‘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


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