Monday 11 February 2019

Singing Songs

The contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, 1912-1953, who died tragically young, left a legacy only of recorded music and little film for us to judge her. Those who do remember her in live performance had no doubt about the quality of her voice and performance.

She is regarded as almost the quintessential English voice of the period in its tone and inflections. Known as an ordinary girl from an ordinary family in Blackburn, Lancashire she represented the wonderful choral tradition of that area at the time.

However, it may not be as simple as that. One favourite song is “I have a bonnet trimmed with blue”, sung sweetly and with feeling, here at one minute:

The poignancy of the song is that her grandmother, born Elizabeth Gorton and a Lancashire lass, was a bonnet maker who grew up in the hard farming life of high country Lancashire, near Accrington. Like many farmers in such country in the 1840’s, her family had to move on to the town to find a living at whatever level was available.

Many of the strands of her family history are Lancashire, but there is more to it than that. Her father was a Ferrier but her mother was a Murray, both of whose male ancestors turned up in Lancashire and married local girls.

As the textile and related industries boomed in the later 19th Century there were large inflows of people from across the Atlantic Isles to help meet the demand for basic levels of labour.

They brought with them their own music and ideas. In many parts of England where numbers of Scots arrived it was common to organize a pipe band, nearly all gone. There is one that still exists, The Accrington Pipe Band, formed in 1885.

Quite how Scottish Kathleen’s great grandfather Murray may have been is an interesting question, the contradictory birthplaces suggest a military issue. One likely candidate is the William Murray born in Manchester to a soldier of the 1st Kings Dragoon Guards, whose regimental depot then was at Dunbar.

For the Ferrier’s again there is a military connection, this time a great grandfather who was a regular soldier and whose birthplace is given as St. Florence, near Tenby in Wales. His regiment served in Ireland, so grandfather may have been born there.

So there we have a Lancashire English Rose with Wales, Ireland and Scotland probably in her family background. It would be unusual if it were not so typical.

It is worse, however, her father, William Ferrier was born at Aintree by Liverpool which makes him a Scouser.

Blow the wind southerly.


  1. It is worse, however, her father, William Ferrier was born at Aintree by Liverpool which makes him a Scouser.

    Untouchables or Hubcappers?

  2. A chap we know played in a pipe band. Now, many years later, he thinks that is responsible for his deafness.