18 Mar 2015

Remarkable story of Leeds violin maker killed in First World War remembered at central library

Picture caption: Author Chris Sweeney presents a copy of his book to Cllr Lucinda Yeadon.

As part of the city’s commemoration of the First World War, a special event was held in the central library this week to mark an extraordinary story relating to a Leeds born violin maker that only came to light 90 years after he was killed on the battlefields of Messines in Flanders in 1917.

This follows research undertaken by Chris Sweeney, father of Sam Sweeney the renowned fiddle player of the groups Bellowhead and Leveret. Sam and Chris were intrigued to find out more about the life of Richard Spencer Howard after Sam bought the violin from a stringed instrument shop in Oxford, which while having Richard’s name inscribed on the label with the date 1915, looked remarkably new. Sam later discovered that the violin had been made but left unfinished by Richard in his workshop after he had signed up to fight in 1916 at the age of 36. In speaking to the owners of the shop, Sam was shocked to learn that the violin had laid in pieces in a manila envelope for many years until it was finally repaired. It was 90 years after Richard Howard began working on the fiddle that it was finally able to be played.

A former a luthier and some-time music hall performer, Richard was killed fighting in the Battle of Messines with the 10th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment, less than two years later on joining the army.

Through Chris’s research for his book, Richard’s descendants not only had the chance to find our more details about the story of the violin which they were completely unaware of, they also discovered there were relatives they never knew existed.

Watched by members of Richard’s family, Chris presented a copy of his book ‘Richard Spencer Howard –The Man Who Made Violins’ about his life and family tree to Cllr Lucinda Yeadon which is now available to read in Leeds Central Library. Also present at the event, was the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr David Congreve.

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for digital technologies, culture and skills said:

"The stories and experiences of people from different backgrounds and professions who came together to serve in the First World War are truly remarkable, and this particular example of Richard and his unfinished violin, which was discovered and played for the first time 90 years after he started work on it, is really extraordinary.

"It was a real pleasure to be able to meet Chris and be presented with his book about Richard and his family tree, especially as members of his family were also present. Richard was one of many people from Leeds’ who signed up to fight in the First World War, and this is another poignant reminder of not only their sacrifice, but also some of the individual gifts and talents they possessed before the conflict intervened."

Notes to editors:

For more information about Richard’s story please see http://www.madeinthegreatwar.com/

For more information on the council’s programme for the commemoration, please see http://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/Pages/WW1-Heritage.aspx

For more information about the First World War see the Imperial War Museums website at: http://www.1914.org/ or the University of Leeds: www.arts.leeds.ac.uk/legaciesofwar

For media enquiries, please contact;

Colin Dickinson, Leeds City Council press office (0113) 39 51578

Email: colin.dickinson@leeds.gov.uk

Contact information

Leeds City Council Communications team