The Northern School of Music: in pictures

Despite the RNCM now having just under 10,000 students, its predecessor institution the Northern School of Music opened in 1920 with only nine students.

It was founded by Hilda Collens, who was inspired by studying under musician Tobias Matthay and the ideas of Walter Carroll, sought to expand music education in Manchester. Inspired by Tobias Matthay, it was named the Matthay School of Music, Manchester Branch, changing its name to the Northern School of Music in 1943.

Hilda Collens and her students.

Hilda Collens and her students


Items in the recently digitised collection of photographs in the RNCM archives show the early students at the Northern School of Music. Hilda Collens wears a stern expression in the centre of the photograph, surrounded by some of the early students. After 1934, the school moved to its first premises on Oxford Road, securing its place at the heart of Manchester’s music and education scene.

The early Northern School of Music focused solely on piano students over the age of 18, with a particular focus on music education. The scope of the school soon broadened though and in 1942, a full-time drama and dance department was established. One photograph in the digitised archive collection shows one of the big spectaculars put on by the early Northern School of Music, featuring several musicians and performers. Multiple world-renowned musicians and artists learned their trade at the Northern School of Music and these large productions were clearly a great chance to showcase the many talents of the students.

The Northern School of Music and the Royal Manchester College of Music merged into the Royal Northern College of Music in 1973. The newly formed school moved to its new premises on Oxford Road, marking a fresh chapter in the Northern School of Music’s journey. Photographs of the old premises remain in the RNCM’s archives and can be viewed in the recently digitised collection.

A clearly treasured photograph in the collection shows the laying of the foundation stone of the new school. Ida Carroll, Principal of the Northern School of Music between 1958 and 1971, clearly treasured the image featuring her at this significant moment, as the new school was formally opened. The archival photograph collection truly does document the journey of the Northern School of Music through the ages, tracing its journey from the Matthay School of Music, Manchester Branch to the modern-day Royal Northern College of Music.

What do you remember?

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.