Thursday, 29 September 2011

Jonathan Adlington (1839-1884), Music teacher of Derby & Aberdeen

In the 1860s, after the carte de visite format was introduced, the colourisation of photographs became a little easier, and one would hope that the photographic studios would have taken heed of the "less is more" mantra. By the looks of many of these early portraits on albumen-based paper prints it may appear that the lesson was not well appreciated. However, a criticism of these early practitioners may be a little hasty, because the effect that we see now may not be that which was intended. Indeed the appearance may differ radically from how it appeared originally, either due to significant fading of the sepia-toned photographic emulsion or to changes in the original water colour dyes used, both of which effectively enhance the appearance of the added colours.

Image © and courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library
Jonathan Adlington of Derby, July 1863
Hand coloured carte de visite portrait by J. Brennen, Derby
Image © and courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library

This carte de visite portrait of young Derby music teacher Jonathan Adlington (1839-1884) by James Brennen, held by the Derby Local Studies Library (by whom permission has been kindly given for reproduction), is typical of early paper prints mounted on card and hand coloured in either water colours or oils. I think this one has been done in water colours (apart from the gold), which look pretty garish now, but the appearance is likely to be different from that originally intended. The young man is bearded, dressed in a frock coat with the top button done up, as was the fashion, dark waistcoat and light coloured peg-top trousers. He is wearing a bright blue tie with gold tie pin, a gold watch chain, and carries a light walking cane and pale blue, soft, low-crowned hat, perhaps something akin to a deerstalker without the ear flaps.

Image © and courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library

The reverse has the sitter's name "Jno Adlington" and a date "July 1863" inscribed in pencil, in what appears to be a roughly contemporary hand. Several other Brennen portraits in the DLSL collection have inscription in a similar hand, possibly written by Brennen himself. I suspect they were speculative portraits of local celebrities produced to cash in on the carte de visite craze which swept the country in the early 1860s.

Image © and courtesy of Martin Beek
Choir at Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire
Image © 2008 Martin Beek and courtesy of Flickr

Jonathan Adlington was born in 1839 into the musically talented family of Southwell (Nottinghamshire) tailor William Adlington and his wife Keturah Pope. His father was for some years a member of the choir at Southwell Minster under the tutelage of rector chori Edward Heathcote.

Image courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement, The Derby Mercury, 19 December 1849
Image courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

They moved to Derby in the late 1840s, probably shortly after the death of William's father Jonathan Adlington at Southwell on 2 June 1849. An advertisement which appeared in The Derby Mercury seeking an apprentice was a clear sign that the Adlington children were not destined to follow their father into the rag trade. The census of 30 March 1851 shows all three of the Adlington children - William (14), Jonathan (11) and Sarah Ann (10) - as music scholars, and it occurred to me that their move to Derby may have been motivated partly for musical reasons, for example to be close to a respected music teacher.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
St Peter's Church, Derby, c.1880s
Lithograph published by W.W. Winter
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Whatever the reasons for the move, it seems to have paid off. In January 1850 Master Adlington - probably Jonathan's older brother William, then twelve years old- was reported in the Mercury as "one of the youthful band of choristers belonging to [St Peter's Church Sunday School], presiding at the pianoforte, with great ability," during a church function in the large dining room of the King's Head Inn in the Cornmarket, a popular meeting place for both cultural groups and philosophical clubs.

Image © and courtesy of Russ Hamer
Church of St Paul's, Chester Green, Derby
Image © 2010 Russ Hamer and courtesy of Panoramio

William junior became something of a local sensation, with regular performances in Derby, such as at the opening and consecration of the new church of St Paul's at New Chester (now Chester Green), near Derby in May that year. The Adlingtons appear to have been at the centre of a a minor renaissance of the music scene in Derby. The St Peter's Madrigal Society "gave the second performance to their subscribers and friends" in September 1850, at which "Master W. Adlington presided at the pianoforte, accompanying the glees, songs, &c., in a very efficient style."

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
The Athenaeum (at left), Royal Hotel & Post Office, Victoria Street/Cornmarket, Derby, c.1850s
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

At a Christmas concert held in the Athaenaeum that same year, "Master Adlington was also encored in the song, 'Why do summer roses fade,' which he sang with considerable effect, accompanying himself on the pianoforte ... A fantasia on the piano by Master Adlington was remarkable for its brilliancy of execution."

William Adlington senior had become the choir master at St Peter's, and no doubt played a significant role in the training and advancement of his son, although by then it appears that he was shortly to study under John Cramer of Loughborough.

