No. 1015: Stoke Newington Church Street, N16
Stoke Newington Church Street, London, N16. Photo © Roger Dean 2014
The Little World of London; or, Pictures in Little of London Life – Charles Manby Smith, 1857:
As your connoisseur in art is never a painter, though he knows the constituents of megilp, and can daub a bolster-looking cloud; so your connoisseur in fiddles is never a performer, unless the ability to rasp a quadrille or a polka is to entitle him to that designation. But the collector of fiddles, it is probable, derives as much pleasure from his accumulations as his brother of the studios. He gloats over the torso of an old instrument, and feels the same raptures on contemplating the graceful swell of the “belly,” as my lord-connoisseur does in the presence of an antique marble or a Venus of Titian. And as there are rival connoisseurs in art who bid and buy franticly against one another, so are there rivals in the fiddle-mania who do precisely the same thing. One consequence of this is, that fiddle-dealing is a snug money-making profession, the more pretentious branch of which is monopolised in London by a few old stagers, but which is carried on profitably in all the large towns. There is, for instance, Old Borax, whom those who want him know whereabouts to look for – within the shadow of St. Martin’s Church.
Borax makes but little demonstration of his wealth in the dingy hole that serves him for a shop, where a double-bass, a couple of violoncellos, a tenor or two hanging on the walls, and half-a-dozen fiddles, lying among a random collection of bows, bridges, coils of catgut, packets of purified resin, and tangled horsehair in skeins, serve for the insignia of his profession. But Borax never does business in his shop, which is a dusty desert from one week’s end to another. His warehouse is a private sanctum on the first floor, where you will find him in his easy-chair reading the morning-paper, if he does not happen to be engaged with a client. Go to him for a fiddle, or carry him a fiddle for his opinion, and you will hardly fail to acknowledge that you stand in the presence of a first-rate judge. The truth is, that fiddles of all nations, disguised and sophisticated as they may be to deceive common observers, are naked and self-confessed in his hands. Dust, dirt, varnish, and bees-wax are thrown away upon him; he knows the work of every man, of note or of no note, whether English, French, Dutch, German, Spaniard, or Italian, who ever sent a fiddle into the market, for the last 200 years; and he will tell you who is the fabricator of your treasure, and the rank he holds in the fiddle-making world, with the utmost readiness and urbanity – on payment of his fee of one guinea.
Borax is the pink of politeness, though a bit of a martinet after an ancient and punctilious model. If you go to select a fiddle from his stock, you may escape a lecture of a quarter of an hour by calling it a fiddle, and not a violin, which is a word he detests, and is apt to excite his wrath. He is never in a hurry to sell, and will by no means allow you to conclude a bargain until he has put you in complete possession of the virtues and the failings, if it have any, of the instrument for which you are to pay a round sum. As all his fiddles lie packed in sarcophagi, like mummies in an Egyptian catacomb, your choice is not perplexed by any embarras de richesses; you see but one masterpiece at a time, and Borax will take care that you do see that, and know all about it, before he shows you another.