Thomas Murdy – Part 2

More information found on Violin Maker Thomas Murdy of Embleton.

In all of the instruments I know of, the label inside says “Thomas Murdy 18XX Embleton”. The intriguing thing about the label is that the printed “Embleton” is obviously added over the top of something else. I haven’t managed to get to the label itself but what I have found is an earlier reference to a violin at a different location: “Repairers label for Thomas Murdy, Lowick South Moor”

Lowick is about 20 miles north of Embleton

I’ve also had chance to look at later edition of Plowrights and he’s obviously seen some more examples between 1991 and 2004:

“.. violins well made with strongly raised edges, well figured woods and covered with a thin red or brown varnish. An example dated 1893 … 1893 … 1888 …”

All but one are made to a long pattern (~363mm) which is not the ideal for violin dealers and orchestral players where the muscle memory for high positition is based on a dimensioned instrument . For traditional fiddlers; the sound and response of the individual instrument is generally more important than hitting precise string positions all the way up the fingerboard and that means more sound for your money!

Thomas Murdy, 1824-1921 (Violin Maker)

I recently came across a some very interesting & very nice fiddles which bear the name ‘Thos. Murdy’ and are labelled (& dated) as made by Thomas Murdy of Embleton (Northumberland). There’s not much information to be had about this chap and what there is is scattered all over the place, so here’s a consolidated view (with thanks to those who contributed):

Thomas Murdy can be found fairly easily in the census record in and around the parish of Embleton:

  • 1861: Thomas Murdy, 37, Head Engine keeper, born N. Middleton
  • 1891: Thomas Murdy, 67, Retired engineman, born Wooler

He also appears in 1901 & 1911 and a record of his death appears in 1921; although by this time his birth has shifted to 1834.

In terms of his Violins, Thomas conveniently stamped his name (on some but not all) below the button and he also helpfully labelled them (although some have lost this). The printed labelling suggests his output was not insignificant; I am now aware of eight instruments all dating from the last two decades of the 19th century:

  • 4 are in use in Northumberland (1886, 1886, 1889, 1893)
  • 3 of unknown location (1888, 1892, 1894)
  • 1 eccentric 3/4 size, of unknown date & unknown playing condition

The instruments themselves are highly regarded by those who have played them and it’s clear that Thomas knew what he was doing. There are a couple of entries in violin catalogues / dictionaries over the years – Plowright’s 1994 “Dictionary of British Violin and Bow Makers” says:

‘MURDY, Thomas (Embleton)
Known only from a nicely made violin 14″ body, very strongly raised edges, nicely figured woods, covered with a thin red varnish and labelled “Made by/Thomas Murdy 1888/Embleton”. Also stamped THOS. MURDY under the button. Obviously not the first violin he had made.’

If you know any more about Thomas or his instruments or even if you have one – do let me know!