Volunteers being given a tour of the Royal Northern College of Music's collection.

Gaskell House Blogs

Volunteer trip to Royal Northern College of Music Archives and Museum

21st February 2024
in blog, Volunteering

A group of volunteers recently enjoyed a fascinating trip to RNCM’s archives and museum of historical musical instruments. Archivist and Museum Manager Heather Roberts showed us some gems from the collection relating to Meta Gaskell, Elizabeth Gaskell’s daughter. Meta was closely involved in what was originally the Royal Manchester Music College from its inception.

Manuscript showing Meta Gaskell's signature, her address of 84 Plymouth Grove, and her gift of £25 to the Royal Manchester Music College.

In the record book of subscribers to set up the college in 1892, the very first slip reveals Meta’s signature and record of her initial gift of £25 plus an annual subscription of £5.00 from 1st October 1892 to her death in 1913, when in her will she bequeathed £100 to the college (equivalent to £14,000 today). The second subscriber was none other than C P Scott a couple of days later.

Sir Charles Halle had wanted to set up a music college in Manchester similar to those already in existence in London and Glasgow, independent of the Corporation, so funded by subscription and donations. After a meeting in the town hall in 1892, the money flooded in and he was able to open the college a few months later in 1893. Oldham worthy Charles Edward Lees bought a building on Devas Street and gave it to Halle for college premises.

Meta was already on the committee and closely involved in the running of the college when (in another book of archival records that Heather showed us) she petitioned to be elected to the council or governing body of the college. A third gem was the visitors’ book which was signed by every famous musician, composer, conductor and performer who came to the college – so Meta was rubbing shoulders with the Schumanns, Clara Butt, Brodsky, Grieg, and many more.

The last absolute treasure that Heather had was the manuscript full score of an opera of Mary Barton by Arnold Cooke, libretto by W A Rathkey, which has never been performed. We hope to get a glimpse of the piano reduction and the libretto to compare it with the original in the future.

Manuscript of the title page of the Mary Barton opera, composed by Arnold Cooke.

We then enjoyed a guided tour of some of the treasures in the historical musical instruments collection, from a Tibetan bone flute to a “pocket” grand piano of 1836, an Italian polygonal virginal of 1540, a piccolo Stradivarius violin made for J S Bach, and some beautifully decorated sitars.

Katy handing over a photograph of the Brodsky Quartet to Heather, the Archivist and Museum Manager of the RNCM.

Before we left, Katy, our Volunteer and Collections Manager, presented Heather with a signed photograph of the Brodsky Quartet as a donation from our collection.

Very many thanks to Heather for a fascinating morning.

Lizzie Gent, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The guides brought the home alive. It was inspiring to hear about this woman and extraordinary family

Visitor to the House in 2021