Few English bowmakers have ever departed from the Hill/Bultitude tradition of making that developed from the styles of Tourte. Surprisingly, Tunnicliffe's bows 'are modelled on those of the famous French makers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries', with flowing lines and more rounded profiles.
Following a chance meeting in Bultitude's house with Robert Clarke, a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) Tunnicliffe's career shifted from repairs to making. Clarke placed an order for a copy of a colleague's fine Sartory bow. LSO principal bassist Bruce Mollison then asked for his Sartory bow to be copied - the first bass bow Tunnicliffe completed. Both Clark and Mollison were fundamental in promoting Tunnicliffe's work around the London orchestras; Mollison ended up buying five of his bows. Word spread to other players and a growing order book for bows and repair work enabled Brian to resign his full-time teaching post at Hastings Grammar School and set up as a full-time maker and restorer. Simultaneously, he began to record the details of all the best bows that came in for repair but, given the success of his early Sartory model bows, concentrated his studies on this maker's work.
A Tunnicliffe bowI first met Tunnicliffe in 1992 after he moved from East Sussex to Merrick Square in south-east London. Trinity Church, in the neighbouring square, is used solely by orchestras for rehearsals and recording - including London’s four world-class symphonic ensembles - and, by being on the doorstep, Tunnicliffe's business blossomed. He has since moved to Upper Sydenham, London SE26, but still has an 18-month waiting list for orders.
When I visited Tunnicliffe at Merrick Square, his south-facing basement room was crammed with the tools, lathes, free-standing drills and equipment of an archetier. Bows for repair and partly finished models hung from long nails in the wall and the heady aroma of wood dust and polish assaulted my nostrils.