Musical memories of Luton’s Bone family

Luton Mandolin Band outside the New Bedford Road shop in 1923

Luton Mandolin Band outside the New Bedford Road shop in 1923

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Shortly before the start of the 20th Century, Phillip Bone opened a shop in New Bedford Road, Luton, selling quality musical instruments.

Bone & Co became a national authority on stringed instruments and a feature of the shop was the musical doorbell which sounded very much like a few mandolin notes. Pianos, organs, violins, guitars and mandolins were sold.

Phillip conducted the Luton Band and in 1890 he formed a mandolin group which bore his name, later becoming the Luton Mandolin Band.

He also published a book, Biographies Of Celebrated Mandolinists And Guitarists, which became a standard work in many countries.

His children naturally studied music and daughter Mary won the English Mandolinists’ Championship at the age of 21.

Irene joined her father’s band and was also an accomplished tutor and harpist who gave lessons to gentlemen’s children in local stately homes, including Luton Hoo.

Luton Mandolin Band held concerts all over B ritain and Phillip continued to be a leading member of the musical community, working and playing until his 90th year.

When he died, aged 91, after retirement in 1964, Irene continued with the shop, but was reluctant to replace anything.

Gas lighting remained for many years and Miss Bone refused to handle or stock electric guitars, stating: “They are only played by people who pretend to be musicians.”

She became the conductor of Luton Mandolin Band and often performed on the BBC Home Service in the In Town Tonight programme.

She also provided soundtrack for the1964 MGM film The Yellow Rolls Royce.

Irene Bone (she was in fact Mrs Meeks, but was always known as Miss Bone) died in 1978, aged 84. Her Steinway grand piano was left to a college of music in London.

Luton High School girl Mary Bone, who married a Luton News reporter in 1950, eventually retired to Scotland and died in 1999.

As neither she nor Irene had any children, the Bone dynasty came to an end and the shop was finally sold and turned into a hairdressers, although the interesting green tiled exterior remained, depicting mandolins, drums and trumpets, all designed by Phillip Bone.

> Information for this article was supplied by Bob Norman’s book Were You Being Served?, remembering 50 Luton shops of yesteryear.

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