Have you ever found something really old and wondered where it came from?
Last week I was in the loft trying to find a photograph (yes, it was like finding a needle in a hay stack), when I came across two very VERY old books containing sheet music. I remembered then that I had actually bought these myself when I was about 13 years old at an auction. Unlike every other teenager who would have probably been hanging around outside the local Odeon Cinema, I was spending all my free time with my grandparents attending auctions to buy and sell someone else's junk.
I remember being immediately intrigued by these books because they looked old. As I opened the first page, I recall seeing the most beautiful handwriting and immediately wanted to buy them. During the rest of the viewing, I watched like a hawk from a 1960's broken sofa to ensure that no one else showed any interest in them.
Luckily I won the auction and I snapped them up for £2.00! Others looked bemused.
Back to present day now and I thought it would be nice to have a little look through the music books once more. Embossed on the front cover is the name 'Emily Maude Ashton' and the handwritten notes on each piece of music inside show her name and place of residence with a date. From 'Brooklyn', 'Cheshire' to 'Heathfield', good ol' Emily was seeing the world! How did this end up in an auction house in Congleton over 130 years later? Among the various pieces of sheet music are signed copies dating back as far as 1860! She could have been mingling with the likes of Georges Bizet! Further research helped me piece together more of her story.
She was born in Cheshire in 1858. Her parents, James (see image) and Frances Ashton were quite wealthy but when her father died in 1866 Frances had a large family to support. Piecing together the rest of Emily’s life is quite difficult. She lived with the MacDonnell family, some of whom were musicians and later in life, filmmakers! She is listed as a ‘visitor’ on all census records but her occupation is left blank?
The sheet music looks like a collection from over several years and each piece is for vocal performance. So, Emily must have been a travelling vocalist, right? On one piece dated 1878, there is a stamp from ‘Duck Son & Pinker’; a music shop in the City of Bath. Emily’s mother Francis died in Bath and in her will dated 1878 she leaves her estate to her daughter, Emily Maud Ashton, also living in Bath.
The most fascinating part of this story so far for me is that this beautiful find that has been all over the world, was sold to a 13 year old boy at an auction in Congleton over 130 years after it was created AND has come back to Bath where it once was in 1878. As you can imagine, thoughts of Victorian Bath, a young Emily standing alongside a grand piano belting out a classical number to the notable citizens of the city (whilst the pianist falls in love with her seducing vocals) are swimming through my imagination thus sparking creativity!
So if you are ever lost for a bit of inspiration for your next creative project, my advice; look in the loft!