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James  Philpot (1841-1911)


James Philpot was born about 1841 in Cratfield, near Halesworth in northeast Suffolk where he worked as a carter on a farm (1861), a general servant to a poultry dealer (1871) and then moved into Halesworth, first to River Lane (1881) when he was stilling working on farms. By 1891 the family were living in Chediston Street, James was still a farm worker, but by 1901 he had changed to working as a road labourer. Although he continued to work as a roadman, the next ten years were quite eventful for James, as his first wife Sarah died, he remarried in 1903 and moved to Quay Street in Halesworth by 1911.


James taught his only son, Charlie Philpot to play, who inherited the family dulcimer and later passed it on to his grandson, Reg Reader, who said:

‘I was told that my great grandfather used to play in local halls and he had a big dulcimer which he didn’t like carrying round. So he crazed this old boy in Halesworth, who actually made picture frames, to swop him this one for the big one and … a pair of boots.’

The ‘old boy’ was either Robert Howard or one of his sons – the Philpot/Reader family remembered this surname and the Howard family were carpenters living on Chediston St at the same time as the Philpots. The instrument is now recognised as being made by William Chilvers of Chediston Street, Halesworth, by comparing it to another which has a positive ID of Chilvers, but Howard may well have had a hand in its making too.

William Chilvers, musician and musical instrument maker was in Halesworth from 1842 to 1870. The Philpots were in Cratfield until at least 1877, so they were not actually living in Halesworth at the same time as Chilvers. However, there were Howards living in Chediston Street at the same time as Chilvers, so they are the ‘missing link’! The Howards, Philpots and Johnsons (Charlie Philpot’s wife’s family) lived and worked next door to each other for over thirty years between at least 1881 and 1911.

James died in October 1911.

James Philpot's dulcimer which was passed down to Charlie Philpot and Reg Reader

     a      b






Click on a thumbnail to see a larger picture


Photo descriptions & sources

a. James Philpot's dulcimer front  (John Howson)

d. James Philpot's dulcimer sound hole  (JH)

b. James Philpot's dulcimer back (JH)

e. James Philpot's dulcimer stand  (JH)

c. James Philpot's dulcimer bridges (JH)

f.  James Philpot's dulcimer profile (JH)

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