Volunteers’ workshop – flash fiction with Instigate Arts

By Sarah Reynolds, volunteer

Heather the archivist in R.N.C.M. and the woman responsible for creating and bringing the ‘Making Music in Manchester in WW1’ to life, teamed up with Instigate Arts to deliver creative workshops on the project. Together they have picked out a narrative from some of the material I have helped to digitise, and will be working with it in a variety of creative ways to help bring the past to life. My workshop was a creative writing workshop, something I have not had a lot of time for since finishing college, so it was nice to get writing again.

Two images had been chosen from the archive, the aim was to create a piece of flash fiction. Flash fiction is a cross between an extended poem and a very short story, which was a nice challenge as I had not encountered or worked with this genre formally before.

Continue reading “Volunteers’ workshop – flash fiction with Instigate Arts”


Volunteers’ visit – Hallé Concert Society archives

By Sarah Reynolds, volunteer

Myself and some of the other volunteers have been helping to digitise some of the R.N.C.M.’s records, which in part include notebooks and concert posters from the Hallé librarians. We went to the very new and modern Hallé building at The Bridgewater Hall to meet the archivist and to learn more about their history, their archives and how the R.N.C.M. and The Hallé have worked together since The Hallé’s creation. Whilst I know of the Hallé I did not know a lot about how it all started, so I learned a lot from both the R.N.C.M. archivist Heather and The Hallé archivist Eleanor.

Continue reading “Volunteers’ visit – Hallé Concert Society archives”

Volunteers’ day out – Henry Watson Music Library

By Sarah Reynolds, volunteer

I went to visit the Henry Watson Music Library in The Central Library with Heather and the rest of the team from the R.N.C.M. who have been working on the project, ‘Making Music in Manchester During WW1’. When we had all arrived we met Ros, the librarian who is in charge of the Henry Watson Music library, who also has musical training and is a cellist. Ros says that having some musical experience was an advantage when undertaking the music library due to the associated terminology and jargon that comes with a specialist subject area. She does say that even without any prior musical knowledge it is easy to pick up the essentials quickly and easily.

Continue reading “Volunteers’ day out – Henry Watson Music Library”

Project update!

The workshops are starting, the content is nearly all online and our exhibitions are being created! It’s full steam ahead at project HQ (my desk).

The workshops

We are working with Instigate Arts to design and deliver workshops which encourage creative responses to the stories we have uncovered and the material we have digitised. Inspire Centre, Levenshulme, had a jolly time of it working on a song arrangement performed at the college from just before the war.

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11 Nov 1913 programme of songs

We’re looking forward to seeing what the fabulous people at HideawayAbraham MossBack On Track, TLC St. Luke’s and Lifeshare think of our collections!

The images

The material we have chosen to digitise is so rich in information. We have programmes and registers from the Royal Manchester College of Music. We have a play and wartime childhood magazine written by composer Alan Rawsthorne when he was just a lad! Letters between musicians talking about how the war is affecting them and their families. Papers re internment of musicians overseas.

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Illustration from Alan Rawsthorne’s satirical wartime play King George V, 1917.

We have, from the Hallé Concerts Society archives, programmes from the war arranged into gorgeous little annotated notebooks from the then librarian. These show all kinds of nuances and tricky programming problems to do with the war.

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Lovely messy librarian’s book from  the Hallé.

From the Henry Watson Music Library, we have the notebooks of Gustav Behrens, parton to much of Manchester’s music organisations. In these he collected notices, programmes and most interestingly newspaper clippings about music making in Manchester during WW1. Full of pure gossip!

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“Music in Wartime” article, 1915, explaining that a committee has been formed to help Manchester’s musicians affected by the war.

The exhibitions

Our portable pop-up banners showing some of the most interesting stories through each collection are being designed as I type and we’re ready to put the content of those onto the wonderful digital displays at Archives+.

We’ll let you know when they’re up and about so you can nip in and see for yourself.

Still to come!

We have yet to get all the images online and will be sharing them on History Pin, too.

We have workshops that are yet to take place and we’re so excited about them.

We have yet to figure out what to do after this project ends in terms of what we want to develop. So! If you have any ideas, do get in touch!



Music Making, Musicians and Gender

Part of my Volunteer role at the RNCM Archive has been to select content for the final pop-up banners. It has been surprisingly difficult choosing which documents to highlight and write about when telling the stories of the Hallé and the Royal Manchester College of Music during WW1 as there are so many fascinating items. We wanted to tell 3 stories on 3 banners; the changing repertoire, how the musicians, students and teachers were affected and the role of gender within the organisations. As I have now finished this, I thought I would write about some of the items I have chosen here, including items which didn’t make the cut but still give an insight to the changes the war created.

