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Family history of the jews harp making clans of Rowley
and round about

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: February 24, 2005

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Jews harpist and all-round expert on the curious little instrument, Michael Wright of Oxfordshire, made an appeal in our pages a few weeks ago for more information on the many Black Country-based Jews harp makers of old.

Here we reproduce two responses, both from descendents of Ferdinando Tromans, a local man mentioned by Michael in his article. Firstly, Roger Neal of Pedmore writes:

"I was pleased to read your feature on jews harps in the 3rd February edition, particularly with reference to the Tromans families. You were kind enough to print my contribution about my branch of the family back in December 2001. My maternal grandfather was Ferdinando Tromans, one of the last, if not the last, horse and cart coal haulier in Old Hill. Nando's grandfather was another Ferdinando Tromans, a jews harp maker by trade. He was living in Newtown Street at the time of the 1871 and 1861 censuses and is listed at Newtown in the 1851 census. His father William Tromans was also a jews harp maker, listed at Newtown just a few doors away from Ferdinando in 1851 and at Larance (Lawrence) Lane in 1841.

Over the years I have gathered quite a bit of information about Tromans families in Rowley Regis and about jews harp makers. There are references to jews harp makers in the birth registration records of Cradley Chapel (now St Peter's) for the period 1813 to 1839, the occupation of the father being stated with the birth details. People listed as jews harp makers were as follows:

Joseph Attwood, jews harp maker of Cradley Heath, married to Mary and father of Ann (15 Jan 1815), Elizabeth (23 Feb 1817) and Richard (22 Nov 1818).

James Attwood, jews harp maker of Rowley Regis, married to Mary and father of James (10 July 1825).

Benjamin Tromans, sometimes described as jews harp forger and sometimes as trump stock maker, married to Ann and father of Matthew (3 sep 1815), Rosehannah (29 March 1818) and Naomi (9 July 1820). Their abode is given as Rowley Regis in 1815 and 1818 and Dudley in 1820.

Benjamin Sidaway, jews harp maker of Rowley Regis, married to Sarah and father of Bill (24 Mar 1816).

Benjamin Tromans, jews harp maker of Colley Orchard, married to Ruth, father of Henry (19 july 1818).

William Price, described as jews trump forger and later as jews harp maker of Rowley Regis, married to Hannah, father of John (6 Aug 1820) and Benjamin (25 Apr 1824).

Henry Barnsley, jews harp maker of Rowley Regis, married to Ann Eliza, father of Adelaide (17 Mar1833), William Henry (23 Mar 1834) and Rowland (16 Oct 1836).

None of these people are listed in your recent article, though the family names Tromans, Barnsley and Sidaway again feature.

It is noticable that of the names listed above only one appears to live in Cradley itself. Many registrations relate to people from Cradley Heath, Rowley Regis, Newtown etc. This is also the case in many instances of registrations at Park Lane Presbyterian Church, where Ferdinando Tromans' birth was registered on 23 Nov 1823, described as the son of William and Abigail Tromans of Rowley. It seems clear to me that people living in lower Rowley Regis (Cradley Heath, Newtown, Dudley Wood, Reddal Hill etc) would prefer to walk to these nearer churches rather than made the long climb to Rowley Church or Dudley. There was no parish church at Cradley Heath or Old Hill at this time.

Examination of the 1851 census for Dudley and Rowley shows up more interesting information, particularly in the Newtown area. Those residences to the Dudley side of the Mousesweet Brook fall within the St Andrews, Netherton registration district, whilst those on the Cradley Heath side of the brook fall within the Rowley Regis, Reddal Hill district.

On the Cradley Heath side there are 28 houses listed in Newtown, of which just one is occupied by a Troman family (John Troman, warehouseman) and one other is occupied by a jews harp maker (Benjamin Sidaway). Contrast this with the Netherton side of the brook, where there are 35 houses listed. No less than 17 of these are occupied by Tromans families, of which four had jews harp makers amongst them. The heads of those four families were as follows:

Ferdinando Trowman, age 28 (my great great grandfather).

John Trowmans, age 68.

William Trowmans, age 52 (Ferdinando's father), his wife Abigail and two of his daughters, Hannah, age 17, and Emma, 14, are also listed as jews harp makers.

John Trowman, age 82, (2/6d per week from parish).

Other occupations of these 17 families include chainmakers, trace makers, nailors and day labourers. It is noticable that all the families on the Netherton side of the brook are name Trowman or Trowmans, whilst those on the Cradley Heath side are Troman or Tromans. This is likely to be because of the different way enumerators have spelt the name. The enumerator for the Netherton side was Benjamin Prince, and on the Cradley Heath side it was Tobias HIngley. The spellings are certainly interchangable over the years, and I find that with my family four different spellings have been used at various times.

