But on October 8th the country was plunged into mourning with the death of the greatest contralto this country has produced. Sixty two years ago today Kathleen Ferrier died in London from breast cancer. at the age of 41 after ten years of phenomenal success. As a teenager I was frequently moved to tears on hearing her rendition in English of What is life to me? (listen here) from Gluck's Orfeo & Euridce. Her unaccompanied rendition of the Northumbrian folk song Blow the Wind Southerly (listen here) was a popular request on the BBC Light Programme in the 1950s and 1960s.
Kathleen left school at 14 and went to work for the GPO in Blackburn, first in the telegrams department and then as a switchboard operator. In July 1930, at the age of 18, she took part in her first concert as a pianist, which was broadcast from Manchester. In 1935 she married Albert Wilson and had to leave her job as the GPO did not employ married women. Albert was moved to Silloth, on the Cumbrian coast, to manage a local bank and Kathleen gave piano lessons to the local children. When she entered the prestigious Carlisle Festival in 1937 as a pianist, her husband bet her a shilling (5p)that she dare not enter for the singing contest as well as the piano prize. Kathleen accepted the challenge, entered the contralto solo class and not only carried off both trophies, but won the first prize for the best singer at the Festival. Carlisle was a turning point, and this brilliant new singer was in great demand. In 1939 she made her first radio broadcast as a singer. Most of her subsequent career is well documented and I am not reprinting it here. However one aspect which seems to have evaded most historians, and indeed also The Kathleen Ferrier Society, is that when she was working in Blackburn she would cycle to Withnell Fold on a Saturday evening (when she was not needed as accompanist at King George's Hall in Blackburn) to play piano for the village dance.
|The Old Reading Room, Withnell Fold|
The dances took place on the upper (sprung) floor of the reading room which had been built for the residents when the village was established in 1843 for the workers at the new paper mill.
Here she met a local resident, Albert Wilson.
I was relating this tale at an illustrated talk I gave a few months ago and afterwards a chap, aged about 40, approached me and asked
Who was Kathleen Ferrier?
As we are currently living in Preston for a while we made a trip out to Higher Walton to see the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Gardens.
What a disappointment this was.
|Higher Walton seems to have forgotten Kathleen Ferrier|
The site is a disgrace and its neglect an insult to the memory of this great singer.
I am writing to the parish council and I hope others will too
* Pedants will have noted that at this time Lesney did not use the Matchbox brand name: these models were labelled A Moko toy by Lesney made in England
From time to time I wondered why my coach was silver and others appeared gold until I realised that the silver plating was apt to tarnish.