Christopher Rawdon BRIGGS


Christopher Rawdon BRIGGS (3) was born on 08 Oct 1869 at Moor House in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the fourth of six children of Archibald BRIGS (1833-1886) and Alice Sophia STEWARD (1841-1931)1. He died, aged 79 on 20 Dec 1948 at Cheadle Royal Hospital, Cheadle, Cheshire2.

Of his birth his mother wrote 3:

Christie was born in October, 1869. I was very ill for months before, and he was a tiny delicate baby. When Christie was about six weeks old, and very delicate and small, I began with scarlet fever, and also May. Dr. Wright was our physician, and he was greatly alarmed for me as I was always very delicate. In addition, he feared greatly for the tiny baby, and most kindly had the child and nurse put into his carriage and took them to his home. Scarlet fever in baby's delicate state would have been fatal.

At the time of the 1871 census 4, when Christie was one, the family was at Moor House, Stanley-cum- Wrenthorpe, where he had been born. Both his parents were present; Archibald aged 38 and described as a Colliery Director employing 900 men and 300 boys, and Alice Sophia, aged 28. Two of his older siblings were also there; Charlotte Mary, aged 6, born in Algiers but a British Subject, and James Archibald, aged 4, born in Wakefield. Christie's grandmother, Marianne BRIGGS, mother of Archibald, a widow, aged 70, was also with them. Christie's eldest sibling Alice Louisa, was already farmed out. Later that year Christie's parents went off on holiday to Switzerland and Italy, returning in September.

Around this time, the family moved out of Moor House to Stanley Hall, and it was shortly after this move that his mother noticed Christie's musical ear 5.

It was on our arrival at Stanley that I found out how good an ear he had. It was the custom to hang bells on the shutter bars and to the keys of doors at night. All these bells were under the stairs, and I found him tinkling them to try to arrange a scale, and very correct he got it.

She also described him as curiously obstinate.

Some time in late 1875 his mother had one of her spells of ill health and it was decided she should go to Bournemouth. When she was leaving, she writes: 6;

All the servants and the children stood crying in the hall except Christie, and of him my last view was of him standing on his head!

Figure 1
May and Christopher
This photograph clearly comes from an album, but I have no idea who has the original, or where the photograph was taken. A print of a page of the album, including this image, was sent to me by Helen Briggs.

Bournemouth was not much of a success, and in February 1876 his mother went on a sea voyage to Egypt. On her return, when Archie met her at Southampton, they saw Miss Alford's Preparatory School, and decided to send James and Christie there. And there they were taken, at the end of August 1876 when Christie was not quite 7. But, like so many of the enterprises of this family, it did not last long. Later the same year, his father Archie having resigned his directorship in the Briggs mining company, he Christie's mother were again on their way to Egypt. Christie's brother James was very poorly with asthma and the doctor advised he was too weakly for school, so they took both him and Christie with them to Egypt, having a very unpleasant voyage on the way there 7.

By April the following year (1876) Egypt had become too hot, and they took ship for Italy. Christie was very seasick. They moved about Italy in the usual restless manner and ended up in Switzerland, in Geneva. There 8,

May and Christie had good lessons at a drawing class, and to please me Christie, just before his eighth birthday (which would have been on 08 Oct 1877), began to have violin lessons with Mdlle. Dorsival.

Later that same year Christie had earache, and they called in a specialist, a Dr Coladon, "who spoke very gravely of disease in the ear, probably deafness and constant trouble". The children remained in Geneva, but their mother spent part of the winter at Menton. In May, their mother having returned, she and the children moved to Vevey where May and Christie did their lessons with their mother and "there was diligent practising , both of piano and violin." The usual moving around soon ensued, and Christie's mother was to write "All this moving about was sadly against Christie's violin, and now I know more; I believe he would have done better to have no lessons than the bad ones we got him."

