Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas 1909 with Clara & Bertie

The recent broadcast of the earliest known Christmas records by the BBC a few days back has stirred me to put something up that was Christmassy too, but more to thank  Buster's Big 10-inch Record blog for all the Christmas stuff he has managed to upload.

With love and best wishes for
A Merry Christmas
Clara [Butt] and Bertie [Kennerley Rumford, with Joy, Roy and Victor]

The Gramophone Co. Ltd 
[matrix 3793f]

Recorded Monday 1st November 1909

1 Flac , Here at Mediafire. [ 10Mb]

Clara Butt, her husband Bertie Kennerley Rumford and their three children went down to the London Studios of The Gramophone Company Ltd on the Monday 1st of November 1909 and cut two waxes. The recording ledgers as transcribed by Alan Kelly lists these as follows -

CLARA BUTT and children (VICTOR, JOY, ...)
3793f    1-11-09  03168  Private record - no title
3794f    1-11-09   Private Christmas Greetings (Private record)

The matrix 3793f was assigned an issue number 03168 whilst matrix 3794f was probably made as a backup, presumably a test pressing was also made but this being most likely rejected very likely been destroyed. By some quirk of fate the original metal part survives at Hayes for 3793f and David Mason (an indefatigable discographer, collector of spoken word recordings and board members of Historic Masters)  had a very few vinyl pressing made a number of years ago. David also happens to own an advanced copy of this disc which may well have been the copy forwarded to Clara Butt to vet before final pressing.

Until a couple of months ago we had no idea that a label was specially printed for 03168. As you can see from the illustration this label uses the same blue that was specifically designed for Clara Butt's other discs, but here altered for this special Christmas issue. I have also illustrated at the very foot of the page an example  standard Clara Butt label for this period. These records, as with most celebrity records from the Gramophone Co. stable of artists retailed at 12s 6d.

The wording on the label  'Manufactured by The Gramophone Co. Ltd. (and Sister Companies) especially for Mr. and Mrs. R. Kennerley Rumford' may point to the company taking up the manufacturing cost of this special disc as a inducement for future records. Having a label printed and the pressing  accounted for in the company books meant it had to be assigned an issue number; properly speaking this number should have been in the 04000 series as it was is a concerted record with singing, but then who really bothered to worry about such a thing then as it was a private issue not for public consumption.

The Record was made for Clara's brother Warwick Gladstone Butt and his wife Lila Millian (née Livingston). Warwick married Lila on the 28th of April 1909  and was at this time working for the Santa Fé Land Company of Argentina. The company was a among other things a major exporter of frozen beef to the UK. As my maternal grandfather was the Chief Purser of the Royal Mail Lines which did the Argentinian run I can make the thinnest of claims to a connection! 

The whole reason for the record was simply to send them a special Christmas present. The record had to be  made in time for it to be pressed and then sent to Buenos Aires then transported up the river Plate in time to be heard by Warwick & Lila for Christmas.  I would think that a tiny number of these discs would have been pressed – this copy has come my way from the estate of Bertie's niece Cicely Murray. That the record may have been via Clara Butt's own record collection is quite possible for a sample copy of another disc, the title inked in by Bertie's, happened to came together with it. Cicely Murray was proficient enough as a pianist to be asked by Clara and Bertie's to be their accompanist on tour of 1931 that encompassed India, Japan, Australia and South Africa.

What of the record - Clara speaks first, probably from a prepared script. The relative faintness of her voice may have been due to her head facing downwards to read rather than speaking directly into the recording horn. This script could account for the rather late interjection of the word 'both' as she suddenly remembered Warwick's new wife.  Bertie follows with a hearty 'What ho!' and then each of the children Joy, Roy and Victor give their party piece. 

A photograph survives of the family group that would have been taken, I think at the end of 1909 or early in 1910, roughly around the time of the recording, so we have a pretty good idea of how this well to do musical family then looked.

Clara Butt - Bertie Kennerley Rumford
Roy - Joy - Victor
7 Harley Road, Hampstead, London
Joy is the first to sing, luckily Bertie plays a D chord faintly on the  recording studio piano somewhere close by  from which I have been able to pitched the record at 80.80 rpm. This is lucky for we have here a good idea of what Clara's speaking voice was like in relation to her singing voice.

These first two songs I do not know but have transcribed what I can make out. Are they family songs, does anyone know these as I have been unable to pin them down, or indeed can you make out the missing lines?

Awaking little Venus
Wipe sleep from now your eyes,
The stars are pretty faded,
The sun is in the sky.
Look up, look up,
The cuckoo calls you up,
Cuckoo cuckoo,
The cuckoo calls you up.

Joy & Roy then do a duet, unfortunately as with Joy's solo I can't make out the first lines -

We are the..............
..... orchard we'll be round,
But when the golden autumn comes,
They'll bring you apples, pears, and plums.

Victor then give his own  rendition of Harry Lauder's song, I have transcribed it as Victor sings it -

I love a lassie, a bonnie bonnie lassie, 
She's as sweet as a lily in the dell, 
She's as sweet as the heather, the bonnie purple heather, 
Mary, my Scots bluebell.

Of the children, who give their all in this recording, I have some short biographical details. Joy Clara Kennerley Rumford (1901-1976)  married Major Claude Harold Cross (1882-1944) in 1928 but I don't think they had any children; Roy Kennerley Rumford (1904-1923) had a promising career as a cricketer but died young from meningitis; and Victor Ian Kennerley Rumford (1906-1934) emigrated to Salisbury, Rhodesia in 1920s to make his living in farming, he sadly took his own life in 1934.

Label from October-December 1909


  1. Merry Christmas, Jols! Thanks for the kind words and this incredible rarity.

  2. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, from the huddled masses in the depths of Grumpy's Cave to the fine and festive folk at Fluff's Fiefdom! xx G

  3. Merry Christmas! And thanks for this very unique rarity!

  4. Very interesting, thank you !

  5. Dear Buster, Nick, Satyr & Emilio

    Have a very Good Christmas & New Year


  6. Hi. I bring you good cheer. It seems that Joy gave birth to a child, Oliver, not long after her marriage to Claude. You can see a photo of Clara, Joy, Claude and Oliver here, in the collection of the National Library of Australia. I would suggest that the date of the photo is somewhere between 1930-1935. I'd love to know what became of Oliver - it may well be that he is still alive.

    1. Dear Lee

      Many thanks for this info, its good to know that a grandchild was born, I would think in the autumn of 1929.

      I then did a bit of digging however what I found you a really, really not going to like me for. The following notice was placed in The Times for 18th July 1947.

      CROSS.- On July 17. 1947. Oliver, beloved only son of Joy Cross, of Lower House. Park Way. Camberley. and the late Major Claude Cross, I.M.S., aged 18. Cremation at Woking on Monday. July 21, 12 noon. No mourning.