Warrington Archives Podcast 3: Canine Wonder!

Philip Jeffs presents the third episode in a new series of podcasts, looking at interesting finds from Warrington’s Archives.

Listen using the player below, or scroll down to read a full transcript.


Hello, and welcome to this the third in our series of Archives Podcasts looking at interesting stories from Warrington’s historic newspapers.

Now before we get into today’s podcast, a listener has pointed out to me that I have never actually introduced myself, I must have been so focused on the stories that I forgot to tell you who I am. Well, for any of you don’t know me from the Searchroom at Warrington, my name is Philip Jeffs and I’m the Archives & Heritage Officer for Culture Warrington. My job is to look after all of the historic documents here at the Museum and to make sure as many people as possible are using those records. You can come into the Searchroom in Warrington Library and look at any of the documents, maps, books, or pictures we care for.

I could at this point tell you more about exactly what I do and why I do it, but that’s another podcast for another day. Today we are going to look at some more historic newspaper articles, specifically, articles from page 11 of the Warrington Guardian on 23rd July 1932.  

Having looked at more serious matters in our last couple of podcasts, I thought that today we’d start with something a little lighter. One of the headline articles on the page reads as follows: “Canine Wonder: Dog that Plays and Sings: Demonstration on the Piano: a Self-Taught Musician”, four headlines for the price of one. 

The article concerns Rip, the devoted pet of a Mr. R Burthem, Secretary of the Fidlers Ferry Yacht Club. 

I think the best thing that I can do at this point is to read you some of the article. 

“One had heard that his forte was strumming the piano, but one was quite unprepared for what followed. Like a flash Rip slipped through into the next room, and by the time his audience had reached the door, he was perched on the piano stool. Then, raising his right paw, and bowing his head with a fine appreciation of dramatic effect, he struck a chord. Up and down the keys he ran with a facility that was amazing, and then the incredible – he began to sing. With his head thrown well back and his mind in the stars, Rip sang, perhaps a doggy epic, perhaps a dreamy recollection of puppyhood. No Prima Donna received more genuine applause as the last note died away.”

The article includes a photograph of rip playing the piano and singing, though sadly with age the newspaper has darkened and the features have been lost. 

There is a little more in the article, mention of Rip’s other favourite pastime of rat catching, and a comparison of his music with the then immensely popular Paderewski, a classical composer, pianist and one time Prime Minister of Poland.

The article does of course open up an interesting genealogy question, of who was R Burthem? I’m sure there are still some Burthems about who could tell us, but just for interest’s sake I had a quick glance at some of our resources.

According to a short history of the Fidlers Ferry Yacht club produced in 2004, as part of the club’s Centenary, a Harry Burthem was appointed Secretary at the club’s founding in 1905, though I could find no mention of R Burthem, whom the newspaper article mentions as Secretary by 1932 or what the relationship was. A glance at the Voters Registers for Fidler’s Ferry (Fidlers with one d!, but that another story) shows that a Henry (also known as Harry) Burthem is proprietor at the Ferry Hotel, whilst a Robert Bertham is nearby in Lock Cottage. So is this be our Burthems?

Interestingly, the website for the Ferry Tavern, as it is now known, has a photograph of Henry Burthem and his wife Ellen with their dog, who looks a lot like Rip, maybe a relative?. 

Of course there are other Henry Burthems about and other Roberts, and a more detailed look into the subject could give some concrete answers, but for now our interest was in Rip the singing dog who could play the piano, not the family he lived with.

A second fun article on this page is a description of the Children’s Festival at Oakwood Avenue School in Orford.  We hear that the event had been rained off the week before, but managed to take place eventually despite the continued dull weather and cold wind, so a not untypical Warrington July!

We read that the Mayor, Mr. Tinnion was presented with an oak bookrest made by the boys in the school’s workshop, whilst the Mayoress was presented with a tea cloth, tea cosy and tea cosy cover, made by the girls in their sewing class. Having a cover for your tea cosy seems a bit overkill to me but there you are. 

It’s an interesting division of the sexes, which of course you don’t tend to see in schools anymore, and that division continues into the events of the day.

The girls exhibited “delightful dances” and “lightly skipping about” dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland, they “sang sweetly” and made a “dignified procession” behind the Rose Queen.

The boys on the other hand gave an “exhilarating athletic display” and “thrilling show of strength”. 

There is more description of the events and a few children are even mentioned by name if anyone is looking into their family history or interested in Oakwood School, but for now that’s all we are going to look at.

I hope you will join me again for another look into Warrington’s historic newspapers in the next Archives Podcast.