By mid-October 1878 they were headed for Menton again, where at the end of the month both Christie and James went to school at a Dr Muller's. Christie was getting some really good violin lessons from a Mr Graf, a Hungarian. However, money became very tight, and they had to leave Menton, finding a villa in Massa on the Italian Riviera where they settled in Sep 1879. About this time Archie became ill, and finding the medical advice available in Massa not sufficiently helpful, Alice Sophia moved with Archie to Florence and in due course the childen were fetched and had lessons again. Archie gradually recovered, without much assistance from the medical profession, and in July (1880 I think) they decided to go back to Massa but to a different villa, La Grazia, without the steep hill. Here Christie began violin lessons with Fenucci.

Some time in 1882 a Mr Broughton, of Leeds, stopped at Massa to visit, heard Christie play the violin and urged that he should receive first-rate instruction 9. So it was decided to go to Vienna, where Helmesberger, the head of the Conservatoire, offered to teach Christie himself. However, Alice Sophia writes that she could not bear to leave her delicate-looking little boy in a big town so far away. As usual her whim was the decisive factor, and she took Christie to Stuttgart where Edmund Singer was much more critical of Christie's playing but must nevertheless have offered a place at the Conservatoire. This school had been founded in 1857 as the Royal Conservatory of the Kingdom of Wurttemberg 10, nowadays the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Stuttgart 11. Edmund Singer (1830-1912) had been appointed Court Concertmeister (Hofkonzertmeister) to the King in 1861, and also taught at the Conservatoire and was later Professor there 12. So, after a summer holiday at St Erenzo, at the end of Sep 1882 they set off for Stuttgart, it having been decided that James would accompany Christie, despite his knowing no German. Thus, at the age of 13, Christie finally started serious study of the violin. He continued at Stuttgart Conservatoire until 1887 when he moved to the Berlin Hochschule for Musik, studying first under de Ahna (Heinrich Karl Hermann de Ahna; 1835-1892) and under Joachim 13 (Joseph Joachim, 1831- 1907).

In 1890, Christie spent Christmas at Salò, travelling from Berlin, the first time he had been at Salò in the winter. There was deep snow and intense cold. In the summer of 1891 Christie arrived at Salò from Berlin with two friends, having been at Bayreuth and Nürnberg. They had walked part of the way over to Italy (over the Alps?). Christie was always keen on long mountain walks 14. The following winter his mother and sisters Dorothy and Olga spent in Berlin. In spring 1892 his mother spoke with Joachim, who apparently spoke kindly of Christie and promised to see him in London, and to introduce him.

Figure 2
  C R Briggs  
C.R. Briggs

At this point ASB mentions buying a Strad for £750 on Joachim's recommendation. It had been in the posession of the Duke of Camposelice (a Dutch singer and violinist, born Victor Reubsaet, who had obtained his title in 1881 from King Umberto I of Italy, and possibly the money to collect Strads through his wife Isabella Eugenie, the legally declared widow of Isaac Meritt Singer of sewing machine fame, who, when he died in 1875 left a fortune of some $14 million of which Isabella must have inherited a reasonable chunk15). Later, Christie played a Joseph del Jesu (Guarnerius), which came from the same collection, and also an instrument made by an English maker, probably Thomas Earle Hesketh (1866-1945), though his name was not mentioned in the article16. Hesketh made instruments in the style of various masters, and also to his own designs, and established his own workshop in Manchester in 189117 . There is a record of his making a viola, copied from A. and H. Amati, to the order of Christie18, which possibly was intended for his wife Helen.

Anyway, at around this time, i.e. in the spring of 1892, it seems Christie returned to London, staying in lodgings with his mother, and with no permanent employment. He was based there for about a year, doing some teaching and performing. During a visit to Henry Joachim it was recommended to Christie to apply to the Manchester College of Music, which was being established at that time. No reply to his application was received, and in May (1892) the family went to Ambleside. Then they had a message that May had been taken ill, and all went off to Italy. Christie returned to London and went to Scotland with Manns' Orchestra (this I presume referred to August Manns, German born, but who made his career in England and was for many years conductor of what he turned into the Crystal Palace Symphony Orchestra). While in Scotland Christie also played in the first violins of the Glasgow Choral Union, and it seems that the concerts of the 9th (1882-83) season of the Glasgow Choral Union were conducted by August Manns at St. Andrew's Hall19.