Halle. HA.PR. (11)In a Hallé Concerts Society Programme for 1918-1919 there is an advertisement for Forsyth Bros. Ltd. It explains that there is a vast shortage of Pianos as manufacturers were instead made to produce planes for the war. I love the honesty in the advertisement as it admits that the prices for the Pianos are high but reasonable in consideration to the war situation. It also shows how the war must have really effected their Music Business, although there would have been more female students who would have played the Piano during the war, which may have helped.



Behrens4 (91c)This is the last page of a speech by Gustav Behrens addressed to members of the Hallé Concert Society in 1914. The speech tells of the complications the war would create but the need to continue putting on the Concerts. This last page gives a list of possible Conductors who would be willing to work for free to save the Hallé’s expenditure. Notice how they are all of British, or Allied origin. Finally, it is made clear that the music played will be ‘bright and cheerful’ to keep up moral during Wartime.



There are various items belonging to Carl Fuchs and amongst them is a Christmas card sent from his Prisoner of War camp in Germany. Carl Fuchs was a German Cello teacher at the Royal Manchester College of Music who had travelled to Germany in 1914 to visit family. Unfortunately, having been in the UK for so long, he was seen as suspicious and was interned at the Rhuleben Internment Camp when war broke out. The camp was quite relaxed and whilst there Carl Fuchs even helped to create a band.

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The 1918 Annual Report for the Royal Manchester College of Music highlights the broad spectrum of troubles the College had coped with during the year such as male students and teachers leaving the college to fight in the war, as well as the teacher Carl Fuchs being detained in Germany. The Roll of Honour lists the names of students who had left the College to fight, including those who were killed in action. With so many male students having left, the College took in a large amount of female students during the war to take their place and were able to keep afloat because of this. There then came such a huge overhaul when after the war, returning men were given grants by the government to attend the college as a sort of rehabilitation programme and the demographics of the college changed once again.

RMCM.B.3.3. (1918 roll of honour)


HS. (66)It was particularly difficult finding evidence of the Hallé’s introduction of female players, but it was finally discovered whilst scouring through the Halle Society’s Librarian Notebooks where I found a list of names of players in the Hallé Orchestra Concert for February 15th 1917 including 5 women playing second violin. Before the war there were no female players in the Hallé apart from singers or guest players. As the numbers of men dropped during the war, the Hallé had no choice but to introduce female players for the first time. Unfortunately, when Hamilton Hartly became Conductor in 1920 it was all reversed as he was widely apposed to women playing in his Orchestra.

By Volunteer, Kezi Porter


How the Hallé adapted during WW1

Recently I have been looking through the Henry Watson Music Library, in particular  Gustav Behrens’ notebooks. Behrens was the Chairman of the Hallé Orchestra Society and his collection of notebooks contain News clippings, letters sent to members, speeches by Behrens, and annual and financial records. Altogether they give an insightful look at the effects WW1 had on the Hallé Orchestra and how different people came together to keep the concerts running during a financially tense and difficult time.

Thomas Beecham

With the war beginning in 1914 the Hallé came into trouble firstly with their conductor Michael Balling being away in his German homeland. A letter addressed to Balling from August 24th 1914 says ‘the whole matter of your conducting the concerts during the continuance of the war is fraught with many difficulties’. As a result, it was decided that there would be a number of guest conductors during the coming concert season with the orchestra finally settling with Thomas Beecham.  For the entirety of Beecham’s time as a Conductor during the war he didn’t take a fee which almost certainly helped towards the Halle’s war time success. Interestingly, advertisements were put out asking for purely English conductors in contrast to the German Mr Balling.


As the war progressed the Halle was faced with financial difficulties and tough decisions to make in order to save money and make a profit. It is clear from the records that it was a priority to keep the musicians of the Halle in work. In a speech to the members of the society the Chairman, Gustav Behrens, spoke of how musicians would be ‘placed under the painful necessity of applying for public relief’ if they weren’t in work over the winter season. The speech goes on to say that the musicians will be paid but only half that of their normal rate which the players accepted. Because of this at the end of the 1914-1915 season a profit was made in contrast to the previous season which had made a loss. With the sacrifice the musicians had made in mind, they were then refunded with the profits. During this time a committee was also set up to help musicians of the North. A clipping from the Daily Post advertises the ‘Committee for Music in War Time’ in which Behrens was an Honorary Treasurer. It outlines its duties which were to ‘cover the interests of needy musicians’ by ‘giving employment to singers and instrumentalists who are entirely dependent on their professional work’.

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Gustav Behrens speech 1914
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Gustav Behrens speech 1914


Over the span of the war years the repertoire of the Halle changed. Thomas Beecham, the newly appointed conductor took the opportunity the war on Germany created by introducing music from other nationalities where previously there had been a great focus on German music. One article from the Guardian on September 10th 1915 expresses how there were as many as ’52 composers and almost every nationality from Europe’  in the 1915-1916 season programme. The same clipping also reports ‘the music of living German composers is almost by legal necessity barred’. It wouldn’t have been right to play current German music, but in contrast music by the Great Masters like Wagner and Beethoven, who came before the current German Empire, were very much accepted and loved so Beecham took the opportunity to put on big Wagner nights. Beecham also introduced Saturday concerts where smoking was allowed and there was a more relaxed feel, these concerts proved popular and continued after the war.


