Welcome About  us What we do Our Meetings Events Contacts

History of our Barrel Piano


Built in the early 1900’s by Italian craftsmen working in the Clerkenwell Road area of London

Itinerant musicians played the instruments in streets and pubs to earn a living

Some time around 1919/20 Keith Prowse and Co (now famous for theatre ticket sales) announced that it was moving out of the business of selling and hiring barrel pianos

A person called Canon Wintle of Lawshall, Bury St Edmunds saw an opportunity to buy the machines (about 200) and to re-build them. They became hand turned, put in hand carts and pushed around the streets, providing employment for ex-Servicemen after the First World war.

Our instrument has a wooden barrel, pinned with ten tunes, including “Some Enchanted Evening”, “Something About a Sailor” and “Blaze Away”

It was spotted for sale in a London newspaper advertisement by a St Austell Rotarian, Bernard Probert in the early sixties.

A group of senior members of the Club, now sadly all deceased, raised the necessary cash of £100 and arranged purchase and transport to Cornwall

The Piano became a feature in Fore Street leading up to Christmas each year with the original tunes

It was cranked by hand for up to eight hours a day by a rota of Rotarians and sometimes other volunteers, including Pensioners from Sedgemoor Priory.

In 1975/76 the Club was very fortunate in finding Harry Woodhouse who was willing to restore and maintain this fragile instrument.

Harry, a dedicated musician and Cornish Bard, carried out the painstaking regular repair work on this instrument for most of the next twenty three years until 1997

After a few challenging years following Harry’s retirement, we had two strokes of good fortune:

- A substantial anonymous legacy for restoration work from someone who had benefited from our Christmas Parcels for many years

- Discovering another “Harry” in the person of Clive Ellison who over two years, totally rebuilt the whole machine.               

What you now see is the restored Piano in a new trailer, with new electric drive and interlock to better preserve the mechanism.

To save the mechanism as we now have taken recordings of the barrel music and have added other music and play it electronically for your enjoyment

With your help we look to many more years of Christmas cheer, raising funds for a good cause.