If you ask people to name someone of significance who lived in Minehead most say Arthur C. Clarke, even though his stay was brief so let’s look at a forgotten Minehead resident of repute.
The aptly named High Croft in The Parks in Minehead built in 1923 by Burt & Sons for a Mrs Stoate, became the home of Robert Augustus Bower (born Bauer) in 1925. He was an international authority on violins and through his hands passed some of the world’s finest instruments worth many thousands of pounds, the masterpieces of all the great makers. At one time he possessed no less that 24 Stradivari.
On his recommendation alone hundreds of violins were purchased by some of the most eminent virtuosos. Many of the greatest players of the day were personal friends including Kreiner. Even the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, had violins in its Hill collection that had been purchased by the family on his recommendation.
Robert was born in Chicago, USA. His father, Augustus Bauer, was a well known Chicago architect. When Robert was only 4 years old a great fire destroyed most of the city. His own home was one of hundreds to be burnt down. His father who was practically the only architect in the city, designed many of the public and other buildings that made up the new Chicago.
At about 18 yrs Robert Bower came to Europe to pursue the study of the violin which he took up in Germany, Naples and Paris. Various well known artistes were his mentors and in due course he gained distinction himself as a player at public concerts on the continent and in London to which he came in 1902.
On some of these occasions he played on a violin given to him by his father made by the famous maker Guarneri. It may well have been this gift that sparked his desire to acquire violins from a connoisseur standpoint. For once in England, he began collecting instruments by well-known makers. His natural flair for appreciating tone and quality together with study and growing experience brought him to the highest eminence as an expert.
Bower also loved motoring and was one of the earliest motorists in the country, whose experience went back to the days of the red flag and regulations that restricted the drivers of over 130 yrs ago. As soon as the Locomotives on Highways Act was passed in 1896 removing the strict rules and speed limits of previous acts, Robert took part in the first Crystal Palace race for cars but was disqualified for starting too soon!
In 1919 he took up flying an enthusiasm which his wife, whom he had married in 1916 shared with him. They did a great deal of private flying. When they came to Minehead they found motorcycling to be a very congenial mode of transport and for many years found great pleasure in exploring the district in this way together. Robert travelled extensively in nearly every country in Europe and counted among his friends, not only violinists but people from other walks of life, some of whom, including Marconi visited him here in Minehead. He died at the age of 80 yrs and his body was taken to Bristol for cremation in a very private ceremony. His wife outlived him.
Compiled by Sally Bainbridge on behalf of Minehead Conservation Society.
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