The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: RMCM Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive?

The First Manchester Children’s Society Concert, 1916: Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM) Graduates, Children and Keeping Music-Making Alive?

By Dr Stephen Etheridge

Through an examination of the first Manchester Children’s Society Concert, which was held in 1916, this blog will show how the Victorian ethos of ‘Rational Recreation’ still existed, and, as an agency for the continuation of tradition, was highly regarded in Manchester. In other words, on one hand the country was in crisis, but, on the other,  stability and the continuation of tradition by educating children mattered. What was the motivation behind the Manchester Children’s Society Concert and did the ‘Rational Recreation’ ethos influence a lasting legacy?

 An Outline of the Rational Recreation Ethos

In mid-Victorian Britain an increase in working-class leisure led to one notion dominating the dialogue of social reformers.[1] The ethos was ‘Rational Recreation’. Rational recreation in its simplest form matches the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the words. Rational: ‘sensible, sane, moderate, not foolish, absurd or extreme’, together with recreation: ‘the process or means of refreshing or entertaining oneself’.[2] To the reformers’ minds rational recreation was a way of refreshing the worker with moderate, improving and sober pastimes. In the eyes of middle-class reformers workers had a duty to use leisure time responsibly. Recreation was an addition to work that rejuvenated and prepared the worker for the challenges of the workplace. Moreover, the worker had a duty to ensure they were ready to perform at their fullest capacity in the workplace. In 1881 the Reverend Harry Jones argued that recreation was a form of renewal. He said that:

Recreation in its popular sense, as play, must work in the lines of its largest processes, if it is to be really of use. For the purposes of healthy renewal, man’s complex nature demands more than he can get by mere meat and sleep […].It must restore something which is legitimately consumed. It is the right and duty of workers.[3]

Rational recreation consisted of a series of activities that the middle class urged workers to undertake and as a way of engaging with and understanding their new leisure time.[4] Recreational activities were numerous and varied. Behind the rhetoric, which gave consistency to appropriate pastimes, there existed a specific rationale for the encouragement of certain activities and the discouragement of others. Anthony Trollope, for example, graded numerous pastimes according to an assessment of their ‘dignity’. Such classifications were common amongst educated Victorians, suggesting a range of values systems that underscored class-specific descriptions of popular recreation.[5] Reverend Jones, for example, supported pastimes that had been common for autodidactic ‘weaver poets’ in the industrial areas surrounding Manchester.[6] Importantly these pastimes were affordable; they were available for a significant number of the working-class population. He said:

It is well to have some occupation […] of which we are fond. It may be a cheap and humble one; it may seem trifling. Our knowledge of botany, chemistry, geology and other ologies may be very small, but it is astonishing what an interest may be given to even the commonest walk by the knowledge of some of the mere rudiments of science.[7]

Together with these affordable pastimes Jones felt that recreation should ‘make us ready and willing to begin work again, [or] there has been something wrong in its use.[8]


Music as Rational Recreation

Many Victorian social reformers believed that the performance and reception of music could improve the mind, civilise the rough and purify the soul and that these benefits would be useful for the moral improvement of working people. Notably, in the industrial North, this was much needed. Ross McKibbin argues that labour led to tedium and that ‘the inevitable solution to this tedium: the bottle.’[9] In 1846, for example, George Hogarth wrote in his weekly newspaper, the Musical Herald:

The tendency of music is to soften and purify the mind […] the cultivation of musical taste furnishes for the rich a refined and intellectual pursuit […] [and,for the working classes,] a relaxation from toil more attractive than the haunts of intemperance [and in] densely populated manufacturing districts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, music is cultivated among the working classes to an extent unparalleled in any other part of the kingdom […][10]

In 1857, an author in the Dublin Temperance Movement pamphlet, Recreation for the Working Classes on Temperance Principles, wrote that, ‘one of the most important auxiliaries that can be employed, not to only to entertain and delight, but actually to humanize, is music [emphasis in original] – innocent, sublime and sweet music.’[11]

These arguments held currency in the Victorian middle-class home and shows what the middle class thought of music as a rational recreation. Derek B. Scott’s analysis of songs and piano pieces that were performed in the home shows that ‘music for the nineteenth-century middle-class home aligns itself with one of the fundamental “Victorian values” – that of improvement.’[12] Scott examined a range of issues, from what songs and piano pieces were found suitable (their various types and their moral tone), to their role in teaching lessons that improve both mind and spirit. Scott found that the performance of domestic ballads in the middle-class home was not just mere entertainment but was seen as morally elevating and refining.[13]



