Gilbert Uren (1916-2017)

Gilbert Uren

Written by Kathleen Uren

Occupations: Conductor and Educator

Gilbert Uren was born in Dalton-in-Furness, the son of Emmanuel Uren (1885-1931) and Amelia Gilbert (1884-1944), both of Cornish mining stock. His grandfather Emmanuel had moved at the age of fifteen with two older brothers from Breage, near Helston, an area of tin and copper mining, to Roose, Barrow to mine haematite iron ore in Furness. As a boy Gilbert studied the organ and piano with William Arthur Harry (1879-1938; DCB), the organist of Dalton St Mary’s Church, and aged 12 was appointed organist of Dalton Primitive Methodist Church. He was educated at Nelson St Elementary School, Dalton, then Ulverston Grammar School followed by teacher-training at Trinity College, Carmarthen, now part of Trinity St David’s University. 

His first teaching job in 1936 was at a primary school in Epping, Essex where he believed he was appointed because the headmaster, a fine bass-baritone, wanted an accompanist. His interview consisted of few words but a lot of sight reading of song accompaniments. Concerts with the headmaster and visiting professional artists followed during the three years up to the outbreak of World War II when he married his long-term sweetheart from Dalton, Hilda Hayward (1916-2011). 

His war service was with the Army in India and subsequently Burma, where he was seconded to the RAF as an intelligence officer and interpreter in Urdu and Pashto. After the war he took a BA in history as an external student of the University of London. Returning to Furness in 1948, he taught at Vickerstown and Risedale schools in Barrow, before being appointed as the music adviser for Barrow-in-Furness Education Committee, facilitating numerous musical events in the schools in the Borough, including the biennial Schools’ Music Festivals featuring massed choirs of children from every school, and instrumental ensembles of percussion instruments, many of which were made by Gilbert himself in his garage at home. He arranged the music for the Barrow Pageant in 1967, held for the centenary of the Borough. 

In 1963, in addition to his musical duties, he began a pilot scheme to teach conversational French in Barrow’s primary schools, training teachers and writing teaching schemes. From 1951-1975 he was the conductor of Barrow Working Men’s Club and Institute Male Voice Choir who sang under his baton at the Festival of Britain 1951. He was also at various times the conductor of Fairfield Ladies Choir, Barrow Madrigal Choir and later the Ulverston Bach Choir.  In 1972, when Barrow became part of Cumbria, he became one of the four music advisers for the new county, visiting schools far and wide and conducting the County Youth Orchestra.

In retirement from 1976 he took up cooking, constructed a harpsichord, made music stands, bookcases and lamps for his family, and enjoyed chamber-music sessions with local musicians. After Hilda contracted Parkinson’s disease he became her sole and solicitous carer until her death twelve years later. They were married for 72 years. Continuing his life-long avid reading habit, in his 90s he revisited his Urdu books, continuing this and playing the piano every day till beyond his 100th birthday He was remarkably knowledgeable, with an amazingly retentive memory, still quoting poetry in various languages up to his death in 2017 aged 101. He died in Poynton, Cheshire, leaving four children: Kathleen (b.1947), John (b.1948), Alison (b.1951) and Jenny (b.1958). He was brought home to Furness for his funeral and cremation at Barrow Cemetery.


  • Personal recollection
  • Family information and BMD records
  • University of London degree certificate 1950
  • WW2 army service record
  • Barrow Male Voice Choir website