Folk Hero: Frank Kidson

  • by Karen Downham, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Earlier this month, Leeds Central Library hosted Kidson Day, an event celebrating the folk song collector Frank Kidson, his legacy to Leeds and his significant contribution to the world of music and folk song. Visiting artists Pete Coe and Alice Jones had been researching, learning and recording many songs from the collection of Frank Kidson for over two years, and have recorded a double CD of the songs and tunes. They brought all this together into one day, including a presentation on the life of Kidson, workshops, and an evening concert where participants were encouraged to put into practice what they had learned during the day.

Kidson was considered to be a great authority on folk songs and pioneer of the folk song revival, but was much overlooked in comparison to his successors, Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams. He would seem to have been a humble man with a passion for investigating musical heritage, but does not appear to have wanted credit or prestige for his work. He was born in 1855 in Leeds, the youngest of nine children, and the 1861 Census return shows the Kidson family living at 7 Centenary Street, which would have been a very small house. The Goad Insurance Plan below shows its location off Calverley Street, immediately in front of where Leeds Central Library is now. The area was later demolished and is now Victoria Gardens. Buildings marked ‘D’ denote dwellings, rather than commercial use, and it is likely that one of these is where the Kidson family lived.

Goad Map

The next photo, from our Leodis website, shows Centenary Street in 1932, just prior to demolishment of the buildings. Looking towards Calverley Street, Leeds Town Hall can be seen, then the spire of Oxford Place Chapel.

Centenary Street

Kidson owned a huge collection of items, including books and manuscripts, some of which were inherited from family members. The majority of his collection is now at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. He also worked on other aspects of musical history, and contributed 365 articles to the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. From 1886 onwards, he wrote a series of articles for the Leeds Mercury on traditional and composed song and dance, in printed and oral form. He also contributed articles on a variety of subjects in other local newspapers. In 1923, he was awarded an Honorary MA Degree from Leeds University in recognition of his work. The photograph below is from a garden party held in Roundhay in 1923, and shows Frank Kidson with various local dignitaries around the time he was awarded his degree. The article can be viewed in the Local & Family History Library in Leeds Newspaper Cuttings: Leeds People, volume 10, p.173, having originally appeared in the Yorkshire Observer on 4 July 1923.

Kidson group

From left to right: Sir Michael Sadler, Lady Wilson, Sir Edward Brotherton, Lady Sadler, Sir Charles Wilson, Mr A.E. Wheeler, Mr E.G. Arnold (Pro-Chancellor of Leeds University) and Frank Kidson

Kidson was one of the founders of the Folk Song Society in 1898, along with others including Lucy Broadwood and Sabine Baring-Gould, and also worked with fellow song collector Anne Gilchrist. He worked with a great many contributors across Yorkshire, especially Charles Lolley from the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The Local & Family History and Music & Performing Arts departments of Leeds Central Library each have many publications by and about Kidson, and have developed displays to coincide with Kidson Day and highlight some of the items in our collections. If you would like to discover more and consult a full list of the matetrials we hold – including original notebooks, sketchbooks and broadsides – do pay us a visit!

Click here to view a comprehensive research guide to all our Kidson holdings.

Takeover Challenge 2015

As Part of the 2015 Takeover Challenge Day we invited Carr Manor Primary School Year 4 pupils to take over our heritage blog post for the day. We gave them a tour of the building and the department resources, so now it’s over to Caitlin, Harry, Safa and John to tell you what they found out.


We toured the building and staff only areas and saw loads of things including the stacks, the newspaper reels, carvings, the skinny dogs [Heraldic Beasts], colourful tiles and the Victorian ventilation system in the tiled hall ceiling that still works!


We heard about ghosts and a story about a snake that escaped when the museum was here.

We looked on the Leodis website and found pictures of King Alfred’s Monument near our school and then found it on the big maps that are over 100 years old.


We also looked up our dates of birth on the microfilm newspaper readers and printed out pages showing interesting things that had happened.

Our favourite part of the library was the stacks and here is its story.


The library was collapsing because of the weight of the books. A lot of the books were cleared into other buildings basements and if someone wanted that book the librarian would have to find which building a book was in, put on a coat, get the key and go get the book. Sometimes this could take more than half an hour so they decided to make more storage.

