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Archive of William Sterndale Bennett acquired from the Sterndale Bennett family


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The archive of the composer William Sterndale Bennett comprises music manuscripts, letters, diaries, and related material. It also includes papers belonging to other family members, particularly his son and biographer James Robert Sterndale Bennett (1847-1928).


  • Creation: 1816-[2014], n.d.


2.2 Linear metres (93 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Sterndale Bennett 1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Sterndale Bennett 1-93

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 15746


Archive of the composer William Sterndale Bennett previously with the Sterndale Bennett family, 1816-[2014], n.d.

Biographical / Historical

William Sterndale Bennett (1816–1875) was a composer, pianist, conductor and music educator. Please see the Grove Music Online for further details.

Biographical details of J.R. Sterndale Bennett and Robert Sterndale Bennett as provided by William Sterndale Bennett's great-great-grandson Barry:

James Robert Sterndale Bennett was born on 11 June 1847, the younger son of the composer Sir William Sterndale Bennett. He was educated at Kensington School. At St John's College, Cambridge he became the 18th Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos of 1869 and was later elected a Fellow. In 1871 he became an Assistant Mathematics Master and the first Director of Music at Sherborne School in Dorset, and then a Senior Mathematical Lecturer at King's College London, where he was later elected an Honorary Fellow. From 1889 to 1898 he was Headmaster of Derby School. However, his main interest and energy lay in music. Not only was he a proficient pianist, but at Cambridge he helped to found the St John's College Musical Society. At Sherborne he founded the School Musical Society in 1871 and was a Visiting Lecturer on Acoustics at the Royal Academy of Music. He retired early in order to devote himself to writing a biography of his father, in which task he was much encouraged by his friends Sir Charles Stanford and Otto Goldschmidt. As a prelude to this he set about bringing together the huge family music library started by his father. The book was published in 1907 and remains an important reference point. He was also an early contributor to Grove's Dictionary of Music.

In 1876 James Robert married Mabel Agnes Gaskell, a descendent of the author Elizabeth Gaskell. They had six sons and two daughters. Walter was killed at Ypres during the First World War serving with the Royal Naval Divisions having twice been awarded the DSO, and John served as an Army officer in India. The others all entered the musical profession. Robert and T.C. (Tom), both graduated from the Royal College of Music. Ernest became a distinguished theatre and opera director in Canada whilst Jimmy married the actress Athene Seyler. In his spare time James Robert found time to produce a mathematical schema of the tides governing the English Channel, translated the Bible into Greek and back to English in order to analyse the differences, and traced the family tree back some two hundred years. A family man with a strong sense of posterity he nevertheless displayed a diffidence which shadowed him throughout his life, as if regarding it as impious to attempt to follow the profession of which his father was the acknowledged head in this country. In the biographical comments supporting the family tree, and in the biography of his father, his genuine and gentle modesty was such that he omits to say anything at all about himself. James Robert died at his home in Dymchurch on 4 June 1928 leaving an important foundation for the benefit of future generations of those interested in 19th-century musicological research.

Robert Sterndale Bennett was born in Southwold, East Anglia on 12 September 1880, a son of James Robert. From 1889 to 1897 he attended Derby School, where his father was Headmaster. He then entered the Royal College of Music studying mainly under Dr Walford Davies. In 1900 he gained his ARCM diploma for piano performance. In 1901 he won the Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, studying under Dr Charles Wood. He received his BA in 1904 (and MA in 1908) and won the Carter Prize on being awarded his ARCO diploma. He then entered the music teaching profession, firstly on the staff at Fettes College in Edinburgh and then from 1908 to 1945 as Director of Music at Uppingham School. Having joined the Artists Rifles as an undergraduate, he went on, as a Captain, to command the Uppingham School Officer Cadet Force. He was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the TD in 1919. During the Second World War he was promoted to Major and appointed to be responsible for local Home Guard operations.

