Violinda violins were designed by John Hullah Brown (born 1875) of Richmond, England. John Hullah Brown was a music teacher who created the Violinda in the 1930s as a way of teaching the violin in large classes of children. Hullah Brown had been dissapointed in the failure of the Maidstone System of group violin tution and came up with his own national vision for music education - which he published in his 1938 book Instrumental Music in Schools. He set out his vision for group violin lessons in this book - " the aim of violin classes and school orchestras is not directed to instrumental specialisation, but to allowing every child to share the delights of instrumental ensemble up to the point of his or her musical capacity, with specialization again reserved for the final stages." The Violinda's classroom role clearly influenced its design which was robust, affordable, easy to use and quiet . The Violinda is 3/4 sized and has a corner-less design, flat back, dots on the side of the fingerboard to aid intonation and easy to use geared tuners. The thin body also means the instrument is relatively quiet.
These instruments were made in Czechoslovakia and all have a guitar shaped body and arched top with flat back. Early models have extremely narrow ribs and in places the belly tapers at the sides and is attached directly to the back. They have a trapezoid shaped head stock with four tuners at the top operating vertical tuning levers. Some of the early ones have 2 per side mandolin tuners instead (as seen in the Pathe News 1940 film). The f-holes have pointed ends, but the tailpiece and bridge are conventional.
Another variation (also in the Pathe News 1940 film) shows different construction, but most likely still from Czechoslovakia. The body has the same guitar shape but with thick pressed plywood top and the ribs have constant width (the top no longer attaches directly to the back). A wooden chin-rest is glued directly to the top and an aluminium tailpiece (painted black and marked VIOLINDA) is screwed directly into the body. A screw into the button also helps hold the back on. The headstock is narrower than the other model and has mandolin tuners with pearloid plastic buttons. The f-holes are more conventionally shaped. The finish is not conventional violin varnish but more like something used on guitars of the era.
Their unusual design means Violindas are sometimes displayed in museums. Violindas have been exhibited at the Museum of Richmond in England, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) in Australia and the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. The MAAS Violinda was donated by Melbourne luthier Roger Buckmaster who displayed it for many years in the window of his shop. The Auckland Violinda comes from the collection of Zillah and Ronald Castle. From the 1930s onwards Zillah and Ronald Castle's amassed a large collection of early and unusual musical instruments which was purchased by the museum in 1998.
It unclear how long Violindas were manufactured. The second world war is likely to have disrupted production. Hullah Brown's Richmond School of Art and Music at Halford House closed in 1939 and the building was taken over by the Women's Voluntary Service for civil defence use. Hullah Brown returned to the building after the war - he claimed ownership in 1951 according to a report in the Richmond and Twickenham Times on 17 February 1951. He said Halford House was 'neither vacant nor derelict' but admitted the former school of art was in a bad state of repair. Hullah Brown was again in the newspaper in 1952 - "A man with very decided views is Mr J Hullah Brown, 75-year-old professor of music, of Halford House, Richmond. He believes that the best place to sleep is in the open, and so he spends each night of the year in his garden."
Source: Richmond and Twickenham Times. 17 February 1951
Source: Richmond and Twickenham Times. 30 August 30th 1952