The man responsible for the design and manufacture of the first John Grey banjos was Francis Beddard, an Englishman who had gone to Anierica in the late 1890's to work in the S.S. Stewart factory in Philadelphia. When SS Stewart failed in 1901 Beddard returned to England and soon after secured a job in the factory of Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd. It was his craftsmanship and flair for knowing how to sell the banjos he made which put John Grey instruments "on the map." (His son Robert--an expert banjoist and banjo maker himself- has been on the staff of Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. for many years as production manager.)
It is not irrelevant (as we shall see) to note that in 1914 Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd. patented and marketed the first portable gramophone under the trade name of "Decca." With the slogan "she shall have music wherever she goes", by 1927 the sales of these portable machines was enormous and dwarfed the sales of all other goods made by the company, although the manufacture of banjos was thriving because of the dance-band boom.
In 1918 the firm founded another separate company - British Music Strings Ltd., with a factory at Monsell Road, London, N.4. With a tie-up with Olly Oakley, they were soon supplying all types of banjo strings to players all over the world. In 1927 the piano side of Barnett Samuel & Sons Ltd., was merged with Brasteds and floated as the Associated Piano Co. Ltd.
Truly the firm had become a vast empire in all aspects of the musical instrument business.
In 1928 the British Equity Investment Co. Ltd. bought Barnet Samuel & Sons Ltd. without the right to use the title of the firm. (The firm's holdings in Associated Piano Co. Ltd. and British Music Strings Ltd. were not included in the deal.) Re-named The Decca Gramophone Co. Ltd. the firm was sold by the investment company to a consortium headed by E. R. Lewis and was floated as a company under the title of title of the Decca Record Co. Ltd. The entire instrument part of the business was included in the eight shares of John Grey & Sons Lid and these shares purchased by Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. who continued to make and market "John Grey" banjos at 32 Worship Street up to the outbreak of World War 11.
After the Rose, Morris & Co. Ltd. started to make banjos again in a spasmodic fashion. When the company was acquired by Grampian Holdings Ltd. in 1960 their factory began to turn out inexpensive banjos in quantities to meet the demand of retail shops and these instruments were labelled “John Grey". In 1967 the company entered the retail side of selling and, as a matter of policy, ceased to use the name of "John Grey," for any of its products; the banjos they make now bearing the "R.M." trademark.
Images courtesy of David Neve