‘I shall vanish into the no-where whence I emerged – my emerging task will be finished and I shall be so overwhelmingly glad to see you again that I shall not care whether I’m forgotten or remembered’ Hope Squire Merrick letter to Frank Merrick 17th October 1917

This blog deals with a teacher at the college during the latter years of the war and it’s a long one, but I find Hope’s story completely absorbing and I hope that you agree with me that Hope should be remembered even if she herself appears not to care.

Hope Squire was born in 1878 in Southport. She studied piano under Dohnanyi, having heard him play Beethoven’s 4th she asked him if he would teach her, and she became his first English pupil. Hope then went on to have a career as a concert pianist and teacher. Although she was not taught composition systematically, she composed about 40 songs, including settings of Newbolt’s Imogen (performed in the College in 1918), and Shelley’s A Widow Bird Sate Mourning. She says in a letter of 15th April 1919, ‘I greatly prefer Shelley to Keats. He seems much more inspired and vivid; I may be wrong but I always get the impression that Shelley felt and Keats thought.’ Works for piano included Variations on Black-eyed Susan and a tone-poem Tom Bowling. In 1911 she married Frank Merrick, also a concert pianist. They moved to Manchester when Frank was appointed a Professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music. They continue as musical equals after their marriage playing concerts together.

‘Mr Frank Merrick and Madame Hope Squire (Mrs Frank Merrick) gave an interesting concert at Bechstein Hall on May 3, at which they both appeared in the capacity of composer. In a group of songs, sung by Mr Gale Gardiner, and in a set of pianoforte variations on ‘Black-eyed Susan’, Madame Hope Squire showed an interesting individuality and freshness of thought. Mr Merrick’s Trio in F sharp minor was played by Madame Hope Squire, Mr Willie Woltmann and Madame Edith Evans.’ (Musical Times, June 1 1912.)

They shared a musical life but they also shared a socially and politically radical life in Manchester. Hope was a member the Women’s Social and Political Union and then after 1907 an active member of the Women’s Freedom League. Frank was also an active supporter of women’s suffrage, carrying banners on marches. They are both vegetarians and they are both anti war.  This was not a problem although the College did ask him in 1914 not to “attempt to influence any of the College students on matters unconnected with their studies”.  But then Frank is called up in December 1916. Although a conscientious objector, he did not refuse the initial call up but only on being ordered to put on a uniform, did he refuse. This lead to his arrest and a court martial. As other conscientious objectors he was imprisoned at Wandsworth Prison and later Wormwood Scrubs. Initially, the College wanted to help Hope and they offer her his job. The Minutes of the Board of December 12th 1916 state, “The Principal announced that Mr Merrick has been called up for Military Service and that it was necessary to make arrangement for the carrying on of his work. Resolved: that Mrs Merrick be invited to act as substitute for her husband during his temporary absence”.  The Council follow the Board’s lead and six days later on 20th December 1916 The Minute Book of the Council records, “Resolved: that Madame Hope Squire be appointed as substitute for Mr Merrick during his temporary absence as recommended by the Board”.

The Council is less sympathetic after Frank’s imprisonment and we read in the minutes of 21st March 1917 that, “Resolved: that the Principal and Staff be reappointed with the exception of Mr Merrick whose case be reconsidered at the next meeting of the Council.” However, Frank’s case is never mentioned again in the official records of the College. Throughout this period at Open Practices and Public Examinations, the students who are taught by Hope have Mr Merrick-Madame Hope Squire given as their teacher. The next mentions of Frank in the official records are in the minutes of Tuesday May 20th 1919 when we learn that “Mr Merrick attendee for first time since internment”.

It was probably Brodsky’s support and admiration for Frank, as we read in Hope’s letters, ‘His admiration for you never wavers’ (29/1/1918), that allowed Frank to return to his position. After Brodsky’s death in 1929, when Mr Forbes, who was very hostile to them both, became Principal, Hope and Frank moved to London where Frank became a professorship at the Royal College of Music. Sadly Hope died not long afterwards in 1936 at the age of 57. Frank remarried but kept all of Hope’s letters and her music where they can be found in their joint papers at Bristol University archive. His musical tribute to Hope was a broadcast on the BBC’s National Programme on Thursday 7th July 1938 called The Music of Hope Squire. The performers are Frank and John Wills (a former student) and a soprano Bettine Young. They perform Hope’s songs: Imogen, A Widow-Bird, When I am dead, my dearest and The Skylark; and her tone poem Tom Bowling (for two pianos).

