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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

A musical investigation

All the world’s a stage, William Shakespeare said, and for my grandmother, Winifred “Wyn” Griffiths, a professional singer, all her world was a stage from a very early age.

I’ve been working at creating a chronology of her singing career using the British Newspaper Archives on Find My Past, searching for theatre reviews of her performances, initially focusing her time as an opera singer, before she left the sector to work in variety theatre.

Young talent

Winifred Griffiths, age 16

In a newspaper interview in 1969, she told the reporter that her first public performance was at the age of 9, when she sang “Daddy” in front of an audience of 500 at Heath Town, Wolverhampton, at a male voice choir competition.

My great aunt, Clarrie, Wyn’s eldest sister, recalls in a letter to my mum, that Wyn sang “Il Bacio” – “a very difficult and beautiful song”- at the age of 12 at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton and “brought the house down.

When Wyn was 16, the Carl Rosa Opera Company came to town and she was given an audition. Clearly they were impressed with her talent as she was invited to join their ranks in 1919. I have a copy of a theatre programme from November of that year when she played Olympia, the doll, in Tales of Hoffman in Cork in Ireland.

Praise for Winifred

Newspaper reviews are a bit thin on the ground for the 3 years or so that Wyn was part of “the Rosa”, probably because not all newspapers are yet available to view online. But I found one from 1920 in the Newcastle Daily Chronicle about her portrayal of the doll which said, Miss Winifred Griffith’s study of the beautiful automation was perfect.”

In Leeds in 1921, she’s mentioned as one of the principals performing at the Grand Theatre in December of that year, “one and all rendered admiral service”, and another in Leeds from the following April, when she earns further praise for her performance:

“Miss Winifred Griffiths was a suitably doll-like Olympia and she gave to her bravura passages just the mechanical touch that is required.”

In her newspaper interview in 1969 Wyn talked about touring the country: “Every week we would be somewhere different,” she said. So I’m sure as more newspapers are digitised and added to the online database I’ll discover more of the many places where she performed to add to my "chronology tracker".

The Carl Rosa Trust

While I was researching I came across the website of The Carl Rosa Trust, the custodian of the company’s archives. On their website is a page of past performers, with an invitation to get in touch about family members who had been with the company.

So I sent off an email to the archivist and we’re currently putting together Winifred’s biography which will feature on The Rosa Troup page.

Even though Wyn was not with The Rosa for very long, she was always very proud of having been part of the company and perhaps not a little wistful that she’d felt the need to move on when she did.


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Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Jul 03, 2021

How lovely to have an ancestor who was so talented! It must be very exciting to be able to track their life through the newspapers like that. 😄

Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Jul 03, 2021
Replying to

I think that is a mistake nearly everyone makes. I wish with all my heart I had listened when I was younger and the "oldies" were talking! Yes you are fortunate that there was a public side to your grandmother's life. I also had singers and musicians in my family (still have!) but no one was notable enough to be written about, at least in times gone by.

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