Some time in early 1893(?) Christie played with Joachim in a quartet at Leeds, but still had no proper work and was still based in London. However, later that year he was summoned to Manchester to play to Willy Hess, and an appointment at the Manchester College of Music, and a place as second fiddle in the Hess' Quartet began to seem likely. In the summer he went back to Salò, where his mother and family were, and his mother felt that he wanted her to go back to England and make a home for him. Christie's appointment to the Manchester College was confirmed and in September 1893 he look lodgings in Manchester (the Royal Manchester College of Music was formally opened in October 1893). Christie taught the violin under Willy Hess, who was the principal violin teacher20.

Around that time he also started playing in the Hallé and the Liverpool Orchestras, as well as in Hess' Quartets, and giving private lessons. The following summer Christie spent a week in Ripon playing quartets with a Mr Bower and brothers. During the 1894/5 season Christie played almost every night, according to his mother, and with Joachim at Leeds in March. In the summer of 1895 he went to Italy, and stayed for a while at Piora, getting in some good walks, before the family returned to Salò. He had bought a boat at Cowes and took it to Salò21.

When he returned to Manchester with his mother after the holiday, they took up quarters at Westerfield on 19 October. He spent Christmas that year at Salò, arriving on Christmas Eve and leaving again on the 30th22. At Easter 1896 he went with his mother, Dorothy and Olga to Ilkley and had good walks, and in the summer again to the house in Salò. That winter, in Leeds, Christie played Spohr's 9th Concerto with the Hallé under Cowen (Sir Frederic Cowen was conductor of the Hallé between Hallé's death in 1895 and 1899 when Hans Richter was finally able to take up the invitation to become the Hallé's conductor).

Between 1903 and 1914, when he resigned on account of inceasing deafness, Christie, generally known as Rawdon Briggs, was the leader of the Hallé23, and for 18 years he was a member of the Brodsky Quartet, the second which Brodsky formed, the first having been formed during his time in Leipzig in the 1880s. Christie finally resigned from the Brodsky Quartet in about 1920, and there is a letter from him to Adolph Brodsky dated 21 Nov 1919 in which he says he has a cold which makes him much deafer than usual and that a few days ago very high sounds were all but inaudible to him even with the Acousticon (a carbon based hearing aid which came on the market around 1900). In a P.S. Christie adds that Brodsky should have accepted his resignation long ago24.

Figure 3
The Brodsky Quartet: Dr Adolph Brodsky, 1st violin; Rawdon Briggs, 2nd violin; Simon Speelman, Viola; Carl Fuchs, 'cello. This photograph was kindly brought to my attention by Frank Rutherford, a descendant of John S. Bridge, and comes from the archives of the Royal Northern College of Music.

Many of the chamber concerts were given under the aegis of either the Gentlemen's Concert Society, or the Ancoats Brotherhood. The Gentlemen's Concerts had a long history, having been started in the late 18th century and being for many years as much a social as a musical occasion. No doubt by the late 19th and early 20th century, the music was taken more seriously, and certainly from 1853 when Charles Hallé took over as director of the concerts. The society owned the Manchester Concert Hall, built around 1830, and was generally rather socially exclusive 25. After 1896, the Society's concerts were given at the Town Hall until 1903 when they returned to the theatre which had been built on the second floor of what was then the newly opened Midland Hotel, built on the old Concert Hall site26.