They used the courtyard where the bins were stored and built 5 floors of stacks with the stairs on the outside so you can see the old bricked up windows of the library. You can fit over 40,000 items in each stack and it is very cold. The shelves move but only if the electric motor is turned on.


Thank you Caitlin, Harry, Safa and John for visiting us. Your enthusiasm for the building and our collections made it a delight to be ‘taken over’.

“Takeover is a fun, hugely successful and exciting children and young people’s engagement project which sees organisations across England opening their doors to children and young people to take over adult roles.”

To find out more about the library stacks visit this post from last year.

#explorearchives: A Tale of One Manuscript and Two Lords Irwin

  • by Gilly Margrave, Music and Performing Arts, Leeds Central Library
Montuoli title page

The title page of the Montuoli manuscript

One of the rarest items in the archive of our Music and Performing Arts Library has to be the manuscript of a Cantate di Camera à Voce Sola written by Giuseppe Montuoli of Lucca and dedicated to “Signor Milord Eduardo Irwin and dated 1706.

This refers to Edward Machel Ingram, 4th Viscount of Irvine (1686–1714) one of nine sons of the 3rd Viscount five of whom went on to succeed to the title.

In 1704 Edward set off on the customary “Grand Tour” which took him and one of his brothers, Richard, on an extended three year trip around Europe.

Edward accumulated various artworks, furnishings, musical instruments, and books throughout his travels including (rumour has it), an Italian Diva who he may have intended to marry.

Nonetheless, when Edward died in 1714 he was unmarried the title passed to several of his brothers in turn.

Edward’s nephew the ninth Lord Irvine died in June 1778 leaving no male heirs to inherit and the title became extinct.

That might be the end of the story of the connection between the Montuoli manuscript and the Irwin title.


In 1912, well-known local music historian Frank Kidson wrote a note addressed to “The Hon Edward F. Wood” who had inherited the Temple Newsam estate following the death of his aunt in 1904. The note outlines the history of the Montuoli manuscript. We are not sure how Kidson obtained the manuscript although there is a note in the inside cover mentioning that it cost him the princely sum of 7 shillings (35p) in 1906.

Montuoli Kidson Letter

Kidson’s letter

By 1922 the manuscript seems to have returned to its home at Temple Newsam. It is listed in the contents when Edward Wood sold the house, but not everything in it, to the City of Leeds and many of the items in the house were sold.

So how does that link to the Irwin title?

For a brief time between 1925 and 1934 Edward Wood, later to become famous as Churchill’s war-time sparring partner Lord Halifax, took the title Lord Irwin.

Montuoli Autumn

Unexpected Perspectives #4

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Now that the remodeling work has finished on the new sandwich shop, Simply Eat, next-door to the traditional Headrow pub, the Horse and Trumpet, it’s safe to once again poke your nose through that rather arty circular gate to the rear of the City Varieties Music Hall.


Of course, this wasn’t always the back of the theatre, as you might guess from the still-visible words painted above the doors in the photo above, which read CIRCLE & BOXES. For a long time, in fact, this now rather uninspiring alleyway served as its main entrance. The City Varieties grew out of the White Swan public house on Swan Street in 1865, when landlord Charles Thornton (yes, he also built Thornton’s Arcade) decided to turn its popular singing room into a separate – and lucrative – entertainment venue. Entry was still via the pub for a while but, after the Horse and Trumpet arrived on the scene ten years later, someone (probably Thornton) had the bright idea of capturing foot traffic from both sides of the building. Now take a look at this photo from 13 June 1930, taken from our Leodis webite, and see if you can spot said entrance:


Yes, that’s it, towards the right of the image. The photo shows the south side of the Headrow, of course, with the top of Briggate visible beside the white building on the left (which is soon to reopen as a new Samsung store). The big difference is the open land in the foreground… In order to stand in this position today, you’d probably have to jog along at the top of an escalator inside TK Maxx, as if you were on a treadmill. Back in the early Thirties, the block had been cleared in preparation for the building of the new Lewis’s department store, which opened in 1932 and lasted until the 1990s. (There’s a nice article about it, with photos of the shop under construction, on the Yorkshire Post website.)

