The Story of a Much-Loved Mother and Her Piano

As many readers will know, Syston History Society are working on a book on Syston in the 20th century. This month’s piece is rather different from most of the articles we have put into Stn. History Group member David Fox has written the following piece as a tribute to his mother, Mary Fox, and we hope you enjoy this unusual and charming piece of history.
This is the story about local woman Mary Fox, (nee Brown) who lived most of her life in Syston. Mary was born in Birstall in 1908. When she was a girl it became clear that Mary was musical, and on her 16th birthday in 1924 her father gave her a very generous gift; a rather lovely piano. Mary’s piano was an iron-framed, overstrung, upright ‘Grand’ made in Stuttgart in the early 1900s. The makers were Sheidmeryer and Sohn. As well as having a beautiful tone, the instrument was beautiful to look at. Facing you when you sat at the piano there was a lovely marquetry inlay depicting daffodils, and there were brass candle holders on each side of the music rest. You can imagine Mary’s face on her birthday when she first saw her piano, and when she lifted the lid for the first time to see the ivory and ebony keys.
By working hard and lots of practice Mary soon achieved grade seven Royal College of Music examinations, and later she started teaching the piano to children between the ages of five and 14 years, many of them passing their grades with distinction. When she was 26, in 1934, Mary married Charles Albert Fox, (a policeman) and over the next ten years they had a family of four boys who they named Brian, John, Peter and David. They moved to Syston for Charles’ work in 1951. During the 1950s Mary played the organ at St. Aiden’s church on the Fosse and sometimes at St. Peters & St. Paul’s Church. Mary’s husband Charles died in 1964, and her boys grew up and left home. Mary got a job at Squires and Kinton’s Bakery but in her spare time the piano was played and gave Mary pleasure and comfort.
The 1960s was a decade when more and more people started to go abroad for holidays, and in the late 60s Mary decided to go on a coach trip to Austria with a friend. The coach was being driven through Germany when Mary noticed a signpost with a name that was familiar to her. The signpost said ‘STUTTGART 20 km’. After all those years, at last, the place where her piano, which had given her such joy, had been made!
In 1971 Mary remarried. Her second husband was called Robert Barry. They’d met at work in the late 1960’s. When they were at home in the evenings, Mary would often play some Schubert or Bach. Robert loved to hear her play. Mary often asked what was his favourite piece, and without hesitation, Robert replied “Clair de Lune by Debussy.’’ Mary often played it for him playing that haunting melody to perfection.
Later, when Robert retired, he was introduced to the mysteries of sharps and flats, quavers, crotchets and minims when he had a go at learning to play the piano. He managed to achieve grade 1 and was very proud of it! But how he admired Mary as her fingers danced over the ivory keys in a way that his fingers would not! Mary died in 1979 at the age of 71. Some time after this, Robert moved to sheltered accommodation in Syston and was unable to take Mary’s piano with him as it was far too big and heavy for an upstairs flat. And so, with Roberts’s agreement, Mary’s sons decided to donate the piano to St. Mary’s Church, Barkby, which seems very appropriate. In its new home, (which has very good acoustics), it sounds beautiful. Mary would have been delighted to know of its new location.
When clearing Robert’s flat after he died in 1995, Mary’s youngest son found some notes Robert had written about the piano, and those notes have been used in putting this story together.
(Shiedermayer and Sohn was established in 1735, and the company still make pianos).