Welcome to Forum 46. I hope you have enjoyed the summer and that, like me, you are looking forward to SUES’ 2023-2024 programme of courses and talks. Forum took a break during August, so this September edition is being issued a little earlier than usual, to ensure that everyone is aware of our events this month.
In this issue of Forum Peter Firth reports on the talk he gave after the AGM on 12 July, The University Extension Movement in Southport 1874-2024. Roger Mitchell reports on the recent SUES outing to visit Meols Hall in Churchtown. I have contributed an article on Anne Gilchrist, an Edwardian antiquarian and folk song collector who lived and worked in Southport.
I’m sure that many of you have some particular knowledge or expertise on a subject that would be of interest, and of educational value, to us all. If you would like to share this, by contributing one or more articles to Forum, please get in touch. Contact information is on the last page.
Membership Renewal and Course Registration
During August you should have received a form from Rob Firth, our Membership Secretary, for renewing your SUES membership for 2023-2024 and for registering for courses.
Thank you to everyone who has renewed their membership, and particularly those who have also signed up for Peter Firth’s lecture course Medieval Bookends. If you haven’t yet returned your form to Rob, there is still plenty of time to do so.
If you wish to register at a later date for the courses to be given in the spring and summer, by Roger Mitchell and Alan Potter, you can do this at any time by sending Rob a further copy of the form.
Please note that, if you have not renewed, this is the last issue of Forum that you will receive.
Coming Up in September 2023
Friday 15th September at 2:30 pm
Talk by Emma Copestake
Liverpool’s Dock Community during the National Dock Labour Scheme of 1967-1989
Commencing Monday 25 September at 10:30 am
Course given by Peter Firth
By focussing on the two ends of the medieval period (the 5th and 15th centuries) Peter will analyse what makes the Middle Ages special, how this period came into existence and how it gave way to modern times.
A History of the University Extension Movement
in Southport – Peter Firth
A report on the meeting held on 12 July 2023
After discussing SUES financial accounts during the formal AGM, Peter Firth went on to give a brief insight into some of the research that he and Mary Ormsby are carrying out in connection with next year’s 150th anniversary celebrations and the history of SUES over that period. Although the Society was set up in 1896, university-standard lectures from Cambridge were being delivered in Southport from 1874.
Introducing a bit of light heartedness to his talk, Peter first asked whether anyone present could actually recall this specific year or, failing that, he invited the audience to use their imagination to conjure up in their mind a typical middle-class Victorian setting. To help everyone get in the mood, he first introduced us to Leonard Sachs from the TV series, The Good Old Days, where the audience and performers would dress in authentic Victorian costumes, with males sporting handle-bar moustaches, one of which his wife had kindly produced for him, made of paper. After echoing the alliterative, multisyllabic introductions used by the compere, such as ventriloquial virtuosity, Peter coined his own description for the 150th celebration for SUES next year as the sesquicentennial saturnalian solemnisation.
He next decided that, to take us into an even more authentic environment, he would employ an appropriate vehicle. Again, we were presented with a Victorian dressed figure from a 1960s edition of a well-known TV programme, followed by its immediately recognisable Doctor Who musical theme. This transported us into the living room of a late Victorian household where in the background we could see two young ladies beavering away at their studies.
Without learning what was actually going on, it was explained how people operated in separate spheres in Victorian middle-class society. The man’s place was very much outside the home, typically in the world of economics/business, and with the woman as “the angel in the house”, portrayed as the perfect wife/mother. In general, this meant that women were significantly disadvantaged, no more so than in terms of education where middle-class girls would be coached with ‘accomplishments’, learnt at boarding school or from a resident governess. Perhaps the best example of this can be found in the snobbish Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice who lists the requisite skills: “thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages…; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions…”
It was equally important, particularly for any well-accomplished girl, to soften any erudition with grace and femininity. There should be no attempt to usurp men’s ‘natural intellectual superiority’!! Some doctors at the time even suggested that too much study actually damaged female ovaries and that attractive young women could end up as dried prunes!! Furthermore, even when some universities did open their doors to women, many families refused to let their daughters attend for fear of making them unmarriageable!! Even in some education circles, it had been suggested that, if girls were encouraged to use their brains, the excitement caused would result in insanity!! Whilst we would consider these views totally ridiculous, there was a general opinion in Victorian society that women were unfit for higher education.
