Singers and Musical Personalities ~ Kathleen Ferrier (1912 - 1953

1.  Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier (1912 - 1953

1.   Kathleen Ferrier (1912- 53)

Date 1949
Photographer: Unknown. (Publicity photograph for recording: Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53 by Johannes Brahms (text by Goethe) Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, cond. Erik Tuxen Recorded October 14, 1949).

In 1942 Kathleen sang for Sir Malcolm Sargent who told her that she had a great future, but that to further her career she must live in London. She moved into a flat in Hampstead and began lessons with the baritone singer Professor Roy Henderson. Subsequently, Ferrier made records and became well known on the concert platform and in all the great oratorio works, particularly the Messiah and Elgar's masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius. The composer Benjamin Britten wrote his second opera, The Rape of Lucretia, with her in mind for the title role.

In 1940 Ferrier moved to live with her father and sister in Carlisle.  Her marriage to Bert Wilson cannot be regarded as a happy experience and the union was annulled in 1947. 

Ferrier sang for the first time in New York in 1948, to great acclaim, and then began tours of America, Canada, Holland, Scandinavia and America again. The problems of travelling abroad were almost as bad as travelling at home.

During 1951 Ferrier had an operation to remove a malignant breast tumour. This seemed to be successful and she resumed her career after a spell in hospital. She toured again, at home and abroad and was one half of many brilliant collaborations – with Roy Henderson, Benjamin Britten, Sir John Barbirolli and the great German conductor Bruno Walter, with whom she was instrumental in bringing the work of the composer Gustav Mahler to a much wider audience.  A close friendship with the soprano Ena Mitchell had developed and the two, in company with William Herbert, The Cantata Singers recorded works by Bach

Throughout 1952 she was dogged by problems of movement and it was found that further treatment was necessary. Determined as ever, she fulfilled as many of her commitments as she could between regular hospital visits. Eventually though, she was unable to meet the travel demands. Despite a further operation her condition continued to deteriorate and she was re-admitted to hospital where she died on 8 October 1953.

[Text draws on information published by the Kathleen Ferrier Society, personal recollections and other sources in the public domain.]


2.  Nat West

3.   $7lsons

Kathleen Ferrier (1912 - 1953

2.   Kathleen Ferrier (1912- 53): Her home in Eden Street, above the District Bank in Silloth where her husband was manager.

Date: 2011
Photographer: Unknown.  ( image from the Old Cumbria Gazetteer - JandMN: 2013.  (The District Bank, originally based in Manchester, was taken over by the National Provincial Bank in 1962 and merged with the National Westminster Bank in 1968.)   Ferrier left this address to reside in Hampstead when her husband joined the army in 1942.)

3.   Mrs Wilson's Cafe, SIlloth

Date: 2013
Photographer: ©Michael. 

Who is Mrs Wilson?

The Mrs Wilson in question is 1930s Silloth resident, contralto Kathleen Ferrier.

Born in 1912, in Lancashire Kathleen moved to Silloth in 1936, not long after her marriage to Bert Wilson. Silloth, then as now, had a population of just 3,000 but it was also a thriving, all year round resort, attracting about 4,000 visitors each summer.

Bert was the local bank manager and along with his wife lived in the flat above the District Bank on Eden Street. They both became active members of the community, involving themselves in the social life of the town. Kathleen was the resident piano and organ accompanist to the Silloth choral society, and accompanied, free of charge any local singer who asked. She joined the amateur dramatic society and accepted any parts offered. In ‘The Deaf Man’ production she took the part of the scolding wife whose pie is eaten (and she also made the pie).

It was in Silloth, at the age of 24, that Kathleen’s career started.  Her voice had begun to mature. She started to gain confidence as she was accepted as a singer in her own right rather than feeling she was being indulged as a pianist who sang. In 1937, she entered a music competition in Carlisle, but it wasn’t the singing class she entered but the piano.  Her husband Bert encouraged her, by betting her a shilling; that she wouldn’t put her name down to enter both piano & the contralto class.

She won the Dr Lediard Memorial Trophy for the piano section and the Silver Rose Bowl, for best singer of the festival. The judge said she had a very beautiful voice, one of the finest he had heard, and that she ought to make singing her career.

The festival success led to her first singing engagements and her first paid performance singing ‘Thank God for a Garden’ at the harvest festival in Aspatria, Cumbria. Kathleen had no transport so the tenor, Joe Wallace, picked her up and drove her to Aspatria. He remembers them both being paid 7/6d each. Kathleen continued to enter music festivals. In 1938, she entered the Workington Festival and ‘Silloth’s champion vocalist’ won the Gold Cup. In the same year she won the Gold Medal at the Millom Festival.

Later that year she took part in a concert in Workington where she was heard by a BBC producer from Newcastle. He booked her there and then to take part in his variety show called Hark Forrard. Her first live radio broadcast took place on 23rd February 1939 at peak listening time of eight thirty. More broadcasts and two years later Kathleen was touring nationally as a professional singer with CEMA, the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Artsl, during the war years.   Kathleen went from wining the Carlisle Festival Rose Bowl in 1937 to becoming a nationally known singer within ten years, followed by a further five years of international fame.Her last public appearance, when she was already very ill, was as Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at Covent

{Text draws on publicity material published by Mrs Wilson's Cafe, Silloth, and other sources in the public domain.]


Kathleen Ferrier Anecdotes, photographs and recordings

Top ~ Ferrier and Britten ~ Her search for love ~ A Practical Friendship Life and Music of Kathleen Ferrier



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