In the fourth article of the Northern School of Music series, let’s explore something the history books don’t tell us, the official school archive never mentions, and most of the school’s students never knew about.
This is the love story of Geoffrey Griffiths (1906-1993) and Ida Carroll (1905-1995).
Referred to as “Griff” by many alumni, the lasting memories of this charming chap are primarily as the tobacco-smoking first impression of the Northern School of Music. With offices just inside the door to the school, his lugubrious voice would greet you amid a stain of smoke.
He was the school’s bursar. He typed up the daily notices on the school’s stairwell pillars, he drove the van full of the larger instruments (and their carefully balanced players) to the concert halls for orchestral performances and he kept everything squared away with the balance sheets.
What many did not know, is that he was in a dedicated relationship with the school’s principal, Ida Carroll, for about 60 years. The only reason we know it now is due to the treasure chest of incredible love letters he sent her.
Geoffrey wrote letters, beautiful love letters, to Ida throughout their relationship. He would write multiple times a week, often just after getting home late at night from visiting her in order to tell her how much he already missed and loved her.
His writing to her was so prolific it seemed only to continue the conversations they had started when meeting face to face, undoubtedly to be picked up again when they next met. Most are merely introduced as “Monday afternoon”, and “Tuesday evening”. No need to put down such frivolous details as dates when he’s seeing her again by the end of the week.
There are some incredible references the Second World War when he’s had to hastily put down his pen, pick up his papers and pipe, and make his way to crouch under the stairs or in the nearest bomb shelter. He is very put out as he continues his letter writing in the cramped din, often cursing Herr Hitler for getting in the way of their love affair, which was apparently damned inconsiderate of him.
Ida was an Air Raid Precaution Warden for the Didsbury area of Manchester. Griff was part of the Auxiliary Fire Service in Ashton-under-Lyne, spending many nights in the rooms of a bar parlour with a handful of other chaps, waiting for air raids and the inevitable fires that came after. Many long nights of boredom led to some very interesting letters, full of wartime musings, pining for more time with her, and pages upon pages agonising over details such as the merits of joining a journalism course, the exact details of the journey home, and Bridge tactics.
Griff also volunteered for a local battalion based around the Manchester area. He would often write asking if her patrols would at any point meet up with their rounds, so he could have something to look forward to, even if it was just glimpsing her across the street during a blackout.
Their regular meeting place was the Post Office corner in Didsbury near where she lived (it’s still there), or the bus shelter if it was raining on Parrs Wood Road by the lights (the decedent of which keep vigil at the same spot).
The couple apart
However, despite their devotion to one another, they didn’t traditionally exist as a couple for many, many years. Indeed, it may have been over 30 years before they could live together. One reason for this, it would seem, was Walter Carroll.
Walter was Ida’s father, and a firm fan of Griff for all it would appear. Griff worked in the travel agency frequented by Walter for his many trips to London. Over time, they got friendly and upon discovering Griff’s interest in singing and music (he had a cello called Boris), Walter enrolled Griff into his own choir at Birch Church. It’s likely that this is when he got to know and fall in love with Ida.
He would visit her at her family home and seemed openly intimidated by her father who, despite his appreciation of Griff’s musical passion, did not appreciate any other passion of Griff’s finding focus in his daughter.
The majority of their friends were also unaware of their affair. Both avid Hallé concert goers, they would arrange tickets to go with friends, fully intending to casually meet up at the concert, sit together or near, and meet up together after. A sort of stealth date night.
After the war, he returned to the travel agency for work but quickly took up the opportunity to work as the Bursar of the Northern School of Music (where Ida was Secretary) in 1946. Typical of the Northern School of Music and of Ida’s method of career advice, he was not expected to interview but simply to show up and never leave. Which is pretty much what happened.
Getting closer and closer was all well and good, but still the brick wall of Walter Carroll would not budge. Despite this, they had planned to get married and were actively hunting for flat to take together. His letters describe in detail their dreams, just as the Second World War was being announced. Unfortunately, Griff’s mother died shortly after their plans were made. Moving out would have meant leaving his father alone in the family home through war and through grief. It seemed that Walter’s unwillingness to support the union and this tragic weight of family duty, led Griff to write a heart-breaking letter explaining why he needed to call off the engagement.
The couple together
They remained dedicated to each other, but never married. Their relationship continued for many years, almost in a perpetuating stage of courting until 1955 when Walter died. Only then were they able to start living as a couple, with Griff eventually moving into the Carroll family home on Lapwing Lane.
Griff later fell severely ill and Ida nursed him through to the end of his life, almost moving into the nursing home where he lived his final days.
A lovely side-note here that shares some of the effectiveness of the school’s teaching. A friend and former student of Ida would visit her at Griff’s nursing home. The building was all locks and electronic key codes and it became a bit of a faff. Ida, having taught aural skills for decades had learned the key codes to the door locks simply based on the melody they made. She would relay this to her old friend in “tonic sol-far” (you know the one: do re mi fa sol…), singing the code notes to her, to allow freer movement in and out of the building when she visited.
Article © of Heather Roberts
The story continues
The final part of this series will be published on Playing Pasts on 21st December – don’t miss it
The archive and memories of the students are both full of fascinating features. Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we now have the resources to explore them in greater detail.
In the meantime, to learn more about the archive, head over to the website https://www.rncm.ac.uk/research/resources/archives/
For hundreds of digitised images from the Northern School of Music’s various collections, visit our friends at Manchester Digital Music Archive https://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/exhibition/688/a-2020-legacy:-the-centenary-of-the-northern-school-of-music
For a sneak peek at more of the history of the school, discover some key dates on the timeline here https://my.visme.co/view/pvge1n44-nsm2020-2