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William Crotch (1775–1847)


William Crotch

It is not known whether William Crotch, Oxford's Professor of Music, ever set foot in Marston, but Crotch Crescent in New Marston, which is named after him, is regularly listed as having one of the rudest street names in the UK

A full biography of William Crotch, composer and organist is in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which can be accessed via most public library cards in the UK: go to the ODNB online and enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box:

The material below relates primarily to the time he spent in Oxford.

William Crotch was born in Norwich on 5 July 1775, the only child of the carpenter Michael Crotch and his second wife, Isabella (although he had two older half-brothers).

He soon became a musical prodigy, and when he was just two years and three weeks old he could already pick out tunes on the pipe organ his father had made. G. V. Cox states in Reminiscences of Oxford (1868) that the boy was exhibited from the age of four, but in fact his first tour (of Ipswich, Oxford, Framlingham, and Bury St Edmunds) took place in the summer of 1778 around the time of his third birthday.

The following advertisement appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 24 May 1783, when William Crotch was still only seven years old:

OXFORD, May 23, 1783
By permission of the Rev. the Vice-Chancellor.

MASTER CROTCH, the MUSICAL CHILD, is arrived in Town, and performs on the HARPISCHORD and VIOLIN each Day at Eleven, and Six in the Evening, at Mr. Underhill's, in the High-Street, during his Stay, which will be short.
Admittance Two Shillings.—Children One Shilling.

Just over a month later, on 5 July 1783, the newspaper advertised that he was now also performing in the Holywell Music Room:

MASTER CROTCH, the Musical Child, by Permission of the Reverend the Vice-Chancellor, will perform on the Organ, Harpsichord, and Violin, this Evening at the Music Room, to begin at Half past Six o'Clock.–Master Crotch performs at Mr. Underhill's, as usual.

In his memoirs, written when he was in his late 50s, Crotch said that he looked back on this part of his life with pain and humiliation and was becoming a spoilt child.

In 1786 at the age of eleven, Crotch wrote his first large-scale musical composition, the oratorio The Captivity of Judah (rewritten by him many years later).

Crotch moved to Oxford in June 1788 when he was nearly thirteen, and Cox writes that he began giving concerts on the organ in the Holywell Music Room in Oxford the following year. In 1790 when he was aged about fifteen he was appointed Organist at Christ Church Cathedral.

Despite having had no formal education, Crotch, described as a “pleb.”, was matriculated at the University of Oxford on 9 June 1791, just before his sixteenth birthday, and was awarded his B.Mus. in 1794 and his D.Mus. in 1799.

In about 1792 Crotch (aged about seventeen) was appointed Director at the Holywell Music Room, and he became friends with the Oxford artist John Malchair, who was the leader of the orchestra there. This friendship allowed him to develop his second talent in painting and drawing.

On 8 April 1797 Crotch (now 21) was appointed Heather Professor Music at the University of Oxford, and two months later on 10 July 1797 he married Martha Bliss at St Mary-the-Virgin Church. Martha was the daughter of Robert Bliss, a bookseller and printer in the High Street, and Crotch had been lodging with them.

William & Martha Crotch appear to have moved to St Mary Magdalen parish in after their wedding, as their first two children were born there:

  • William Robert Crotch (born in Oxford on 23 July 1799 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 18 August)
  • Isabella Martha Crotch (born in Oxford on 19 December 1800 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 6 January 1801)

In 1801 Crotch painted a fine picture of Fisher Row and the bridge on the New Road, Oxford (held in the Norfolk Museums Collections).

Although Crotch continued to be Professor of Music at Oxford until his death, in 1805 he and his wife moved permanently to London, and their twin daughters Sarah Charlotte and Jane Catherine Crotch were born at Marylebone on 4 August 1810. Crotch met John Constable in London in about 1806 and was an influence on his art.

After 1805 Crotch only came to Oxford when his presence as professor of music was required, although when his eldest son William Robert Crotch was matriculated by New College at the more sensible age of nineteen on 21 October 1818, his address was given as Holywell in Oxford.

Crotch was appointed the first Principal of the Royal Academy of Music in 1822.

In 1826 he painted this watercolour of the old St Clement's Church, which stood near the Plain roundabout.

On 6 July 1832 Crotch painted this watercolour of Headington Church and village from the terrace of Bury Knowle House (then owned by Sir Joseph Lock). He also painted the watercolour shown below of Sir Joseph Lock's organ room, with the organ that was built by England for his daughter Maria:

Crotch's last visit to Oxford was in 1839, and he died in Taunton on 29 December 1847. Of his children only William Robert Crotch, who was Master of Taunton Grammar School (and later Vicar of Catherington, Hampshire) survived him. His two grandsons do not appear to have had any children, so this branch of the name Crotch has died.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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