Till Family Rock Band
Also known as a Harmonicon
Last updated: April 2011
Introduction by Dr A. M. Till
I am only an indirect distant relative of this Concert Group but my interest was first stimulated some 20 years ago when an aunt passed on to me an original Till Family Rock Band concert programme, dated 1885 (see right, click to enlarge).
Excerpt from the programme:
Since that time I have collected information from various sources in UK and USA. The Till family were one of three who lived in the Lake District and constructed stone notes from rock removed from a valley alongside the mountain known as Blencathra. The Richardson family produced their instrument and played throughout the UK (instrument is in good condition and exhibited in the Keswick Museum / Cumbria). The Abraham’s were the last family to have their own instrument but it's whereabouts has never been established. The Till’s instrument would date from 1870 to 1880 for construction. The instrument consists of a wooden trestle, some 11 or 12 feet long, supported two shelves of stones tuned to give 5 octaves - 65 notes insulated and mounted on straw ropes. Wooden hammers covered in leather were used as percussors. Individual stones measured from 30ins to 6ins long and up to 3" broad or more.
A BBC Radio 4 programme in 2006 presented by the international percussionist Evelyn Glennie featured the instruments in the Keswick and Coniston Museums and the Richardson stones have been played in public at a number of concerts mounted on a modern wooden sounding board.
Besides performing in their own locality, the Till Rock Band toured Birmingham, Bath, Brighton, Liverpool and Llandudno,Darlington and Preston, Torquay,Scarborough and York. Scottish appearances were in Perth and Dundee. They even played in the Isle of Man.
Their crowning performances of 136 concerts were at the reconstructed Crystal Palace site at Sydenham in 1881. Recent research has revealed a superb advertisement for their appearances in the main auditorium. See image on right (click to enlarge).
The original performers were Daniel (Snr) Annie,William,
Daniel Jnr, and Elizabeth (Lizzie)
1. Owned by a near relative - single octave.
Letter from John Ruskin, the great English art critic:
Various reports in UK and USA lead one to believe that the family were of a Non-Conformist background and supported their local churches with fund raising etc. Indeed they performed for several years at the Chautauqua Institution. Originally this was a Methodist Foundation in 1894 but is now open to all faiths not only to increase knowledge of religion but also education and the arts. Thomas Edison,of phonographic fame, was Honorary President of this Foundation and a friend of the Tills.
Photographic material available gives insight into the dress of the performers and the main Harmonicon and additional instruments mentioned in the programmes. Cello and violins, swinging harps and musical glasses gave variety to the performances as well as vocal solos. We have detail of the nature of Zither and Gigilera also mentioned. Accuracy over dates is difficult but by 1895 the Till family decided to tour America and in the end stayed for 5 years as a performing group. They settled in Bayonne, New Jersey - Manager William Till's address is listed as 715 Ave. C (telephone 51A Bayonne!). They toured the USA and Canada (Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick) and it is recorded that in total they performed 8,000 concerts and never failed to fulfil a booking! After five years the group decided to disband with three members returning to the Lake District in UK. However, William remained and continued to perform ably assisted by his three daughters Esther,Mildred and Greta.
1999 saw the publication of Images of America - Bayonne in which there are descriptions and references to the Till Family Rock Band and as a result of this publication references to Till family activity have been extracted from the "Bayonne Herald".
Mr William Till (of the Till Family Concert
He was apparently organist at this church for 27 years.
I am indebted to all those who have supported my researches and contributed. In particular my colleague,Andy Alliffe, has also researched the Lakeland Rock Band story and compiled a very professional and detailed manuscript on the subject. Recently much background to the Till Family in the USA has come to light with William Till’s personal scrap book and notebook.
If you have any information that you would like to contribute towards my research, I can be contacted at: email@example.com
Any new information would be very gratefully received!
William Till with three daughters Esther,Mildred and Greta.
This image appears to show William with the Rock Band at his retirement home and garden in East Orange.
Andy Aliffe firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Kathleen Middleton Author of Images of America Bayonne.
Bayonne Public Library, New Jersey, USA.
Metropolitan Museum of Art-New York Curator of Musical Instruments.
The Galpin Society.
Tony Bingham ( London) Specialist in Old Rare and Unusual Musical Instruments.
Ruskin Museum, Coniston, Cumbria UK
Martha Carson-Project Manager-The History Channel (UK)
Beamish Open Air Museum-Durham. UK.
Keswick Museum and Art Gallery Cumbria UK.
Jamie Barnes email@example.com
Wilfred L Thornthwaite, Rugby, Tennessee, USA.
Till Family Tree