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Professor of Music

CATLIN, Hertford, mid-19th century

September, 2010




Wendy Lawrence (lawrence @t of Pewsey, Wiltshire, writes: My great great grandfather George Catlin(g) was a 29 year old musician living in Bengeo, Herts, in 1841.  The baptism records for two of his daughters around that time and his wife's death certificate in 1840 also give his occupation as musician. In both the 1851 census and the Post Office Directory for that year he is recorded as being a professor of music in Port Vale, Bengeo. Four years later he is listed in the directory under 'Teachers of Music' as a professor of music in St Andrew's Street, Hertford.  He did not appear in the 1859 edition.

I have not been able to find him in any future census records and none of the deaths in Hertfordshire between 1855 and 1900 appear to be his (he was born c1812).  To complicate matters further he appears on his son's marriage certificate in 1878 as a farmer, but it does not say he was deceased.

However, my main interest is in knowing how he became a 'professor' in this subject as, in the 1830s, he was a shoemaker in Hertingfordbury Road.  Could he have done so without qualifications?  Are there likely to be any other records referring to his 'business'?

It is important to realise that the present education system, with exams and university departments teaching long lists of specialist subjects, is comparatively modern. When George was born all existing British Universities were religious institutions - their main aim being to prepare their students to become ministers of religion. University College London was the first secular university and was founded in 1826 while the Royal College of Music was not founded until 1882. In general training in particular skills was done by working with someone who had that skill - either within the family or by apprenticeship.

If you look at a mid-19th century dictionary you will find that it the term could be applied to anyone who taught a specialist subject, and there will be not mention of it as being a title reserved for a senior university academic. Around 1851 almost everyone who earned a living by teaching music would have called themselves a "Professor of Music" and I did a check on the 1851 Post Office Directory of all the people listed as teachers of music in Hertfordshire, to see how they were described:

Baynes Thomas.W Professor of Music Crossbrook Street Cheshunt
Bridgeman Charles Professor of Music West Street Hertford
Brown Francis Professor of Music St Peters St St Albans
Catling George Professor of Music Port Vale Hertford
Coote Charles Professor of Music Turners Hill Cheshunt
Crabb Thomas Professor of Music & Organist High Street Great Berkhamstead
King John Professor of Music St Peters Street St Albans
Luppine Thomas William Professor of Music & Pianoforte Warehouse High Street Hertford
Nicholls Edward Organist & Professor of Music Marlowes Hemel Hempstead
Walker Frederick Teacher of Music Sheep Market Hitchin

There weren't very many and all but one is described as a "Professor of Music" Two were also organists. (A check of how they described themselves in the 1851 census might also be interesting.)

This suggests a possible route by which George could have become a "Professor of Music. Every church would have had a choir and many would have had an organ (or at least some form of musical support for the choir). The job of organist would have been, for all but the very largest churches, a part time activity. The organist/choir master would therefore normally have a "normal" job, and I am sure they would be very  happy to take on additional teaching commissions. He would also be keen on encouraging bright young members of the choir to learn to play the organ and/or other musical instruments.

So did George show a high level of musical skills as a choir boy in a Hertford Church, receive training from the organist, and perhaps become organist himself. This would be a high profile job in that his skills would be visible to the local gentry every Sunday . They might well want their young ladies to be taught the piano - and this could well prove much more profitable than working as a cobbler.

The problem will be proving it. While churches keep records of their ministers, there is rarely a similar list of organists, or choir boys. Much will depend on what records survive for the church. Perhaps there is a record in the Vestry minutes about the appointment of a new organist. There may be an entry in the church accounts of a payment to the organist. Perhaps the vicar kept a diary that has survived. For some churches documents which contain relevant information may have been deposited at HALS. In other cases some may still be in the possession of the church. I am afraid that in many cases the kind of document that might have recorded such information will not have survived.

I would suggest you contact each of the Hertford Churches asking if there is anyone specifically interested in the history of the church who might know of who the organists or choir masters were in the early 19th century. The Herts Family History Society has a "Research Queries" page in their magazine - and the fact that I am posting this on my web site might also attract some interest. If these all fail fails to come up with "the goods" a visit to HALS to look at any church related documents they hold could be in order.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

September 2010   Page created