Nicholas Kilburn Correspondence

Scope and Content

Chiefly letters to Nicholas Kilburn, together with a few letters to his wife Alice, and several miscellaneous items.

The letters are largely concerned with amateur music making, particularly in the North East of England, but also include accounts of music heard during travels on the continent and in America, news of Elgar, and a letter from Eva Wagner settling a point about the correct staging of her father's opera Parsival. They illustrate both the vigour of Kilburn's contribution to the musical life of the North East and the wide range of his contacts among contemporary composers and musicians, both English and American. Kilburn's correspondents include the British composers Sir Frederick Bridge (1844-1924), Sir George Henschel (1850-1934), and Hamish MacCunn (1816-1916), and the Americans Horatio Parker (1863-1919) and Bertram Shapleigh (1871-1940). Correspondents from outside the musical world include Sir Willam Eden (1849-1915), soldier and amateur artist, Samuel Smiles, author of Self-Help, two bishops of Durham, Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and H.C.G. Moule (1841-1920), and Thomas Carlyle's daughter, Mary.

Administrative / Biographical History

Nicholas Kilburn (1843-1923), a pump manufacturer in Bishop Auckland, was awarded the degree of B.Mus. from Cambridge in 1880 and received an honorary D.Mus. from Durham in 1914, in recognition of his contribution to the standard of amateur musical life in the North East of England. A keen supporter of the English composers of his day, he became a close friend of Edward Elgar, who dedicated The Music Makers to him. Kilburn was also ardently interested in the music of Wagner, frequently visiting Bayreuth and publishing Wagner, a sketch of his life and works (London, [1895]) and The story of Wagner's Ring for English readers (London, [1898]). Kilburn's regular attendance at the major music festivals at home and abroad enabled him to keep in close touch with new music, which he enthusiastically sought to introduce into the repertoire of the various amateur groups with which he was actively involved. He was conductor of the Bishop Auckland Musical Society from 1875, the Middlesbrough Musical Union from its foundation in 1882, and the Sunderland Philharmonic Society from 1886. A proficient cellist, pianist and organist, as well as conductor, he also composed a number of part-songs and works for chorus and orchestra.


In alphabetical order of correspondent, and then chronological.

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Purchased at Sotheby's sale, 9 February 1976, where the letters formed one lot (79) in a much larger collection (lots 69-82) of Kilburn's correspondence with the leading musical figures of the day. A copy of the sale catalogue entries for lots 69-82 is kept with the group (Add. 816/85)


Part of : Additional Manuscripts

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue available at online catalogue.