The Family Background
David Wilson was a lighterman of the late 18th century. He saw an opportunity to service trading ships in the Humber estuary, by transporting cargo to and from the quayside in a small boat. It was an exacting trade, dependent upon tides and ships. However, he established a good business and, with the advent of the industrial revolution, the major import of iron ore and later trade with India set the foundations of the Wilson family fortune.
David and his wife Elizabeth bore ten children and Thomas, the youngest and one of only two boys, founded the Wilson Shipping Line. Thomas married the daughter of a wine merchant and they bore 15 children. Arthur was the youngest and it was he who built Tranby Croft, which is now Hull High School for Girls. The Wilsons by this time had established themselves in Society and, in 1890, the Prince of Wales was a guest for the Doncaster Races. It was here and on this occasion that the infamous so-called Baccarat Scandal played itself out. The repercussions from this scandal affected the lives of the participants for many years after.
Arthur’s four sons were educated at Eton and they took little interest in the family business after they left school. Jack, the eldest, became an MP; Thomas died at the age of 13; it is not known exactly what happened to Clive, the youngest; however, it was Edward Kenneth, known as the quiet son, who took over the business but it did not continue to prosper. He married Molly Hacket and their only child, a daughter, was born at her grandparents’ house in Grosvenor Place on Monday 9th March 1903. She was called Hilary. The family lived in Roehampton until Kenneth bought Cannizaro Park in Wimbledon when Hilary was 17.
The Countess of Munster
Hilary was a shy, retiring child with a passion for music and a devotion to the piano. Although custom of the day precluded entry to music college, her talent was such that the great Solomon accepted her for private study. She gave many private recitals and, during the First World War, played to the wounded in hospitals. In 1928 she married Sir Geoffrey FitzClarence who in the same year inherited his uncle’s title of 5th Earl of Munster.
Over the years, Lady Munster continued to perform in hospitals and at schools and her home at Bletchingley in Surrey was a hub of musical activity. She was a great patron of many professional musicians of the day. Perhaps due to the fact that her marriage was childless, she took a particular interest in young performers and, with the support of her close friend, Gerald Coke, a financier and supporter of music, the idea of putting her help on to an enduring and practical basis was conceived with the founding in 1958 of the Countess of Munster Musical Trust.
The Trust’s role was to support young musicians of professional potential to achieve their aims, by funding their fees and living expenses and also by underwriting concerts for promotional purposes. Now well-established in the classical music world, the help it provides has made and continues to make a real and significant contribution to the advancement of talented young musicians. Lady Munster’s generous endowment, from which the Trust’s annual income is derived, currently provides assistance to young musicians amounting to around £200,000 each year.
It is a matter of great satisfaction that Lady Munster was able to watch her Trust’s steady growth from its inception in 1958 until its coming of age in 1979. During these years she took a keen interest in all its activities, regularly attending meetings and audition days and actively following the careers of its beneficiaries. Lady Munster died in November 1979, but her Trust has continued to flourish as a permanent memorial to a great musical benefactress.
The Trust can look back over its history sure in the knowledge that it has helped many young musicians to achieve their potential. It is certain that future beneficiaries will be increasingly appreciative of this help, especially in view of the ever-growing competition within the musical profession. It may be said that the Trust has contributed substantially to a rise in the general standard of musicianship, which has been evident over the past few decades. It can look to the future well aware that the need, recognised by Lady Munster and for which the Trust was originally conceived, still exists and confident that it is well-equipped to meet those needs.
The Trustees are assured by many of the musicians, whose advanced training was assisted through the Trust’s awards, of their awareness of the tremendous debt they owe to the generosity and inspiration of Hilary, Countess of Munster.
The work of the Trust
The Trust provides financial assistance towards the musical education of individual students and the Trustees are prepared to consider applications from young student singers, instrumentalists and composers, undertaking postgraduate study.
In the main, the income of the Trust is used to support the cost of studies and/or maintenance of outstanding postgraduate or post-diploma students who merit further training at home or abroad. Awards are made for one year at a time, but are renewable, for a second year. They are based on ability and individual need and are made to selected applicants after interview and audition.
Each year the Trust is able to offer a small number of interest-free loans, to former beneficiaries who are on the threshold of their careers, to help with the purchase of musical instruments. This is in recognition of the problem which faces so many young musicians who, following their years of studentship, have no capital resources to equip themselves with the quality of instrument vital to the advancement of their career.
The Recital Scheme
A third and highly successful facet of the Trust’s work, since 1976, has been the growth of its Recital Scheme which seeks to help some of its most outstanding beneficiaries to become known to a wider musical public. This is done by offering sponsorship to a number of young artists each year at selected music clubs, choral and orchestral societies and festivals around the country. Its popularity with all the young artists and the clubs is well-established and provides a very important link between studentship and the profession.