"The 1851 census shows other families of jews harp makers close at hand, for instance at Dudley Wood, James Sidaway aged 72. Also there was John Barnsley, 74, his wife Rosannah, age 74, his son John age 32, and his wife Caroline, 30, grandson Robert,10, and grandson Alfred, 8; all described as jews harp makers.

There must have been many close family connections amongst the Tromans families all living so near to one another, and it is significant that the company selling jews harps, the John Barnsley factory at Netherton, was also quite close to Newtown.

Regarding the possibility mentioned in your previous article of jews harps being made at Samuel Tromans' works in Meredith Street, Samuel was certainly connected to jews harp makers, his father being the Ferdinando Tromans referred to above. The company carried out all sorts of small odd work so it may be so. I have a copy of a trade article from 'The Black Country and its Industries', dating from 1903. This describes all the items Samuel Tromans was making at that time but jews harps are not listed.

I was fascinated to read that the grooves on the top of the arms of the jews harps are a code for identifying the maker. 2 grooves/3 grooves is said to identify Troman - but which Troman? Does anyone have any information on this?

Jews harp making was in decline towards the end of the 19th century, but when I happened to check out a 1947 Kelly's Directory for Birmingham and Smethwick, what should I find but a single entry under jews harp makers, and the name, you might have guessed, M Troman and Co., of 23/24 Great Brook Street, Aston.

Tromans families must have been around in Rowley for hundreds of years, yet back in the 19th century it was unusual to find them elsewhere in the country; even in neighbouring parishes it was not a particularly common name. My scrutiny of the parish registers in the period 1640 to 1812 suggests that it was the third most common name in Rowley after Parkes and Willetts. The earliest references I have come across are the marriage of John Trowman and Francis Taylor at Rowley Church on 24th June 1641, followed by the marriage of William Tromaine of Dudley, glasier, son of William Tromaine of Dudley, also glasier, to Elizabeth Coley in 1656. Yet another spelling variation!

Like most families in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Tromans families were christened with some obscure and often biblical christian names. Those I have come across include Exekiel, True, Shadrach, Meshack, Job, Ambrose, Amos, Rosannah, Micah, Cornelius, Adin, Litley, Boaz, Honour, Daykin, Amphias, Kerrenhappuch, Noly, Partena, Beryn, Nanny, Booz, Iddo, Keziah, Merab, Sampson, Tamson, Barzillai, Benoni, Ephraim, Hagar, Ketura, Sindania, Uriah, Zilla, Francisci, Hiram, Nealy, Philomen, Sobieski, Zella, Captain, unbelievably Captain Captain, and finally my own connection, Ferdinando. What a motley crew!

Interesting footnotes in the Rowley registers are the birth on 22nd March 1767 of Jospeh Troman, son of Bridget Troman, housekeeper to jockey Jos. Harris, and on 27th September 1771 the death of Ferdinando Troman, parish fees 1/4d refused to pay.

I have often pondered on the origins of the surname Troman and its variants. Many dictionaries of surnames do not inclued it at all. The Oxford Dictionary of Surnames shows it as a variant of Trueman or Truman, namely a faithful, trusty man. A local historian suggested to me many years ago that it might evolve from the trow men who worked sailing the trows on the River Severn in the 19th century and before, but I have never found any hard evidence to support this.

Jews harps of various types have been around the world for hundreds of years as explained in your previous article. They have many names, Khomus or Vargan in Eastern Europe, Koukin in Japan, Guimbarde in France. Munnharpe in Norway, Maultrommel in Germany. In this country they have been known as jews harp, jaws harp, gewgaw, and also jews trump and jews tromp. It has recently crossed my mind that Troman might have derived from something like a trump man or a tromp man - or is this just speculative fantasy? If there is anyone out there who has any other knowledge or ideas on the origins of the Troman surname, I should be pleased to hear it."

***

We've also been contacted, by email, by another member of the Tromans clan, Paul Tromans, who writes:

"I was most interested to see the recent article concerning the production of jews or jaws harps in Cradley Heath, and particularly the involvement of the Tromans family in this industry. The Ferdinando Tromans referred to in the article was my great great grandfather, and I recall my father telling me that the family used to make jews harps in the past. The photograph of the works in Meredith Street would have been from the time of my great grandfather, Samuel Tromans, son of Ferdinando. Samuel officially established his business there in 1898, but by that time the activity had changed to the manufacture of gas hooks and staples. The lady pictured at the gate in the photograph is almost certainly my great grandmother. The business continued into the 1960's, but was finally sold to anothe rlocal firm, when the works and other buildings in that area were scheduled for demolition.

Incidentally, Samuel Tromans was a supplier to Eliza Tinsley and Co., where I have worked for the past 27 years."

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