In 1981 the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket, Suffolk was donated a
dulcimer by John Scarpe from Ipswich. As luck would have it, the conservator
at the Museum at that period was George Monger, a dulcimer player himself
with keen interest in the history of the instrument.
Through correspondence with the donor’s mother, George discovered that the
dulcimer had actually belonged to another John Scarpe, the donor’s great
uncle, born on 12th January 1882.
The Scarpe family’s roots were on the Shotley peninsula in south east
Suffolk, with John having been born in Chelmondiston. His father Abraham
seemed to have a variety of employment according to census records
(including a spell as a ‘beer retailer’ before John was born), but there was
certainly a link with the milling and baking trades, which both John and his
brother Bertram were involved in for a while. John’s working life took a
very different direction when he learned to drive, and by the age of 30 he
was working as a chauffeur in Walton, near Felixstowe – apparently there
were only two cars in the town when he started to drive! During the First
World War he was seconded to the Admiralty in London due to this driving
skills. He was chauffeur for Sir Frederick Wilson, the founder of the East
Anglian Daily Times newspaper and drove all over England, Wales, Scotland
and France in the early twentieth century.
Little is known about the dulcimer or his playing . In the family, it is
believed that it was made on a barge at Pin Mill on the River Orwell. As a
boy, John Scarpe spent a lot of time with an uncle by the name of Joe Death,
a gamekeeper who lived at The Clamp, on the shore at Pin Mill and this fact
seems to be linked with the dulcimer somehow in family memory.
Sometime before 1970 he moved into Ipswich and he died in 1970.
A discussion with George Monger elicited the information that there were two
dulcimers “made by his father” (presumably William’s father i.e. Bertram?)
and George renovated that and returned it to the family in exchange for the
donation to the Museum of the other one.