The first RNCM cohort – snapshots of lives in music

In the last post – I talked about how we could research the people listed in the 1893 RNCM register, most of whom are women. I’ve shared some of the research findings here – with some intriguing, but sometimes incomplete findings. It is very difficult to find details on women’s professional careers because their names often changed at marriage – and not just their first name as some women became professionally known as Mrs [Husband’s first name] [Husband’s last name]. It is worth noting that the Married Women’s Property Act had only come into effect in 1882.

So here are 16 mini-biographies where women can be traced – more may be added if I find anything else!

  1. Bardsley, Edith
  2. Blair, Beatrice, H.
  3. Blydt, Muriel M.
  4. Birchall, Edith
  5. Booth, Ethel
  6. Boyd, Jessie
  7. Burrows, Harriet
  8. Child, Evelyn
  9. Cockshott, Hilda U.
  10. Eaton, Lilian
  11. Entwistle, Mary H.
  12. Grime, Minnie
  13. Leach, Ada
  14. Platt, Edith
  15. Slack, Elsie
  16. Webster, Edith

Bardsley, Edith

(b. 1866, d. ?) principal study singing, studied 1893 – 1889 for 12 terms. She gives address as 27 Gibson Road, Heaton Moor. As a student, she performed at the ‘Gentlemen’s Concert Hall’ in Manchester, along with fellow student, Minnie Grimes (Courier, 30/10/1884). The Concert Hall was the location of Halle’s 50-piece orchestra at this point – it is notable that she appeared relatively early in her training.  After she left the college, she worked professionally as a musician with perhaps later amateur appearances, sometimes as Madame Edith Bardsley. She performed Henschel’s ‘Spring’ at Leigh (Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser, 01/12/1899). Performed at ‘a grand evening concert’ at the Bowness Institute (Lakes Chronicle and Reporter, 06/03/1901, 4). Also performed with David Clegg’s Concert Party (Buxton Advertiser – 30/03/1901, 8). She is difficult to trace but appears again in 1910 as Madame Bardsley at the Bramhall Music Society (Alderley & Wilmslow Advertiser, 01/04/1910, 7).

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Blair, Beatrice, H.

(b. 1866) she lived in Eccles before attending as a vocalist, though she only attended for three terms. She continued some aspects of musical life, she performed as an amateur singer in April 1899 at Eccles Lyceum (Manchester Evening News, 25/04/1899, 5). She was then living in Pendleton, and appears a final time, arranging a musical concert for the ‘widows and children in the Transvaal’ (the Boer Wars) (Gentlewoman, 23/12/1899, 26). Little more can currently be found of her, so she perhaps changed her name when marrying.

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Blydt, Muriel M.

(b. 1869) pianist and composer – enrolled at the unusually young age of 14, from the well-to-do area of Palatine Road (her address was Rydal Mount), attended for 17 terms (until ????). She was awarded her Teacher’s Diploma in 1896 (Courier, 17/07/1896, 5). After leaving, she appears in several concert listings including ‘Miss Helen North’s Grand Concert’, which seems to have been an annual event in Grantham in 1897 and 1898 (Grantham Journal, 27/02/1897, 8; 05/02/1898, p. 4). In 1897 she was described by the Grantham Journal as ‘a young woman still in her teens [who] played the pianoforte with astonishing skill’, who was encored and gave ‘a splendid performance of Chopin’s Fantaisie Appasionata’ (27/02/1897, 8). She also composed (her ‘tarantella’ is noted as part of a concert for the Manchester Operatic Society, (Manchester Evening News, 28/01/1899, 5). It is possible she married in 1900, which would explain her apparent disappearance – as she would have changed her surname, but no further details are currently available.

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Birchall, Edith

(B. ? – d.?) Professional music teacher, taught piano, singing and violin. She remained known under her maiden name but married name was Mrs Charles Johnstone (it was then the habit to acquire the full first and last name of one’s husband), in Manchester suburbs in 1910s (Northwich Guardian, 24/05/1912, 2). 

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Booth, Ethel

(1877-?) was 16 when she entered to study the piano, and stayed for 12 terms to gain her teaching certificate. She can be found offering ‘pianoforte tuition’ at the end of the decade in the Northwich Guardian (06/07/1898, 1). There is no way to confirm this is the same Ethel, but she potentially pops up in 1925 singing and playing with a concert party on Manchester’s local radio station in 1925 (Nottingham Journal, 22/10/1925, 3).

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Boyd, Jessie

There may well have been two Boyd’s professionally active during this period – at the moment, there is no easy way to tell. There is a vocalist Boyd who was already performing concerts in 1870 (Surrey Advertiser, 08/01/1870, 1). The Boyd in the register has no age, which does suggest a maturity (or at least, an unwillingness to reveal her age) and if she was the same person she clearly had an established professional presence throughout this period. As a singer, she performed in wide ranging concerts from Handel’s Messiah, to the grandly titled, but not necessarily accurate ‘Grand Ballad Concert of the Royal Italian Opera’ (Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, 23/11/1881, 3). If it was the same person who took a period of 15 months to refine her piano playing, she soon returned to professional touring after she finished. There is no way to know for sure whether it is two separate women – but again an opportunity to note the possibilities for a woman to have a touring career, albeit one that is hard to fix to a particular individual a century later.

