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The Countess of Munster

Hilary Wilson was born on 9th March 1903, the only child of Kenneth Wilson who inherited the prosperous Wilson Shipping Line, a business originally founded on iron ore imports from Sweden in the days of the Industrial Revolution.

Hilary Wilson was a shy, retiring child with a passion for music and a devotion to the piano. No doubt had she lived in different times she would have attended music college, for her talent was such that the great Solomon Cutner accepted her for private study.  She gave many private recitals and, during the First World War, played to the wounded in hospitals.  In 1928 Hilary Wilson 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. Her home at Bletchingley in Surrey was a hub of musical activity.  Perhaps on account of the fact that her marriage was childless, she took a particular interest in the development of young performers.  In 1958, with the assistance of her close friend, Gerald Coke, a financier and supporter of music, the Countess of Munster Musical Trust was founded to ensure the continuation of Lady Munster’s help for young musicians into the future. Lady Munster’s generous endowment to the Trust remains the basis of the Trust’s work to this day.

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

Since 1958 the Trust has worked to support young musicians of professional potential to achieve their aims, by funding their educational fees and living expenses and also by subsiding concerts for promotional purposes to bridge the transition from student to professional life. Well-respected in the classical music world, the Trust continues to make a real and significant contribution to the advancement of talented young musicians.

The current work of the Trust has five main strands:

  • Study Awards providing up to £240,000 of funding each year to help support individual classical musicians through their postgraduate musical education and jazz musicians through their postgraduate or final year of undergraduate education;
  • Stephen Oliver Award given every other year to a composer who has written a work of music theatre, to assist with the cost of bringing that work to performance;
  • Instrument Purchase Loans to former beneficiaries who are on the threshold of their careers, to help with the purchase of musical instruments;
  • Recital Scheme which offers sponsorship to a number of outstanding artists each year at selected music clubs, choral and orchestral societies and festivals around the country.
  • LSSO Munster Trust Scholars: the Trust provides funding to help support a number of outstanding young musicians to attend the courses, concerts and tour organised by the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.

The Trust has a distinguished panel of trustees, which comprises specialists in all musical disciplines, representatives of conservatoires and a small group of informed non-musical professionals.  This broad base of expertise ensures a balanced and knowledgeable group of adjudicators, which places the Trust in a unique position to identify the most likely candidates to succeed in the professional world.

Click here for a list of the current Trustees.

If you are interested in learning more about the family background of Lady Munster, or the work of the Trust in previous years, please do contact the Secretary on admin@munstertrust.org.uk