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History of the Orchestra - Boys with Toys

Boys with Toys

For a page on the history of the Southport Orchestra it may seem an odd title, but as you will see it's quite relevant.

For many years it was believed the Orchestra was founded in 1952, and this may be so for the present orchestra, but until very early one Saturday morning in July 2012 there was a history no-one had known about.

Having recently acquired a new smartphone, and being unable to sleep that Saturday morning, I was busily surfing the internet looking for references about the Southport Orchestra. Thinking I would only find the usual results I persevered and went through more pages. What I found was quite amazing.

Sir Henry Wood

'Sir Henry J Wood conducting the Southport Orchestra circa 1940' was the entry I found on Google. 'Yea right!' I thought. Still, I clicked on it. What appeared was the picture you now see below:

Sir Henry J. Wood - he of the BBC Promenade concerts, surely not? How did he come to be conducting in Southport? Is it Southport England, or a Southport somewhere else in the world.

This started me off on research which has turned up such an enthralling history of an Orchestra in Southport for what is now just over 125 years. Going to the local library to search through microfilm of Southport newspapers has been fascinating.

The story of Sir Henry Wood's visit goes back to 1936. This year was the Southport Orchestral Society's Golden Jubilee year - this therefore has an Orchestra being formed in 1886. Sir Henry was invited to conduct for the Jubilee concert and musicians from the Hall were brought in to augment the orchestra, notably the woodwind and brass sections. Tickets for the concert were allocated through a ballot system to the many 'subscribers' to the orchestra. The concerts were always performed on a Tuesday night, towards the end of November, the Jubilee concert being performed on Tuesday 17 November 1936. In an era of radio, and without television, these opening concerts were a huge success, being sold out. I have found excellent newspaper reviews of the concerts which I will produce here sometime soon.

The President of the Southport Orchestral Society was Alderman CHARLES AVELING OBE, JP and there were 60 vice presidents of the Society!!! 10 people on the executive committee, and 246 subscribers, with 5 people being on the ballot committee!

The concerts were held in Cambridge Hall, now newly renovated and renamed, The Atkinson.

In 1937, Sir Henry returned and agreed to become a Patron of the Orchestra.

The staff at Crosby library (where the archives are kept) have been most co-operative and were able to find the original programmes from 1929 to 1939. Upon examining them once again we are astonished to find in November 1938 Sir Adrian Boult had conducted the opening concert.

I have been surprised at what seems to be every turn of a page or search of the internet that we can find that we didn't know and had been lost about an Orchestra in Southport.

From my internet searches I have also found a reference to Sir Edward Elgar conducting Gerontius in Southport for a music festival in 1906, so we do seem to have some very famous conductors willing to come to the town. Sir Adrian Boult being quoted as saying that the Southport Orchestra was 'one of the best provincial orchestra's in the country'

Only for this 'Boy' with his new 'Toy', all this may not have been found!