Although Frank’s imprisonment was torment for both of them, reluctantly I feel that we are very lucky that Frank and Hope did hold so strongly to their political views and that Frank was imprisoned because otherwise we would not have the letters that they wrote to each other between October 1917 and April 1919. Hope comes to life in her letters. She comments on the political situation. In a letter dated Armistice Day she writes, ‘And who am I? Only Hope Merrick, but as long as I – even if I stood alone – stand by my opinion I am “the leak in the dyke” and no-one can truthfully say Great Britain was solid for war.’  Indeed she reports that one MP suggested a bill to to conscript women and retorts that if that ever happens ‘they’ll have to build thousands of new prisons.” She writes about rationing, and even this is related to her musical life, as we learn that she exchanges her sugar ration for seven overtures by Beethoven and Weber for 8 hands. She writes about women’s lives. In one poignant piece she encounters a neighbour Mrs Craven who volunteers with the Red Cross and looks worn out. Hope asks Mrs Craven why she continues with the Red Cross, Mrs Craven’s reply is a powerful summary of the drudgery of her life and why women should be classed as equals:

‘…you don’t know what my life is because your husband is a “sport”. I’ve spent all my life drudging and slaving after the opposite sex – my father wants as much waiting on as a child, my husband is the same, my only child is a boy, – I started life with a better brain than any of my brothers, but I only got half an education – and I’ll stick this R.C work till I drop, becaust it’s my only chance of hobnobbing with a few well educated women, and getting away from the drudgery of home. I don’t mind work but I am so sick of being looked upon as a creature with no brain.’

Hope also writes a great deal about her teaching life and their joint pupils and in my final blog, I’ll write about one of these students as seen through Hope’s words: Edith Hothersall.

Katherine Seddon


The ‘gel’ from Cheshire

Following on from the blog about the young ladies from Cheshire and Lancashire who were the staple of the College until the influx of the ex-servicemen, I’d like to tell the story of one of these young women. Gladys Mary Whittam came from Chester to study piano at the College.  Her father was the manager of a railway and canal company and the family had moved from Preston , where Gladys was born in 1892, to Latchford, Warrington and Blackburn where her sisters were born, then onto Trentham, Staffordshire where they are living at the time of the 1911 census. Gladys enters the college in 1914 just after the outbreak of war at the age of 22 and gives her home address as 36 Hough Green, Chester. She’s no dilettante though and stays for the full 9 terms leaving the college in summer 1917 having achieved her Teacher’s Diploma Class A. She was taught by Lucy Pierce and I like to think that they would have got on well: Lucy was herself a student at the College from Northwich and attended the college with a Cheshire County Scholarship 1902-1905, passing Associate exams in Teaching and Performing with distinction. We know some of the music Gladys played as she performed in Open Practices as well as in the final Public Examination. In the Open Practice of Friday November 12th 1915 she played the 2nd and 3rd movements of Bach’s “Concerto for Two pianos in C major” with Cicely Collins, another student of Lucy Pierce. Two years later in March 1917, Gladys is given a solo place and performs Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau, The Little Shepherd, and Arabesque and later in July at the Annual Public Examination she plays Beethoven’s Variations in C minor.

Gladys obviously wanted to teach and by passing the Associate exam in Teaching, she was fulfilling one of the College’s aims. The 30th Annual Report of 1923 says:

‘The Council are proud of the fact that so many of the past students of the College have won distinction in the musical profession, and reflect with special gratification upon the large body of skillful teachers trained in the College, of whom it may be said without fear of contradiction that they have appreciably raised the standard of musical teaching in the large towns of Lancashire and the North.’

