Ireland’s pupils: Peter Crossley-Holland

One of Ireland’s pupils at the RCM was the renowned ethnomusicologist, composer and BBC Producer Peter Crossley-Holland (1916–2001). On the face of it very different personalities, they went on to become good friends.

A sequence of letters from Ireland to Crossley-Holland is held at the Royal College of Music. They span a period from 1935–52, and contain many fascinating little observations and revelations. The letters cover a decade when Ireland was living away from London, and end when he was back in his Chelsea home following the end of the war. In the letters Ireland always refers to his former pupil by his surname, and writes fondly of many of his students.

In 1939 Crossley-Holland invited Ireland to his wedding. The latter was then living on Guernsey, and declined the invitation, while suggesting the island as a honeymoon venue – somewhat ironic given that Guernsey was invaded only 8 days later. In the following year, now living in Radlett, Ireland gives his comments on Crossley-Holland’s Piano Sonata, hoping he will not get the ‘Celtic or “bardic” fever – it does not lead to conciseness or clearness of expression or form’ (24 July 1940). His pupil was at this time working as an ARP warden. Crossley-Holland asked Ireland to be the godfather of his new son Kevin in 1941, with the composer politely deflecting the request.

In 1945 they met at the Albert Hall. Crossley-Holland was now living in Wilmslow, Ireland back in Gunter Grove. They met again in 1948, soon after which point the surviving correspondence concludes.

Source: letters from John Ireland to Peter Crossley-Holland, RCM:



Singing Ireland

A number of singers are well known for their close associations with Ireland’s music, among them Gervase Elwes and George Parker, and later Peter Pears. Another to have performed his music was the contralto Muriel Foster, one of the composer’s former fellow students at the RCM and already well-known for her associations with Elgar. In June 1917, for example, Ireland gave a  concert of his works at the Wigmore Hall. As part of the programme, the Second Violin Sonata was reprised following its recent enthusiastic reception, and Miss Foster performed a number of Ireland’s songs to that date.



The Imperial Institute

One of Ireland’s dining places was the Imperial Institute on Exhibition Road in South Kensington. This grand edifice was built following the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition, designed by T.E. Tollcutt and completed in 1893. It was originally a museum and exhibition centre, but in the 1920s one of the galleries was converted into the Imperial Institute Cinema. Film screenings were mainly of a documentary type, focused on the British Empire.

Round the corner from the RCM, Ireland used this venue as a social dining place, for example meeting his sister Ethel there in July 1932. These photographs of the interior of the Imperial Institute  give a sense of its grandeur and what was lost when it was demolished in the 1950s.

 Imperial Institute Cinema


imageIn their days as students at the RCM, a number of young musicians formed a Literary and Debating Society, which had a short but active lifespan from January 1896 to January 1897. Dunhill recalled the roll of membership as including the following names:

Cecil Wybergh (chairman), E. Howard Jones (secretary), G. Von Holst, R. Vaughan Williams, Willy Scott, Herbert Fryer, Sherwin, Carter, J. N. Ireland, Welch, Falkner, Colles, Beeching, Ridgeway, Sam Grimson, W. Kingdon, Fritz Hart, Martin Shaw, Percy Harmon, and J. St. A. Johnson. During the second session, which occupied the Summer term of 1896, we added to our list the well-remembered names of W.Y Hurlstone, Nicholas Gatty, N. Ingleby, Leslie Peck, Elliott, Chuter, Ellingford, E.C. Mercer, Percy Bright, and Edward Behr.

Meetings were held on Saturday afternoons, with readings, discussions and debates. More importantly, the sessions ended with a trip to 11 Kensington High Street. This was the home of Wilkins the bakers, Frederick John Wilkins (1849–1922) being purveyor of bread to her Majesty. Thus the happy band concluded their gatherings with a ‘huge feast of tea and buns’.


Another J. Ireland at the RCM

On entering the Royal College of Music the visitor sees a list of those students who died during the First World War. One of the names is J. Ireland – similar to age to, though not a relative of the composer.

Joseph Knowles Ireland was born in 1885, son of a railway clerk in Leeds. At the age of 16 he was already in work as an insurance clerk, but had a dramatic change of career. In part this was because of family connections. His Uncle Charles Knowles, a member of the ISM Masonic Lodge from 1902, was a bass-baritone of some renown, known as ‘The Elijah of the North’. In 1911 Joseph Knowles Ireland is listed as living in St John’s Wood, his occupation now being that of ‘baritone’ following studies in the vocal department of the RCM, from which he graduated in 1912.

Tragically, this J.Ireland then went on to serve as a Captain in the Royal Fusiliers in France, and was reported missing on 7 October 1916, leaving behind a widow and a son of four months. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

Joint scholarship success

Paul Vincent, grandson of Thomas Dunhill, has uncovered a lovely entry in Dunhill’s diary for 27 Feb 1897. Both Dunhill’s and Ireland’s future careers were confirmed here, with Dunhill recording the fact that the two friends had been awarded  Open Scholarships for Composition. They had both been at the College already since 1893. Dunhill writes:

“The most exciting day I ever went through. Practice & up to College. The Results made known in the Concert Hall at about 2. Composition – J N Ireland. + T F Dunhill. Perfectly mad with excitement & joy. Wired home.”

Ireland’s pupils: Percy Turnbull

Percy TurnbullThis is the first of a new blog ‘series’ of posts on Ireland’s pupils, making use of information gleaned from the composer’s teaching registers at the RCM. In 1926 one of the names listed for the Christmas term, with lessons on a Friday, was Percy Turnbull.

Percy Purvis Turnbull (1902–1976) was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. His early years were influenced by William Whittaker, conductor of the Newcastle upon Tyne Bach Choir Society, who befriended the young musician. In 1923 he won a Foundation Scholarship to the RCM, where he studied with Holst, Vaughan Williams, and then Ireland, the latter remaining a lifelong friend. On leaving the RCM in 1927 after one last Easter term with Ireland, he became an editor for the Aeolian Piano Company and reader for OUP, also working as a freelance pianist and music copyist. Indeed, it was Turnbull who made the first copies of Vaughan Williams’s fourth symphony and Job.

In the mid-1930s he moved to Chalfont St Giles, close to his friend the composer John Longmire. After Longmire had moved to Guernsey with Ireland, Turnbull visited them in May 1940, shortly before the German invasion of the Channel Islands. In the following month finding himself in the situation of having to wait for an evacuation boat along with Ireland and Longmire. During World War II he served in the Royal Artillery, after which he became principal piano teacher at the Surrey College of Music until its closure in 1956.

Following his divorce from his first wife, Turnbull remarried in 1956, his second wife the Hon Mary Elizabeth Parnell, an associate of the RCM and daughter of John Brooke Molesworth Parnell, the sixth Baron Congleton. In that same year he moved to West Sussex to a beautiful house, West Broomers, located in a rural part of the Downs just north of Pulborough, very close to Ireland’s home at Rock Mill.West Broomers

Much of Turnbull’s work, which includes songs, orchestral and chamber music, remained in manuscript, and was only brought to publication after his death, thanks to the efforts of his wife. Turnbull was clearly strongly influenced by Ireland both in the genres he favoured and in stylistic terms, producing a body of miniatures for piano, including:

  • Seven Character Sketches(1923–7)
  • Eight Short Piano Pieces(published under the pseudonym Peter Thrale) (1931)
  • Six Pastoral Miniatures(1938)
  • Three Winter Pieces(1956–7)

After 1960 Turnbull turned his attention away from music to drawing and painting, favouring in particular landscapes in watercolour. He died on 9 December 1976.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

RCM teaching registers