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Florence Holford Laughton

Epithet: Secretary and founding treasurer of the Isle of Man Fine Arts and Industrial Guild (1849-1927)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

Florence Holford Watts, niece of E.L. Watts of Victoria Terrace, Douglas, married Alfred Nelson Laughton some time between 1871 and 1881. In the census of that year we find her aged 32, living with her husband, an advocate 20 years her senior, three step-daughters of 28, 26 and 24 years, a cook and a housemaid, at Eastfield, Douglas.

Attractive and intelligent, Florence 'proved herself', according to a 1911 Manx Quarterly article, a most devoted helpmeet, her fine capacity for business detail and organisation being invaluable to her husband in the autumn and winter of his life'.

By 1891 they were living at Ballaquane, Peel. Laughton was High Bailiff of Peel, but when he lost his seat in the Keys to a 'local hero', Joseph Mylchreest, Florence is said to have declared that she would no longer organise good works for the ungrateful electorate. Reports, however, belie this, for her obituary in the Isle of Man Examiner of 30th September 1927 states:

... during her residence in Peel, Mrs. Laughton associated herself with every movement which had as its object the benefit of the little town she loved so well, and, to the end of her life, she kept a particularly warm place in her heart for the 'Western City'. Among these activities, her work in connection with the Isle of Man Industrial Guild and in later years, for Manx sailors and soldiers during the Great War, should not pass unmentioned ... But it is in connection with the Manx Music Festival that she will be particularly remembered.

Her appointment as secretary and treasurer of the music section of the Isle of Man Fine Arts and Industrial Guild was crucial, and under her guidance and advice the event went from strength to strength. The Manx Music Festival (still popularly known as 'The Guild') is the second oldest of its kind in Britain.

Florence Laughton's obituary also tells us that from Peel 'she directed two organisations which have exercised a wonderful influence upon the life and culture of the Manx people - the Music Guild Festival and the World Manx Association'. Readers were reminded that '... she was [the Guild's] Hon. Secretary and its moving spirit until 1913 when two years after the death of her husband she relinquished the secretaryship [though she continued as treasurer] in favour of her assistant, Mr. W.A. Craine', also that 'The World Manx Association was formed in 1911, largely at the instance of Mrs. Laughton and a handful of her associates and she was made its first president and she and her ancient comrade, Mr. Craine, breathed into that Organisation a fine fervour of enthusiasm'.

She was the first recipient of the medal annually awarded by the Manchester Manx Society in recognition of 'valuable service to the Isle of Man'.

The Guild had been formed in 1888 by a committee of businessmen and politicians and a 'formidable collection of carriage folk', to promote the ideals of John Ruskin and provide an exhibition for craftsmanship. This was an era of great social change; the masses were now receiving education not only in the three Rs but also in art and music. Competition was encouraged and when, in 1892, it was suggested that music classes should be included in the Guild, the idea was quickly implemented. By the 21st Guild there were 55 music classes and lectures on voice production and other musical skills. By the beginning of the 21st century there were over 160 classes in music, speech and dance.

Florence wrote hundreds, if not thousands, of letters to all the well-known musicians and composers of the day, engaging many of them as adjudicators - in 1912 Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Iles and John Acton, whilst in 1914 Sir Edward Elgar, Granville Bantock and Frederick Dawson were engaged. Florence often persuaded them to write little musical messages for the programme or commissioned works for competitors to perform. It was decided that promotion of excellence in musical performance and education of the audience as well as the competitors should be a priority, and admission prices both for competitors and audience have always been kept low.

Meanwhile an annual appeal enabled generous prizes to be given, grants were made for students' studies and help was given to choirs competing in England.

In 1904 the trustees of the Baume Fund agreed to finance a four year scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Many Manx musicians have benefited, and it was only in the 1970s that the fund was handed over to the Education Authority to be administered under its Higher Education Grant Scheme.

In order to assist the musical education of a Guild protege in November 1906, Florence compiled and had published Ye Manks Calendar entitled Day Unto Day, each day featuring the favourite quotation of a subscriber. As one of the most popular leaders of Manx society, she had no difficulty in finding contributors, and people from the Governor down participated.

In 1907 she presented a paper at the third annual conference of the Association of Music Competition Festivals on the financial and educational success of the Guild, concluding, 'We have become the centre of all musical work and interest in the Island ... We have a colony of students [in London] and our young people feel that the Insular competitions are but a first stepping stone in their musical careers and our competitions flourish accordingly'.

Her abilities were such that a visiting adjudicator in 1910 described her as 'a genius' whilst Lady Raglan, wife of the Lieutenant Governor of the day, wrote as follows, 'Yes, please", was the quiet, unhesitating answer I received from our Secretary when I inquired if she expected me to write anything for the 1911 Guild programme. I anticipated the answer, "Oh, if you will" or "If you don't mind" but it was a calm decided "yes, please", so characteristic of our genuine, straightforward, and much beloved Secretary; sweetly civil, and yet devoid of any idea that anyone could fail to do what they were expected to do. There is much pleasure in coming into contact with suchlike characters'.

Shortly after the end of World War I, Mrs Laughton found herself obliged, amid universal regret, not least her own, to seek another climate. Leaving the Island, she lived first at Sharpe House, Wiveliscombe, Somerset, then moved to Wimbledon. At this time she resigned her presidency of the World Manx Association, but she continued as treasurer of the Guild until she died, aged 78.

The Isle of Man Examiner obituary summed up her character:

Florence Holford Laughton, for so many years one of the most valuable and honoured citizens in the Island, was a woman of unforgettable personality. Her impressive physical presence, her graciousness and dignity, her idealism tempered by an excellent sense of the practical, her energy, and her gift of diplomacy, eminently qualified her to inspire all associated with her to the finest efforts of which they were capable.

In the Guild programme for 1928, Florence Holford Laughton was mentioned for the last time, not in her usual place in the frontispiece as treasurer but on a special In Memoriam page. A short paragraph gave the bare details of her life, but words are insufficient to describe what she accomplished. To her, countless men, women and children of this Island owe a great debt, for it was by her hard work, devotion, determination and foresight that the musical reputation of the Island and the Guild as we know it today was established. Their joy and delight in music and music-making must be her true memorial.

Biography written by Joan Hinnigan.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.279-81.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Female

Date of birth: 16 February 1849

Date of death: 29 September 1927

Name Variant: Laughton, Florence H.


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