Norwich-built replica Shackleton banjo to return to the South Pole

Simon Middleton of the Great British Banjo Company and the prototype banjo he is now going to manufacture with the backing and support of customers via Kickstarter.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY Simon Middleton of the Great British Banjo Company and the prototype banjo he is now going to manufacture with the backing and support of customers via Kickstarter. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Monday, January 27, 2014
12:56 PM

A team of explorers is preparing for a gruelling trip across the South Pole to mark 100 years since Shackleton’s failed expedition – carrying a banjo.

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Simon Middleton of the Great British Banjo Company and the prototype banjo he is now going to manufacture with the backing and support of customers via Kickstarter.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYSimon Middleton of the Great British Banjo Company and the prototype banjo he is now going to manufacture with the backing and support of customers via Kickstarter. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

When Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship the Endurance was crushed by ice in November 1914, he told his crew they could take just 2lb (0.9kg) of personal belongings from the sinking vessel.

But he told ship meteorologist Leonard Hussey he could take his 12lb (5.4kg) banjo, claiming it was “vital mental medicine”.

And 100 years later, Norfolk manufacturers the Great British Banjo Company is building a replica instrument to return to the South Pole, where it will complete the mission.

It will be carried by explorer Stewart Stirling, 49, who plans to play the banjo at the South Pole at temperatures as low as 55 degrees below freezing.

The retired police officer, of Cornwall, has been learning to play in preparation for the 100-day ITACE 24 trip, and plans to video the performance.

He said: “The E100 will probably be the most technically advanced banjo in the world.

“Carrying and playing it at the South Pole is a welcome challenge, and forges yet another historical link with Shackleton’s expedition. I’m sure both Shackleton and Hussey would have approved.”

He will travel on skis with four other explorers, tracing the route which Shackleton had mapped out.

And the replica banjo has been designed by Norfolk’s Great British Banjo Company who are the first to make banjos in volume since before the Second World War.

Simon Middleton, managing director of the firm which is a member of the EDP Future 50, said the company wanted to create something special when it discovered the centenary of the Shackleton mission.

He added: “When the crew lived on lifeboats they had nothing to entertain themselves with apart from the banjo.

“As far as we know this will be the first time a banjo will have been played at the South Pole.”

Unlike the Shackleton instrument, the specially-made E100 banjo has been designed to withstand freezing temperatures. It will be made from carbon fibre with synthetic strings instead of metal ones and will weigh just 3lb (1.4kg).

The British and Commonwealth team, ITACE 2014, will attempt the 1,200-mile crossing as proposed by Shackleton from the Weddell
Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. The three men and two women will each pull 90kg of equipment.

The company will deliver its first Shackleton banjos to customers next month, and will introduce further models later, including a limited-edition centenary Shackle-ton banjo marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the explorer’s Endurance expedition.

For more details visit The Great British Banjo Company.

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