Kathleen Parlow's Relationship with Meldreth, 1912 to 1925
Kathleen Parlow was born in Calgary, Canada in 1890. She became a world famous violinist and violin teacher between 1908 and her death in 1963. She began playing the violin at the age of 4, encouraged by her mother Minnie Parlow who was also a violinist. The Parlow family, including her father Charlie Parlow, moved to San Francisco in 1896 where her talent was instantly recognised. Her parent’s marriage was by then breaking down and so her father returned to Calgary where, sadly he died of TB, the following year.
During her childhood Kathleen went on to study music in St Petersburg, Russia. At the age of 14 she played for King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace. By the age of 15 (in 1905 during a world tour) she played the violin in a concert at the Wigmore Hall, London. This really launched her career. She became so well known that her world tours were prolific. She performed at 375 concerts between 1908 and 1915. Some concerts were in Cambridge and in 1909 she played there at the Guildhall and (Sir) Thomas Beecham was the conductor. She also played at Trinity College Hall and at the Cambridge Music Society https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_University_Musical_Society in the same year. Her mother Minnie travelled with Kathleen most of the time as her mentor and chaperone.
Listen here to hear Kathleen playing ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ in 1912 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4Nx5Nb9EOY
By 1912, at the age of 22, Kathleen had been travelling so much she became exhausted and her mother, acting as her ‘agent’, realised that she needed to reduce some of her tours. They both loved the UK so Minnie started to look for a quiet country house near London to rent. Meldreth was chosen as it had easy access to London by train. Fortunately, The Homestead in the High Street was available to rent. The owner was John George Mortlock, a man of property in Meldreth at that time. It is possible that the Parlows may have met the Morlock family whilst they were staying in London where John George worked.
Renting The Homestead was an opportunity to trial living in England. We now know that the trial period worked out with the Parlows renting the house for four years and then buying it from J.G. Mortlock in 1916. Kathleen recorded this date in June 1916 in her personal day book.
According to letters written to friends, Kathleen and her mother both loved living in Meldreth. They fell in love with village life. Kathleen was able to relax and lead a ‘normal life’ in between tours. She kept a detailed day book and it is obvious they met other Meldreth families as various Meldreth names feature between 1912 and 1925. Kathleen, in particular, was well liked by her neighbours, the Handscombe and Jebb families. They used to send Kathleen postcards of Meldreth whilst she was touring, to remind her of home.
Of course by 1915 her world tours were less frequent due to WW1 and travel becoming more difficult. She remained in England for much of the war and did a few concerts locally. Her diary was quite blank until 1916. She used this time to relax as she had reached a point of exhaustion and mental anxiety over the years. She was only 26 years old! The Homestead helped her recovery. There are many happy references recorded about their life in Meldreth (Ref. The University of Toronto Kathleen Parlow Archives)
When they were at home in Meldreth, they enjoyed their lovely garden, particularly their croquet lawn. Many competitive croquet games were played with Miss Chamberlain from The Gables next door.
One of The Parlow’s family friends, Geoffrey Birkett, wrote a letter to Kathleen’s cousin Maida Parlow French, in 1965, recording his memories of The Homestead during 1919. He was able to remember a great deal about the actual house and garden. Kathleen started to tour more in 1916 spending time in the US, Norway and later the Netherlands. Post war she travelled for many months at a time worldwide away from Meldreth but slipped back into village life again when she returned.
In 1925 Kathleen and her mother left Meldreth and moved to San Francisco. However, Kathleen had to take a year out before touring again due to further illness. Her next world tour was to Mexico in 1929. Her world tours continued. However, she found that she was not financially secure and had to teach the violin as well to maintain a living. In 1936 she moved to New York and then back to Toronto in 1941. This was going to be the story of her life, less performing and more teaching. She was well respected in both. She never married and died in Oakville, Ontario in 1963 age 72.
The story of Kathleen Parlow is a fascinating one as she was such a talented violinist from the age of four and and her ability to be on the world stage at such a young age. It is particularly poignant that the Parlows chose Meldreth as their home for 14 years and enjoyed the friendships they made there. Meldreth allowed Kathleen to be herself away from the public eye.
There is still an interest in the life of Kathleen Parlow in Canada. In 2019 some Canadian researchers/film makers came to visit The Homestead to see where Kathleen had lived. I was able to show them around Meldreth and they were made very welcome at Maycroft Residential Care Home by the Manager, Lynn Ward.
They returned to Meldreth in January 2023 with a view to filming in March 2023 for a film about Kathleen’s life.