Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group



Kathleen Ferrier studio portrait

Kathleen Ferrier was born in Blackburn, Lancashire. In 1935, she married Bert Wilson and, two years later, moved to Silloth where Bert had been appointed as manager of the District Bank. They lived ‘above the shop’ in Eden Street.

The late Ray Carr remembered taking piano lessons with her there when he was thirteen. He said “She was a very nice woman. I had my lessons on Friday afternoons. Kathleen played golf and was often late. I used to just sit and wait – she was always very apologetic. She tried to teach me to sing, I especially remember her singing ‘Bonnie Mary of Argyle’ to me”.

Bert bet Kathleen a shilling that she would not take part in a music competition. She entered the Carlisle Festival and won in two categories - singing and piano. Then she won the prestigious Gold Cup at the Workington Music Festival of 1938. This brought her talents to public attention and she decided to pursue singing professionally. She moved to London in 1942, where her main career began. She later divorced Bert on the grounds of his inability to consummate the marriage.

Ferrier with Bruno Walter
Kathleen and Bruno Walter with whom she performed at the
Edinburgh Festivals.

Kathleen excelled in the music of Mahler, Bach and Handel. Her recitals often included songs by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. However, she is perhaps best remembered for her interpretations of British folk songs, including ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’. The unique timbre of her voice was in part due to a medical anomaly: her throat was exceptionally wide

She performed throughout Europe, visited North America three times, and sang at each of the first six Edinburgh International Festivals. She worked with many famous artists and Benjamin Britten wrote several works specifically for her.

 Glynebourne 1946 - The Rape of Lucretia
On stage at Glyndebourne in 1946 during a performance of
'The Rape of Lucretia' by Benjamin Britten.

Her final role was in Gluck's ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ at Covent Garden in February, 1953. Already seriously ill with breast cancer, which had spread to her bones, she got through the opening night successfully but, at the second performance her left thighbone partly disintegrated and a chip caused her great pain. Despite this, she finished the performance and the audience did not realise that anything unusual had happened. She had to leave the theatre on a stretcher. It was her final performance; she died on October 8th 1953, aged 41.

Listen to our podcast to hear some of Kathleen Ferrier's best recordings and some memories of her years in Silloth.


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Kathleen Ferrier