The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"... I kept coming across people I had actually heard of – from Nancy Astor to WB Yeats."

Isobel Montgomery Campbell on her grandfather's Archive.

A Surprising Family History


flat white frontage of a what is now a terraced house with four long rectangular windows,  a balustrade edging at the top of the building hiding the roof, with decorative three decorative shells (open clam-shell type) on top.  The terraced house next door has a brick frontage


The birth of her first grand-child led Isobel Montgomery Campbell, editor of the national scheme Poems in the Waiting Room, to think of her own grandmother. She found a surprising similarity when she discovered her unknown family history.

Published in the PitWR Friends’ Newsletter, Summer 2011


My Grand-Age

There seems to be no escaping it: we turn into our parents, and then into our grandparents. I have recently reached my Grand-age with the birth of my first grandchild in Edinburgh, which made me think of my own grandmother. I only ever knew her as a white-haired old lady, and I expect my grand-daughter will find it inconceivable that I could ever have been a young woman, just as I could never imagine my own Granny being young.

My Own Granny

To me, my Granny had always been white-haired, had always lived in her cliff-top house in Southwold, and would always continue to do so. I could allow for some progress in her life though, in that she did once up-grade her car, a beige Morris Minor. This progress was somewhat mild however, as the new car was also a beige Morris Minor, improved by having a heater and a full width windscreen, though I was sad the side-indicators no longer flicked out on stalks. Southwold is the sort of place that encourages belief in an unchanging world, as it has changed so little itself; but of course things did change. The day came when my Granny was admitted to the Cottage Hospital, her ashes joined those of my grandfather and cliff-top house was sold, and I no longer went to Southwold.


three photographs from left to right; the interior of a Morris Minor circa nineteen-sixty, Joan Shaw, the interior of a morris minor circa ninteen-sixty

The Shaviana

In the normal way of things, I would never have known anything more about my grandparents, except for the business of the Shaviana, my grandfather's archive. I had never met my grandfather, as he had died when I was two and living in Africa, but I knew his study; it had been kept as he left it in the years after his death, with his desk, pipe-rack, filing cabinets and shelves upon shelves of music. All I knew about him was that he had been involved with hymn-books, as I would find his name, Martin Shaw, alongside various hymns we sang at school.

Something Important

The Shaviana was obviously Something Important though, as my mother had kept it in a fire-proof cupboard. After she died, it had gone to a man who said he would use it to write a book. Thirty years later and no book in the offing, I asked for it back. When it arrived, I was not expecting it to be anything much, how much can there be about hymn-writing?

From Nancy Astor to WB Yeats

But instead I discovered that it was a veritable treasure, because in sorting through the papers I kept coming across people I had actually heard of – from Nancy Astor to WB Yeats.

“Didn't you know?” said the man who had not written the book, “Martin Shaw collaborated with the major poets of his day.” Well no, I did not. (He had never written the book.)


TS Eliot and ‘The Rock’

It seemed that the hymn-books were something Martin Shaw did along the way, and had eclipsed his real musical ambition, which was to create a source of British National Song by setting poetry to music. This was why he had collaborated with the poets of his day, the list included John Masefield, Laurence Binyon and Eleanor Farjeon. He had even collaborated with TS Eliot: Choruses from The Rock, found in Eliot's Selected Poems, were originally written to be sung to music by Martin Shaw.

Handwritten Letters

The letters I found were mostly hand-written, and proved a problem to read. In the early stages of sorting out the archive, I would pull out a letter and think 'who is this with such scrappy writing?' only to find out at the end that it was someone like Elgar, or Ralph Vaughan Williams. A letter from CS Lewis was wonderfully neat though, the logic of his thought surely reflected in the order of his handwriting. TS Eliot's letters were such a relief as they were typed, though you didn't need his handwriting to prove they were from him, he wrote just like his poetry.

Now at the British Library

The TS Eliot letters have gone to join the collection of his correspondence at Harvard, whilst the rest of the Martin Shaw Archive has gone to the British Library. I still have some things, such as my grandfather’s desk, chair and pipe-rack.

My Granny, Joan Cobbold

And my Granny? I discovered someone I didn't know at all: Joan Cobbold, an adventurous young woman with a mass of auburn hair, Director of Music at Whitelands College in Chelsea before her marriage. She, too, had collaborated with Martin Shaw, researching poems for him to set to music – with the same aim as I have in researching poems for PitWR, to bring them to a wider audience. How we turn into our grandparents!