Mr Jeffrey James Gilbert was the son of Jeffrey and Eliza Gilbert from New Romney in Kent. Jeffrey senior was a watchmaker who played the Cello and was an amateur Cello maker. By 1871 Jeffrey junior was an assistant for Whatley Paviour, a watchmaker, along Narrow Street in Peterborough. As a young man Jeffrey studied the fiddle and decided that if his father could make a Cello, he should be able to make a fiddle. Jeffrey’s father did not encourage him, as being an amateur Cello maker he knew the pitfalls. Jeffrey, however, persevered; he located the finest sycamore from Czechoslovakia and began to make his first instrument. Jeffrey continued creating violins and gradually improved until, in 1884, at the International Exhibition at Crystal Palace he was awarded a silver medal for his first exhibit. Five years later he was awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Edinburgh.
Jeffrey Gilbert believed that to produce a beautiful violin, firstly, you required handsome wood; secondly artistic carving of the plates and scroll; thirdly a beautiful varnish and lastly, the tone of the instrument had to be good. He became a maker of national importance, many well-known musicians owned one of his instruments and praised the fine workmanship and beauty of the tone. Jeffrey was particularly proud of the beautiful varnish and continually experimented on improving it.
Mr Gilbert is described in the Directory of Beds, Hunts and Northants, 1890, as a ‘Violin maker & repairer, unequalled for brilliancy of tone & artistic finish of Bridge-street Peterborough’.
By 1901 he and his family were living at 2 New Priestgate where Jeffrey had his own business, this was nationally known as the ‘Gilbert Violin Studio’.
Peterborough Standard 24 August 1928.
Posh Folk: Notable Personalities (and a Donkey) Associated with Peterborough by Mary Liquorice, 1991.