This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

My Shamrock Orchestra

27 March 2021

In my collection of vintage musicians' photos, most of the musical groups are divided by gender. There are bands for men and boys, and others for girls and women. This was partly a result of how Western society in the 19th and early 20th century separated people along the lines of race, class, religion and sex. In the professional bands of these earlier times, the musicians were exclusively men. This was also true for large orchestras too, with the rare exception of female harpists who somehow were deemed acceptable. However in smaller communities the rules were less strict, particularly for amateur and church ensembles where men and women played side by side. It's difficult to know how widespread this was, except to say that photographs of mixed gender groups are less common.
So this postcard photo of a small orchestra made up of six women and seven men is an exception to the prevailing customs of their time. The women all wear white dresses with some adding a black bow tie. The men are dressed in their best 3-piece suits. The group have a versatile instrumentation with clarinet, flute/piccolo, bassoon, five violins/viola, two celli, and one double bass, and, curiously, a tambourine. To further break with conventions, seated in the center is a woman who holds a conductor's baton with a rolled up book of music, the signal that she is the leader as well as the keyboard player, either on piano or maybe organ. The 13 musicians posed in a nice relaxed manner outside a building made of stone bricks which has windows that look more typical of a church than a theater, school, or private home. 
The photographer was T. J. Kerslake of Alexandra Studio in Weston-super-Mare, where this postcard was sent on December 19, 1911 to Rev. Edward Weir,  of the Ballintemple Rectory, Ballinagh, County Cavan, Ireland.

    Thanks so much for your letter 
 & the newspaper, we were all       
 so interested in it as besides         
 it being about you it contained    
 items of Grandpapa Weir.              
    Sorry you didn't like photo        
 is this any better?  it is my            
 Shamrock Orchestra as least        
 part of it  so we keep up for          
 ould Ireland.    Daisy is                   
 living in Bristol not here.  With   
 every good wishes for a happy    
 Xmas from your loving neiece (sic)       
Tilly.     Can you find me?              

It's a sweet holiday greeting
and I could easily finish the story here.
But Tilly's question to her uncle seemed,
110 years later, a challenge to me too.
Can you find me?

So this week I accepted her dare
and went on a genealogist's scavenger hunt.

My first step was to search for the good Rev. Weir.
Thanks to the Irish archives on
I quickly found him living in Ballintemple. 

{Click on any image to get a bigger picture}

In the 1911 census for Ireland, one form was filled out and signed by the head of each family residence. For the Ballintemple rectory the head was Edward Henry Weir, age 49, single, born in Limerick, Ireland and Rector of the Parish.  He had two servants. A housekeeper named Kate McCarthy, age 36, single, born in Dublin; and a yard boy from London, Alfred Palmer, age 18. One question on the form asks about "Religious Profession". In this case the household of the Ballintemple rectory was Church of Ireland, an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion along with the Church of England. 
Rev. Weir's St. Patrick’s Church still stands in Ballintemple, and is listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. The church is an example of a freestanding Gothic Revival hall-and-tower. It was built in 1821 and according to the website, it is typical of hundreds of small rural Irish churches. The link has a slide show of exterior and interior photos of the church and it appears to be well maintained, maybe even improved over it's two centuries of service to the people of Ballintemple.

St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Church,
Ballintemple, County Cavan, Ireland
Source: NIAH

In 1911 the population of the parish of Ballintemple was listed on a separate form prepared by an enumerator, who was the local constable, David Hoey. In April 1911, Constable Hoey counted 48 people living within the boundaries of the parish, divided into 12 family dwellings including Rev. Weir's rectory. The census recorded each person's faith in three columns specific to either "Roman Catholics"; "Church of Ireland" or "Irish Church"; or "Others", meaning other Protestant denominations. The list indicates that 35 Catholics, and 13 Anglicans lived in Ballintemple. Rev. Weir probably had no trouble keeping an attendance record of his parishioners.

