This blog post concerns another key contributor to Frank Kidson’s collection…

Kate Thompson was born Catherine Benson in Tockwith, a village approximately 10 miles away from Knaresborough situated in the Borough of Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Her parents were John Benson, a plumber by trade, and Mary Ann Jefferson. They already had a son, Joseph, from a previous relationship when they married in 1846 and in 1848 Catherine was born, followed shortly by her sister Ann who was born in 1849. Sadly in about 1849, John Benson died and Kate’s mother went on to marry a widower, William Robinson, in 1850. Robinson was an agricultural labourer born in Wreaks in about 1825 and he too had a son, James Robinson born in 1842, from his previous marriage. Kate’s mother and William went on to have four children together: William born 1851, Matthew born 1855, Mark born 1858 and Mary born 1860. All in all, Kate Thompson was brought up by her mother and stepfather along with seven “siblings”, the children of five different combinations of parents!

In the 1851 census Catherine Benson is three years old and living with her family in Fisher Garden, Knaresborough. She was still living in Knaresborough by the next census of 1861 though she is described as a general servant residing, still with her family, in Brewerton Street. On the 29th July 1866 at St. Phillips Church in Leeds, records show that a nineteen year old Catherine Benson married Squire Thompson, a twenty-eight year old widower with four children. He is described as a publican son of Samuel Thompson and they both give their residence as Wellington Street, Leeds, where there were several public houses at the time. Shortly after the marriage however, in 1867, Squire Thompson was declared bankrupt.

St. Phillip's Church, Wellington Street, Leeds circa 1866

St. Phillip’s Church, Wellington Street, Leeds circa 1866

The next census of 1871 shows Kate Thompson living at 22 Alfred Place, Leeds along with her husband now described as a “cabinet maker”, four step children: Mary, Frederick Henry, Florence and Samuel Victor and her own two children: Squire Albert born about 1868 and Walter Albert born in 1870. Later that same year, on the 31st December, Squire Albert and Walter Albert were baptised at St. Matthew’s Church, Little London, Leeds. These church records show the family now living at 49 Reuben Street and Squire Thompson’s trade is listed as “publican” (N.B. This address may be the “London Tavern”). In 1881 however, records show that the family’s circumstances had changed quite considerably. Squire Thompson is listed as living with his children: Florence, Samuel Victor, Squire Albert and a six month old daughter Clarabel; his occupation is given as a “waiter in dram shop”. Kate Thompson’s census entry shows her working as a “housemaid (domestic servant)” at a Boy’s Refuge in Brunswick Terrace, Leeds.

By 1891 Kate and her husband were now recorded as living together without any dependants in three rooms at 10 Haigh Place in Leeds and Squire’s trade is now listed as “Forge man”. Sadly, in the second quarter of 1898 a death is registered in Leeds for Squire Thompson and by the 1901 census Kate is shown residing with her son Squire Albert and his family at Manor House Farm Cottage in High Ackworth. It was in 1891 that Kate Thompson became acquainted with Frank Kidson and he collected a number of songs from her. In total he noted twenty-six songs or fragments of songs attributed to “Kate Thompson of Knaresborough”. It is interesting to note that Kidson chooses to refer to Kate as “Mrs Thompson of Knaresborough” as, by this time, we know that she had been residing in Leeds for over twenty years! Kidson had indeed visited Knaresborough on painting excursions but it is not clear if this was the initial source of contact for the pair and it is unlikely that he actually collected the songs from her in that location. Many of the songs she recalled were certainly first heard and learnt in her native Knaresborough so it remains a debatable issue as to whether Kidson was justified in consistently identifying her as “of Knaresborough”. Roy Palmer, in his article “Kidson’s Collecting” from the Folk Song Journal Vol.5 No.2, asserts that Kate Thompson was “by far the most important singer both in quantity and quality”. Frank Kidson collected from her over a period of six years, 1891-1897, and was set to include many of these songs in his planned, but ultimately incomplete, second edition of Traditional Tunes. A number of her contributions were also featured in Frank Kidson’s articles in the Folk Song Society Journals published in 1904 (Vol.1 No.5) and 1906 (Vol.2 No.9).

Kate Thompson’s death was registered in Leeds during the first quarter of 1911.

During our project we have chosen to feature a number of Kate Thompson’s songs. She appears to have been a very rich source of interesting songs and a true bearer of the oral tradition. Kidson himself comments that “she also remembers many of my published airs” implying that Kate Thompson possessed quite an extensive repertoire. We know that Kidson actually chose to omit some of her offerings as the words or tunes (or at least a closely similar set) were deemed to be already represented and readily available elsewhere. In the case of one song “The Roving Heckler Lad” her fragment was ignored because of its similarity with a text published in Traditional Tunes. In another instance the song “The Unfortunate Rake” was rejected by Kidson who dismissed the words as “objectionable” probably on account of its suggestive connotations!

Frank Kidson's manuscript of The Unfortunate Rake collected from Kate Thompson of Knaresborough in September 1892.

Frank Kidson’s manuscript of The Unfortunate Rake collected from Kate Thompson of Knaresborough in September 1892.

In total there are five of her songs on our album “The Search for Five Finger Frank”: The Highwayman Outwitted, Young Riley the Fisherman, The Deserter, One Moonlit Night and Young Banker (also collected from Charles Lolley).