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Burrows, Harriet

(b. 1866 – ?), principal study violin, studied 1893 – 1897. Burrows gave her address as 16 Parkfield Street, Manchester, when she took her place in the first cohort of students. She studied at the college for 12 terms (four years), and was awarded her Teacher’s Diploma. After graduation she can be found in various concerts – playing Mendelsohn violin solos in Huddersfield, at a concert of Liza Lehmann songs at the Athenaeum club in 1899, and puts on her own concert in 1914 at the Manchester Townhall (Courier, 07/01/1914, 6). These performances continue until 1916. No further information can be found.

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Child, Evelyn

‘Teacher of voice production and singing’ Richmond Hill, Old Trafford, Manchester (Northwich Guardian 07/10/1899, 1) 

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Cockshott, Hilda U.

(b. 1866) Principal study, violin. Had both a career as a violin teacher (Lancashire Evening Post, 21/01/1895, 1) and in amateur and church performances (Preston Herald, 11/01/1896, 6).

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Eaton, Lilian

‘Miss L. Eaton is a skilled pianoforte soloist who plays with brilliancy as well as perfect taste’ (North Wales Chronicle, 08/05/1897, p. 2). In June 1885, she passed the Royal Academy of Music sight reading exam (North Wales Chronicle, 27/06/1885, 4).

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Entwistle, Mary H.

Senior Grade Pass Certificate under the Associated Board of the Royal Academy, in piano – May 1892, (Courier 07/05/1892, 7)

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Grime, Minnie

Minnie was 16 when she entered the school as a vocalist, and her training seems to have continued after she left after 9 terms, when she possibly attended the Royal Academy of Music. She was certainly billed as a ‘medallist of the Royal Academy’ when in concert in Belfast (Northern Whig – Saturday 15 January 1898, 1). Her appearance was procured with ‘great expense’ Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 07/12/1901, 2). There are many mentions of her throughout the first decade of the 1900s, she clearly was able to sustain a professional musical life. She was billed as a ‘soprano from London and Liverpool concerts’ Shields Daily News , 30 July 1898, 2). She clearly acquired some fame as coverage describes her as well known to locals, one account of a concert notes she ‘sang with her usual ability’ (Northern Daily Telegraph, 09 December 1910, 7). It is possible she played at Queen’s Hall London (Morpeth Herald – Saturday 13 February 1904, 5). The last reference to her as a performer appears in 1912, as an amateur soloist with a chorus (Haslingden Gazette, 27/04/1912, 6). 

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Leach, Ada

Later reports suggest her fees were paid for by the local corporation of Heywood (Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 03/08/1900, 4). She worked professionally as a musician, in 1899, she sang at the Tynemouth Theatre in a variety line up (Shields Daily News, 22/05/1899, 3). By 1900 she was part of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (Shields Daily News, 10/07/1900, 2). This arrangement was not a long one, as she was ‘late of the Carl Rosa Opera company’ by 1904 (Jarrow Express, 11/03/1904, 3).  She was performing in variety in the 1910s, in Burnley in 1910 (Burnley Gazette, 01/07/1910, 8), Wakefield in 1911 (Wakefield and West Riding Herald, 01/07/1911, 4). She returned to Heywood to perform as ‘Madame Ada Leach’ at a church anniversary concert in 1903 (Heywood Advertiser, 24/07/1903, p. 5) and again in 1912 (Heywood Advertiser, 18/10/1912, 5). By the 1920s she can be found working as a music teacher (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 05/08/1922, 3). 

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Platt, Edith

born in 1859, Edith came a little later to the college in life than many of her cohort, as a semi-established professional vocalist. She stayed for three terms. Before she came, she had advertised in September 1892 for professional positions, a pupil of Madame Alice Lamb and Mr W. Shakespeare, ‘open for high-class Concerts, Oratorios &c’ (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 17/09/92). There are several mentions of her appearances in Manchester in the year before she studied. In March 1893 she appears at the Carlisle Drill Hall concert, the reviewer noted she has ‘a very pleasing if not powerful voice’ (Carlisle Express and Examiner, 18/03/1893, 5)

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Slack, Elsie

Slack registered her address while studying as 2 Shakespeare Walk, Manchester, to the south of the city. Though she appears to have married in 1901, her husband’s name is unclear. She sang in semi-professional roles under her maiden name, she appears to have lived in Melton Mowbray for a while and returned to sing at charity concerts (1905, 1906, 1914). She performed in a concert version of Handel’s Messiah in 1928 in Arbroath, Scotland. No further information can be found. 

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Webster, Edith

(b. 1867 – d. ?) She started with the college aged only 16, her principal study was piano, and she was living in Cheetham in Manchester. She remained for 21 terms, receiving her performer’s diploma in 1896 (with distinction, Courier 28/11/1896, 7). In 1900, Webster became a teacher at the college, in celebration of this promotion from student to teacher, she played Beethoven’s Sonata in C Minor (Manchester Times, 23/03/1900, 6). She played other concerts that year, in October at a piece which showcased the work of composer Liza Lehmann- ‘the most important piece was [Lehmann’s] song cycle’ (Courier 31/05/1900, 8) – but Miss Webster played Beethoven’s variations on C Minor. When Mr William Backhaus, professor of piano, left in 1905, it was noted that his ‘associates as professors and teachers of the pianoforte at the College are Miss Olga Neruda, Miss Bretey, Miss Julius and Miss Edith Webster’ (Courier, 11/10/1905, 10). She continued as a regular accompanist and soloist for many concerts in Manchester throughout the 1900s and 1910s, and must have been a well known presence in musical life in the city. Specific examples include in 1901 (Courier 04/03/1901, 4), and in 1915 (Courier, 12/10/1915, 4)

Sources: British Newspaper Archive

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