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


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