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John Rose (1847-1931)


Billy Bennington named John Rose as the man from whom he bought his dulcimer in 1922. Billy recalled:

‘He was a professional dulcimer player of his day. He used to play in a pub called the Pigeon which is down St Benedict’s (Norwich) but the last time I saw it, it was an off-licence house. The old man was 85 when I bought it from him and I was 22 and he told me his father had it before him and gave it to him when he was a boy. He said he could remember his father playing it, when he was just big enough to see on the table. That was a few years ago. His father was a sailor so it could be foreign, I don’t know. The old boy used to play in the Pigeon when times were slow. You see he was in the boot trade (now I’m going back before the 1900s). He said that he kept his wife and four children on his dulcimer, and he’d say ‘You know sometimes I’d come back with as much as four shillings a day and I’d get me beer and bacca free and food, I’d be better off playing than in work. Well he made boots and he’d make the uppers during the day and take them home to stick and he’d sell them for two shillings. Hard times you know.’
                                                                                                      The Pigeons corner of St. Benedict's Street and Lower Westwick Street

‘When I brought the dulcimer away I gave thirty five shillings for it. That was a week’s wages on the farms. Anyway I felt sorry for him, ‘cos there sat the poor old lady well over eighty and the old man said ‘Mother, there goes our breadwinner’. Any rate, I’d only got two pounds in my pockets. That was the week before Christmas so I hadn’t the cheek to ask him for the five bob change, so I gave it to him.’

Investigating possibilities to find out who John Rose was, we know that Billy must have bought it in December 1922, as he was born in 1900. It seems very likely that “our” John Rose was born in 1847 in Deptford, although the family were back in Norwich by the time he was three. John worked all his life in the boot trade and had four children, and for most of his life lived in the St Augustine area of Norwich, a few minutes’ walk from the Pigeons Pub in St Benedict’s Street. His parents had lived for about seven years in the London area, and although we do not know what his father was doing for a living at that point, it doesn’t look very likely he was a sailor of any sort. Perhaps that memory was from a previous generation, or from someone unrelated from whom his father had bought the dulcimer originally. His father, Francis Rose, who gave him the dulcimer, was born in 1810 in Old Catton in Norwich and a master shoemaker in earlier censuses.
The Eastern Evening News from 20 March 1908 mentions what must surely be our man and gives an indication of his social and musical life at the time:

‘The Perseverance Bird Breeding Society held their annual social at the Rose Inn, in St Augustine's, on Tuesday, when upwards of 90 members and friends gathered … Songs were rendered by Messrs. Thouless, E. Fox, Wigger, Chilvers, and Mounser, a recitation by Mr. Tillett, a stepdance and song by a friend, while Mr. Rose with his selections on the dulcimer was greatly appreciated.’


The Rose Inn, St Augustine's

In The Norfolk Chronicle on 2st August 1897, the following was reported, in a case against the licensee of the Duke of York, in Bishop Bridge Road, Thorpe St Andrew. It is probably not John Rose himself, as the dulcimer player is described as a young man, and Rose was 50 by this time. It does, however, illustrate the context for the story told by Billy Bennington.

‘The landlady was in charge of the house, and witness [a police officer] asked her if her husband had a music and singing licence, and she replied in the negative. He told the woman she had no right to allow singing, and Mrs. Todd replied that the man came "busking," and played for what he could get from the customers. Witness told her it was not the first time the man had been there, and she answered, "No, he generally comes here on Saturday nights." On the 17th ult. he again went to the house, and found the same man playing a dulcimer, and a man singing in the presence of twenty-six other persons. The company were very orderly and were listening to the entertainment. On the 12th July he was near the house and heard music and singing, but did not go in. On the 5th music and singing was going on, and the room appeared to be full of people. Cross-examined: Witness was told that the man playing the dulcimer was a shoemaker on strike. The song the young woman sang was 'Let us be sweethearts again,' and it appeared to be much appreciated … In answer to Mr. Wild, witness said the company were very orderly, and as well behaved if they had been in a concert-room. They appeared to be greatly taken up with what was going on ... [Mr Reeve] suggested that the fact of the man going into the house two Saturday nights and two other nights did not prove that the room was ordinarily used for singing and music. He was not engaged by the landlord, but simply went into the house to pick up a few coppers as he was out on strike. He was not regularly engaged, and submitted, therefore, that there should be no conviction. The magistrates dismissed the case.’


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Dimensions of this dulcimer



Photo descriptions & sources


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

b. John Rose's dulcimer back  (JH)

c. John Rose's dulcimer front 



d. John Rose's dulcimer stand  (JH)

e. John Rose's dulcimer profile (JH)

f.  John Rose's dulcimer sound hole (JH)



g. John Rose's dulcimer bridges (JH)

h. John Rose's dulcimer case  (JH)

i.  John Rose's  beaters  (JH)


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