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Iron Church Cello from Milton Lilbourne

A Cello from St. Peter’s Church, Milton Lilbourne

Miss A. L. Gale, daughter of the Vicar at Milton Lilbourne where it was played in the church band, gave it the the Wiltshire Museum in 1916. The village blacksmith made it out of iron in the late 18th or early 19th century.

Played in the 700th Anniversary Celebration of the Church

When we examined it, the last time it had been played was in the 1970 celebration of the 700th anniversary of St. Peter’s. The strings on the cello probably dated from that performance.

A Cello Made with Care by a Blacksmith – Not a Luthier

The cello, which is black, has unusual corners and handmade fittings, including its pegs, fingerboard, and tailpiece. When we examined it, it was beginning to corrode; the lower bout, under the bottom block, was collapsing inwards.

F-Holes

The back and belly are each made of one piece of iron. The maker cut f-holes into the belly, paying attention to detail and including f-hole notches.

Edges

The cello has no simulated purfling, but does have a pattern of rivets or rectangular nail heads around its edges.

The ribs are in two pieces, also joined with nail heads or rivets, rounded rather than rectangular, on the treble-side upper corner and the bass-side upper bout.

Neck

The neck and chunky neck foot are made of separate pieces of wood joined by two large screws. The neck foot is joined to the back of the instrument by four screws. There is some worm damage to the neck and the wedge-shaped fingerboard which are attached with three pegs through the top of the fingerboard and into the neck food; one peg is now missing (only a hole remains).

Scroll

The wooden scroll and pegbox are hand-carved. The scroll is not symmetrical, but was carefully formed to mimic that on a professionally made cello.

Other Details

The instrument’s endbutton is made of metal, and there are nails or rivets above and below it on the lower bout, in the area where the instrument is beginning to collapse.

The bridge, commercially made but roughly shaped is stamped “PANPI.” Given all the other fittings, one would have expected the original bridge to have been handmade – but there is a possibility that this is one that was in place when the instrument was still in use in the church.

It is likely that this bridge also dates from the 1970 celebration performance.

Central Soundblock Rather than Soundpost

Inside, the cello has no bass-bar, but like the Caterham instrument, it does have a central soundpost situated between the two f-holes, approximately 32mm below the f-hole notches.

It is large and rectangular in shape, with two troughs carved out of it on its bottom-block side, and is more a soundblock than a soundpost; like that in the Caterham instrument, it still has a piece of string attached from when it was set in place.

Unknown

"It is the unknown that draws people."

-E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

But if YOU know, then please let US know, too. Thank you!