English Violin Maker Felix Foucher
After 30 years running a violin workshop it is still with a sense of eager anticipation that greets each “attic” violin that comes my way. But back in 1992 when I heard a tap on my workshop door I had no idea of the fascinating story that was about to unfold. A kindly lady named Joan entered clutching a violin made in 1914 by her uncle – a certain Felix Foucher.
Foucher is a violin maker much quoted but whose work has been so rarely seen that it was fascinating to see one of his creations and to hear at first hand about his life and sad demise.
Joan remembered his workshop – a workshop situated in the attic of the west London Foucher home – where Joan herself was born. She recalled the strange smells and the weird jars containing exotic resins and dyes such as Dragons blood (used for varnish making).
Felix was born in 1888 to a wealthy family in Wingate Street, Hammersmith. He had three sisters and one brother. We have a picture of the happy brothers George and Felix (Felix is holding the bow).
The boys followed their father George into the then booming violin business probably as repairer’s first and as makers second. George Foucher (senior) was president of the Royal College of Violinists and had a seemingly successful London violin shop in Mortimer street – the heart of the music world, there’s no doubt that the Fouchers were in the hub of the London musical scene running not one but two shops at the height of their success.
The turn of last century saw an absolute explosion in music making with a growing professional middle class with spare cash and spare time. Entertaining themselves at home was good, cheap fun. The gramophone was not yet readily available and the musical instrument industry was never before this much in demand.
But then came the First World War. Felix enlisted as a private to the East Surrey Regiment on March 20th 1916 and in 1917 Felix was fighting at Cambrai. It was here that one late summer’s day he gave up his leave to a friend whose wife was expecting a baby, a breathtaking kindness that was to be his last such act, for a few days later a grenade he was about to throw blew up in his hand causing such devastating carnage that no remains were found… not even his identification bracelet.
The streets of London after the Great War were filled with wounded soldiers whose reward for surviving the horrors of the trenches was humiliation in destitution, sickness of body and of mind. Thousands of the injured, shell shocked and mentally ill lived hand to mouth on the streets incapable or unable to return home. Felix’s mother having taken the death of her son so badly, refused to believe that he was indeed dead, and so she spent months walking the streets among the wounded calling Felix’s name, but of course forever in vain.
I bought the violin from Joan and have it still. I can’t bear to sell it.
I have seen four others sadly usually with the labels removed. His making is very much of the time, copyist in nature it seems to be a copy of the Neapolitan maker Nicolo Gagliano.
If anyone would like to see the violin we have it permanently on display. Opening times: 2 – 5pm Tuesday – Friday, 9am – 5pm Saturdays.