The Gaskell family and the Royal Manchester College of Music

On 15 December, as part of its RNCM in the City series, the College is putting on a concert at the Gaskells’ house, 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester. Interestingly, the College has a link to the Gaskell family dating back to the 19th century, Sir Charles Hallé and the early days of the Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM), as documents in the RNCM Archives show.

The Gaskells moved in the same social circle as, and became friendly with, Charles Hallé who taught piano to the eldest daughter, Marianne. They were regular attenders at his concerts and took out subscriptions to his concert seasons. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that Miss Margaret Gaskell was one of the founding subscribers of the RMCM.

Margaret Emily Gaskell (1837 – 1913), known as ‘Meta’ to friends and family, was a great philanthropist who, together with her sister Julia, gave time and money to many causes in the Manchester area. She donated generously to Owens College, the Victoria University of Manchester and the Whitworth Gallery and was one of the guarantors of the Hallé Concerts Society when it was formally incorporated in 1899. She must have responded promptly to Hallé’s appeal for support for the planned College – the record of her promise of a donation of £25 to the Guarantee Fund made on 1 October 1892 is the first one pasted into the book of subscriptions (incidentally on the same page as that made by C.P. Scott, the editor and owner of the Manchester Guardian).

Volume of RMCM Subscribers' Pledges, RMCM/A/4

RMCM Subscribers’ pledges

Margaret Gaskell continued to support the College financially as a subscribing member and also with donations to the Students’ Sustentation Fund; the donations made by her and her sister are listed in Annual Reports, the one shown here from 1901.

Annual report, 1901, showing donations made by the Gaskell's

Annual report, 1901, showing donations made by the Gaskell’s

Her involvement with the RMCM increased at the end of 1898 when she was proposed as a member of the College Council.

Margaret Gaskell proposed as a Member of the College Council, 1898

Margaret Gaskell proposed as a member of the RMCM Council

She remained on the Council, attending the monthly meetings regularly from January 1899, until a few months before her death.

The minutes of the Council meeting held on 5 November 1913 give an indication of the appreciation of her support not only for the RMCM but also the wider community.

RMCM Council Minutes, 5 Nov 1913

RMCM Council Minutes, 5 November 1913

An obituary published in the Manchester Guardian on 27 October 1913 talks of her many philanthropic activities and also refers to her place in local society ‘Her drawing-room remained the nearest possible approach to an absolute centre of the social life of educated Manchester…’ The report of her funeral, also in the Manchester Guardian, lists a large number of attendees representing the many institutions with which she had been involved, including Dr Brodsky (RMCM), Mr Albert Nicholson (Gentlemen’s Concert Society) and Mr Gustav Behrens (Hallé Concerts Society).

The records of the RMCM contain two further references to the involvement of Miss Gaskell with the institution. The first is a letter from her solicitors advising the College that she had left a legacy of £100 but they were unsure whether there would be sufficient in the estate to pay.

Solicitor's letter re the estate of Margaret Gaskell, 17 Nov 1913

Solicitor’s letter re the estate of Margaret Gaskell, 17 Nov 1913

The Annual Report for 1914 reports this and also indicates that a further letter had been received ‘intimating that in consequence of the depressed condition of the stock markets in this unprecedented crisis it would be unwise to force realisation at the present juncture’. There is a subsequent letter dated 1920 in which they finally advise they can pay 75% of the legacy.

The second relates to 84 Plymouth Grove – the Gaskell family had moved there in 1850 and Margaret Gaskell remained there until her death, the last of the family to live in the house. After her death one of the other Council members, Mrs Lees (later Dame Sarah Lees) proposed buying the house and giving it to the College as a hostel for Women Students, as a memorial to the Gaskells. The minutes of the two Council meetings in early 1914 refer to the matter but the idea did not come to fruition; the explanation as to why is in the 1914 Annual Report (RMCM/B/3/3).

RMCM Council meeting, 1914

RMCM Council meeting, 1914

RMCM Council meeting, 1914

RMCM Council meeting, 1914

The RMCM had made plans to celebrate its 21st anniversary in 1914 and these are referred to in a ‘Special Celebrations Report’ as part of the main report. However, as the report itself says, they were ‘curtailed owing to the war’. As part of the anniversary an appeal was launched in Spring 1914 with the aim of improving the general financial position, providing an Endowment Fund, increasing Free Scholarships and Exhibitions and to ‘extend its facilities by the opening of a Hostel for Women Students’. As the report indicates ‘Happily the practical purpose of the celebrations has been achieved’. However there was one exception: ‘That for a Hostel for women students has had to be held in abeyance, the sum promised only amounting to £46’. It described Mrs Lees’ offer but explains that it could not be accepted ‘owing to the heavy annual cost of the upkeep…’ Even when adapted, 84 Plymouth Grove would not have been able to accommodate enough students to make it financially viable at a rate affordable to the students.

Thus ended the connection with the Gaskell family and their house in Plymouth Grove.

14 December 2012



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