Northern School of Music Archive

Scope and Content

Official records of the Northern School of Music covering its history from incorporation to amalgamation with the Royal Manchester College of Music to form the Royal Northern College of Music.

Records include Council minutes, some financial materials, prospectuses and annual reports (incomplete series), student records, and photographs.

The archive unfortunately lacks comprehensive records: in particular, annual reports, programmes, and the school magazines (published annually from 1937) are missing. Student records earlier than 1947 are not extant.

Administrative / Biographical History

Foundation and constitution

Hilda Collens had studied privately with Tobias Matthay, and was sympathetic to Walter Carroll's campaigning for the wider teaching of music in Manchester elementary schools. She gave individual piano lessons and taught at Sale Grammar School for Girls, but wanted to put Matthay's principles and her own ideas into practice for the teaching of muscianship. Accordingly on September 22nd 1920 Hilda Collens opened a school with the idea of broadening the scope of the Matthay training. The Manchester Branch of the Matthay School of Music was a private enterprise, supported by the fees of the pupils. Although superficially a private commercial enterprise, in practice and in spirit the Matthay School was nothing of the sort - although it suffered from the suspicions of its detractors that Hilda Collens derived considerable financial gain from the enterprise.

The initial years brought concern for the stability of the school, and were dogged by constant financial and other pressures. These were highlighted by the outbreak of war - the school was particularly affected by the evacuation of children and young people undertaking national service, and enrolments declined sharply. Accordingly Hilda Collens put it on a public basis, and in September 1943 the Matthay School, Manchester branch, formally became a public institution under the name The Northern School of Music. The Board of Trade issued a licence to enable the certificate of incorporation to omit the word 'limited' (although the NSM was a company limited by guarantee). All profits were to be ploughed back into the support of music-making - a practice which had been followed by Hilda Collens from the beginning.

On the death of Miss Collens in 1956, Ida Carroll was appointed acting Principal. It was decided that at this stage continuity rather than radical changes of policy would assist the negotiations then in progress with Manchester Corporation which were considering the adoption of the NSM as a Manchester institution. Around the same time an approach had been made by the Royal Manchester College of Music with a view to amalgamation, but despite the precarious financial situation at the NSM its Council felt 'that the two institutions differed too widely in character, personality, and method for a satisfactory connection to be possible'. By 1957 negotiations with Manchester had resulted in concrete proposals as to the syllabus and management, and financial support; this meant that in April when another meeting was held at the invitation of the Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University with representatives from the RMCM, the NSM representatives again dismissed the suggestions of amalgamation or closer co-operation with the RMCM.

Ida Carroll was confirmed as Principal in 1958, and although the school continued to carry, a loss student numbers and external support were still encouragingly high. Unfortunately the wider future of musical education was now in doubt, and the NSM showed its willingness to be involved in a scheme larger than the takeover which had initially been proposed by the RMCM. Accordingly a draft scheme for a new college was prepared, and detailed negotiations began (see below).


The early years of the Matthay School were precarious financially: it was totally dependent on the fees of the pupils, and the staff did not receive a salary but were paid termly tuition fees (in 1923 around 25 a term). Occasional private donations were received, and a fundraising appeal for a building extension was begun in 1945, supported by the proceeds of special concerts.

In 1948 support for the NSM's precarious financial position came from outside: a fund was established for the provision of a permanent scholarship, and a first grant was awarded by Manchester Education Authority. Accordingly the school Council went ahead with plans to begin a pension fund.

Unfortunately financial losses began to increase: in 1951 51, 1952 104 and 1953 173. Miss Collens approached the Ministry of Education about grants, but was rebuffed. She then turned to to Manchester Educational Authority, with the result that in 1954 the Manchester grant was increased to 500 p.a. The deficit increased to 279 in 1954, with a projected deficit of 947 for the following year. Nevertheless the pension fund was used in 1955 for the purchase of 93 Oxford Road. Negotiations continued with Manchester Corporation, with the support of the Ministry of Education - once it had finally been established, in 1955, that the NSM was a college of national and not merely local status - and it seemed as though the School would be accepted as a Manchester institution, and adopted financially. By 1958 Manchester had raised its grant to 1000, and Cheshire, Salford and Lancashire also increased their support. Money, however, remained a grave concern throughout all the period of the negotiations with the RMCM, until the Joint Committee accepted responsibility for both institutions on September 1st 1967 (see below).


When the Matthay School opened in 1920 Hilda Collens (Principal) and Mildred Esplin were the only teachers - together they had founded the previous year a summer course, which had become an annual occurrence and was to last until 1971. In the school's second year Gertrude Riall (singing) and Kathleen Forster (violin) were appointed, and thereafter the number of full and part time teachers increased steadily in line with the growing number of students. Notable teachers included Maurice Clare (violin), Reginald Stead (violin), John Wilson (piano), Archie Camden (bassoon), Irene Wilde (piano), Eileen Chadwick (piano), Sydney Errington (viola), Ellis Keeler (singing), Adelaide Trainor (speech & drama) and Dorothy Pilling (piano).

On the death of Hilda Collens, the founding Principal, in 1956 Ida Carroll, a former student and secretary who had become Deputy Principal during the late 1940s, was appointed Acting Principal; she was confirmed as Principal in 1958.

The Honorary Fellowship was created 1959, following the 30th anniversary and grant of the Royal Charter.


The school opened in 1920 with nine female students of piano, but it grew quickly and offered other branches of study from 1921 onwards. A training course for teachers was started in 1923. In the same year a modest increase in numbers was supported by the first part-time junior students. Following the move to a new building and increase in space, ensemble work was consequently begun in 1927. In the same year a library also founded, and over three years the school quintet became an orchestra. By 1933 the student body numbered around 170, and the staff was similarly larger, supplemented by visiting examiners, lecturers and teachers.

