimer abroad. Francis was a shoemaker in Norwich for most of his life, although he did have a spell in Deptford in the 1840s, but the instrument is a classic example of an East Anglian dulcimer although it is not decorated in black and gold.

 

It is tuned in what Billy called the Norfolk tuning which he got from Frederick Cooper. This allows all the sharp keys to be played. He also added a thick bass string (from a piano) to his dulcimer which gave a deep drone note on some tunes. The idea for this could have come from Herbert Sadd's dulcimer which was made by Mark Widdows and included a bass string.

 

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Click on a thumbnail to see a larger picture

 

Dimensions of this dulcimer

 

Photo descriptions & sources

Main photos: Billy Bennington, c. 1915, 1955, 1955 (from Billy Bennington)

1. Billy Bennington (David Kettlewell)

2. Billy Bennington (David Kettlewell)

3. Billy Bennington (David Kettlewell)

4. Billy Bennington (David Kettlewell)

5. Billy Bennington (David Kettlewell)

6. Billy Bennington with Brian Roger (EDP)

7. Billy Bennington  (John Howson)

8. Billy Bennington  (John Howson)

9. Billy Bennington with Dick Hewitt step dancing at the Norwich Folk Festival UEA - c.1982 (John Howson)

10.  Reg Reader John Howson, Billy Bennington. Iris Bennington, Charlie Stringer, ECMW, Mendlesham, 1984

11. Billy Bennington  (John Howson)

12. John Howson, Adrian Turner, Billy Bennington, Iris Bennington (Katie Howson)

 

 

13. Old Hat Concert Party, Kings Arms Haughley - Reg Reader's dulcimer, Cyril Barber, Oscar Woods, Iris Bennington.

14. Old Hat Concert Party about tp leave in a minibus - Billy Bennington, Oscar Woods, Adrian Turner, Ted Chaplin, Iris Bennington, John Howson, Cyril Barber, Katie Howson, Reg Reader. Date 1983 (Ken Palmer)

15.  Reg Reader and Billy Bennington. Sidmouth Folk festival, 1982 (John Howson)

 

 

a. Billy Bennington's dulcimer front (John Howson)

b. Billy Bennington's dulcimer back  (JH)

c. Billy Bennington's dulcimer front  (JH)

 

d. Billy Bennington's dulcimer stand  (JH)

e. Billy Bennington's dulcimer profile (JH)

f.  Billy Bennington's dulcimer sound hole (JH)

g.  Billy Bennington's dulcimer bridges (JH)

h. Billy Bennington's dulcimer case  (JH)

i. Billy Bennington's  beaters  (JH)

 

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