Skip to main content

Frederick Weatherly 1848 -1929 was one of the best know names in Britain at the time of his death, though largely forgotten today. He published over 1500 songs, translated opera libretti and was well connected to the musical and theatrical world of the time. Late in life he gave regular broadcasts on the fledgling BBC radio about his life and songs. He was referred to then as the grand old man of song

Fred was the first son of a Portishead doctor, the oldest boy in a family of 13. Thanks to his mother and a patient of his fathers resident in the family home who was a  cultured Irishman, he was encouraged to develop his love of verse writing and piano playing. He began to publish both verses and songs while still an undergraduate at Oxford. He stayed on there as a tutor, married and soon had three children. His output of songs and books of children’s verses were continuous and sufficiently profitable for him to have built a house for his family and some pupils.

At the age of 39 he switched paths and moved to London to train as a barrister, his family now moved into another house he had built near Wimbledon. He officially was a pupil by day at the Inns of Court. But, because his songs were now eagerly awaited and performed by the top singers at the fashionable ballad concerts, he mingled with celebrities of the time –for instance setting up an enduring friendship with Ellen Terry

At the age of 50 he moved back to Bath where was appointed to appear at the bar on the Western circuit. He continued legal work until his death, usually acting for the defence. By the time of this move back to the west country,  his marriage had broken  down, his wife Minnie had become severely depressed. They separated, Minnie  being set up in a house in Portishead where she lived on in seclusion.   Fred meanwhile established a household in Bath living with Maud Francfourt, who was always referred to Mrs. Weatherly. Despite this arrangement being highly irregular for man of his class at the time, they lived happily together for nearly twenty years. This split between their parents and Fred’s subsequent partnership alienated his children, particularly his son who remained close to his mother. But it was during these years with Maud that Fred published his most lasting songs –Danny boyRoses of Picardy and Holy City .The words of Danny boy were written in 1910, the year of his son’s early death

Maud became bedbound, so a Miriam Bryan moved into the house as nurse companion. After the deaths of Minnie and Maud, Fred now aged 75 married Miriam. This second marriage was intensely happy for him and brought him back to the social norm.  He became KC at the very late age of 76. He died in 1929.

In 1926, he published a book of memoirs  – Piano and Gown. These illustrate the two sides of the man-his love of the law and his delight that his songs had reached and touched so many people all over the world. Perhaps because song writing came easily to him, he was surprisingly modest about this achievement and would like to have done more in the world of opera. . He was a happy man who enjoyed life and particularly the company of women .He seemed to be aware that his irregular personal life had probably deprived him of national honours and set back his promotion at the Bar.  But, as he wrote  ‘ Amor conquit Opus -Love overcomes Duty’

In Sunshine And In Shadow: 
The family story of Danny Boy 
By Anthony Mann