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Violin maker instrumental in putting Wycombe on music map
Have you heard of Clifford Hoing ? Like me, probably not; at least not until reader David Wiltshire contacted me to suggest that Hoing would be an interesting person to feature on the Nostalgia page.
Research soon showed that he had been a resident of Wycombe all his life and became a world-famous maker of violins and violas. Here is his story.
Clifford was the son of Alfred and Alice Hoing, who lived at that time at 45 Upper Green Street in Wycombe.
His grandfather Reuben Hoing originated from Henley in Oxfordshire and moved to West Wycombe in the mid-19th century. He became a chair-framer and his three sons, including Alfred, followed him into the chair-making industry.
Alfred married Alice Clara Cline early in 1902 and Clifford, who was their only child, was born on November 21st 1903. After schooling he followed his father into the furniture industry, becoming a wood-carver of some repute. He even worked for a few years with Eric Gill the famous sculptor.
In the deep recession of the early 1930s Alfred was made redundant. He had been making violins as a hobby, which had fired Clifford’s imagination and they began to work together by repairing violins.
In 1935 Clifford decided that his experience of repairing violins enabled him to begin making them. So he decided to take this up as his life’s work.
Even at that time most violins were mass produced by the thousand, but it was known that the instruments with the best tone were always made by hand.
Clifford borrowed books from Wycombe Library in order to study the traditional methods of making violins and also acquired some older instruments to examine their construction.
This, together with his deep knowledge of different timbers enabled him to produce violins of exceptional quality. Like other English craftsman he believed that his craft was to produce a work of art.
Each instrument contained over 70 separate parts and took around 6 weeks of labour to construct and perfect. The total manufacturing time was in fact nearer six months because Clifford would only allow each of the 12 coats of varnish applied to the instrument to dry naturally.
This varnish was to a secret formula, known only to Clifford himself, which contributed to the tone of the instrument when played. His output was therefore restricted to around 8 instruments each year.
Beginning with wood weighing more than six pounds, the finished instrument weighed in at around 14 to 15 ounces. Clifford used a number of different woods. He toured the furniture factories in Wycombe to find the very finest examples of thoroughly seasoned pieces.
The finger-boards and tail-pieces were fashioned from ebony, and from rosewood for the pegs. He used willow for the linings, ‘figured’ English sycamore for the backs of the instruments, and spruce for the sounding board or front.
His success depended to a large degree on his deep knowledge of these woods, obtained solely through many years of handling them as a wood-carver, getting to know their ‘feel’.
This enabled him to perfect a system where each component part was in harmony with the whole.
In order to develop the business he established contact with a dealer friend in London, who attracted by his work sent examples to a Scottish dealer and to Arthur Richardson in Devonshire.
Richardson was generally regarded as one of the country’s leading exponents of violin-making at that time.
These were well received and Hoing violins began making their way into some of the foremost orchestras of the day.
Clifford agreed to take part in an experiment arranged by Dr Ernest Whitfield, a blind violinist and connoisseur of the instrument.
For this experiment violinist Dr Stanislav Frydberg was asked to play behind a screen each of 10 violins. These violins included three famous Stradivarius, a Gabrielli, a Guarnerius, and others by modern makers.
An audience was asked to judge the sound and tonal quality of the violins and to rank them 1 to 10.
The Hoing violin was placed second. Dr Whitfield asked if he might be allowed to take the instrument to his colleague Albert Sammons, a world-famous violinist.
Sammons verdict on the instrument was ‘’I tried your violin and found the quality very good. There is also a good deal of power, a combination very difficult to get.’’
He added to the tribute by sending to Clifford Hoing an autographed photograph, addressing it to ‘an artist in violin-making’.
One of his achievements which gave Clifford great satisfaction was to construct a miniature violin and bow, two inches in length, perfect in every detail so that it really could be played , see photo.
At the time this was first displayed, at the High Wycombe Trades Exhibition in October 1938, it was claimed to be the smallest real violin in the world. He made another miniature violin for the Queen’s Dolls House.
At the same exhibition Clifford was awarded both prizes in the Carving Section. These were for tiny cameos in boxwood, the colour of old ivory, and a statuette of a woman.
He carved graceful figures from single blocks of wood, and then added reliefs where the different colours of different woods were used to produce the natural colouring of the subject.
An example of this technique was a relief portrait of Sir Henry Wood in sycamore. He developed this into a technique for producing coloured wood-carvings, where each detail of the carving was in a different wood.
The cream colour of natural sycamore would be used for a delicate face, rosewood for the warm tint of lips, walnut for the eyebrows, and so on, all combining to make an image of rare beauty.
The technique was the subject of a British Patent for ‘’Relief Marquetry’’. I wonder if any reader knows the present whereabouts of any of these items?
Clifford was also an accomplished photographer, his images appearing on the cover of the county magazine Buckinghamshire Interest for example.
Cycling was another of his passions, he was one of the earliest members of the High Wycombe Cycling Club. He held the speed record for the ascent of Plomer Hill, Downley for many years.
As his fame grew Clifford began to produce violas and gradually these became the dominant instrument in his workshop, Being somewhat larger than a violin, they were also heavier, weighing around 20 ounces. A Hoing viola won a Diploma of Honour at an exhibition in The Hague in 1949.
He also produced other related instruments. These adorned the walls of the family home. They included a copy of a Welsh harp, the crwth, a viola d’amore, and a little ‘jig’, an instrument which was used over 150 years ago by street-musicians. It could be slipped into a pocket when they were asked to ‘move-on’. He also made guitars.
In 1950/51 Clifford and his parents moved from Upper Green Street to 137 West Wycombe Rd, a house which still stands near the petrol station on the left hand side of the road in the direction of West Wycombe.
Here older readers may remember that a full-sized violin was displayed in the front bay window of the house. This was about the only advertising that Clifford did, preferring that his reputation grew by recommendation.
He did not even install a telephone in these premises, and any urgent message for him would be taken by a relative who would relay it on.
In 1974 at the Phillips Auction Rooms in London a Hoing violin achieved a then record price for a modern instrument of 1,300 pounds. It had been sold by Clifford in 1963 for 100 pounds.
In retirement he concentrated on oil painting and became a member of the New Wycombe Art Group, whose membership was limited to 60.
Clifford could reflect that during his career he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and had gained more awards that any other English musical instrument maker. These included 8 Diplomas and a special silver medal which was awarded in Ascoli Piceno in Italy.
This was for a viola which took the prize for the ‘Outstanding Artistic Character’ of the instrument, beating 130 makers from 16 different countries.
Clifford’s father Alfred died in October 1954 aged 84, his mother Alice in April 1974 aged 93, and Clifford himself passed away on July 9 1989 at the age of 85.
At that time he was living at 14 Copners Drive in Holmer Green and his funeral was held at the local parish church on July 17th.
Unfortunately his fame had by then diminished and merited only a very short obituary in the Bucks Free Press!
WORLD WAR I TALK
The Flackwell Heath & Loudwater Local History Group in conjunction with the Flackwell Heath Royal British Legion have arranged a series of short talks which look at the impact of WWI on the two villages.
The first talk describes the villages as they were in the early 1910s, and this is followed by talks considering those servicemen who are remembered on the two War Memorials.
The final talk tells the stories of several of the many men from the villages who fought and survived the war.
The event is being held at the RBL in Flackwell Heath starting at 7.30pm and tickets are available from there, or from Flackwell Heath Community Library.
For further information contact Mike Dewey on 01628 525207 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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