John Shinn (1837-1925): Biographical Entry

622 SHINN, John, ‘A Sketch of My Life and Times’, MS, pp.46 (c.7,500words). Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Destiny Obscure. Autobiographies of childhood. education and family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Allen Lane, London, 1982), pp.187-92. Brunel University Library.

 Born 6 March 1837 at Taylors Row, London. Father a cabinet-maker. 1(?) brother. Parents unable to pay school fees, so education was ‘entirely lost’, except for a period at Trinity Chapel Sunday School. Self-educated in later years. Married, 1865, with children (no details). Lived in various areas of London all his life. Parental home had c.16 rooms, some rented out.

Went to work in father’s cabinet-making workshop (c.1846-7); cabinet-maker (to 1864); ran own business selling music and musical instruments (1864-1); church organist (1850-1915); music teacher.

Childhood interests were drawing and painting, but from c.1845 his attentions turned to playing, teaching and writing music. Joined the London Sacred Harmonic Society (c.1852); member of the Polyhymnian Choir (from 1853-4). Published and sold some of his musical compositions. Awarded a Mus. Bach. by Cambridge University.

Brought up in conditions of extreme poverty the author achieved ‘respectable’ status by ‘self-denial, perseverance and constant hard work…’. Although frequent mention is made of the hard times of his childhood Shinn offers glimpses rather than detail, and concentrates instead on his musical career. A rather abrupt writing style results in a series of unconnected paragraphs and thematic repetition. Written in 1923.


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