July to August at the Northern School of Music

We’ve been rummaging around in stories and archives to find out what changes and events were happening at the Northern School of Music at various points over the years.

As well as exploring the Northern School of Music timeline, here you can delve into the happenings and goings on in the school during May and June. So, what was the NSM cooking up in the summer heat?


Amidst typical torrential summer rain, the Old Students Association strode forth with their annual sports day in 1936, playing soggy rounders and tennis in Lawton Hall, Congleton.

Hubert Harry at nine years old gave an “astonishing performance” in Milton Hall on the 8th of July 1937. The young student of NSM principal Hilda Collens played Schumann with “quite unusual poise and charm”. (Pretty sure poise and charm is an unusual thing to display for anything a nine year old does.)

The “Manchester Holiday Course on Music” has 21st birthday service at St Ann’s Parish Church in 1939. The course was founded by Mildred Esplin in 1919 who handed it over to Hilda Collens in 1920 to run through the school. It became so popular that teachers and musicians from all over Britain would attend.

John Pye, a student of the school, is awarded gold medal from Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music in 1939 for the highest number of marks in his grade in British Isles. He triumphed over the exam with a smashing 142/150!

During the Second World War in 1943, alumna Molly Hibbert was helping 500 students in Ashton-Under-Lyne “dig for victory”. She was one of the many alumni who went above and beyond to support the war efforts on the home front and in mainland Europe.

Opera! On the 3rd of July 1952, the school’s first opera was performed. “The Bartered Bride” was staged at the Lesser Free Trade Hall for 3 nights. It seemed to go down well. Interesting fact ahead! It was conducted by Aylmer Buesst. In the First World War, Buesst was imprisoned in Strangeways Prison while with the Hallé. He was under suspicion of being a German spy, since he was fluent in German & spoke with a faint accent due to his years of study there.

It was 1952 when the NSM could award its student with its own degrees, GNSM.

On the 24th of July 1970, the memorial window designed by Alan Boyson and dedicated to Hilda Collens is unveiled at St Ann’s Church, Manchester. It’s still there to this day so do pay a visit next time you’re in the vicinity.


During the height of summer, the school was closed. However, it was the August of 1914 when the very seed of the Northern School of Music was planted. Percy Waller, Tobias Matthay’s representative in Manchester, had enlisted in the First World War and his pupils needed a teacher. Matthay reached out to his other pupil in the area, Hilda Collens, to take up the position. It was recognising that individual piano lessons alone did not make a proper music education, that prompted her to establish a training institute for Matthay technique and teacher training.

What do you remember?

That’s what we’ve rustled up so far for what the school looked like in the summer months.

What memories do you have of the school, staff, students, performances and building? We’d love to hear about it. Contact our archivist [email protected] to contribute your memories to the school’s legacy.

For images from the archive, head over to our online exhibition with the Manchester Digital Music Archive.