The Society’s Annual Reports throughout the war highlight the problems the Hallé encountered during each seasons’ year and how they planned to overcome them, such as increasing subscription fees or asking for an increase of money from Guarantors. Subscription numbers appear to drop throughout the war and the Annual Report for 1916-1917 explains  ‘darkness of the streets’, ‘shortage of petrol’ and ‘curtailment of Railway accommodation’ are all reasons as to why subscribers hadn’t been attending the Concerts.

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Annual Report 1916-1917

It has been really interesting to see through the collection how the Halle was plunged into change during WW1. They faced but overcame many troubles by sacrificing wages and concerts, changing and updating the music played and adding Saturday concerts, all which contributed to keeping the public morale high during the War. In a detailed article from The Times on 20th March 1918, the Halle is described as having a ‘new lease of life’ since the war had begun. It has also been lovely to read how the Musicians livelihoods were at the forefront of the society’s priorities. With the article also mentioning the great success of the Music in War Time Committee being a ‘sign of the increasing interest in serious music’.

By volunteer, Kezi Porter


WW1 family history at Royal Manchester College of Music

Did one of your ancestors study at the Royal Manchester College of Music during 1910-1924? Interested in the kinds of students that came and went? Can’t book in to see the archive in person? No worries. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and National Lottery players, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve digitised all of our WW1 student programmes, student registers and diploma registers and put them on a fabulous Manchester Digital Music Archive exhibition. Best thing? It’s free to access!

What information you can find

On the student registers, you find the student name, ages, main study (pianoforte, singing, violin etc.), their addresses, who they were responsible to (parent, funding body etc.), their dates of entry and leaving.

You can then cross reference this with the diploma registers. These show which students attained which qualifications.

If you’re interested, you can then have a glance through the programmes of the Royal Manchester College of Music to find if they gave any performances through their time at the College. These records will tell you date of performance, what they performed and who their teacher was.

Tips and tricks for navigating the archive

The student registers are listed chronologically in order of student arrival. Check the leaving date. Then, nip over to he diploma registers and look around that leaving date for their name. These are arranged chronologically in order of when the student graduated.

For programmes, most students gave a performance at one or more of the student examination concerts. So, look for their name around the time when they graduated. They may pop up in student open practice concerts a year or two before that date as well.

There’s a lot of info on some of the images so if you can’t see full image properly in the exhibition, just find it on our contributor’s page.

Find anything interesting? Find your ancestor or someone who used to live on your street? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

What do you think? Keep an eye out for more updates!

Student Registers

I had the pleasure of looking through the student registers to find students whose place at the RNCM was paid for by the government, as part of a post-war scheme.

If you look through the student registers, you will find certain students whose ‘responsible person’ is either the Board of Education, War Pensions, Ministry of Labour or Local War Pensions. This means that their place at the RNCM was paid for by the government after WW1.

I found this very interesting as I was unaware that the government had set up a scheme which enabled soldiers who had been a musician prior to the war, to go back to college to continue their studies. It’s also interesting the notice the range of ages of the students, some young and some older than the rest of the students.

In my opinion, I think this was a great way of helping people to try and go back to normal life after the devastation of the war. I also think it would have been a type of escapism for ex-soldiers, as music can be used as a distraction from real-life.

What was also curious was noticing how many terms these students stayed at the RNCM for; some staying for quite a number of terms but the majority staying for less than 10. Upon discussing the reasons for this, we concluded that it was either because these students were struggling with life post-war or because the government could only pay  their tuition fees for a certain number of terms.

It was definitely interesting discovering the number of soldiers, who had been musicians or students at the RNCM prior to the war, who were able to return to playing and learning music through the government scheme.

By Jessica Watson, volunteer.

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We’re back! New project, new opportunities.

That’s right! We’re back, this time with a fabulous pot of funds from the generous Heritage Lottery Fund. We’ve a new agenda and new horizons to catch. Let’s see what we’ve got planned.

Our new project developed from the evaluation of the previous one. Whilst of AHRC-funded project, “Making Music in Manchester during WWI” did what the project said it would do, there was definitely more that we could do with it.

Continue reading “We’re back! New project, new opportunities.”

Mysteries and Nuances

Check it out! We’ve been published in the Manchester Region History Review. Inside is a summary article about some themes on the project written by RNCM Archivist, Heather Roberts. Browse the fabulous magazine or skip straight to the middle for our article summarising the mysteries and nuances we have been exploring.