Helen Thorburn RIDDEL



Helen Thorburn RIDDEL(4) was born on 09 Dec 1882 at Lea Wood, Alan Road, Withington, Manchester1. She was the fifth of seven daughters of James RIDDEL(15) and Emily HOLINGER(16). She died aged 76 of a heart attack on 6 June 1949, only about half a year after my grandfather. She was in Edinburgh at the time, visiting her sister Mary Macdonald at 30 Greenhill Gardens 2.

In the 1891 census3, when she was eight, she and her seven sisters was with her parents at Carolside, in Fog Lane, Didsbury. All the girls were described as scholars, or schoolgirls, even little Elsie aged 3. Ten years later4, all seven girls were still at home, at 123 Lapwing Lane, with only the two youngest still at school. Helen had no occupation.

Nothing is known of her childhood and youth, as I have never found any memoir or other relevant writings. At some stage she must have started learning to play the viola, presumably at a reasonably early age as she became a competent musician and ensemble player. She took lessons from Christie BRIGGS, her future husband, though whether privately or through the Manchester College of Music, I do not know.

On 27 Mar 1902, when she was 19 and he 32, she married Christopher Rawdon BRIGGS(3) . The marriage took place at at St. Aidan's Presbyterian Church, Didsbury5.

Helen and Christie had four daughters:

Figure 1
  Briggs family  
The family of Christie and Helen Briggs

Helen became part of the Rawdon Briggs Quartet, and later of the McCullagh Quartet, for which see below.

Figure 2
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.

The McCullagh Quartet, was an all women quartet founded in 1920 (Isabel McCullagh, Gertrude Newsham, Helen Rawdon Briggs, and Mary McCullagh). On 17 October 1922 a performance of Krenek's String Quartet No. 1 was given by the McCullagh Quartet at a concert of the then newly formed London Contemporary Music Centre, and it is possible that Helen was then playing with the quartet, though the players were not mentioned6 . On 5 Jul 1923 they gave the first performance of the final version of Walton's String Quartet No.1 at the Royal College of Music in London, and later that summer the quartet was invited by the Contemporary Music Centre to perform the same work at the ISCM Festival in Salzburg7. When founded, they were the only professional quartet in Liverpool. In a series of six concerts in Liverpool in 1927, they presented the complete string quartets of Beethoven.

In 1932 the McCullagh quartet, then comprising Isabel McCullagh, Betty Grundy, Helen Rawdon Briggs and Mary McCullagh, played at the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester, in a concert which was broadcast on the BBC North Regional Programme8. Thus Helen continued playing in public well after Christie had had to give it away. It would be nice to know what her last appearance was. It would also be great to have a photograph of the McCullagh quartet.

It seems that after 1920 she played in the Brodsky Quartet, though how often I do not know.

Figure 3
  photo of Helen Thorburn Briggs (née Riddel)  
Helen Thorburn Briggs (née Riddel) in later life

There is a record9 which shows that on 5 Apr 1937 Helen embarked on the SS Bayano at Avonmouth, bound for Bermuda. She was travelling with her daughter Cicely GOODFELLOW, and Dr David GOODFELLOW her son-in-law, but without her husband.

Following her death on 6 Jun 1949, probate 9 on her estate was granted at Manchester on 29 Sep 1949 to James Parlane GOLDSCHMIDT(509) , one of her sons-in-law. Her effects were £11,587 3s 5d.

I have no personal memories of my grandmother, and I don't recall my mother ever saying anything about her. My father, on the other hand, said that when he was courting my mother he was mightly scared of his potential mother-in-law. He also added that she was a bad loser at bridge! Because she died so soon after the war, there was little chance of getting to know her.


1) Birth certificate. Birth registered on 15 Jan 1883 in the sub-district of Didsbury, in the district of Chorlton. The informant was her father, described as a Merchant.
2) Death certificate. Death registered in the Morningside district of the City of Edinburgh on 7 Jun 1949 by her brother-in-law J Oliver Macdonald. Her father was described as a cotton merchant.
3) 1891 England census, Didsbury, RG10, piece 3161, folio 34, p.3.
4) 1901 England census, Withington, RG13, piece 3670, folio 49, p.1.
5) Marriage certificate. The marriage was registered in the Chorlton district of Manchester.
6) The BBC and Ultra-Modern Music, 1922-1936: Shaping a Nation's Tastes, by Jennifer Ruth Doctor, Cambridge University Press; pages displayed by Google Books, accessed 20 Apr 2013.
7) W W Cobbett's Phantasy: A Legacy of Chamber Music in the British Musical Renaissance, a doctoral dissertation by Betsi Hodges, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 2008, p.25. At http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/ umi-uncg-1533.pdf. Also notes on the Walton string quartets in the The Gramophone , May 2011.
8) The Times, Tues. 19 Apr 1932.
9) UK outward passenger lists, Avonmouth, 1937, through Ancestry.com.
10) National Probate Calendar, 1949, p.770, accessed 20 Apr 2013 through Ancestry.com.

© John Stowell 2012/2013             This file last edited on 4 May 2013.