The Winchcombe Harp

copy of original picture in the Winchcombe Psalter

The harp shown on the left is from an Eleventh Century illustration in an Anglo-Saxon illuminated manuscript (The Winchcombe Psalter, now in Cambridge University Library) from between 1030 and 1050 AD. The original drawing shows a seated man, representing King David, holding a 12 string harp, accompanied by various musicians. According to my calculations the original of this drawing was a harp of around 25 inches high with between 12 and 16 strings.

Left: copy of the drawing from the Winchcombe Psalter (Cambridge University library ms ff1.23).

Right: Side View; Click the picture for larger view (81k)

Picture of my reconstruction of the Winchcombe Harp

Picture of my reconstruction of the Winchcombe Harp
Picture of my reconstruction of the Winchcombe Harp

As this harp is a beautiful shape and very clearly depicted in the drawing, I decided to make a replica of it. My copy is 21 inches high, and has 12 horsehair strings. (I think that the original looks larger in proportion to the player, but that would mean it would have had more than 12 strings). It is made of beech wood. The soundbox is made from a solid piece of beech, hollowed out from the back which is closed by a thin board. The neck and pillar fit onto the soundbox with mortice and tenon joints and there is no glue, they are held in place by the string tension. The tuning pins are currently made of steel, rather than the probable bone or antler of the original, but are gradually being replaced by hand-made antler ones- three have so far been made and fitted. The strings are made from pale horsehair, originally intended for violin bows, which I twisted together like rope. The thinnest have 20 strands, the thickest 28.

Left: General views; Click the pictures for larger views (79k & 74k)

Picture of my reconstruction of the Winchcombe Harp

Hear me play a short excerpt from the Eleventh century Winchester Tropers, a book of two-part "organum" church singing.

Click here to listen to the Anglo-Saxon harp.
.wav file 268k

The music is from Corpus Christi Cambridge ms 473, f. 163v & f2v. (See The New Oxford History of Music vol II, OUP 1990 p.505-7 & pl. V)

Left: Side View; Click the picture for a larger view (79k)

my plans

Left: My plans from which I made my harp. Click on the picture to see the large version. You are welcome to use them if you want but please give credit and let me know.

Right: This is the tuning key I made to go with the harp. It is made from antler and is copied from a broken possible tuning key from the eleventh century which was found in excavations in York. I dyed it red using madder.

Picture of my reconstruction of the York Tuning Key

Simon Chadwick, Oxford, England. Return to Harp page.
Last Changed 7th April 2002