His pupils at Uppingham included the composer E.J. Moeran. He carried out pioneering work to establish music in the curriculum at a national level. As a Senior Examiner to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music he visited Canada in 1925, 1933 and 1947, New Zealand in 1951 and Malta in 1960. He was awarded an Honorary ARCM in 1935, and in 1938 became the President of the Music Masters Association. His memberships included the Athenaeum, the Royal Musical Association and Incorporated Society of Musicians. From 1938 to 1950 he was a regular broadcaster for the BBC Midland Home Service addressing music for the young (transcripts deposited in the Bodleian) and he became a regular lecturer throughout the UK. Composing and arranging included 'Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree' with Royal patronage in 1936, and 'Who's Who in the Zoo' based on words by J.B. Morton (Beachcomber at the Daily Express). This was performed by the distinguished bass Ian Wallace on the BBC in 1961 and one of the songs was chosen for repeat on 'Pick of the Week'. Shortly after his retirement from Uppingham, he moved to Westcott in Surrey, where he served on the Committee of the Leith Hill Musical Festival, in close collaboration with his old friend Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams. He married Dorothy Miller (1893-1985) in 1912 and had three children, Elizabeth, Robin (a Commander in Royal Navy) and Anne (an ARCM, who later became an eye surgeon). He died on 17 August 1963.


Music in this archive is arranged in an order similar to that in Rosemary Williamson's William Sterndale Bennett: a descriptive thematic catalogue. Individual musical items are given corresponding Williamson references where applicable. Additional items not listed there have, for clarity, 'N/A' (not applicable) as a Williamson reference.

Textual material is presented in chronological order within categories. It is not listed in the thematic catalogue so no Williamson references are provided.

Custodial History

The following custodial history was provided by Barry Sterndale-Bennett:

In the 19th century it was not uncommon for the effects of deceased persons to be placed in auction and bought back by the family as a means of determining probate values. William Sterndale Bennett (referred hereafter as Bennett or WSB) was a prolific collector of music albeit his library largely derived from gifts. Following his death in 1875 two important auctions took place in London, which attracted much attention. Approximately a quarter was sold to third parties. The remainder was inherited in roughly equal amounts by Bennett's children. Charles (1845-1923) the eldest son was not musically inclined and little is known of him. He emigrated to Holland where he died with no issue. However on Christmas eve 1878 he sold his portion to his younger brother James Robert (1847-1928), who played a crucial role in the development and upkeep of the library.

On the death of James Robert the material passed to his son Robert (1880-1963), who was for many years Director of Music at Uppingham School. His son Robin (1914-2006), a Naval Officer, did not want to assume the responsibility so it came to his son, Barry, in 1974 as next in line of the succeeding generation. Following the death of his wife at the end of 2005, he moved from Longparish and at that point decided to deposit the library in the Bodleian.

The remaining third passed to the composer's daughter, Elizabeth Donn Bennett (1848-1927), who married Professor Thomas Case of Oxford (1844-1925) in 1870. Their daughter married into the Odling family and this part of the collection until recently formed part of the estate of the late Tom and Hilary Odling. The collection came to the Bodleian under the 'Acceptance in Lieu' scheme and is catalogued separately.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection currently on deposit since 1 June 2006.

Related Materials

The portion of William Sterndale Bennett's archive acquired from the Odling family is catalogued separately, MSS. Odling Sterndale Bennett 1-90.

A volume of letters to William Sterndale Bennett comprising 33 letters from Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, 1836-1847, and one from Cècile Mendelssohn Bartholdy, 1851, is Dep. c. 797. One letter from Robert Schumann to William Sterndale Bennett, 1851, is Dep. c. 798.

Separated Materials

Printed books and music from this archive are catalogued separately and available to order via SOLO (shelfmarks beginning 'Sterndale Bennett' and 'Sterndale Bennett Mus.' respectively). Concert programmes are listed in the external Concert Programmes database.


  • Barry Sterndale-Bennett, 'The bicentenary of William Sterndale Bennett', Brio, vol. 53 no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2016), pp. 3-18.
  • James Robert Sterndale Bennett, The life of William Sterndale Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907).
  • Rosemary Williamson, William Sterndale Bennett: a descriptive thematic catalogue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
Archive of William Sterndale Bennett acquired from the Sterndale Bennett family, 1816-[2014], n.d.
Margaret Czepiel
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
Second edition

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom