The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"Some day when Dr Shaw has become one of the immortals, it will be remembered that he wrote for Gresham’s."

A reviewer of Shaw's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream



geoffrey shaw (left) and Martin Shaw (right) in front of the ornate windows of a stone building


Martin Shaw has been described by Iain Burnside as "the missing link between Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten". Certainly his work was very much in evidence at Britten's alma mater, Gresham's School, through his brother Geoffrey, who was Director of Music there until 1910. In this article by Nathan Waring, a current Director of Music at Gresham's, we read how the Shaw's direct association with the school continued until the 1920s, and their legacy was still in force when Britten arrived.

Geoffrey Shaw becomes Director of Music at Gresham's.

Former Cambridge organ scholar Geoffrey Turton Shaw, younger brother of Martin Shaw, arrived to take up the post of Gresham’s Director of Music in the December of 1902.

Formerly from Caius College Cambridge, Headmaster George Howson later recalled that when seeking a new music master, he had been assured that GT Shaw of Caius was “his man”.

Shaw immediately began to build on the musical interest that was already prevalent at the school and was able to utilise newly built school facilities.

By 1907, the orchestra and choir were performing regularly together in school concerts programming major pieces of classical repertoire including Beethoven’s Mass in C, and at a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in 1907, Geoffrey Shaw was presented with a silver-mounted baton as a token of the respect that he was held in by the school.


Full face portrait of Harry Plunkett Green a fair-complexioned man with moustache; drama to the pose is added by his hand holding his chin

Harry Plunkett Greene

We begin to get a sense of Shaw’s musical connections in 1908 with the visit to the school by Harry Plunket Greene in 1908 for a recital with his accompanist Samuel Liddle. As a professor at the Royal College of Music, Plunket Greene was the dedicatee of many songs by Stanford and Vaughan Williams.

Vaughan Williams was one of the illustrious breed of composer who studied under Stanford around 1895 at the Royal College of Music along with John Ireland and Gustav Holst, and Geoffrey Shaw’s brother, Martin Shaw.



Martin Shaw at Gresham’s

Title text showing that the Te Deum  was composed for the opening of the organ at Greshams

Martin Shaw is an important figure in the world of English music, particularly of Anglican choral music in the first half of the twentieth-century. A prolific song-writer, heavily influenced by English folk music, he was closely associated with the English Folk Dance & Song Society which had been founded by his close friends Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp.

Martin Shaw later went on to set new standards in English congregational music. In 1918, he co-founded the Royal School of Church Music, thus encouraging community singing and ensuring that choral standards were raised and maintained through to this day.

Through his brother Geoffrey, Martin Shaw was to build a very good-natured relationship with Gresham’s, visiting the school on occasions and even composing music especially to be performed by the boys.

For the dedication of the newly installed Walker organ on November 26th 1909, the choir sang Te Deum in C, especially composed for the occasion by Martin Shaw.



Dr HP Allen

portrait of Hugh Allen, a man with a moustache wearing a three-piece tweed suit What perhaps makes this event even more remarkable is that the recital that followed the Service of Dedication was given by Dr HP Allen, organist of New College Oxford.

Nine years later, Allen was to replace Parry as Director of the Royal College of Music and conductor of many fine organisations including The Royal Philharmonic Society. In fact, according to The Times newspaper, he became for a time "the acknowledged but unofficial head of the music profession in this country." In 1910, Allen assisted Vaughan Williams in the orchestration of his Sea Symphony.



Cecil Sharp at Gresham's

Cecil Sharp, a man with rather a long face, perched on the arm of a wooden chair formally dressed in a tweed suit and wearing a large flat cap

Another significant visitor to Gresham’s at this time was Cecil Sharp, often described as the founding father of the English folk-song revival in early twentieth-century England. Together with Vaughan Williams, Sharp founded the Folk-Song Society in 1898 and with other leading musical lights of the establishment, made it their purpose to collect and publish English folk-song. On October 12th 1910, Sharp gave a lecture to the boys at Gresham’s on his interest in the vocal and instrumental (dance) folk music of the British Isles.



Geoffrey Shaw becomes an Inspector of Music for Schools

In 1910 Geoffrey moved on from Gresham’s to become an inspector of music in London schools. Geoffrey Shaw looking to the left, wearing  his old green hat and brown overcoat, with a cigarette visible from his mouth The Gresham spoke fondly of his “old green hat and big brown coat” and recognised that during his time at the school, he had “taught us what is best in music”. Not only through his capacity as a very fine teacher, but also through his extraordinary musical connections, GT Shaw had most certainly moved Gresham’s onto a different plateau, leaving the way for his successor to develop music at the school even further. He went on to become an outstanding Inspector of Music to the Board of Education from 1928 until his retirement in 1942. According to Stanford’s Studies and Memories (1908), “music received very inadequate attention in schools in 1889.” However, according to JA Fuller-Maitland’s book of 1929 entitled A Door-Keeper of Music, this issue had been “greatly atoned for, under Somervell and Geoffrey Shaw.”

Even after he had left, Shaw continued to send his children to Gresham’s, thus retaining his association with the school. Much of his music (and that of his brother’s) was still performed at the school and he often returned to the school, whether to sit on the OG committee or present a lecture on a particular musical topic.



The Shaw Legacy

Walter Greatorex, a friendly face with glasses, seated at the organ of Gresham's School

Geoffrey Shaw’s successor at Gresham’s, Walter Greatorex (pictured left), ensured that the strong theme of folk music that had been established by the Shaw brothers within the school continued in school concerts, and with Geoffrey Shaw visiting the school in 1918 and again two years later, Gresham’s was kept at the forefront of the continued national interest in the genre’s revival.

It speaks volumes that Greatorex actively encouraged the music of the Shaws to continue being performed at the school. Perhaps this is due not just to the respect in which the two brothers were held at Gresham’s, but also a reflection of the importance both composers enjoyed in the musical world of the time, particularly in the fields of the English choral tradition (Martin) and education (Geoffrey). Their compositions continued to be performed in school concerts and also in the ‘Saturday Music’ concert series. The annual school Shakespearian production was repeated for many years. In the review of the 1919 production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the school magazine reported that: “The school must have a feeling of legitimate pride and proprietorship in Mr Shaw’s music for this music is part and parcel of the school tradition.”


Front cover of Six Songs of War in simple black type printed on red paper

Six Songs of War

In 1916, extracts of Martin Shaw’s 1914 song cycle Six Songs of War were performed by a pupil in a school concert where it was accompanied in the programme by an arrangement for choir of Geoffrey Shaw’s I live not where I love.




a brick house covered in ivy with a square tower at the far end; a wooden porch covers the doorway and the house is surrounded by shrubs.

"Woodlands" and the Public School Hymn Book

GT Shaw returned again to give a lecture in February 1920 on the Public School Hymn Book. Gresham’s had played an important part in preparing the new hymn book. Not only had the Headmaster George Howson chaired the Headmaster’s Conference sub-committee on the publication of the Public School Hymn Book in 1917, but Geoffrey Shaw had co-edited the book upon publication in 1919. As The Gresham proudly recorded, “it was our duty to do it justice.” top of sheet from the Public Schools Hymn Book showing the tune of WoodlandsIt was in this hymn book that the hymn tune Woodlands (right) first appeared, having been written by Walter Greatorex in 1916 and named after a boarding house at Gresham’s (pictured above). The fact that GT Shaw included this in his edit of the hymn book is perhaps not only a gesture of appreciation towards Greatorex for the continued support he received from the school even after he had left its’ employment, but also gives a the book a more perceptible link with the school.



The Shaw Legacy Continues

green front cover of Martin Shaw's, The Fools and Fairies, his adaptation of Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, showing line drawing of Shakespeare and detailed surround

Despite the many successes of boys and masters during this time, the Shaw’s contribution to the musical foundation of the school was still benefitting the school, with his music for Shakespeare plays being performed every year. In 1926, at a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the reviewer in the school magazine commented of Shaw’s Overture, songs and incidental music, that:
“Some day when Dr Shaw has become one of the immortals, it will be remembered that he wrote for Gresham’s.”
A concert by invited OG’s in late 1927 heard more music by the Shaw brothers including arrangements of folk-songs, proving that Greatorex was keen to maintain what had become a folk-song tradition in school concerts.



Nathan Waring
Director of Music, Gresham’s Prep School
Taken from his article Music Hath Called Them, charting the history of music at Gresham’s.

The Britten Centenary at Gresham's

The Gresham, School Magazine Volumes I – XII (1900 – 1928)
The Old School, edited G.Greene, published 1934 Jonathan Cape Ltd
Gresham’s School, by WH Auden, pp.1-12
Day Boy, by S. Spender, pp.165-166
Howson of Holt, by JH Simpson, edited H Wright & J Smart, published 2010 Cambridge Occupational Analysts Ltd
School Memories, by WF Bushell, published 1962 Philip Song & Nephew Ltd
When Heroes Die, by S Smart, published 2001 Breedon Books
I Will Plant Me a Tree, by S Benson, published 2002 James & James (Publishers) Ltd
World within World, by S Spender, published 1951 Hamish Hamilton.
Vaughan Williams, by S Heffer, published 2000 Phoenix
The English Musical Renaissance, by F Howes, published 1966 Secker & Warburg

Further Reading:

Martin Shaw and Southwold
A Daughter’s Recollection of her Father

return to Articles...