In contrast, the Ancoats Brotherhood, founded by Charles Rowley in 1878, was intended to bring serious music, art and literature to the working classes of Ancoates, then an industrial suburb of Manchester between the Rochdale Canal and the Oldham Road. There were regular lectures and concerts, as well as other activities. The chamber concerts seem usually to have been given at the New Islington Hall, and included many by the Brodsky Quartet, and occasional ones by the Rawdon Briggs Quartet. Many lecture recitals were also given as part of the Brotherhood's Sunday Lectures and Music series. The Arts and Humanities Research Council's collection of concert programmes has the programmes of many events between 1890 and 192427.

In 190128, when he was 31, he was living with his mother at Oxford Lodge, in Rusholme, Manchester, and his sisters Dorothy and Olga were also there. The following year, on 27 Mar 1902 Christie married Helen Thorburn RIDDEL(4) at St. Aidan's Presbyterian Church, Didsbury29. Helen was 19, so 13 years younger than Christie and had, it is said, been one of his pupils. His mother, who gave the day as 28 Mar, described it as stormy but no rain30. Herbert RATHBONE was best man, and also one of the witnesses on the register, the other being Alice T. BRIGGS, or maybe Alice S. BRIGGS, in which case it was Christie's mother. After their honeymoon, they lived at 67 High Street, presumably in Manchester. Then in Nov 1908 they moved to the house they named Carolside, in Victoria Park, Manchester, which had been built for them with (financial) assistance from Christie's mother31. They were there in 191132, and there they remained until after WW2.

Figure 4
  Briggs family  
The family of Christie and Helen Briggs

Christie and Helen had four daughters:

Christie formed his own quartet, the Rawdon Briggs Quartet, which included Helen on the viola. They played mainly in the Manchester/Liverpool area, but did also perform in London, their first performance there being in 1913 at the Bechstein Hall33. They played on a number of occasions at the New Islington Hall in Ancoats for the Ancotes Brotherhood, and also for the Rodewald Concert Club in Liverpool. For the latter, on 16 Oct 1911 soon after the Club's founding and at their first concert for the Club, they played the Quartet Op 13 by Mikhail Mikhailovich Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935), which was possibly the first performance in the UK of a work by this composer.

Figure 5
The Rawdon Briggs Quartet
The Rawdon Briggs Quartet: Rawdon Briggs, 1st violin; John S. Bridge, 2nd violin; Walter Hatton, 'cello; Helen Rawdon Briggs, Viola. The photograph was by Mowll and Morrison, Liverpool, and appeared in The Strad of May 1910. The photograph was brought to my attention by Frank Rutherford, to whom I am most grateful.

Even after retiring from playing, Christie continued teaching, and his pupils included his niece May SCOTT, who wrote in her memoirs 34:

I was terrified of him. In common with many deaf people he shouted. Not understanding the cause I assumed he was always in a rage. I remember once he decided that my fingernails were too long and produced a pair of scissors. I remember them as being about a foot long, for that is how they appeared to me, and I was convinced I was about to lose not only my nails but pieces of finger as well.

There was an article about him in Groves (the 5th edition) and his obituary appeared in the Manchester Guardian of 21 Dec 1948. Of course neither of them mentions that he had a wife, who was also a musician, and four daughters! But the obituary mentions not only his musical career but also his interest in theosophy, and a letter to the editor of the Manchester Guardian says:

Sir,-Will you permit me, an old member of the Manchester City Lodge, Theosophical Society, to add our tribute to the memory of Mr. C. Rawdon Briggs. As a leader of student groups, or as a public lecturer, he gave himself generously to our work, and his knowldege acquired in many student years was very valuable to us. - Yours etc. J W Ashton

In his Will,dated 16 Dec 1929, he desired:

... that my body shall be cremated and that the ashes be distributed over some field and that no tablet be erected to my personal memory for I believe the Spirit uses a vast succession of personal representations in its age long progress back to unity with God ...

Whether this wish was respected, I do not know.

