When the German composer Handel settled in England in the 18th century he found he was unable to get flutes made to his requirements so he brought over a German family of flutemakers, the Starcks, who settled in London. Succeeding generations of the family can be found in the London trade directories, R.H.Starck, Silversmith in 1816, John Starck, Musical Instrument Maker 1844, Charles Starck,Watchmaker 1857, Edward Starck, Musical Instrument Maker 1865, Axel Starck, Merchant 1866, Starck Brothers, Flute, Flageolet and Clarionet Makers 1874,Walter Starck, Flutemaker 1889, John Starck, Music Seller 1900, and J.Starck and Son, Musical Instrument Makers 1900.
Henry Starck (1845-1924) first appeared in the 1889 directory as a Musical Instrument Maker at 31 Drummond Crescent and 8 Werrington Street N.W.
In 1920 the firm moved to 6 Kentish Town Road where it remained until it last appeared in the directory of 1962.
A newspaper article from 1949 described an incident in the 1880s when Queen Victoria's piper William Ross discovered a tiny shop in Werrington Street, St Pancras, with the sign Henry Starck Flutemaker. Ross tried to persuade Starck to work for him and left the shop a disappointed man with memories of an indignant Cockney craftsman shaking his bearded head.'Bagpipes', Henry Starck told his wife that night,'he wanted me to make bagpipes!'.
However Starck did agree to work for Ross, and when Ross died in 1891, Starck continued the business and was followed by his son Albert Henry (1874-1955) and grandson Henry Albert (1909-1989) who joined the firm at the age of 14.
The Starck motto was 'the best is only good enough' and such was Henry Albert's determination to preserve the family's reputation that, in the absence of a son to carry on the family tradition, he closed down the business when he retired. In a newspaper article in the 1950s Henry Albert admitted that the memory of his grandfather throwing a set of finished pipes on the fire because they did not meet his standard was deeply etched in his mind.
"Craftsmanship," he was quoted as saying,"is something wrapped up in the individual. It is putting into the work something so as to turn it out as perfect as human hands can make it."
The late Mr Starck went on to state that Scots had lost the
art of craftsmanship, turning the art of making pipes into a factory
operation rather than keeping them products of the workshop. In
the early 1900s Henry Starck Snr. was involved with William O'Duane
of Dungannon, Ireland,in the development and manufacture of a
new type of bagpipe, which was advertised as the Dungannon, the
forerunner to the'Brian Boru' pipe.This could be
played on the march, had two complete chromatic scales and was described as having been 'revived from the ancient Irish bagpipe' and being'the most perfect bagpipe made'.
From 1908 onwards Henry Starck took out a number of patents on the Brian Boru bagpipe
and in 1910 issued a booklet addressed'To Bagpipe Players':"In this little booklet I beg to
bring to the notice of bagpipe players and all who are interested in music, the advantages which my patent Brian Boru Bagpipe possesses over all other bagpipes.
The Brian Boru Bagpipe is the only marching bagpipe in existence which has a chanter possessing a complete chromatic scale ranging from E natural to C sharp, or a third above and a third below the Scotch chanter. It is, therefore, able to play any music, as most music can be arranged for the compass in which the Brian Boru is set.
It has three drones: Bass A,TenorA and Baritone E, which harmonise perfectly with each other and with the chanter, the drones being in fifths, the tone produced is equal in depth and
mellowness to the tone of an organ.
The scale, on account of its simplicity, can easily be learned in a few hours, and the manipulation of the keys will come quite naturally after a little experience. If an hour each day be devoted to practice, the performer should, at the end of six months, be qualified to play operatic and other selections with comparative ease.
Scotch pipers will, no doubt, wish to play the Brian Boru Pipes, and in order that they may be able to do so without the trouble of being compelled to learn a system of fingering different to that which they have been accustomed to, I have designed a Brian Boru Chanter with the fingering the same as that used on the Scotch Chanter, so that a performer on the Scotch Pipes can, without the least difficulty, play the Brian Boru Pipes also. This chanter has exactly the same compass as the original Brian Boru Chanter.
If desired the Brian Boru Pipes can be had with the drones in the Scotch style; though by having all the drones placed in a common stock gives a much fuller and more perfect tone, and is, therefore, recommended in preference to the Scotch style.
By having a Baritone E top, Scotch Pipes can be converted into Brian Boru Pipes by simply removing the top of the centre A tenor drone and putting in its place the Baritone E top."
An old Starck brochure in the College museum gives the following prices for the Brian Boru:
Half Nickel mounted: £15 ($25US) Ful1 Nickel mounted: £17 ($28US) Full Ivory mounted: £24 ($40US)
The prices have the following addition:"Any of the above models can be supplied in ebonite with bores and sockets of the drones metal lined at an extra cost of ($13US). Scottish system in above 15 shillings extra in each case"
Although the Brian Boru was played by many Irish bands Starck continued to make conventional Highland bagpipes as the Scots remained unconvinced of the advantages of the Brian Boru.
In Canada's Piper and Dancer Bulletin of 1959, Starcks are described as: "Famous among Britain's bagpipe makers since the reign of Queen Victoria (the present Henry Starck's father was bagpipe maker to the Queen's piper Pipe Major William Ross), Starck bagpipes have recently been modif1ed and brought into line with the modern trend towards a more slender chanter with more chromatic performance, coupled with greater volume and finer tone. Tested against many other makes, Starck bagpipes were recently chosen by the Canadian Army as the best instrument for all regimental pipe bands." Charlie Wicks (19151988) and his brother John (born 1922) were the sons of Grace Starck, a relative of Henry's, and both worked for Starcks in the 1930s and1940s. Charlie Wicks was later to make pipes under his own name.
The third Henry Starck was unmarried and had no son to follow
him so decided to close the business. He retired to Devon where
he died in 1989.
Les Cowell, founder of D Naill and Co, joined Starcks as an apprentice pipemaker in 1947 earning £1 7/6 per week ($25US). He left in 1953 to join the famous instrument makers Ruddall and Carte (connected to the same Carte as in D'Oyly Carte Opera) where he learned to make oboes, flutes, cor anglais and other woodwind instruments.
He later worked for Boosey and Hawkes before founding his own company. Of Henry Starck the third, Les Cowell said:"Starcks always made very good bagpipes and I don't mean just drones. His chanters were ahead of their time. I recently reeded up one made for Harry Denyer, Northern Ireland, in the 50s and it sounded perfectly in tune to the modern pitch.
It wasn't accepted when it came out because it was probably too high pitched. In other words too close to concert Bb. They said he produced a bad chanter but he didn't. The great JB Robertson won the Bratach Gorm in London, I think it was in l952 or'53, playing The Bells of Perth on a Starck chanter.
It has to be remembered that Henry Starck was first and foremost a consummate musician. He was a concert pianist and highly competent flautist. He was meticulous in the finish he applied to his instruments. His work was beautifully done. His workshop was as good a training ground as anywhere in the world . . . including Scotland."
Jeannie Campbell is currently compiling a comprehensive book
on pipemakers. If you have any information or old photographs
you think may be of assistance or interest please send it/them
to her at the usual address