Constable Hoey also made an account for all the buildings in the parish, both inhabited and uninhabited. The non-livable structures included 4 stables, 2 coach houses, 7 cow houses, 4 calf houses, 1 dairy, 6 piggerys, 10 fowl houses, 2 barns, 4 turf houses, 7 sheds, and 2 stores (presumably for farm storage). There were 12 private dwellings in Ballintemple where families lived, and each home received a score for its construction. Walls of brick or stone rated higher than those made of wood and mud. Likewise a roof of tin or slate tiles was better than one with a perishable material like thatch. The constable also counted the rooms in each house and the number of windows on the street front. Perhaps not surprisingly, of all 12 houses the rectory of St. Patrick's Church got the highest score with 7 to 9 rooms and 5 windows.  

Using Google Maps street view I discovered that just adjacent to the grounds of St. Patrick's Church is an old two-story house with 5 windows. There are no other houses nearby except a more modern house across the road. It looks like a rather neglected but substantial building. The church is visible on the right just behind the trees. I think this is where Rev. Edward Henry Weir lived when he received his niece's Christmas wishes for 1911.

There were not many records with Edward Henry Weir's name, but I found four official government lists that are unusual and merit a mention. It seems that the Rev. E. H. Weir of Ballintemple liked dogs because in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1920 he paid a fee to get each of his pets a proper dog license, pursuant to the Act 28 Vict., Cap 50.  Over about eight years he owned a brown terrier, a red terrier, a black & white Cocker spaniel, a black Pomeranian, and another black & white terrier. My interpretation of the license fee was 2 shillings 6 pence for each dog. Sadly the list does not contain any names for the dogs.

On 8 October 1920, Rev. Edward H. Weir died of a heart condition at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital. He was age 59 years, 4 months, and a bachelor. In the following year his probate was published in the official British gazette. His effects were valued at £984 12s 8d and one of his executors was his brother, George Wetherall Weir, MD. This turned out to be Rev. Weir's older brother who lived in South Shields, downstream from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England. 
Of course, my first thought was that Tilly might be George's daughter. But in the 1911 census for his household, George Wetherall Weir, age 53, a medical practitioner who lived with his wife, Emily Benson  Weir, age 44, along with a domestic servant, Margaret Brown, age 28. After 15 years of marriage, George and Emily Weir did not list any children, living or dead. So Edward Weir must have had other siblings. 

With a little more study at, I found the Weir family tree carefully assembled by a descendant of the family. After learning the name of Edward's father, James Maxwell Weir (1824-1889), I found his second brother, William Maxwell Weir, (1851-1886). William married Frances  Mary Smith in 1874 and together they had seven (or maybe eight) children before William's death in 1886. Their last child was Matilda Louisa Weir, born 1881 in Knockaverry, county Cork, Ireland.

Matilda, or Tilly Weir, was now very easy to find in the 1911 census for Weston-super-Mare. At the top of the list was Frances M. Weir, age 66, widow, and head of a school. Living with her were daughters, Mary Weir, age 35, single; Grace Weir, age 31, single; and Matilda Weir, age 29, also single. All three daughters listed their occupation as teacher. Below them were eight names of pupils, all girls age 11 to 16, and two young women employed as domestic cook and housemaid.

1911 Census of England & Wales,

After a search for the 1901 and 1891 census records, I learned that Frances had been a head principal at a small girl's school in Weston-super-Mare since 1891. In that year the five surviving Weir children, Mary M., 16; Charlotte A., 15; James M. 12; Grace F., 11; and Matilda, 9;  lived with their mother, Frances, at the address of Burton House.  10 years later, at the next census of 1901, her son James had left home, but now Frances employed each of her four daughters as a "Governess" at her Burton House school. As there were only four female pupils that year, that was a very good student/teacher ratio. 

Dublin Irish Times
5 August 1871

These private schools were quite common in the British educational system. In a search of the newspaper archives for the various Weir names, I found an advertisement in an 1871 edition of Dublin Irish Times for the Limerick Collegiate, Civil, and Military Academy. Its principal was James Maxwell Weir, A.M., Ex-Sizar and Ex-Scholar, T C D, the father of Frances' husband, William Maxwell Weir,   and Matilda's grandfather. The advert noted that, "Young men are most expeditiously and successfully prepared for all examinations, collegiate or otherwise."  Frances Weir was probably following his teaching model adapted for girls. And though they took in boarding students, there were probably a good number of local girls who attended their classes too. I also suspect they may have kept a second annex school for younger primary age children.

