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Monday, 5 August 2019


Why Does Newark Rock Above Its Weight?


Newark on Trent is a sleepy little market town in the County of Nottinghamshire. It boasts the ruins of a castle built by a Bishop of Lincoln. It was granted a charter to hold a market by a fourteenth century king, and it is home to the National Civil War Museum. Your first impression of the place is one of a sleepy little town with not much to offer, whose children grow up then move away to somewhere, anywhere that might be a far more exciting place to live out their lives. You would be wrong. Newark not only rocks, but it rocks well above its weight.



The reason for this is because of a man called Wilfred Saunders (1927 – 2004). He had an international reputation as a violin maker. He also founded a School of Violin Making at Newark Technical College. This school has expanded over the years and the school now teaches most instrument making skills to degree level and has earned itself an international reputation.


The upshot of this is that every autumn a new crowd of young things arrive from across Europe, and indeed from all over the world and descend on a sleepy town of no more than 20 thousand souls to start their three-year course. Some might finance themselves working locally, taking bar jobs or working in restaurants. What they all have is knowing they are driven by a love of music and a desire to spend their lives with musical instruments.

So, what do they do with their leisure when they have it? Well, they seem to hang about the local pubs playing their instruments. Of course, they don’t do it in isolation. The locals join in, but the overall effect is that Newark has a disproportionately high incidence of live music played in its pubs, bars and restaurants.

I know the question you are aching to ask is what does this have to do with ukuleles (subject of this blog)?

Well, the Violin School also runs evening classes for the benefit of the good burgers of the Town. For a modest fee and the cost of the materials you can design and build your own ukulele with the matchless tuition and guidance of experts in the field. There are a lot of ukulele players in Newark who play on instruments they have built themselves, to the extent that you don’t really cut the mustard in a Newark based ukulele group unless you are strumming away on a one-off original ukulele you made yourself. Many a panel lifted from an old wardrobe has been cunningly fashioned into the top and back of one of these instruments. You can always tell it is an instrument crafted on cold Thursday winter evenings at the local Tech, by the ornate mottling on the body of the uke.

There are one or two traditions the Violin School have which the town celebrates. The first is the 24-Hour Fiddle Race. The students work in teams to build a playable violin from scratch in 24 hours. Some of these creations really should not be shown in the light of day, and others are quite exquisite. The race ends with the teams setting fire to their efforts and launching them onto the River Trent as a sort of Viking’s Funeral.





The second is the rehearsal for the graduation show. It’s held at the Methodist Church Hall, it has a free entry, and the students who are due to graduate the next day turn out with instruments they have built and perform a concert for their families. The place is full of multilingual wise cracking and some of the most exquisite music you are ever going to get free, gratis and without charge.





If you live within commuting distance of Newark and would like to know more about making your own hand built ukulele the link is: -

Introduction to Violin Making at Newark Violin Making School
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