Students took L.R.A.M. diplomas by way of qualification, and also Associated Boards certificates. Many of them were juniors attending only once a week (including on Saturday mornings, when Miss Collens and her staff gave tuition without pay). Part-time tuition was also available to adults, at low fees.

In the summer of 1946 the Ministry of Education resolved the anomalous position of music teachers without a graduate qualification, awarding qualified teacher status was awarded to former students of the NSM. The Ministry then sought the co-operation of the NSM in the training of teachers, an opportunity which Miss Collens seized - with the result that by the end of 1949 there were almost 500 full-time and part-time students. That same year the school was inspected by the Ministry, and gave its first large-scale choral and orchestral work ("Messiah"). In 1952 the NSM staged its first opera ("The Bartered Bride"), and the Burnham committee gave graduate status to students who fulfilled "the special conditions established by the school".

Summer courses were offered annually until 1971 - the first in 1919, founded by Hilda Collens and Mildred Esplin, a colleague from Matthay classes.

Notable students included Alison Hargan (soprano), Harrison Birtwistle (clarinet), Ian Comboy (bass), Alfreda Hodgson (contralto), Hubert Harry (piano), Albert Haskayne (bass), Margaret Moore (oboe), Jean Soni (viola), Colin Staveley (violin), and Pauline Tinsley (soprano).


The school opened in premises over Hime & Addison's music shop on Deansgate. In 1923 it moved to the Tudor Galleries at 79 Deansgate - from a single room to three. Early in 1927 the school moved, again along Deansgate to no.260. A steady growth in numbers saw the need for the school to move again, in 1933 to Oxford Road (no.s 93A and 95) above Boosey & Hawkes.

In 1945 an urgent appeal was begun to extend the school buildings: with the end of the war and demobilisation, the number of applicants for admission increased. Premises adjoining the building in Oxford Road were adapted, and the extensions were ready in September 1947. In January 1955 the recently established pension fund was used to purchase no.93 Oxford Road at auction (it was being sold by the freeholder without the knowledge of the occupants). In 1958, however, there was an immediate threat to the buildings by a proposed new road (now the Mancunian Way), the line of which was planned through no.91 Oxford Road. No. 91 was demolished in 1964, the NSM having moved into no.99 where it remained until the end of its independent life.

The Joint Committee

Whilst the scheme for the new college progressed under the interim governing body, the school continued its work in music, and in drama. The agreement establishing the Northern College of Music was finally signed in 1966 and the NSM entered a transitional period, administered by the joint committee. This was composed of 34 members, representatives of the County Councils of Lancashire, Cheshire, Manchester and Salford, of the College and of the NSM, of the University, and co-opted members from the Arts Council, BBC, Hall, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Granada. The Joint Committee accepted the responsbility for the RMCM and the NSM from 1st September 1967, and the Ministry of Education assumed the financial responsibility - the NSM staff immediately received increases in pay, and confidence in the survival of their work into the future increased. Architects' plans were published for the proposed new building, but owing to the financial constraints on the national economy the building was excluded from the 1968-9 programme for Further Education building. Work finally began in November 1969, and the new College building and organisation opened as the Northern College of Music in September 1973 (the use of 'Royal' being granted in time for the opening).

A fuller history of the NSM can be found in John Robert-Blunn's Northern Accent: the life story of the Northern School of Music (Altrincham: John Sherratt & Son Ltd, 1972).


Order has been imposed, as the state of the records was extremely confused when cataloguing work began in 2003 and original order was impossible to ascertain owing to the moving of the records between locations in the 30 years between the closure of the RMCM and the cataloguing of the archive. The 19 series comprise:

  • 1 - Council Minute Book;
  • 2-4 Prospectuses, Syllabi, Summer courses in music;
  • 5-7 - Student records;
  • 8-12 - Examinations and prize distribution;
  • 13 - photographs;
  • 14 - New College correspondence;
  • 15-17 - Financial;
  • 18-19 - Commemorative items and drawings;

Access Information

Open for consultation. However Student testimonials are closed in line with the Data Protection Act 1998 (open to data subject requests). Please ask the Archivist for details.

Acquisition Information

Internal transfer.


Description by M Sarah Wickham, with administrative history drawing on John Robert-Blunn Northern Accent: the life story of the Northern School of Music (Altrincham: John Sherratt & Son Ltd, 1972).

Other Finding Aids

Royal Northern College of Music Archives Catalogue (CALM). Includes details of indexes and other finding aids which form part of the archive.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright in official records produced by the NSM and its employees rests in the Royal Northern College of Music.Copyright in other records is subject to the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1984.

Appraisal Information

Duplicate printed materials have been discarded.

Custodial History

Much of the NSM Archive was retrieved from the RNCM current record store in July 2003, during the course of a records survey. It appears that Ida Carroll kept the NSM records in her office on becoming Dean of Management of the RNCM; on her retirement her office was cleared and the records transferred to record storage. They were designated archival records and catalogued during the summer 2003.


None expected.

Related Material

In the RNCM Archives: The Royal Manchester College of Music Archive.

Lancashire Record Office : County Council Education Committee.

Salford City Archive Service: Education Committee.

National Archives (PRO): records created or inherited by the Department of Education and Science (ED).

Manchester City Archives: City Council Education Committee.

Cheshire Record Office: County Council Education Committee.

University of Manchester Archives: Vice-Chancellor's files (VCA/7/162 - NSM, 1942-57).


John Robert-Blunn Northern Accent: the life story of the Northern School of Music (Altrincham: John Sherratt & Son Ltd, 1972).