Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ayrton, Edmund

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AYRTON, EDMUND (1734–1808), the most distinguished member of a race of musicians, was born at Ripon, where he was baptised 19 Nov. 1734. His father was one Edward Ayrton (1698-1774), a 'barber chirurgion,' of Ripon, who was appointed alderman of that town 14 Aug. 1758, and mayor 1 Jan. 1760. Edward Ayrton's eldest son, William (baptised 18 Nov. 1726), was organist of Ripon Minster from 7 June 1748 until his death, which took place 2 Feb. 1799. By his wife Catherine (who died at Chester 19 Sept. 1819) he had two sons, both of whom were organists of Ripon Minster. The elder of these, William Francis Morel, was born in 1778, and succeeded to his father's post on 25 June 1799. Soon after he moved to Chester, where he died 8 Nov. 1850. His brother, Thomas, was born in 1782, and was organist of Ripon Minster for nearly twenty years before his death, which took place 24 Oct. 1822. Edmund Ayrton, the second son of Edward Ayrton, the barber-surgeon, was originally destined for the church, but, displaying considerable musical talent, was placed under Dr. Nares, the organist of York Minster. He succeeded William Lee as organist, auditor, and rector chori of Southwell Minster in 1754. Here he married, on 20 Sept. 1762, Ann, the daughter of Benjamin Clay, by whom he had fourteen children, several of whom died in infancy. Ayrton became a member of the Royal Society of Musicians on 2 June 1765 (Records of Roy. Soc. of Musicians). In 1764 he was appointed a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and soon after became a vicar choral of St. Paul's Cathedral, and a lay vicar of Westminster Abbey. He succeeded Nares as master of the children of the Chapel Royal in 1780. Ayrton took the degree of Mus. Doc. at Cambridge in 1784, on which occasion the anthem he wrote as an exercise was performed in the church of Great St. Mary's, and afterwards in London at the peace thanksgiving at St. Paul's on 29 July 1784. The Oxford degree of Mus. Doc. (ad eundem) was conferred upon him in 1788. Dr. Ayrton's wife died on 14 May 1800; he resigned the mastership of the children in 1805, and died on 22 May 1808, at 24 James Street, Buckingham Gate, Westminster, a large house with a garden of some three acres, but which had the reputation of being haunted, so that Ayrton had occupied it for many years at a low rent. He was buried in the west cloisters of Westminster Abbey on 28 May. His sister married Nicholas Thomas Dall, the Danish painter.

[The Harmonicon for 1833; Appendix to Bernrose's Choir Chant Book (1882); Parke's Musical Memoirs (1830); Chester's Registers of Westminster Abbey (1875); Gent. Mag. for 1800 and 1808; Ripon Registers; information from Mr- H. M. Bower.]

W. B. S.