However, by the middle of the 19th century, the first signs of feminine political movements appeared, focussing on equality in work, electoral rights and education. Despite being a powerful monarch herself, Queen Victoria did not support the feminist movement, calling it a “wicked folly”. “God created men and women differently – then let them remain each in their own position”.
Nevertheless, progress was being made slowly; this came from liberal, far-seeing fathers and other male family members, more enlightened members of society in general and socially aware reformers within the university establishment. But, most importantly, progress came from the young women themselves, the true pioneers in seeking higher education.
As an example of one enlightened member of society, on 10 October 1871, the editor of the Southport Visiter had published an article in which he considered it highly desirable that young women should continue their education after school, instead of “up to sixteen blackboard and piano; after sixteen croquet and flirtation”.
Within the university establishment could also be found like-minded individuals such as James Stuart, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was approached in 1867 by the Northern England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women to give a lecture on the History of Science, as he had done previously at the Royal Institute in London. He responded readily to this and also to a similar request the following year to give the same lecture to the Mechanics’ Institute of Crewe for a large group of working men. Both of these experiences convinced Stuart of the need to extend university-standard education beyond the university walls. At that time, studying for a degree was only for a few privileged, financially secure males. Stuart’s proposal in 1873 was that University Extension Lectures should be given within local communities to both working class men and women of all classes and a new scheme was launched in Cambridge the following year.
Stuart insisted on maintaining vigorous intellectual standards for these courses which should be detailed, in-depth and mirror university models. Furthermore, they should be provided by the same university lecturers. Out of this became what has been termed the “Peripatetic University”.
University Extension Lectures were formally established in Southport in 1874, evidenced by the actual advert in the Southport Visiter, headed ‘Lecture for Ladies’, comprising 8 lectures to be given by J.J. Harris Teall, Esq., B.A., F.G.S, a scholar of St Johns College and Sedgwick Prizeman of the University of Cambridge on Physical Geography and Geology to be delivered in the Palatine Building in Nevill Street, Southport, all for the sum of one guinea and, in the case of teachers and students from schools, half a guinea. There were even books recommended for the courses.
Over the next decade or so, the Southport Literary and Philosophical Society took responsibility for running these courses, providing one in the spring term. During this time, entered two remarkable women, Miss Emily Rigby and Miss Hannah Cheetham. They lobbied for the provision of more courses and, in 1896, it was suggested that they might like to organise this themselves. The result was that on 11 December that year the Southport and Birkdale University Society was formally established, together with its own Constitution, at a meeting held at the Temperance Institute on London Street.
In addition to these ladies, another notable member of the Society in its early days was Elsie Watchorn who gained a place at Newnham College, Cambridge, funded by a bequest left by Emily Rigby. After two years’ research, she was awarded a PhD in Biochemistry and in 1929 was recognised for her ground-breaking research into different cancer blood types. Another great success was Alf Cobham, a decorator/signwriter, who was awarded an honorary M.A. by Cambridge in 1923 for his all-round contribution to the Extension movement, having attended lectures and classes for nearly 30 years and submitted numerous articles.
Since those early days, the nature of SUES has changed quite substantially, both in terms of its make-up and purpose. Moreover, in 1961, the University of Liverpool took over the direct relationship with SUES from Cambridge and this continues today. Membership numbers have been up to 150 and at times down to less than 20. Nevertheless, SUES has survived and is today the sole remaining University Extension Society in existence. Most of its members are retired, looking more for stimulation or entertainment, not qualifications, and where curiosity and open-mindedness are much more important than previously acquiring knowledge and studying, all summed up in today’s strapline: Enjoying Quality Learning Together.
Rounding off his talk, Peter re-introduced his Doctor Who theme music, so that we weren’t left stranded in the 19th century and he concluded by outlining the intended programme for 2024 which, subject to obtaining a National Lottery grant, will be launched by a guest speaker, and will include an exhibition at the Atkinson, a recruitment/awareness campaign and much publicity/promotion of SUES. There will also be a series of 4 free lectures on the 150-year history of SUES, for which he and Mary intend to produce a book. It is also planned to have a celebration lunch on 15 October to recall that very first University Extension Lecture.
A Report on the Summer visit to Meols Hall and Churchtown on 31 August 2023
SUES aims to provide education and entertainment throughout the year and so it was particularly appropriate that the final event of the 2022-2023 programme took place on 31 August, the last day of the membership year. In 2022 Mary Ormsby had organised an extremely successful visit to Scarisbrick Hall and this year, with some additional input from Roger Mitchell, she followed this up with a visit to Meols Hall, another even more local country house and one which was known to some, but by no means all, of the 30 members and guests who attended.
