The Golden Wedding | Frank Kidson & Arthur Grimshaw

Part two from guest writer Agnes Leonowicz 

The Golden Wedding was a play written in 1910 for the City of Leeds School of Music by Frank Kidson and Arthur Grimshaw, which was said to be to raise money for Leeds Infirmary. The play was a musical collaboration of folk and romanticism, combining Grimshaw’s musical skills as Leeds Symphony Orchestra Conductor and Kidson’s extensive folk collection and knowledge. The play is set in Leeds in 1780 and consists of 10 traditional Yorkshire folk songs of the time, including an early transcription of the popular ‘Scarboro’ Fair’. Subsequently Grimshaw wrote a contemporary orchestral overture and incidental music to accompany the Kidson’s collection, combining folk and romanticism.

Frank Kidson

Frank Kidson receiving his honarary MA in music from Leeds University, 1923. Copyright Leeds Libraries.

Frank Kidson was the born into a family of nine in 1855, son to Mary Roberts and Francis Prince Kidson. Kidson’s father was known to have a great love for poetry, literature and was a keen book collector, even having some of his own works published. However, to earn a living for his family, he became a butcher on Union Street for many years. After the business was no longer financially viable, he took up the new profession of a rate collector. Francis’ income allowed the family to send Frank to a boarding school called Rose Cottage in Shadwell. After some years as a rent collector, Francis Prince Kidson died in 1872 when Frank Kidson was only 16, leaving his mother to care for their family. 

Although Frank loved music from a young age as his mother sang to him, he dreamed of being an author, treasuring and collecting books his uncle Jamie gave him from his library. Once he left school, he joined his brother selling antique china on Albion Street in order to help support the family, however his need for work did not last long.

Watercolour from rank Kidson’s Sketchbook, 1878. Copyright Leeds Libraries.

The Kidson’s family life drastically changed when Mary’s father left the family £12,000 inheritance, which today is the equivalent of £1.6 million pounds. This gave Frank the luxury of living without working to survive. With his knew found freedom, he decided take up painting and was tutored by George Alexander for watercolours and by George Camridge for oils. He found himself travelling widely across the United Kingdom on painting excursions in which he discovered more than idyllic landscapes to capture through visual arts. He stumbled upon the rich folk that resided within English heritage, reminding him of the tunes his mother sang to him as a boy.  His career as a folk collector started to appear with one of his first books, a collection of songs his mother sang to him. 

When his brother James died in 1885, Frank offered to adopt one of his children Emma, to help support his sister-in-law with baring the load of being a single mother. At 16 she moved in with Frank and was renamed Ethel. She has noted that “It was surely fortunate for both of us, for I found in him the father I had lost, and in my youth, he found a new interest in life.” Ethel began accompanying him on his travels and interviews to collect English folk song in which she would memorise the melodies for Frank to transcribe later at the piano. 

Ethel Kidson Photographed. Copyright Leeds Libraries.

Although he thought of himself to be a terrible musician and often referred to himself as “five finger Frank”, Kidson started to make a name for himself within the music community as a folk collector. He published his collected songs in broadsheets, often appearing in the Leeds Mercury. He became often referred to as the “musical Sherlock Holmes” and the “pioneer of folk song revival”. In 1889 he was invited to be a founder of the Folk Song Society by his other folk collectors Lucy Broadwood, Sabine Baring-Gould and others. He was known to appreciate the value of women, having a close relationship with his mother, Mary Roberts. Ethel writes “Uncle did not make the great mistake of underrating the ability of women” which shows his modern perspective of the changing world.

He seemed to stop collecting after 1900, instead focusing on his pastimes such as landscape watercolour painting. However, in 1910 he collaborated with Arthur Grimshaw for the City of Leeds School of Music to create a play called The Golden Wedding. This play featured many of Frank’s collected works and celebrated folk song in a new fashionable way, adding modern romantic harmony to the original solo melody lines. The play was created to raise money for the Leeds Infirmary, which wasn’t uncommon of the time and was performed five times.

In 1923 Frank Kidson was awarded an honorary MA for his service to music in Leeds by the Chancellor of Leeds University, Sir Michael Sadler. Three years later Kidson died suddenly of a heart attack, caused by damage from a severe bout of pneumonia around ten years before. 

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

Arthur Grimshaw

St. Anne’s Cathedral, Leeds City Centre, 1904. Copyright

Arthur Grimshaw was the son of renowned painter John Atkinson Grimshaw who was an incredibly successful artist towards the end on the 19th century. He was known for his inspiring and imaginative evening paintings of Leeds and other northern cities, and in turn created a name for the Grimshaw family. Originally it was hoped that Arthur would follow in his father’s footsteps and make a career for himself within the art community. However, by the age of 18 Grimshaw became the first organist and master of the choristers at St. Anne’s Cathedral, quickly asserting his place as a musician within Leeds and continued in the role for 30 years. In 1896, he went on to become one of the first conductors of the Leeds Symphony Orchestra, which was founded only 6 years before in 1890. Some years later Grimshaw and his sister Enid Grimshaw were both teachers at The Leeds Institute, based in what is now Leeds City Museum, within the City of Leeds School of Music. Enid taught voice production and solo singing whilst Arthur taught orchestration and composition, which led to the creation of many plays – among those being The Golden Wedding. 

Arthur Grimshaw, Newspaper Obituary, 1913. Copyright Leeds Libraries

Shortly after the production of The Golden Wedding, the City of Leeds School of Music closed in the summer of 1912 due to financial issues, making all members of staff redundant including Grimshaw. In the winter of the same year Arthur reportedly suffered from insomnia and had a severe nervous breakdown, resulting in him taking considerably large doses of Sulfonate. In the following year after his health improved, Grimshaw went missing from his home on Caledonian Road on July 8th 1913, with no evidence to show the intention of his absence. Despite his sister noting that he had regained his wonderful dry sense of humour and high spirits, he seemed to have a sudden loss of memory a few days prior to his disappearance. Four weeks later his body was found in a beck by a gamekeeper on Hawksworth Moor. His body was said to have been laying within the water for around a week and was only identified to be Arthur Grimshaw as a diary in his pocket was labelled with his name. Coroners believed his heart was dilated, which was the direct cause for his untimely death at 47. Modern medicinal language would tell us that he suffered from heart disease, potentially caused by the heavy use of Sulfonate some six months earlier. We can speculate why he may have made his journey to the Moors that day, but the outcome of his trip will remain the same.

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