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Notes from the Archive: What’s in a Name? 

Over the last few years, given the anniversary of Sir John McClure’s death, Mill Hill School has taken a deeper interest in all things McClure. The School produced a wonderful anniversary concert last year, and various articles and publications about him – displaying treasured items such as his private letters and photos around the school.  

With the McClure Memorial Trust Concert having taken place last night, the school wanted a better understanding of McClure’s musical abilities and compositions. So, I sought to mine the early editions of Mill Hill Magazine for more information. However, having spent the better part of a morning scouring the old magazines, I was hitting a brick wall. There wasn’t a single mention of McClure’s musical contributions anywhere! Even though it was well-known from other sources that several of his pieces were performed at the School during his time here. Surely, there should have been some sort of record or trace of it somewhere?

I was about to give up when I had somewhat of a eureka moment. I found mention of a cantata that I remembered being accredited to Sir John – ‘Three Sailors of Bristol City’ – based on the humorous poem by William Makepeace Thackery. However, the name next to it was alien to me and definitely wasn’t ‘Sir John McClure’. It was E.Düno Währiah. I had seen iterations of the name before, but never with all the umlauts, hence why I had glossed over it before. As I quickly flicked back through the magazines, I found that Mr Währiah’s compositions were performed over ten times at Mill Hill, between 1891 and 1922 – the years McClure served as Headmaster. He was quite a busy man, having composed many pieces, such as a fugue, a canon, and even a pianoforte trio over the years.

But who was this mysterious figure? At first glance, the name seemed Germanic, but a quick internet search produced a literal blank – not a single search result. Perhaps someone had mistranslated or misspelt the name? The name did not translate into German or any other Romantic language. It took me a while, sitting there in my office, pronouncing it in a variety of comical accents, until I realised that the umlauts were simply a red-herring and that’s when the full genius of it hit me. It wasn’t supposed to be translated; the name itself was the key! To grasp exactly the layers of McClure’s ingenuity, you must be armed with two crucial pieces of information. The first being that Sir John McClure was from Wigan, Greater Manchester – and was very proud of his heritage.

This is important because when you read out “E.Düno Währiah” in a thick Northern accent, it comes out as ‘e dunno w’ere ‘e are. Aha! We’ve worked out half of this clever puzzle! But now you’re confused just as I was, asking yourselves why would anyone choose such as random phrase as their nom-de-baton? Please bear with me dear reader, all will be made clear soon. The other important tidbit is that McClure was a musician to the core, it played a central role throughout his entire life. A quick scour of the internet reveals why he chose this obscure phrase. Those with some Music Hall knowledge may have already made the connection. In 1893, Fred Eplett composed a cockney song called ’E Dunno Where ’E Are, became a Music Hall sensation through comedian Gus Elen’s frequent performances of it. But it was also famously performed by Charlie Chaplin on stage in 1894 – just a year before Mr Währiah made his first appearance in the Mill Hill Magazines! Now all is made clear! The sheer creativity of it all hits you like a bolt, just like it struck me that morning.

Although to be totally transparent, I was not overly impressed to begin with because I had been sent on a proverbial ‘wild goose chase’ all morning. However, upon resuming my work, I began to appreciate the inspiration of it all and reflect on the character and humour of the man. Whilst he could be formal, here is proof that he also didn’t take life too seriously – that he took pleasure in creating and giving music. It is my hope that you too can appreciate what a wonderful insight this is into such a prominent, but previously enigmatic Mill Hill figure. Having attended the school myself, all I knew was the name that is illuminated in the stained-glass window of the Chapel he helped to build.

By sharing more of these interesting anecdotes from the archives, I hope to illuminate these pillars of Mill Hill’s history and make them come alive. To enable you all to better immerse yourselves in the rich legacy that people like Sir John McClure have left for us to enjoy.

Miss Forte, Archivist