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Clarke, the Stradivarius of the people.

When people talk of a tinwhistle or a penny whistle there is only one name is on people’s lips; Clarke Tinwhistle.

The story of the Clarke Tinwhistle goes back over 170 years to a small village in Suffolk, Coney Weston. A poor farm labourer Robert Clarke heard about a new way of manufacturing; tin plate. He had already whittled and fashioned a whistle out of wood and asked a local blacksmith to re-create his wooden design in tin plate.  But the new tinwhistle still needed a wooden fipple. (the mouthpiece) Being an ingenious sort and very poor Clarke fashioned this out of one of his wife’s corsets. The tinwhistle played like a dream and its ‘chiff’ (the sound it makes) is unique to Clarke through its conical bore, that’s still the same today as all those years ago.

At the time the industrial revolution was taking hold and he had grand ambitions. So, after a dispute with his landlord he decided to walk with his wheelbarrow to Manchester from Suffolk to seek his fortune in the tinwhistle game. Along the way Clarke and his son stopped off at markets and villages and made tinwhistles for the locals. The simplicity of use and the pitch perfect sound was a revelation. The locals couldn’t get enough of them. During this long walk Clarke met many Irish labourers along the way, these navvies who were creating the canals and railways that paved the way for the expanse of the industrial revolution in turn took them back to Ireland. Thus, making the Clarke Tinwhistle the undeniably favourite Irish folk instrument.

When Robert and his son reached Manchester, they set up a small manufacturing base in a shed. Soon though they out grew it and built a factory, two houses and a church in New Moston, Manchester.  They began to call them ‘Megs’ which was a slang word for halfpenny which is how much the whistles were sold for. Robert’s ambitions reached new heights when the company exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851. To prove how far he had come he eventually went back to Coney Weston (no longer by shanks’ pony I expect) and bought his old farm with gold sovereigns.

That great Clarke Tinwhistle tone is perfect for beginners and accomplished musicians alike. If it is good enough for James Galway to have learnt on…

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