Walter Finter was born in
late 1856, in the village of Combs just outside Stowmarket in central Suffolk.
In his early days he worked on
farms in Combs, as did his father before him, but by 1883-4 he had moved to
the nearby small town of Needham Market, where he is listed as watchmaker from
1891 onwards. He is known to have repaired and tuned musical instruments, as
labels have been found on two dulcimers, one with the date 1899 on it. The
dulcimer labels reveal a wide range of services offered from his workshop on
the High Street, including jewellery, watch and clock making, repairs and
annual winding, picture frames made to order, scissors and razors ‘carefully’
ground, and a 1930s newspaper report states that he also tuned pianos. How he
made the move from untrained agricultural labourer to clockmaker is not known.
David Kettlewell: Labels are not very commonly found but an instrument
belonging to Roger Young has this delightful epitaph (above left).
The Finter home was Langham
House, listed as 42 High Street, but actually just off the High Street. Local
memories are that, in the
1920s at least, there was no actual shop, but watches were still mended there,
and Walter Finter was still listed in the 1925 Kelly’s directory, aged 70, as
a watchmaker. At the age of 80 he still rode a bicycle every day, and died
aged 83 in 1940.
Newspaper articles have revealed
more about Walter’s musical activities. He sang and played the banjo, violin
and English concertina as well as the dulcimer. A 1930s photo shows him with a
wooden cabinet apparently containing some sort of dancing dolls. The
accompanying report reveals that he was known by the nickname ‘Fiddler Finter’.
He joined the Salvation Army while in his twenties and newspaper reports from
1890 onwards mention him playing and singing in Salvation Army concerts in the
Stowmarket area and in Debenham. Reports of his musical contributions start
from 1890, but the dulcimer is only mentioned in 1912. He was also a member of
the Temperance League, so we may surmise that he was unlikely to have been a
pub player. Walter’s father Charles appeared in the local newspapers of the
late 19th century for very different reasons: he was accused of
poaching and assault on a number of occasions.
One of Walter’s sons, Percival,
played the violin. Newspaper sources reveal that he attended Theobald’s
Grammar School in Needham Market, playing a solo in a school concert aged
sixteen, when ‘he played fairly well for so young a lad’. He moved to
Bildeston in 1906, where he led a string band and dance orchestra and taught
many pupils. He ran a hairdressing and photography business and was the sub-postmaster and a
parish councillor. He had a liking for taking photographs of freak animals
such as four-legged hens, as well as doing the normal photography like
weddings! He took the photo of his father used in the newspaper article above.
Local memories of another son,
Russell, a tailor by trade, are that in the 1940s when working for Ipswich
clothing manufacturers Phillips and Pipe, he was also known by the nickname of
‘Fiddler’, but it’s not known whether he was actually a musician or not.
- Another Finter dulcimer has emerged - bought at a car-boot in
Peterborough by Iain Petrie. This is very similar to the one we know, and
inside is a label plus Walter Finter's signature with the date of Feb 14/96.
More importantly it informs that it is No.20.
As with all makers it is difficult to establish how prolific their dulcimer
making was but now we know that Finter made at least twenty-one, as the one
owned by JH is dated 1899 and IP's is signed as the 20th is 1895.