Next year, Lewis’s is set to make a comeback to Leeds in the form of a big new John Lewis store, which will be the centrepiece of the new Victoria Gate development further down the street. How’s that for circularity?

Brrr! Warm Up with our Arctic Archives

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.

Next Monday and Friday, as part of the 29th International Leeds Film Festival, some of our rarest stock items will be making their way out of our stacks on a perilous expedition to the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall at the University of Leeds. There, this curated browsing collection, will form the backdrop to an interdisciplinary series of films, exhibitions and talks exploring ‘Arctic Encounters‘, a suitably fitting theme for this time of year. This is a fantastic opportunity to see some of our lesser-spotted books in the wild! Today’s blog aims to give you a taster of the books we are exhibiting there and some ideas for further reading.

Voyage Toward the North Pole (1773) / Constantine John Phipps

The earliest book in our collection (1773), this is an account of an expedition toward the North Pole under the command of Constantine John Phipps. As well as maps tracing the route taken by the two ships in the squadron – Racehorse and Carcass -, the book also includes eyewitness drawings of the landscape on particular dates and an appendix containing astronomical and zoological observations by Israel Lyons and Dr Irving respectively. Interestingly, a young Horatio Nelson was a midshipman on the Carcass and reputedly had a close encounter with a polar bear while the vessel was stuck in ice. Phipps described the bear in his log book on the 12th of May, 1773 – the first European to do so.

Phipps 2

First-hand illustration of the Racehorse and Carcass, 1773

Arctic Zoology (1785-1787) / Thomas Pennant

Originally intended as a survey of North American zoology, Pennant altered the focus and title of this book in mortification after the loss of the thirteen colonies during the American War of Independence. There are two volumes: the first covers quadrupeds; the second, birds. Both feature extensive descriptions and illustrations by Peter Brown. Published between 1785 and 1787, the set is perhaps most notable now for the fact that Pennant did not himself journey from his home in Wales, instead relying on the work of others, such as the voyage of Sir Joseph Banks to Newfoundland in 1786. Nevertheless, the volumes were well-received –leading to Pennant’s election as a member of the American Philosophical Society.


William Scoresby Jr.

Scoresby was one of the most prominent Arctic explorers and scientists of the early 19th-century. Born near Whitby, he initially joined his father on whaling voyages in the remote North before turning his attentions to the meteorology and natural history of the polar region. His 1813 voyage saw him establish for the first time the fact that polar ocean has a warmer temperature at depth than on the surface.

The library holds several fascinating texts relating to Scoresby and his Arctic encounters, including a facsimile of the log book he kept during his 1806 voyage with his father, Captain William Scoresby. Other volumes include his first-hand Account of the Arctic Regions: With a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery (1820) and two scientific papers contained in The Polar Ice and North Pole (published between 1815 and 1825).

Illustration showing the

Illustration showing the “ship Esk of Whitby damaged and full of water”

The First Crossing of Greenland (1890) / Fridtjof Nansen

One of the most extraordinary individuals of modern times – scientist, diplomat, humanitarian, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, champion skier and ice skater – Fridtjof Nansen also led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888. This book, published in 1890, is Nansen’s account of that astonishing expedition and contains a narrative description – including an encampment with an Eskimo community at Cape Bille – and contemporary illustrations of the landscapes, wildlife and people encountered during the crew’s journey.

Nansen later won international fame for reaching a record northern latitude of 86◦14’ during his North Pole expedition of 1893-1896. His account of that later exploration can be read in his Farthest North – a copy of which is also available to view in the Central Library.

An example of the ethnographic detail found in Nansen's account

An example of the ethnographic detail found in Nansen’s account


This is just a short sample of the many books we hold on the Arctic and accounts of its history, ethnography, zoology and geography. The majority of our collections, however, are eyewitness reports of expeditions and journeys across the “Great Ice”. Click here to see a comprehensive guide to those other books. Please note that the guide is not a complete record of our holdings; anyone interested in this topic is advised to browse our catalogue for further resources.