Image © and courtesy of Derby Museum & Art Gallery
Lecture Hall, Mechanics’ Institution, Derby, 1839
Hand Coloured Lithograph Print, from a drawing by Samuel Rayner
Image © and courtesy of Derby Museum & Art Gallery

Numerous concerts were held throughout 1851, culminating in a "Grand Miscellaneous Concert" at the Lecture Hall, Derby:
Master W. Adlington's performance of Hummel's Rondo Brilliant, in A, opera 59, on the piano forte, was played with a spirit, taste, and cleverness which would have done credit to any player. This youth is only fourteen years of age, and from the abilities displayed in the performance of this piece, there could be but one opinion, that in all probability he is likely to become a first class performer. The subject, although long, was executed by Master Adlington in a manner which was appreciated in a high degree by his patrons, as was shown by the warmth and unanimity of their applause.
Jonathan Adlington received instruction under William Wolfgang Woodward (1821-1882), professor of music in Derby, and conductor of the Derby Choral Society, and by September 1856 had become the organist at St Peter's Church, aged only 17. That year a new vehicle for the promotion of music in the town was formed, the Derby Vocal Union, under the direction of William Adlington, and with Jonathan "presiding at the pianoforte." Unfortunately, at their inaugural concert Jonathan was taken ill, and his place had to be taken by his older brother.

Image courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement, The Derby Mercury, 5 November 1856
Image courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning

At this stage William Adlington senior must have grown confident enough in both his abilities and in the local demand, since he appears to have become a music teacher. His first advertisement offering vocal elementary instruction appeared in the Derby Mercury on 5 November 1856. White's trade directory for 1857 shows him still working as a draper, but by the census of 7 April 1861 he described himself only as a "professor of music, singing."

Jonathan, then 21 and still living at home, was a "professor of music, organ & pianoforte," having announced 18 months earlier "his intention of commencing a popular elementary class for singing, at the Mechanics' Institution. As a teacher of singing, Mr. Adlington is as widely known as he is highly appreciated, and possesses not only the talent required to conduct such a desirable instruction, but also aptitude and the peculiar advantages of temper and judgement." (The Derby Mercury, 14 September 1859)

Image © and courtesy of Derby Local Studies LibraryImage © and courtesy of Derby Local Studies Library

Readers will perhaps not be surprised to learn that the Adlington residence in the late 1850s and early 1860s was at 14 Wilmot Street, immediately next door to the premises which studio photographer James Brennen occupied at number 12 from around 1860 until c.1865. Sadly, these buildings no longer exist, much of Wilmot Road having disappeared to make way for the new A601 ring road. Jonathan's older brother William had the previous year "received the degree of associate of the Royal Academy of Music," while Jonathan himself was widening his repertoire, with the direction of a concert for the Trinity Church Working Mens Association and instructing music to the Diocesan Institution for Training Schoolmistresses. He had also become a member of The Derbyshire Provincial Grand Lodge of Freemasons, and of The Derwent Rowing Club - clearly a young, but up and coming, man-about-town.

Image © 2007 Colin Smith and courtesy of
St Andrew's Cathedral, Aberdeen
© 2007 Colin Smith and courtesy of
Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In the early 1860s William Adlington junior had taken up an appointment as a music teacher in Aberdeen, and by August 1866 Jonathan too had moved to Aberdeen. Apart from having a large private practice offering singing, organ and pianoforte lessons, he was organist at St Andrew's Cathedral, became music master to the Normal College and pianoforte teacher at the Aberdeen Church of Scotland Training College, and was appointed Director of Music to the of the Provincial Grand Lodge at the Aberdeen Masonic Hall. He was "organist of the Choral Union under Mr Latter for a period ... frequently play[ing] at the Saturday evening entertainments," and was also a composer, publishing several songs and duets.

In late June 1877, however, he resigned his numerous positions and moved to Edinburgh where he took over an "influential" teaching practice recently vacated by his older brother William. Their parents had moved to Aberdeen in the early 1870s, perhaps after the marriage if their younger sister Sarah Ann to Alexander Gowan Gillespie at Edinburgh in July 1873, and then to Edinburgh in the early 1880s.

John Adlington, as he appears to have been known after his move to Scotland, died at his father's home in Edinburgh on 10 March 1884, at the relatively young age of 44. An obituary in the Aberdeen Journal included the following:
Mr Adlington had the winning faculty of endearing himself to his friends, and, modest of his accomplishments, he always carried his honours in such a way as to merit the esteem of those with whom he came in contact. In his professional life he well maintained the musical reputation of his family. Many in Aberdeen will grieve to hear of the early death of one who gave so much promise as a musician, and will sympathise with the relatives in the loss they have sustained ...


19th Century British Library Newspapers, courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
The Aberdeen Weekly Journal
The Caledonian Mercury
The Derby Mercury
The Nottinghamshire Guardian & Midland Advertiser

1841-1911 UK Census Collection, The National Archives of the UK, courtesy of Ancestry

International Genealogical Index (IGI), from FamilySearch

Descendants of John Jaffray

White, Francis (1857) History, Gazetteer and Directory of the Country of Derby, Francis White & Co., Derby, transcript courtesy of Neil Wilson


  1. A very interesting history on a musical family. The singing tradition in Britain gets real momentum in this period and the Adlingtons were clearly part of that movement. I do find it odd to choose Aberdeen for a career move. Perhaps it was more musical then.

    The colored photo is also neat. I've recently read that early 18thC London prints were colorized by piece-work labor, usually women. Do you think that might be the same for the mass produced photos of this era?

  2. Interesting, with lots of details! I didn't know that a son of a tailor could become a professor in music in the 19th century UK. Nice picture of the Lecture Hall.


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