History: The Beginning 1922-35

The first official mention of the Banstead Musical Society is to be found in the minutes of a General Meeting held in what is now the Infant School in the High Street, and dated September 30, 1922. Banstead was then, in the words of a contemporary writer, "a scattered village with one or two large houses, and some old cottages here and there along the leaf-fringed roads". On the north side of the High Street only an occasional house interrupted a magnificent view over the counties from beyond Windsor Castle to Harrow Church and St. Paul’s; another five years were to elapse before the beginning of the change to Banstead as we know it now.

The founding of a Musical Society was therefore something of an enterprise. But there was sufficient enthusiasm to go ahead: to appoint a conductor in Mr. G. R. Ryder, to plan a concert, and to look around for instrumentalists. Unfortunately the early minutes of the Society are fragmentary and all too scanty; they take it for granted that everyone knows what is happening and leave us trying in vain to read between the lines. A committee minute of November 23, 1922, has a curious reference agreeing "in the event of woodwind instrumentalists not being available locally, to provide conveyance from Sutton as before". It is also agreed, "if not possible to provide a completely new programme, to sing the Sea Shanties again". Clearly some sort of concert must have been given before the minutes begin, and an old Banstead resident whose mother was an early member of the Society has a vague boyhood recollection of an unofficial "trial" concert in which the Sea Shanties were sung. There is also, in the earliest of the account books, a list of subscriptions collected in February, 1922; but no more certain evidence can be traced.

We have, however, the programmes of no fewer than three concerts given in 1923. The first, in January, is given by an "Orchestra and Choir of 70". The leader of the orchestra is Mrs. Peruzzi, A.R.C.M., a Banstead resident who, with her husband, a cellist, is obviously the mainstay of the Society’s orchestral resources. There are three violins, two violas, two cellos and a bass - all of these local people; the woodwind is "by courtesy of Mrs. Langley, Kensington and Chelsea Schools", and consists of two flutes, two clarinets, two oboes ("Musician C. Goddard, R.G.A. and Boy E. Tregonning, Band, K. and C. Schools") and a trumpet. Part I of the programme consists of "Hiawatha’s wedding Feast"; Part II consists of Old French and other traditional carols.

The second concert is held in May, with smaller numbers and a smaller contribution by the choir, though it includes Orlando Gibbons’ "The Cryes of London". The strings take part ,in this, and they also contribute movements from Corelli’s Concerti Grossi. The third concert is on December 20, and except for a performance of Beethoven’s piano quartet in E flat, it consists of carols and part songs, Elizabethan and modern.

Unfortunately, at this point the minutes dwindle almost to nothing. There is a scanty minute of a General Meeting in October, 1923. and an even scantier unsigned minute of a General Meeting in September, 1924, and thereafter nothing until June, 1926 - though we have the programme of a concert given in January, 1925, with strings only in the orchestra. Things are obviously not going well: there is general alarm because the Society is £10 15s. 5d. in debt, and the annual subscription of 5s. (payable in two half-yearly instalments of 2s. 6d.) is not enough to finance the deficit. There is a maddening reference in the minutes to "the concerts", but we know nothing more of them. Meanwhile Mr. Ryder reports that at a meeting of the Leith Hill Competitions Committee Banstead has been elected to the Class I Villages, and in 1927 it is decided to enter for the 1928 competitions.

At this stage the minutes begin to make references to mysterious ladies known as Devonshire Dairymaids. Fortunately we have a programme which explains everything. Driven by its desperate financial position, the Society finds a wealth of creative talent in its midst, and produces an Original Musical Comedy. Mrs. Dorothy Hopkinson, the vicar’s wife, writes the libretto, with additional lyrics by Arthur (later Judge) Thesiger. Mr. Thesiger is also a composer, and the music is written by him and Mr. Ryder. A cast of thirteen is recruited from the Society, and there is a "Twink Chorus" of five wellborn and highly eligible young ladies from the county families in Park Road. Mr. Thesiger, in addition to his other accomplishments, appears on the boards as Farmer Parkins, and Ben, a cowman, is none other than Mr. George Gardner, a founder member of the Society, later to be our chairman and President. Looking at the choice of subject and at the libretto, one detects a feeling of nostalgia for the Banstead meadows which are fast disappearing under rows of villas, and for the slow, old-fashioned ways of life which are going with them.

Be that as it may, "Devonshire Dairymaids" appeared in ~1928 and was an enormous success. The receipts were £145, the profits £46—though half of this went towards clearing off the debt on the Institute. The Society’s accounts soared into affluence. Henceforth, says a minute of May 23, 1928 (rashly), all the time of the Society is to be devoted to the Leith Hill music; what is to happen to the unfortunate orchestra in that event is not clear. As it happens, we hear of another concert, choral and orchestral, on May 10, 1930, but it is so poorly attended that no more concerts are to be given. Meanwhile a minute of January 2, 1930, records the appointment as accompanist of Mr. F. E. Cook, who was to render invaluable service to the Society for thirty-five years.

A strange gap now occurs: the old minute-book dries up abruptly in mid-course, and an entirely new book records the reconstitution of the Society with a new conductor in Mr.

E. J. Barkham. The minutes become fuller and more regular, though no-one seems to hold office for very long; finances pursue an even course seldom much more than two pounds on either side of the solvency line, and an annual donation of three guineas to the funds of Leith Hill, raised by a levy of is. 9d. a head, suggests a membership of about forty. The names of Gardner, Ranger and Warwick float in and out of the records. There are references to participation in the Sutton Festival, then purely competitive, but no clue as to what music was sung, and the standard is soon to be regarded as too low to warrant entry. In short, we have the picture of a small but active village choir, reasonably pleased with itself, going along contentedly, and on the whole smoothly, on its not very ambitious course. In 1930 the Towns Section of Leith Hill choirs is formed, and Banstead takes its place among them. Before 1935 it has won nothing in the competitions except the competition for women’s voices in 1934; Epsom, under the conductorship first of Robin Milford and then of William Cole, has a long period of unbroken supremacy which lasts from 1931, when our detailed records begin, until 1937. But a change is coming.

No comments:

Post a Comment