Mr Joseph Edward Barton

During the era in which the town of Llanelli earned its nickname Tinopolis people came from far and wide to seek employment in the steel and tinplate works that dominated the town . The industries at this time drew in a highly skilled labour force that included craftsmen who were considered to be pioneers in the new science of electrical engineering. One such ‘electrician’ was Joseph Edward Barton.

Born at Moulton, in Lincolnshire on October 10th 1846, Barton came to live in Llanelli about 1874 where he is recorded to have lived at 79 James Street. He was employed as an electrician in Moorewoods Tinplate Works but this multitalented artisan was also an expert draughtsman. His skill in this field was recognised by his employers and his services were sought to draw up a number of submissions to the Patent Office. However, illness forced him to return home to his native town where he assisted his brother who was a potato farmer. The fresh air of Lincolnshire must have quickly revived him, for it was not long before he returned to Llanelli and found employment in the Copperworks.

Many of the craftsmen and labourers of industry at this time took up various hobbies and pastimes as books and publications on these subjects became more available and accessible through the libraries and the working men’s institutions. Joseph Edward Barton had been interested in violin making since 1864, but did not turn his attention seriously to the craft until about 1900.

By 1915 he had became known as a violin maker of merit, not only making and repairing violins and their bows but also manufacturing the tools required for the craft. By 1918 he had developed his violin making to such a fine art that he entered two examples of his work at the Art Exhibition of the National Eisteddfod which was held at Neath. To his dismay, they were disqualified because he had forgotten to remove his name plates from the inside of the violins! Anonymity being one of the rules of the competition. Two years later he acquitted himself well when he took the first prize at the Barry Eisteddfod, earning himself a gold medal.

During his lifetime he is said to have made at least 40 violins, some of which went abroad. Not only did he make and repair violins and their bows but he also made his own tools to carry out his craft. His versatility further extended into the modern technology of the time when he turned his attention to the ‘new fangled’ wireless radio sets. He is reported to have constructed two of these early receivers.

In December 1934, Joseph Edward Barton closed a busy life at the age of 88, by this time he was living at 3 Lloyd Street. Perhaps a fitting epitaph to this violin maker of Llanelli can be taken from the book ‘British Violin Makers and Bow Makers’ (Meredith Morris). “He has made a number of violins on an original model, of excellent material, workmanship and tone. Latterly he has turned his attention to the Stradivarius model and has produced some really high class work”

Fortunately, one of his violins remains at Llanelli and can be seen on display at Parc Howard Museum. This piece was kindly donated to the museum by Mr Graham Williams of Alban Road, in memory of his Aunt Miss Gertrude Sherwood who was formally on the staff of New Dock Junior School in the 1930’s & 1940’s. Mr Williams is a member Llanelli Community Heritage.

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