The Carroll Papers: Walter, Elsa and Ida Carroll

Scope and Content

Correspondence, music, photographs and other items accumulated or created by members of the Carroll family - chiefly Walter and Ida Carroll, but also Elsa Carroll and Geoffrey Griffiths.

The Walter Carroll papers comprise correspondence, music (both printed and in MS), accounts, diaries, lectures, photographs and other material.

The Elsa Carroll papers comprise correspondence, photographs and other material.

The Ida Carroll papers comprise correspondence, music in MS, accounts, diaries, speeches and lectures, photographs and other material.

The Carroll family papers chiefly comprise photographs.

Administrative / Biographical History

Walter Carroll, the sixth child and only son of Richard (b. 1829) an upholsterer and Fanny W. (b.1832), was born in 1869. Working hard to escape his humble beginnings he was the first person to gain the DMus by examination at the Victoria University of Manchester, taking other degrees at Durham University. He held several posts at the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music, delivering the first lecture on the opening of the latter institution in 1893. He became the first Professor in the Art and Practice of Teaching at the RMCM, resigning in 1918 to become Manchester's first Music Adviser (part time from 1918, full time from 1920, retiring in 1934).

Carroll appointed six full-time peripatetic specialists over the period 1919 to 1928 to give music appreciation classes in the elementary schools, and also ran extremely popular out-of-hours Training Courses in Music for the 'all-subjects' teachers in the elementary schools (1918-1934). Virtually every practising teacher attended at least one year of the three year course. In 1925 he also produced a best-selling Handbook of Music that ran to 10,000 copies in three editions that were widely distributed at home and abroad.

It is however his music for children, written originally for his daughters Elsa and Ida, which is Carroll's claim to enduring fame. The key to its success was that children could play a harmonised tune before they could even read music properly (or at all) by singing or reciting the printed tunes to the words of a short header poem that scanned exactly with the rhythms of the music as they simultaneously discovered how to play it. After Scenes at a Farm, published by Forsyth Brothers Ltd in 1912, came all the other sets over a period of forty one years. These included The Countryside (1912), Sea Idylls (1914), Forest Fantasies (1916), Water Sprites (1923), and River and Rainbow (1933). All had exquisite cover illustrations by hand-picked, internationally renowned artists who unerringly matched their work to Carroll's titles and music: among them were W Heath Robinson, Arthur Rackham and Charles Folkard. The uniqueness of Carroll's brilliant idea was to fire the child's imagination by uniting what he called the Sister Arts: by simultaneously stimulating the child visually and poetically as well as musically. Many of his works are still in print.

Carroll also held various posts as Choirmaster and Organist, most notably at St. James, Birch-in-Rusholme, Manchester, from 1916 until 1938. He married Gertrude A. Southam (1868-1958) in 1896, and they had two daughters, Elsa and Ida. Walter Carroll died in 1955, and a memorial window was placed in the Musicians Chapel, St Sepulchre without Newgate, in 1958. His wife Gertrude is commemorated with a shelter and seat in Portpatrick, where the family spent many of their holidays.

Elsa Mary Carroll, the eldest daughter of Walter and Gertrude, was born in 1898, and attended the Manchester High School for Girls. On leaving school she became a clerk with the Northern Universities Joint Matriculation Board where she worked until her retirement. She was however best known in the area for founding the 1st Withington Girl Guide Company (in 1918) which she led until her retirement in 1974. 1st Withington was notable for its support of local elderly people, a cause dear to Elsa Carroll's heart as she worked as a volunteer for the Abbeyfield Society, presenting it with the house next-door to the Carroll family's in Lapwing Lane. In 1979 she was awarded the MBE. Elsa Carroll died in 1993.

Ida Gertrude Carroll, youngest daughter of Walter and Gertrude, was born in 1905. Like her sister she attended the Manchester High School for Girls, and also the Matthay School of Music, becoming its Secretary. After the death of the founding Principal in 1956 Ida Carroll was appointed Acting Principal, becoming Principal in 1958. On the opening of the (Royal) Northern College of Music following the amalgamation of the Northern School with the Royal Manchester College of Music, Ida Carroll became Dean of Management, retiring in 1976. That same year she was elected president of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (the second woman to hold the post). She was awarded the OBE in 1964. In addition to her full-time work Ida Carroll was a freelance double bass player, and a leading figure in a number of organisations including Chetham's School of Music, European String Teachers Association and the National Youth Orchestra. Although she never married, Ida Carroll was lifelong companion of Geoffrey Griffiths, Bursar at the Northern School of Music. Ida Carroll died in 1995.


On the death of Ida Carroll, the last surviving member of the family, in 1995 the family home 117 Lapwing Lane Didsbury was cleared by her executors. Original order was impossible to ascertain for the majority of the papers, although a few items were filed in drawers or otherwise organised. An arrangement has therefore been imposed, retaining where possible any discernible original order.

The papers have been divided into four subfonds (in some cases such attribution has been made by a 'best guess'):

  • WC - papers accumulated and created by Walter Carroll;
  • EMC - papers accumulated and created by Elsa Carroll;
  • IGC - papers accumulated and created by Ida Carroll;
  • Family - papers and other items accumulated collectively by the family.

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Walter Carroll's papers were bequeathed to the RNCM by Ida Carroll.

Ida Carroll, Elsa Carroll and family papers on indefinite loan from the Ida Carroll Trust.


Description by M Sarah Wickham

Other Finding Aids

Royal Northern College of Music Archive catalogue (CALM).

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright of the Carrolls owned by Ida Carroll Trust

Appraisal Information

Following the cataloguing of the Papers, a number of items were dispersed in March 2004 as follows:

  • Duplicate items where copies were kept together have been returned to the Ida Carroll Trust (chiefly orders of service for the dedication of the memorial window to Walter Carroll at St Sepulchre's, 1956, and associated papers);
  • One box of photocopies of items from the papers, made by the biographers Basil Howitt and Percy Welton during the 1990s, were returned to the Ida Carroll Trust;
  • A number of items of printed music, records and books on music were transferred to the RNCM Library (list available);
  • A number of books were returned to the Ida Carroll Trust (list available).

Custodial History

The papers were accumulated in the Carroll family home in Didsbury. On the death of the last surviving member of the family, Ida, in 1995, the papers were transferred to the RNCM.


None are expected.

Related Material

Royal Manchester College of Music Archive (GB 1179 RMCM).Add-Carroll is an artifical fonds collecting together items gathered for the biography of the Carrolls, along with gifts made to the RNCM of music and other items.Add-Carroll is an artifical fonds collecting together items gathered for the biography of the Carrolls, along with gifts made to the RNCM of music and other items.

Geographical Names