Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kennedy, Alexander

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KENNEDY, ALEXANDER (1695?–1785?), founder of a family of eminent violin-makers, was born in Scotland about 1695. He came to London early in the eighteenth century, and his place of business between 1740 and 1750 is variously described on the labels placed in his instruments as ‘Oxford Market’ and ‘Market Street, Oxford Road.’ He made nothing but violins, which he built on the high German, or ‘Stainer’ model, and varnished them with a brownish-yellow spirit-varnish. He died about 1785 or 1786. His nephew, John Kennedy (1730?–1816), born about 1730, was apprenticed to him, and subsequently worked by himself in Cooper's Gardens, near Shoreditch Church, in Houghton Street, in Clement's Lane, Clare Market, and in Long Alley, Sun Street, Moorfields, where he died in poor circumstances in 1816, aged 86. He was buried in Shoreditch churchyard. At one time he was prosperous, and employed several assistants; but they made only violins and tenors of the high German model, no violoncellos of his make being known. His instruments were of careful second-rate manufacture, and were made principally for the music-shops. He was married three times, and by his third wife had a son, Thomas Kennedy (1784–1870?), the best-known maker of the family. He was born in Houghton Street, Clare Market, 21 Jan. 1784, and after being some time engaged in his father's shop was apprenticed to Thomas Powell (17 June 1795). At the beginning of this century he worked sometimes for William Forster, jun. (whose son was subsequently apprenticed to him), but soon set up on his own account in Princes Street, Westminster. Thence he moved to 364 Oxford Street, where he worked for thirty-three years. Like his father, he worked a great deal for the music-trade, and, being a rapid and neat workman, was one of the most prolific of English makers. In 1864 he told his biographer that ‘he must have made at least three hundred violoncellos, and the other instruments in proportion—perhaps not quite so many.’ In June 1849 he retired from business, and in 1864 was living in Cumming Place, Pentonville, where he died about 1870. He was married, but had no family. He instructed in violin-making an old Spitalfields silk-weaver, named James Brown (d. 1830), who, like his son and pupil, James Brown the younger (1786–1860), was a good second-rate workman.

[Sandys and Forster's History of the Violin, Lond. 1864, in which is incorporated information derived from Thomas Kennedy.]

E. H.-A.