Farthingale Publications

A Lancastrian hobby website of curiosities and nonsense


Liverpool and the Holy City

Speke HallThis is a short biography of Michael Maybrick also known as Stephen Adams 1841 - 1913, singer and composer of a great many popular songs including the ever popular Victorian ballad "The Holy City" in 1892.

Born in 1841 at 8 Church Alley Liverpool, he was the fourth of eight children of William and Susannah Maybrick. His father an engraver and parish clerk at St Peter's church in the city centre (now demolished), a post previously held by his grandfather, both were amateur musicians. His uncle Michael Maybrick also wrote sacred music, played the organ at St Peter's and conducted Liverpool Choral Society. Proficient on the piano at an early age, Maybrick junior studied the organ and became organist at St Peter's at the age of fifteen.

In 1865 he went to Leipzig to further his musical studies and later, having a fine baritone voice, trained as a singer in Milan with Italy's most respected voice coaches. His training and experience in Italian concert halls and theatres subsequently laid the foundations of a successful singing career, beginning with appearances in London productions of Mendelssohn's Elijah and Wagner's Lohengrin in 1869, followed by performances at leading concert venues in London and the provinces including a number with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. By the early 1870s Maybrick or Stephen Adams as he is now known was composing and singing his own songs, mostly using lyrics provided by Frederick Weatherly, whose Roses of Picardy was set to music by Haydn Woods in 1916 and became an anthem commemorating the young lives lost in the Great War. Maybrick's songs became very popular selling millions of copies over several years, and in 1884 he toured the United States performing them. Apart from his musical career he was a Captain in the Artists Rifles and keen amateur sportsman, enjoying yachting, cycling and playing cricket. In 1893 at the age of 52 he married his forty-year-old housekeeper, Laura Withers and they settled in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, taking in the two children of his cotton merchant brother, James, whose wife Florence had been found guilty of her husband's murder by poisoning at their home Battlecrease House, Riversdale Road Aigburth in 1889. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and after serving fifteen years Florence was released in 1904, when doubts were raised about the evidence and the safety of the conviction, the verdict being declared void. Michael Maybrick meanwhile became a magistrate, chairman of the Isle of Wight Hospital and was five times mayor of Ryde. He died in 1913 of heart failure in Buxton where he had been receiving treatment for gout. He is buried in Ryde.

Palfreyman - January 2018