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.

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