By Rosemary Bailey
This article was published in the April 2020 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
Both my parents died while I was in my twenties, and I have always said that the two things they would have been most surprised at me taking up after their deaths were tennis and choral singing.
Now, the less said about my tennis the better. But since in our family we were never even aware of when the Olympics were on, the fact that I played at all was extraordinary. And my back hand wasn’t too bad.
Having joined a choral society by accident (I thought it was a Rock Choir) I found that although I have almost no formal music training I have quite a good ear. This was quite a surprise since it was always a family joke that although my brothers were in the church choir they were simply there to make up the numbers, were tone deaf and the vicar had asked them just to mouth the words. A lot of the pieces in choral music are in Latin, a language I never studied having had a very ‘modern’ education – no spellings or tables either! But fortunately Latin is phonic so I can manage that too, although have no idea of what I am singing.
But maybe some musical ability, specifically singing, did run in the family; when my husband was looking through a bookcase for something to read during the lockdown he came across a very old copy of Handel’s Messiah with the name and address of my great-great aunt Susanna Emily Saul inside it.
I was very excited about this as I have sung the Messiah and enjoyed every minute. (I think most people know it by osmosis) We also regularly sing the Hallelujah Chorus at Christmas.
Susanna, who I think was known as Emily, was born in 1865 and was the daughter of Thomas Saul
(1828-1898) and Susana Bassford (1830—1917). I have written about Susana Saul, nee Bassford, and her death in the 1918 flu epidemic in a previous journal. Thomas Saul’s occupation was described at various times as an engineer, engine driver at iron works and a publican of the Engine Tavern. He was the son of another Thomas Saul (1790-1856) and Harriot Crowley. This Thomas was an engineer. Both Thomas Sauls and their families lived in Rounds Green, near Oldbury in the Black Country where there was obviously a lot of industry. The older Thomas was the son of Peter Pratt Saul, (1752—1832), a wheelwright and Hannah Hanton. Peter had been baptised in Byfield in Northamptonshire and moved to Banbury at some point before marrying there. He moved his family to the Black Country via Clayden in Oxfordshire around 1800. Speculatively, Peter’s parents are James Saul and Mary.
The address on the inside of the book is 77 St James Road. This was in Rounds Green, Oldbury and was where my grandmother lived when my family visited her in the 1970s and 1980s. The Saul family had lived in various houses in St James Road and the parallel Dingle Street since at least 1861. Prior to that they had been described just as living in/at Rounds Green. My grandfather bought 77 St James Road from the landlord in the mid-1920s and Susanna Emily lived there with my grandfather, grandmother and their two children until the late 1940s. At that point, with only three bedrooms my uncle aged around 12 was having to sleep in the same room as his parents. The vicar apparently felt that this was inappropriate and Susanna Emily was moved to a home. She died in Bromsgrove in 1950.
I would love to be able to use my great-great aunt’s copy of the Messiah next time I perform all or part of it. However I think it is probably too fragile and I would hate to damage it. But it will now be put with the other music scores I have sung in my bookcase.