The Marriage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Jessie Walmisley

By Kay, Charles | Black Music Research Journal, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

The Marriage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Jessie Walmisley


Kay, Charles, Black Music Research Journal


On the last Saturday of 1899, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor married Jessie Sarah Fleetwood Walmisley in his parish church at Selhurst, near Croydon, England. The witnesses who signed the registration were his mentor Herbert Walters and the bride's father, Walter Milbanke Walmisley. This apparently normal arrangement followed some very tense months; Jessie's family had been vehemently opposed to the marriage and had done all in its power to prevent it. Finally, on the day before the ceremony, Mrs. Walmisley invited Coleridge-Taylor to the family home in nearby Wallington, where she and her husband shook his hand in a formal gesture of acceptance if not of warmth (Coleridge-Taylor 1943, 20, 26). To learn more about the young composer's home life, and the influences--musical and otherwise--that Jessie Walmisley brought to it, one must learn more about her family.

The Walmisleys were a large and somewhat successful family from Westminster, where Jessie's great-grandfather William Walmisley (1745-1819) had been clerk of papers to the House of Lords (Edwards 1917, 618). He retired to the small market town of Bromley in Kent, ten miles from London, where his daughter Mary had married a pharmacist named Baxter (Horsburgh 1929, 406). His five sons were choristers at Westminster School, a prestigious institution within the precincts of the abbey, proud of its alumni, who included Ben Jonson, Christopher Wren, and John Dryden (Weinreb and Hibbert 1983, 952). The youngest son, John Angus Walmisley (1791-1862), Jessie's grandfather, became a parliamentary clerk and was an official at the coronations of George IV (1821), William IV (1831), and Victoria (1838), "probably a unique event in the lifetime of any man" ("Death of Major Walmisley" 1915).

John Angus's brother Thomas Forbes Walmisley (1783-1866) entered the music profession, composing glees, teaching, and playing the organ at St. Martin-in-the-Fields for thirty years. One of his friends was Thomas Attwood, organist of Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral and once a pupil of Mozart. Thomas Forbes Walmisley's son Thomas Attwood Walmisley (1814-1856) also became a musician. At age sixteen, Thomas Attwood Walmisley was organist of Croydon's parish church in 1830; three years later, he was the organist at Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1836 was appointed professor of music. A champion of Bach's music, but prone to depression, he died in 1856 just before his forty-second birthday. His brother Henry (1830-1857) was an organist in London; Frederick (1815-1875) was an artist, and Arthur (1819-1910) was an engineer. Another brother, Horatio Walmisley (1827-1905), became a clergyman and befriended his cousin Jessie Walmisley (Edwards 1917, 618-619; Legge 1917, 618; Scholes 1947, 658; Temperley 1980, 182-184; Walmisley 2000).

Jessie's side of the family showed no such public aptitude for music. Her grandfather, John Angus, had married Anne Marie Lambert, daughter of a colonel who had served in India ("Death of Major Walmisley" 1915). Their youngest son was Walter Milbanke Walmisley, Jessie's father and the reluctant witness to her wedding. Born in Westminster on January 26, 1832, he was a clerk to a broker by the age of nineteen. Three years later, in April 1854, Walter married Emma Burrows, who was four years older. Her father, James, was a coal merchant in Westminster, whose customers may have included Walter's parents.

Emma and Walter Walmisley set up home at 2 Hugh Street West, around the corner from her parents. Their first child, Emma Mary, was born in February 1855, and four more daughters followed. Their son Walter Burrows died at six weeks, just before Christmas 1863. Perhaps to escape the house of death, probably to move away from the nearby railroad terminus at Victoria that had opened in 1860, Walter and Emma Walmisley and their five daughters relocated to Bromley, where he had relatives.

In 1865, Walter Walmisley was an insurance agent, according to an advertisement in the Bromley Record ("Advertisement" 1865), which gave his address at 2 Grove Villas in Palace Grove. …

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