Arthur O Windsor 1858 to 1938
As a young man, Arthur Octavius Windsor acquired a thorough knowledge of wood and metal working and by 1887 had a small factory in Birmingham for the making of coffin 'furniture'.
He played the banjo as a hobby and when the instrument started to become universally played he made some instruments after his own design. He had his own bench in a corner of his factory where he fashioned the instruments that carried his name as maker. His banjos proved popular and in three years he had set up an instrument factory in Newhall Street and was employing a staff of twenty-five, all making banjos. Very soon his range of instruments included most of the fretted instruments. He made the first mandolin-banjo with a back built up of separate segments and in 1893 took out a patent to use the same method for the backs of zither-banjos, although he continued to use one-piece backs on his cheaper models.
At school, Arthur had been called 'Castle' and he adopted the silhouette of Windsor Castle as a trade mark and called his premises in Newhall Street 'Castle Works'. (In addition to the 94 Newhall Street factory, he had sawmills and a wood-working plant in Mott Street). In the early days, Windsor tested every instrument before it left the factory. In March 1892 he teamed up with Arthur J.Taylor, a prominent Birmingham teacher ( who taught Olly Oakley) and player of the banjo and the firm of Windsor & Taylor came into being. (Oakley was working in Taylor's shop at this time so this employment came to an abrupt end and Oakley went to work for Joseph Riley where he sold Windsor & Taylor banjos)
Taylor had begun to teach the banjo in 1881 and had first met Windsor in 1885 whilst trying to find a good banjo of English make to sell to-his pupils. They-did business together for some time before entering into a deed of partnership. It was at this time the firm started to make open-back banjos. In January, Windsor & Taylor organised the Birmingham B.M. & G. Orchestra which gave its first public concert in March of that year. These concerts became regular affairs (at which the leading soloists of the day appeared) and the orchestra also visited such places as Coventry, Leamington, Liverpool, London etc.
Windsor and Taylor entered the publishing field and this, coupled with the public appearances of A.O.Windsor and A.J.Taylor (both of whom were first-class banjo soloists), did much to publicise the instruments they made and a studio was set aside for him in the factory to enable him tocarry onwith his teaching activities. The fact that Oakley changed to zither banjo and was playing a 'Windsor' did much to boost sales.
Unlike other manufactures of the day, every part of the instruments made by Windsor & Taylor were fashioned in the Newhall Street factory, including all the metal parts used. The latter were always 'non-standard' so that a replacement could only be purchased from them.
1896 the firm published a 50-page booklet How a Zither-Banjo is Made. Given away free of charge it helped sell the instruments which were already a household name.
In 1901, Taylor left the firm and then the title became Arthur O. Windsor. He had a stand at the British Industries Fair, White City, London, which was most impressive and did much to make the Windsor products known to overseas buyers. In 1928 Windsor brought out his famous 'hollow arm' zither-banjo with its revolutionary resonator-type back.
Windsor made instruments for other firms and would copy any design or model. They also supplied many of their cheaper stock instruments branded with the retailer's name as maker.
The firms range of banjos, zither-banjos, banjolins and mandolin-banjos was wide because, they offered a large discount on catalogue prices, their lower-priced instruments became known in the trade as 'pawnshop banjos'. These instruments could always be found in pawnshops throughout the country where they would be offered for sale for as much as 50%, below the catalogue price.
The firm ceased to exist in December 1940, two years after Windsor had died, when the factory was destroyed in an air raid. Up to that time Windsor was probably the largest maker of fretted instruments ever known in this country. The output of the Newhall Street factory in Birmingham must have been into many thousands of instruments each year.