He became more or less totally deaf and the only vague personal memory of him I have must have been just after the second world war visiting him and Gran at their house in Manchester and sitting on the stairs. There was a great commotion because Grandad had heard something! He had an old fashioned ear trumpet; though from his letter to Brodsky mentioned above we know that he used or tried using an Acousticon hearing aid. My mother said that he was a keen walker and knowledgeable about wayside plants. That he was a keen walker seems to be borne out by many of the mentions of him in the diary of his mother.

Christie Briggs died on 20 Dec. 1948 at Cheadle Royal Hospital, Cheadle, Cheshire, aged 79. This hospital was opened in 1849 as a Lunatic Hospital, and probably still was a mental hospital of some kind when he died there (according to its website it is still in the mental health business). Aunt Norah Riddel, Helen Riddel’s sister, said that Helen had my grandfather committed, his behaviour having become very strange, but that she, Norah, had to take him to the hospital though he pleaded with her not to. According to his death certificate, the principal cause of death was heart disease. Nevertheless, a sad end to an interesting life.


1) Birth certificate. His birth was registered by his mother at Wakefield, in the December quarter of 1869, vol.9c, p.24. His father was described as a coal proprietor.
2) Death certificate. His death was registered by his daughter Cicely in the sub-district of Cheadle, in the district of North East Cheshire, on the day after he died.
3) Leaves from the Diary of A.S.B. For her Family. by Alice Sophia Briggs. Privately Printed 1917. p.99.
4) 1871 England census, Stanley cum Wrenthorpe, Yorkshire, piece 4619, folio 34, p.38.
5) ASB diary, see note 3, p.115.
6) ASB diary, see note 3, p.128.
7) ASB diary, see note 3, pp.134,135.
8) ASB diary, see note 3, p.147.
9) ASB diary, see note 3, p.163.
10) Wikipedia: State_University_of_Music_and_Performing_Arts_Stuttgart, accessed 14 Jan 2013.
11), accessed 14 Jan 2013.
12); also Osterreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950, p.293, accessed 14 Jan 2013.
13) Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th edition, 1954, p.937.
14) ASB diary, see note 3, pp.219-222.
15) Wikipedia; Eugenie_Boyer, accessed 20 Jan 2013.
16) Christopher Rawdon Briggs, in The Strad, May 1910, pp.29-31. Anonymous article, kindly brought to my attention by Frank Rutherford.
17) Information from a website: 861-thomas-earle-hesketh.html.
18) British Violin-Makers Classical and Modern, being a biographical and critical dictionary of British makers of the violin from the foundation of the classical school to the end of the nineteenth century, with introductory chapters, and numerous portraits and illustrations, by Rev. Wm. Meredith Morris, B.A., 1904, p.271. Made available by the Internet Archive.
19) Concert programmes; NE.13.b.24.
20) The history of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1893-1972, by Michael Kennedy. Manchester Univeersity Press, 1971.
21) ASB diary, see note 3, p.235.
22) ASB diary, see note 3, p.238.
23) The Hallé Tradition: a century of music, by Michael Kennedy, Appendix 2. Manchester University Press, 1960.
24) Royal Northern College of Music, Archive, Ref AB/399, 1919, the Brodsky Papers. Summary accessed via the National Archives Website, 20 Apr 2103.
25) Charles Hallé: A musical life,by Robert Beale. Ashgate Publiching Ltd. Extract online at Google books, accessed 21 April 2013.
26) A post dated 03 Jan 2013 on the site, which also includes an image of the Concert Hall. Accessed 21 April 2013.
27) GetRecord/3812, accessed 21 April 2013.
28) 1901 England census, Ardwick, South Manchester, piece 3683, folio 35, p.8.
29) Marriage certificate. The marriage was registered in the Chorlton district of Manchester.
30) ASB diary, see note 3, p.251.
31) ASB diary, see note 3, p.286.
32) 1911 England Census, Chorlton, piece 23770.
33) The Guardian, 8 Jul 1913.
34) May.May Davis, Her Story. Nelson, 1990, p.7.

© John Stowell 2012/2013             This file last edited on 21 April 2013.