Rochdale’s heritage of cobbled streets, cotton mills and smokestack factory chimneys are inextricably woven into history. Here in 1938, with the country almost unknowingly on the cusp of war, Vicky Shepherd was born on 29th June, at Littleborough near Rochdale. She was christened Ellen Victoria at the family church of St. Clement's, Spotland; Ellen after her father's mother who died in 1935, although the family seemed to favour her second name Victoria, so “Vicky” she became. Her mother was a Rochdale lass, although her father hailed originally from Blackpool.
Vicky’s family played a full part in Rochdale’s local economy. Her father trained as an accountant and worked for Burroughs, the adding machine company, although with the outbreak of war he was drafted into the police force. Vicky’s grandfather was more fortunate, continuing in his civilian work as the managing director of a cotton mill. Whilst the war years were undoubtedly difficult, Vicky had a very happy childhood, unaware of her parents’ war-time worries. She started school in 1943 at Norden Council School and had a brother, born in May 1944.
At six years of age she was given the responsible job of presenting a bouquet to the Mayoress who opened the Annual Christmas Bazaar and also had her first piano lesson. Both her parents and grandparents were of one mind, that their little girl should have the best education possible; it was granddad who bought her first piano.
When Vicky was nine the family moved to Norden, away from busy Rochdale and near farmland. Here she was able to help the local farmer gather hay, delighting in an idyllic setting. She was especially enjoying her piano lessons, being given Scenes from a Farm by Walter Carroll, a piano book she particularly relished. Vicky remembers it had real tunes, three colours and songs to go with the tunes, which was so different from the early Primer; consequently she needed no encouragement to practise and still has that first inspiring book. Years later, when she was twenty-one, she attended evening classes at The Northern School of Music where Ida Carroll was Principal and to whom the book was dedicated.
In 1947, at the age of nine, she moved schools to Bury Grammar School Prep. which required travelling on two buses. Vicky was at Bury for nine years and still returns for the annual “Old Girls Day” most years. She was able to continue her piano lessons in Norden and at eighteen years of age she passed her Grade v111 Associated Board Piano. She was fortunate in having excellent music teachers at Bury Grammar School and gained good marks for her A Level music. Vicky says she learnt to almost sing in tune thanks to the perseverance of her friends and teachers; apparently, she found the Aural tests especially difficult.
When she was thirteen the family moved house again to Milnrow, a village between Huddersfield and Rochdale. However, before they moved she was confirmed at St. Michael’s Church, Bamford, although it was at St. James Church, Milnrow, where her teenage Christian faith grew and where she started playing the organ, which was an area with an abundance of good organists and fine organs.
With her father’s continued connection with Blackpool, Vicky took a great interest in the Tower Ballroom, the Wurlitzer and Reginald Dixon. He quite charmed her during her teenage years when he visited his relatives at their village of Milnrow. Here he would play the church organ and Vicky would listen to him outside: “Gosh, he made the organ hum!”
In September 1956, aged eighteen, Vicky started two years training at Avery Hill College at Eltham, South London. She trained as a junior teacher specialising in music and history. Her piano teacher was Miss Male, an inspiring teacher who showed her how to make the piano sing, to interpret pieces and broadened her repertoire to encompass more modern composers like Lennox Berkeley. When Vicky was twenty-one Miss Male gave her a leather bound copy of Handel’s Messiah, which she still uses, remembering her time at college. She had good teachers and gained her LTCL through them.
She was her College Representative on the University of London Institute of Education Students Association and became their Social Secretary organising dances at various colleges. As she blossomed on the social scene she met Gilbert, her future husband, who was also serving on the committee; needing a skiffle group for a dance she was organising, she engaged Gilbert’s. He courted her with trips to hear Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Salad Days, West Side Story and My Fair Lady, a social whirl, which also included the new Royal Festival Hall.
In 1958, Vicky was fortunate to be given the opportunity to train for another year at Trinity College of Music, joining with many of their first and second year students’ tutorials. This was a real start on the organ, having lessons with Leslie Brown, a musician who went on to conduct the orchestra for West Side Story. Her piano teacher was the harpsichordist Valda Aveling.
Starting in 1959 Vicky taught at Milnrow St. James C.E. School, Rochdale for two years, also playing the organ for the school services, which were regularly held in church. Vicky married Gilbert on 5th August 1961 and they both then took up teaching appointments with the Army Schools in Cyprus with comfortable accommodation by the beach at Famagusta. They learnt to speak Greek and had holidays in Jordan, Egypt, the Lebanon and Cyprus. Being both regular members of the Anglican Army Church at Four Mile Point Camp, they also conducted choirs and music lessons as well as playing for school assemblies.
Their son, Andrew, was born on 18th February 1964 and consequently Gilbert was rather busy running between Famagusta and the hospital. It was a wonderful way to start married life and they made many lifelong friends. Andrew is now forty-three, and married with four children: Rachael 15, Matthew 13, Stephen 10, and Sarah eight, all now living conveniently in Faversham.
Gilbert gained his first Headship in 1969, then three years later in April 1972, they moved to Ospringe where he became Head of Ospringe C.E. Primary School. In 1978 Vicky became, as she modestly puts it, a “very green” Organist and Choirmaster at St. Peter and St. Paul Ospringe, which she then shared with Margaret Woodall, and looks back on over forty years “on the organ bench.” During those many years the late Fred Ash — a Faversham KCOA member — provided great encouragement and Vicky remembers performing The Crucifixion with Fred playing while she conducted. It was Fred Ash who introduced Vicky to our KCOA and the RSCM.
In 1983 Vicky became Deputy Head of St. Margaret’s Infants School, Rainham and then Head of Hempstead Infants in 1985 until retirement in 1995. Vicky says she enjoyed a wonderful career, thirty years in full-time teaching: twenty years at grass roots and ten years as a head teacher.
Retirement in 1995 meant having more time to take her organ playing seriously and she has been fortunate in having lessons with David Flood. Their connection with Canterbury also enabled both Gilbert and Vicky to begin guiding at the Cathedral. Vicky feels her playing has improved and her repertoire has grown, especially as there is time to practise during the week. She was particularly delighted our Kent Association came to visit Ospringe last April. Vicky has been an ebulliently colourful member of our Association over the years, her tireless enthusiasm permeating everything she does. We are particularly grateful for her organising meetings, and especially her arranging past suppers and dinners.
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