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Janet Edmunds

International opera singer


Janet Edmunds was born at 4 The Warren in Thorpe Mandeville. Her father Ted was an insurance agent (having being invalided out of the R.A.F.). He had one of the first motor cars in the village. In 1953 Ted and his wife Isabel and younger daughter, Marion, moved to their newly built house in Thorpe, Greenbank. Janet was by then at college in London but was never happier than when able to return to Thorpe with memories of her childhood, savouring each season’s events – making garlands to celebrate May Day, country dancing or carol singing with her friends from the village school where Miss Freeman gave Janet her first piano lessons. Peggy Gibbard from Thorpe Lodge taught Janet to play the organ and the rector, Canon Pakenham-Walsh, lent her his ‘cello. She recalls walking to Culworth church, catching trains from Culworth station and walking home picking violets after taking her scholarship (‘eleven plus’) exam at Culworth one sunny March day.

At Brackley High School for Girls she studied modern languages but it was in Banbury that her musical talent was noted. Janet took part in many concerts and music festivals which flourished in those post-war years. She excelled and became a music student in London, at first as a pianist. On leaving the Royal College of Music in London in 1957 she was presented with the Clara Butt Prize for singing by the Queen Mother.

Janet was head of music at Carlyle School, Chelsea for three years before her singing career took over. Her first operas were with Oxford University and she has been involved in its musical life ever since. A scholarship to London’s National School of Opera led to further training in Switzerland and Germany where she soon had engagements to sing in opera, oratorios and on the radio on the continent and at home. Two highly successful Wigmore Hall recitals established her as one of Britain’s leading singers.

In the midst of all this, Thorpe always had its place. The Humfrey family had provided many of Thorpe’s rectors and coincidentally Janet met Jane Humfrey at the Royal College of Music. Together they provided musical offerings in Thorpe’s packed, candle-lit church. Janet gave her first recital in Thorpe in 1956 accompanied by David Byrt who later became Director of Music at Westminster School. In 1966 Janet and David married in Thorpe church. The reception was held at the Manor.

Janet and David lived in Westminster and had two daughters, Caroline and Elizabeth. The school and abbey were central to their lives but they had a retreat at Halse, near Brackley. When her mother died Janet returned to Greenbank, combining her singing career with her work as Tutor of Singing at Birmingham Conservatoire and Magdalen College, Oxford. Some of her students now have ‘world careers’.

(Main photograph: Edward Hutton, London)

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Wigmore Hall, 1963


May Day garlands outside Court Cottages, early 1940s (Courtesy of Janet Edmunds)

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