In a Wurlitzer catalogue dated 1940 Jay C. Freeman gives an introduction to Hill bows based on information supplied by Alfred Hill and also provides a few direct quotations from Alfred. The dates can be a little vague but he suggests James Tubbs applied to work for William Ebsworth Hill about 1860 and left his employ around 1872. ‘William Ebsworth Hill … began making bows about 1860. He employed James Tubbs as a workman.’
William Ebsworth probably never made a bow himself, but saw his role as superintending the making; whether Tubbs required direction is questionable, he had already described himself as a bow maker in 1851 and had been trained by his father, the bow maker William Tubbs. The 1862 prize medal winning bows of the Great Exhibition were the work of James Tubbs. Both Tubbs and W.E. Hill and Sons subsequently claimed ownership of the prize in their advertising.
The earliest Hill bows by Samuel Allen are stamped ‘W E Hill’ but later ones bear the full ‘W.E. Hill & Sons’ brand, making him the first recorded maker for the company. He is completely absent from the Wurlitzer catalogue’s brief history. It is clearly implied that bow making in Hanwell began in earnest with William Napier, William Retford, Sydney Yeoman and Berkeley Dyer in the 1890-92 period. The catalogue states, ‘Messrs. Hill & Sons’ bows have been made exclusively in their own shops at Hanwell, England, since 1890. Every part of the bow is made there.’ The Hills’ relationships with both Tubbs and Allen were somewhat strained.
Jay C. Freeman [Alfred Hill], tells us the slabs of selected Pernambuco are, ‘marked out in bow-sticks, special precaution being taken to have the grain run straight, the full length of the stick. They are then sawn up and the rough sticks placed in the loft to season, where there are never less than six to seven thousand sticks undergoing this slow drying process.
“When the bow-sticks are finished, and before being fitted with frog and hair they are given another seasoning process, lasting several years.
“Bending or springing the stick is a purely artificial process that is done with heat. There is no such thing as a naturally shaped bow-stick. Everyone is shaped by heat. Pernambuco is so pliable that a bow-stick can be twisted to screw-shape, by heat and by the same process restored to its original shape. Therefore warping in a bow-stick is in no sense a fault, for it can easily be made straight by means of heat.”
He goes on to quote Alfred Hill directly, “We use the best, unbleached Siberian horse-hair … We were the first to use whalebone wrapping – it being very light in weight and durable … we flatter ourselves we have brought the art of bow-making to the highest standard of perfection … As to testimonials: our bows are used by all the greatest players of the day, a fact that speaks for itself.”
From the 1890s Hills progressively established a house style which was followed with great diligence by later generations of employees.
One feature of the Wurlitzer catalogue is particularly interesting; it offers, and displays a picture of, a bow branded, ‘Hill & Sons’; a type very rarely encountered. The common brands being ‘W.E. Hill & Sons’- 1st quality, ‘W.E.H & S.’ or ‘W.E.H. & S.’- 2nd quality, ‘H & S.’- 3rd quality, ‘Hill’- 4th quality. ‘W. E. Hill’ and ‘W E Hill’ also appear on early period bows by Tubbs, Allen and possibly Voirin. It would appear from the pricing that ‘Hill & Sons’ was placed in quality between the ‘H & S.’ and ‘W.E.H & S.’ bows.
Hills also supplied other dealers both in the UK and abroad, and their work can be seen on ‘Hart & Son’, and ‘J & A. & Beare’ branded bows, amongst others, their bows were also sometimes supplied unbranded.