Weston-super-Mare, also called just Weston, is a coastal town west of Bristol, just below the start of the great estuary of the River Severn. In the mid 1800s as railways began connecting the cities and towns of Britain, Weston-super-Mare became a popular destination for people in Bristol and southwest England as a holiday seaside resort. This was despite the fact that the tides in Weston-super-Mare are extreme, and the low tide mark reveals a dangerous mile-wide mudflat beyond the sandy beach. By 1911 much of the city's residential  center was well established, and the Weir's girls' school at Burton House at 17 Walliscote Road in Weston-super-Mare still remains much as it would have looked in 1891. Most of the cities buildings were constructed of local stone blocks. 

Frances Mary Weir died in 1930, but her girls' school continued under her daughter's management, and was still in operation up to the 1950s. In 1958 the sisters Charlotte Alice Weir, and Matilda Louisa Sumner (Weir) were listed as the principals of Burton House School in a compendium of independent schools.

Source: Independent School Association Yearbook, 1958

Matilda waited to age 43 before taking a husband, marrying Edward Frost in 1924. After his death in 1929 at age 79, she took a second husband, William Frederick Sumner in April 1932. On their marriage registry Matilda listed her profession as "Teacher of Music". Her father's name, William Maxwell Weir (deceased), was also required for the record, as was his rank or profession, "Inspector of Schools". She did not have children by either husband.
Charlotte Alice Weir, spinster, died in February 1960 at age 84. On probate her estate was valued at £8251 6s 9d.  Shortly after that, the Burton House school closed after 70 years of educating young girls under Frances Mary Weir and her daughters. 
Five years later, Matilda "Tilly" Louisa Weir-Frost-Sumner died on 3 May 1965 in Weston-super-Mare. She was 84 years old.

So did I find her?
In a way, I'd like to say, yes,
I've come very close.

Using the tools of  Google Maps I've tried to identify the location
of the orchestra's photograph. My best guess is that the musicians
are outside of a church, possibly St. Paul's Church of England
which was only 3 blocks away from the Weir's Burton House School.
But without closer examination it's hard
to distinguish these stone blocks 
from any other masonry in Weston-super-Mare
as the building blocks all look the same style.
But I think I'm pretty close.

Yet it doesn't feel precise enough
as I can't positively pick Tilly out
from the six women
in her Shamrock orchestra.

It is December 1911. Tilly is now age 30. The girl in front with the tambourine looks too young. However both the violinist seated left and the orchestra leader do look about 30 years old. Could Tilly be the conductor and pianist? Maybe.

In the second trio of women, the violinist on the ground is surely too young for a match. And the seated violinist might be age 30, but I think she looks more in her early twenties.
However the woman in glasses, standing right with a violin, is, I believe, Charlotte Alice Weir, based on a photo attached to an family tree. It was posted by a Weir relation who identified a woman with glasses as Charlotte Weir taken in the 1920s or 30s. If I have this correct, then it's possible that Matilda's sisters Grace and Mary are also playing in the orchestra. Maybe even their brother James too. I'm tantalizing close to having an answer to her question. So very close.

Can you find me?

It's a riddle that we all 
at some time in our lives.
A game of hide and seek.
Where am I?
Will anyone come look for me? 


This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where it's all about the wall.


Barbara Rogers said...

Well done. I also admit to following other's Ancestry trees with special interest in their photos (which I often share here.) I liked the lines of research you followed today. The stones of that building do look quite different than the ones in the buildings you depicted.

La Nightingail said...

Boy, that's a hard one - finding Tilly, for certain, anyway. I think there is perhaps a sisterly connection between the tambourine player and the woman wearing glasses (really had to look to find those!), but whether Tilly might be the tambourine player is a real question. She does look young, but 30-year olds can look young! :)

Liz Needle said...

Amazing research. It has resulted in a fascinating lot of information. Thank you for sharing all your time and effort. I am in awe.

Wendy said...

Oh this was fun! I enjoyed your process as much as the photo and the information you pulled out. The town "Ballintemple" reminds me of a show I recently finished bingeing - "Ballikissangel" - on Britbox. Irish setting, if you couldn't guess.

ScotSue said...

A great post and the photographs of the musicians were excellent when you think of the images’ age.


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