This blogpost is written by Dr Karen McAulay, Performing Arts Librarian and Postdoctoral Researcher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Karen has recently been awarded AHRC funding to establish a network, Claimed From Stationers’ Hall, researching early legal deposit music in British Libraries.
Link: http://ClaimedFromStationersHall.Wordpress.com and Twitter @ClaimedStatHall
The University of St Andrew’s Library has a long and illustrious history, and its Special Collections contain many treasures. Compared to some of the rare and ancient print and manuscript tomes, the 460 bound volumes of assorted pieces of Georgian British sheet music might seem trivial by comparison. Nonetheless, the Copyright Music Collection, amassed under legal deposit largely between the end of the eighteenth century and 1836, was sorted and bound in sturdy volumes from 1801 onwards, even gaining its own handwritten catalogue in the 1820s. From that time, every music loan was recorded – along with all the textbooks and literature also acquired under legal deposit – in massive ledgers with pages for each professor or student. These documents have enabled me to examine in detail which music was popular, and with whom. The results of interrogating this data are particularly pertinent to the aims of EAERN, because it gives us such useful information about which late eighteenth and early nineteenth century music and instructional treatises, were actually being used in one particular university town. We can unearth titles that may have long been forgotten, and can quantify where a particular category of material was used by different kinds of borrowers.
For example, when a professor borrowed music on his own account, we don’t know who performed it at home. However, professors also borrowed music for their friends, many of them women, and in the first couple of decades of the nineteenth century, many were “Misses”. Their names were noted alongside the volumes that they took out. In the context of women’s education, this is all very interesting. Conversely, it is also interesting to me to observe how this musical activity fits into the other subjects that formed part of Regency education, which is why the EAERN network is so relevant to my research.
On the flyleaf of one of the volumes (UYLY 206/6, years 1814-19), I observed that some music had been returned from someone called Mrs Bertram:-
“1816. Feb: Music Nos. 17, 32, 130 sent from Mrs Bertrams & No.142 supposed to have been left there by Mr Henderson.”
Further down the page, another entry noted, “Retd by the Misses Bertram Music Nos.4”
The flyleaves of the ledgers are habitually filled with scribbled notes listing music and other items, perhaps jotted down in haste or before a new ledger was commenced; it would be easy to leap to false conclusions when there’s little information to go on. Nonetheless, there was a certain charm about the thought that Mrs Bertram had kindly returned not only her own music but someone else’s as well, and that her daughters had also brought music back to the library, perhaps around the same time.
Who, I wondered, was Mrs Bertram, and how many daughters did she have? She and her daughters borrowed music between 1813 and 1820 – before the catalogue had been completed. (We don’t know if it might already have been commenced.) We do know that the latest volume borrowed by the Bertrams was volume 203, containing music published in 1819.
We also know that the ladies borrowed through the good offices of several different professors! Professor Henry David Hill, Dr Robertson, Dr Briggs and Dr Haldane all signed music out for them. Moreover, although the author of the flyleaf note believed Mr Henderson to have left music at their house, the loan records seem to suggest otherwise, with none of the listed volumes having been issued to the Bertrams, nor to Mr Henderson, but two to other professors, and two to “Misses” who were not Bertrams, through the hands of other academics. Handwritten record-keeping wasn’t always easy. Who knows where the music had been before being returned to the library?!
Some detective-work in archival records and contemporary newspapers revealed an interesting story. Mrs Bertram, in fact, ran a successful boarding-school in St Leonards, until around March 1826 – the Fife Herald announced on Thursday 9th March that she was leaving St Andrews, where she had “so long and so successfully conducted the well known seminary for young ladies”. Her daughters also taught there. By August that year, she and four daughters were advertising her new boarding school, Newington House, in the Edinburgh Advertiser:- “The utmost attention is paid to the religious and moral instruction of the pupils. Newington House is delightfully situated in the southern suburbs of Edinburgh … Mrs Bertram expects, in a few weeks, to have the assistance of a Parisian lady, a Protestant …”
Much more could be related about Mrs Bertram’s circumstances, but suffice to say that her husband had been a published expert on farm horses, then a corn merchant in St Andrews until he ran into financial difficulties in 1808.
The Bertrams had five daughters and one son between 1792 and 1803; so one presumes that Mrs Bertram didn’t open her boarding school until some time in the second decade of the nineteenth century. (One girl seems to have died by 1826.) At the time her school in St Leonards was being sold, two of her daughters were improving their education in France.
She was at Newington House, a sizeable property in what looks to have been fairly generous gardens, until certainly 1833-4, but was living elsewhere in Edinburgh a couple of years later, and was living with three of her daughters, a married son and some servants in the 1841 census. By this stage Mrs Bertram was aged 80, certainly due a leisurely retirement.
A former Newington House teacher, Miss Foggo, opened a school with her own mother in 1835, boasting the teaching of theory of music, “teaching music in classes, the elementary parts on the Logerian System [a music teaching method] – Private Teaching as usual.” We could infer that Miss Foggo had taught along similar lines at Newington House, too.
Can we also infer that Mrs and the Misses Bertram borrowed music for the use of their pupils at St Leonard’s, before they moved to Edinburgh? I can offer no explanation for the fact that no further music was borrowed between 1820 and 1826. Nonetheless, a quick look at the music that they did borrow, between 1813-1820, reveals the borrowing of a couple of decidedly educational volumes, with instructional material for the harp and other topics:-
- Mademoiselle Merelle’s Instructions for the pedal harp in two volumes (1899)
- Kollmann’s Practical Guide to Thorough Bass (1801)
- Instructions for the Piano & 8 Sonatinas by M. Camidge (1794)
- A Treatise on practical Thorough Bass by Jackson (1791/5)
- Instructions for ye pedal Harp (No title page)
- A treatise on Harmony by Griffith Jones (1792/5)
- Rules for Thorough Bass, op.7 by Smethergel (1791)
The Bertrams also borrowed a lot of piano music and songs, some national songs, not to mention vocal ensembles, hymns, organ voluntaries, dances and a ballet, and a couple of books of accompaniments.
There is ample evidence in William Thackeray’s satirical novel Vanity Fair (published in 1847, but set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars), that young ladies were taught music and dancing at boarding schools. It would thus not appear unreasonable to posit that Mrs Bertram and her daughters may well have used the University’s valuable music resource in instructing their pupils, or if not, then certainly in improving their own musical abilities in order to do so.
The Bertrams would have had about 200 volumes to choose from, by ca.1820. Their choices included some of the more popular volumes in the collection, although it is difficult to draw precise statistical conclusions about the popularity of individual volumes without also considering the contents of each volume, the date when it might have been bound, and the number of years it was available for borrowing.
Unearthing the history of Mrs Bertram and her boarding schools has also, in passing, enabled me to suggest a possible identification for the hitherto unknown subject of an early photograph taken by Edinburgh photographer David Octavius Hill in the mid-1840s. There are copies of these photographs at Glasgow University Library – they appear in the catalogue – and also in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. A very old, but distinguished looking lady known only as “Mrs Bertram”, is captured sitting thoughtfully, holding a book and resting an arm on more books, from the earliest era of calotype photography. Our headmistress was certainly still alive in 1841, and would have been in her early to mid-eighties when the picture was taken. She was of the status that might have merited a portrait in this new medium. It cannot be proven indisputably, but it would be nice to think that I have found her.
Featured Image: With permission of University of Glasgow Library ASC, Shelf mark: HA0739.