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Joe 'Fiddler' Thompson

He was an American old-time fiddle player, and one of the last musicians to carry on the black string band tradition.

One of the dodgy characters of bygone Halifax was Joe 'Fiddler' Thompson, born in Halifax in the mid-18th century.

A fiddler

He was treated roughly as an apprentice and ran away several times, once even being jailed for truancy. His second master flogged him so severely that he was crippled. Finally released in poor health, he was taught to play fiddle as a means of earning a livelihood. It was a job that gave him a taste for ale and a turbulent life.

He married at 18 and had a son, who died of smallpox at 5 years old. At this time, Joe joined a circus. After his son's death, he lived with a German lady fortune-teller for a year and a half. For a while, he toured around fairs as far afield as Nottingham, Macclesfield and Chester with this companion. On occasions, he would pop back to his wife in Halifax. One day however, after drinking at Liverpool, he found himself fiddling on a boat bound from France to Guinea.

His wife met him off the ship in 1779. She had a set of women's clothing for him, to avoid the Press Gang. With his pay, they bought a new fiddle and went back to Halifax where he joined another touring company. Things came to a head in his marriage in 1786. This was after various other scrapes, which included almost hanging himself in a Hartshead pub. His wife finally threatened to leave him after another beating, but local Methodists stepped in to mediate. The upshot was that Joe joined the Methodists and gave up drinking and she stayed. That same year he also gave up fiddling and the temptation it entailed and acquired regular work at a dyehouse. Fiddler Thompson died on March 5, 1812.

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