Serendipity, in the form of a wedding later in the afternoon, meant that we were also able to visit St Cuthbert’s church and see the spectacular 18th century wood carvings as well as monuments to the Hesketh family, who have owned Meols from the 16th century to the present day.
Although rain had threatened, it held off and so we had an outdoor introduction without the need to seek the shelter of the woodshed, which had kindly been made available for us. We were able to see the interior and exterior of the house, the farmyard, which is now the wedding venue, and not least, the Palladian shippon built by Roger Hesketh in 1952.
At the end of our visit, we strolled back down the drive, crossed the road and entered the Hesketh Arms for well-deserved refreshments. As one participant reported, “The icing on the cake, or should I say the custard on the crumble, was afternoon tea in the Hesketh Arms”. In thanking Mary and Roger, our chairman Alan summed up the visit as “a gentle romp’ round the hall followed by ‘a lovely atmosphere in the Hesketh Arms with lots of chat, good refreshments and a positive vibe about SUES from everyone”.
Anne Gilchrist: Southport’s Edwardian Folk Song Collector
In the late 19th century, the idea arose that there existed a style of singing, and a repertoire of songs, among rural working people in England that was distinct from both art/classical music and the popular music of the day; the term ‘folk song’ was coined. Over the next 50 years or so, a small but enthusiastic community of folk song ‘collectors’ endeavoured to discover these songs. Concerned that the songs would not survive in a period of improved education and communication, and of increasing commercialisation of music, they worked to collect songs and record them (in manuscript form). These mostly middle-class enthusiasts formed their own, somewhat subjective, opinions as to which songs were pure examples of a working-class oral tradition, and therefore worthy of inclusion in their collections; however, their work formed the basis of an invaluable archive of material, much used by today’s folklorists and ‘folk revival’ performers.
The best known of these collectors is probably Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) who collected songs mainly in Somerset, but also elsewhere in England and in the Appalachian Mountains of the USA. Others include Sabine Baring-Gould (collecting in Devon and Cornwall), Henry Hammond (Dorset), George Gardiner (Hampshire), Frank Kidson (Yorkshire), Percy Grainger (Lincolnshire), Lucy Broadwood (Surrey and Sussex) and, of course, Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Our local song collector, Anne Geddes Gilchrist (1863-1954), was born in Manchester to Scottish parents and lived all her life in Lancashire, including a period in Southport (her address was ‘Basil Point’ in Park Road). She appears to have contributed to the cultural life of the town; a letter dated January 1906, from the editor of the Southport Visiter, refers to an article she had contributed for publication and thanks her for offering a report of a recent meeting of St George’s Literary Society. I wonder whether she had any dealings with SUES?
Her interest in traditional song appears to have begun in childhood. Writing in 1942, she recalled spending Christmas at her grandparents’ home in Cheshire, when “we young ones played with the maids in the kitchen” and learned singing games. She went on to say that her nursemaid, Harriet, “a jolly Manchester mill-girl”, taught her folk songs and singing games, she learned some Welsh folk songs from another nursemaid and she became familiar with “old Scottish traditional songs” sung by her father and mother.
Anne is less well-known today than many of the other Edwardian collectors, probably because she did not publish any books. However, having joined the Folk Song Society (now the English Folk Dance and Song Society) in 1905, she quickly became a member of the editorial board of its Journal, to which she made many scholarly contributions, and remained a board member until 1948 when she was 85. Her papers are now held in the Society’s Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House in Camden.
She collected songs in Scotland, at Sunderland Point near Lancaster, at Barbon and Casterton in Westmorland and (when visiting her brother) at Blackham in Sussex. Of particular interest to us, she also collected some significant material here in Southport.
Her most celebrated source in Southport was William Bolton, a retired sailor and shanty man, living in Nevill Street. He had spent 35 years in the Navy and he was in his mid-80s, and long-retired, when Anne noted down his songs and shanties between December 1905 and May 1907. These included: The Greenland Whale Fishery, The Dockyard Gate, Ratcliffe Highway, Admiral Benbow, Outward Bound, Ranzo, The Golden Vanity, and Rounding the Horn (also known as Rounding Cape Horn or The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite). In 1959, the last two of these songs were published in the first edition of the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
Rounding Cape Horn, sung by William Bolton of Southport, as published by Anne Gilchrist in the Journal of the Folk Song Society
The gallant frigate Amphitrite she lay in Plymouth sound,
Blue Peter at the foremast head, for she was outward bound.
