Site of harpist family’s home, Park Lane, Caerphilly

Photo of Walter and Richard BarkerCaerphilly’s National School was built on the north side of Park Lane in the 1860s, next to where Clwb y Ddraig is today. The first headmaster, who lived in the nearby school house, was harpist Richard Barker, whose sons Walter and Fred also became renowned harpists who both toured Australia as teenagers. The top photo shows Richard and Walter.

Richard was born in 1843 in Shipton, Yorkshire. His father was an agricultural labourer. Richard studied at the music college in Manchester. He passed on his musical talent in Caerphilly, which became known as the “home of harps”. By 1897 his pupils had won first prize at one international and 10 national harp competitions, including the National Eisteddfod.

Richard was later head of the Twyn School, which had replaced the National School. You can see a photo of him with his Twyn Penillion Singers on this page. He invested wisely, leaving two houses in Caerphilly and 10 in Llandaff North on his death in 1924.

Photo of Walter Barker with his harpHis son Walter (middle photo) was born in Cwmbrân in 1864 and won the National Eisteddfod harp prize aged 12. A “Yorkshire gentleman” funded Walter’s three-year course at the Royal Academy of Music after hearing him play at the 1878 eisteddfod. When Walter returned to Caerphilly station one evening in September 1878, he was greeted by over 500 people and carried through the town as a band played ‘See the conquering hero comes’. While studying in London, he played at state concerts in Buckingham Palace and for the Prince and Princess of Wales at Marlborough House.

In 1895 he became the first harp teacher at Melbourne’s conservatoire. He toured Australia and America but eventually went blind. He died in 1933. His harp is exhibited at the University of Melbourne’s Grainger museum – follow the link below for details and photos.

Portrait of harpist Fred BarkerFred (lowest photo) was born in 1871. He won the National Eisteddfod harp prize in 1883, aged 12. On arriving at Caerphilly station from the eisteddfod, he was placed in a chair and carried through the main streets, as the town band played, “amidst the vociferous cheering of the inhabitants”. In 1896 he was commissioned to assemble a harp band for the Prince and Princess of Wales’ visit to Aberystwyth.

For at least six years, Fred played in Jules Riviere’s Llandudno orchestra for five months each year. The orchestra played some of Fred’s compositions. Fred also taught music and was an orchestral conductor.

He married opera singer Lydia Care but had divorced by the time he was appointed conductor of the Cape Town orchestra, South Africa. He died in 1924. His daughter Pauline Barker was a BBC orchestra harpist. Another daughter was a playwright under her married name, Elsa Malik.

With thanks to Tanya Dowthwaite, great-great-granddaughter of Richard

Postcode: CF83 1AA    View Location Map

Photos of Walter’s harp – website of Grainger Museum, Melbourne

Website of Clwb y Ddraig