Gladys did just that on her return to Chester. She taught music at the Queen’s School in Chester. The choir from the school takes part in the 1939 Chester Musical Festival ‘directed by Miss G M Whittam ARMCM, LRAM’ singing Lullaby by Walford Davies. In June 1944 at the school’s Open Day there was a programme of music, the singing being conducted by Miss Whittam. Contributions from three choirs of different ages included It was a lover and his lass by Thomas Morley, another Walford Davies’ song These spotted snakes and Where the bee sucks by Arne.

Directing choirs is not just a daytime job for Gladys. In 1939 250 girls from the Girls’ Friendly Society from all over Cheshire attended a celebration at Chester Cathedral. The organist and composer Malcolm Boyle, Organist at the Cathedral and previously Assistant Organist to, (synchronicity at its best here) Walford Davies at St George’s Windsor, was at the organ. The article in the Chester Chronicle states ‘An impressive feature was the singing of a choir of 14 from the Chester branches, led by Miss Whittam.’

Like Edith Fielden, the ex-servicewoman, she does not marry and the last we read about her after 1944, is that she died in 1973 in Chester at the age of 81. Again, if anyone remembers Miss Whittam, please get in touch!

Katherine Seddon


The Game Changer – part 2: The ex-service woman

A previous blog The Game Changer talks about the former soldiers who were given grants by the government to study at the college. The 27th annual report of 1920 says “In the great majority of cases the students whose attendance at the College is directly due to the war have come through the Government Scheme for the Higher Education of Ex-Service Students, but some few have been sent by the Ministry of Labour and the War Pensions Committee.” It refers to 88 ex-service men. However, there was one women which the 30th annual report in 1923 suggests.. “From Easter, 1918, a number of ex-service men and women, [my italics] whose studies had been interrupted by the war, and whose fees were paid by the Government, were admitted to the College. Most of them remained for a period of three years and were given reasonable opportunity of establishing themselves as professional musicians; others proved unsatisfactory either in natural endowments or industry, … and the report of their progress being unsatisfactory, were withdrawn by the Board of Education before the completion of their courses. These ex-service students, who were nearly all men [my italics] and who in the aggregate numbered close upon a hundred were spread over the last five years…” The annual report is a little economical with the truth – there was only one woman called Edith Fielden who enters the college in 1920 and whose fees are paid by the Ministry of Labour. She, unlike some the ‘unsatisfactory’ men (well the rest of them are men) stays for the full 9 terms and leaves in 1923. So what can we find out about Edith and why she might be given a grant and is there anything that we can find out about her after 1923?

Unfortunately, the facts like the College’s annual reports are pretty bare. Edith was born in Rochdale in 1896/5 to William and Maria Fielden. William gives his job in the 1901 census as a cotton weaver. By the 1911 census the family is living in Blackpool at 77 Hornby Road where William now says he is a grocer and dairyman.  He is obviously self-employed as the rest of the family, including Edith now aged 15, are listed as “Assisting in the business at home”. The next mention of Edith appears in the Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser (4th September 1915) when she gains Associate of the London College of Music diploma in piano (the exam was held in Manchester) at the age of 19 or 20.  She is obviously a talented pianist and does this achievement that she always wanted to have a career as a music professional? The First World War has been going on for a year now and women are beginning to play a full part on the land, in munitions factories, and many other jobs on the home front replacing the men at war. They also served as nurses at the front; as musicians in concert parties such as Lena Ashwell’s who went behind the lines all over Europe and Turkey; they drove ambulances; and by 1917 they were serving in the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, Women’s Legion Motor Drivers, The Women’s Royal Naval Service, the Women’s Royal Air Force and many other capacities. Sadly many records were destroyed, ironically during the Second World War, so I cannot find any trace of Edith Fielden in any of these organisations. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that we don’t know exactly what she did, only that we know she did something that was enough to obtain a grant as an ex-servicewomen to fulfil her earlier dream and was now financially  able to study the piano at the Royal Manchester College of Music.

She never married and the next fact I can find about her is that she died in Stockport in 1980 at the age of 84. So if anyone out there remembers being taught piano or music by Miss Fielden in the greater Manchester area, please get in touch as it would be lovely to fill in the 57 year gap.

Katherine Seddon