We were waiting there for orders to send us far from home,
Our orders came for Rio and thence around Cape Horn.
When we arrive at Rio, we prepared for heavy gales,
We set up all our rigging, boys, and bent on all new sails.
From ship to ship they cheered us, as we did sail along,
And wished us pleasant weather in rounding of Cape Horn.
While beating off Magellan Straits it blew exceeding hard,
Whilst shortening sail two gallant tars fell from the topsail yard.
By angry seas the ropes we threw from their poor hands were torn,
We were forced to leave them to the sharks that prowl around Cape Horn.
When we got round the Horn my boys, we had some glorious days,
And very soon our killick dropped in Valparaiso Bay.
The pretty girls came down in flocks, I solemnly declare,
They are far before the Plymouth girls with their long and curly hair.
They love a jolly sailor when he spends his money free,
They’ll laugh and sing and merry, merry be, and have a jovial spree.
And when your money is all gone they won’t on you impose,
They are not like the Plymouth girls, that’ll pawn and sell your clothes.
Farewell to Valparaiso, farewell for a while,
Likewise to all the Spanish girls all on the coast of Chile.
And if ever I live to be paid off, I’ll sit and sing this song,
“God bless those pretty Spanish girls we left around Cape Horn”.
In respect of Rounding Cape Horn, Anne wrote the following in the Journal of the Folk Song Society: “Mr Bolton … could not at first remember the beginning of this song … but he afterwards wrote out the above copy for me. A hiatus between verses one and two he had himself supplied, having a chanty-man’s gift for verse making, but as his own verses were less artless than the remainder of this genuine if doggerel production of some sailor bard, I have omitted them, in order to maintain its character.” She goes on to say: “The sailor-rhyme of “while” and “Chile” is amusing. Sailors are apt to a British pronunciation of the names of the foreign parts they visit”. Although she rejected some of William Bolton’s additional material, Anne retained the line about ‘prowling sharks’, which she said Mr Bolton had added!
Anne was also fascinated by children’s songs and playground rhymes, and in a 1919 article in the Journal of the Folk Song Society she reported on songs collected in October 1915 at Saunders Street Orphanage, Southport. “I remember the hush which fell upon the other children when Margaret – a new girl – offered from her store The Lady Drest in Green, piped up in a fresh little voice … without a pause till she arrived breathless at the end, the rest sitting thrilled and spell-bound throughout her performance.” Margaret had been brought to the orphanage from a Lancashire workhouse and her song, which formed the basis of a children’s singing game, was identified by Anne as “a degraded form of The Cruel Mother”, a gruesome ballad in which a mother fatally stabs her baby.
Anne wrote that, on the same occasion, “I obtained several other choice specimens of the tragic traditional verse handed down continuously from one generation of children to another”. One little girl provided a rendition of My Coffin Shall Be Black, while another sang:
My mother has killed me, my father is eating me, my brothers and sisters are under the table,
eating my bones, while I lie under the cold marble stones.
This may have been a popular rhyme locally, as Anne went on to compare it with a second version, collected from Mrs Thompson, an elderly lady in Churchtown, again in 1907:
My mam-ma did kill me and put me in a pie, my dadda did eat me and say it was I,
My brother and sister did pick my bones, and bury them under cold marble stones.
Anne continued to research and write about traditional song until 1950. She published a series of articles in which she discussed the evolution and history of the songs and their tunes. According to the folklorist Steve Roud (2017) she took a rather more nuanced and analytical approach to this than the highly influential Cecil Sharp. Greatly respected for her work, she was awarded the OBE and Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries.
I have to admit that I was not aware of Anne Gilchrist’s significance, or her association with Southport, until ‘The Gilchrist Collective’ performed their excellent show Most Truly Yours, Aunt Anne at Southport’s Bothy Folk Club in November 2022. The show includes a wealth of information about Anne’s life, as well as performances of many of the songs she collected, and is well worth seeing if you get the opportunity.
Sources and further reading:
www.vwml.org/archives-catalogue/AGG Online access to Anne Gilchrist material in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.
Roud, Steve, Folk Song in England. Faber & Faber, 2017.
Sleeve notes to the CD by The Gilchrist Collective Most Truly Yours: English folk songs collected by Anne Gilchrist. LRCD007. Luke’s Row Music, 2022.
Membership Secretary: Rob Firth
Chair: Alan Potter
See our archive for previous editions of the SUES Forum!