Clarke Tinwhistles


The first Clarke Tinwhistle was invented in 1843 in a tiny village, Coney Weston, near Bury St. Edmunds, in England.

Robert Clarke, a poor farm labourer owned and played a small wooden whistle. He was a very sincere and honest man and when unjustly accused by the farmer of not working hard enough in the fields, he refused to work any more for him. At that time he heard that a new material had been invented called tin plate so he asked his friend, the blacksmith, if he could obtain some of it and shows him how to copy his wooden whistle, using this new metal product. The mouthpiece needed a wooden fipple so, because he did not own a saw, he made one out of one of the stays from his wife's corsets, utting the teeth with a file. The new tin whistle played so well that Robert decided to begin a business manufacturing them.

Robert Clarke heard that there were big opportunities for manufacture in Lancashire so, together with his son, walked all the way from Coney Weston to Manchester, pushing his tools and materials in a handbarrow. On the way he stopped in villages where there were markets. He set up his stand and made the tin whistles to sell to the villagers.

Sometimes he met the navigators, Irish labourers, who were building railways and canals and sold his tin whistles to them. These Irishmen took them back to Ireland, where those English tin whistles rapidly became Ireland's favourite folk instrument.

When Robert reached Manchester he set up his factory in a shed and soon became a successful manufacturer. He called his Tinwhistles "Megs" which is a Victorian nickname for a halfpenny, which is precisely what Robert charged for them. He made so much money that he was able to build two houses, a factory and a church in a nearby village called New Moston. He even went back to Coney Weston and bought up the farm. He did not trust banks so he kept his considerable fortune in golden sovereigns in buckets in his cellar. The money to buy the farm he carried in gold sovereigns in a Gladstone bag. He was indeed a very wealthy man. All from making the instrument that everyone wanted to play.