Hugh Reginald Haweis (1838-1901) Permission: Author’s Own Collection


The Reverend Hugh Reginald Haweis (1838-1901) – of more anon – stands out as what Chris Waters felt was the most ‘elaborate’ example of how many Victorian reformers assumed music could exert a refining influence in society, elevating the soul and paving the way for social harmony.[14] Trevor Herbert suggests that Haweis made ‘bizarre postulations’, most notably in Music and Morals (London, 1871), where Herbert, writes, that Haweis ‘cheerfully proclaimed that certain types of melody could induce virtue […]’[15] Yet Music and Morals was reprinted 21 times between 1871 and 1906.[16] In spite of the elaborate claims made in the book, and in particular Haweis making critical judgments about music-making in England,  Waters argues that it was an ‘important source of inspiration for individuals interested in social reform and was, indeed, widely read in socialist circles.’[17] Montague Blatchford, for example, wrote an article called ‘What is Music?’ for the Clarion, and one correspondent suggested that music was both an expression of – and an important influence on – the emotions and that Blatchford could learn about the relationship if he read Music and Morals.[18] Even though Haweis was seen as one of the more extreme preachers, his views on music as rational recreation reflected the more moderate, but no less enthusiastic, reformers in this period.

 The Manchester Children’s Society Concert

By the mid-nineteenth-century, Simon Gunn argues, classical music had come to occupy a privileged position in the public life of the provincial middle class.[19] Music festivals and concert series became permanent features of cities such as Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds and Liverpool and would soon spread to smaller towns that had a strong middle-class population, such as Bridlington, which held music festivals regularly from 1894 to 1901.[20] For the north it was Manchester where the classical concert became the officially-sanctioned polite entertainment.[21] It is within this environment that the children’s concerts emerged. The key personnel of the first concert were visible and active in professional and amateur music-making in Manchester. The Royal Manchester College of Music played an important part in either training them or influencing their outlook on musical performance. Harold Perkin has shown that professional society since 1880 relied upon examinations and the formation of societies for acceptance and status.[22] Through a framework of training, education and examinations musical culture had a well-defined framework of acceptance within middle-class Manchester’s cultural elite.


The Key Personnel and the First Concert

Henry Baynton-Power

Henry Baynton-Power (1890-?) was a graduate of the RMCM who, in 1909, received the Hallé Memorial Pianoforte Scholarship for first year piano and became a well-known pianist, teacher and occasional composer in Manchester.[23]Baynton-Power organised the first concert in 1916. His rationale for the concerts was commented on by The School Music Review, who reported that:

Baynton-Power [felt that] whist the adult population of the district enjoyed exceptional opportunities for hearing really good music, it was strange that so little provision had been made for the younger generation [he] resolved, with the aid of his friend, to form a Children’s Concerts Society. The object […] is to provide a series of concerts planned upon the simplest possible lines; a leading musical idea to be brought out prominently at each concert by illustrations from the great masters, performed by capable exponents.[24]

At their first meeting the committee agreed they should solicit assistance from orchestras, choirs soloists and other instrumentalists. They agreed that the Lord Mayor of Manchester should be President and that the first winter season should consist of seven fortnightly Saturday concerts held in the Houldsworth Hall.[25]

The first concert was held on November 18, 1916, and the hall was full of schoolchildren from Manchester and Salford. It is notable that adults could attend and support the concerts by subscribing five shillings for a reserved place in each concert.[26]

As with other metropolitan and provincial music festivals held in this period the reliance on high-profile people for support is striking. Key members of civic society and academia were important to these events to give them status.[27]As such these Children’s Concerts were operating in parallel with middle-class cultural values in the city in a period when class, and, moreover, status obtained through that class mattered.[28] The first concert was opened by Sir Henry A. Mires, Vice Chancellor of the Victoria University (now the University of Manchester).

Christopher Rawdon-Briggs (1869-1949)

The introductory talk was given by Christopher Rawdon-Briggs,  a leading violinist in Manchester. His obituary in the Manchester Guardian (21 December, 1948) shows that he was not only an accomplished musician, but also, that he was attached to many liberal and humane causes, the Manchester Guardian wrote:

In 1893 he joined the teaching staff of the Royal Manchester College of Music. Briggs came on the recomendation of Joachim, and continued a successful teaching career there until 1907. In 1893 he joined the Hallé Orchestra and subsequently became the leader of Manchester’s famous body of players. He resigned from the orchestra in 1914 on account of increasing deafness. The Brodsky String Quartet was formed in 1895, with Rawdon-Briggs as second violin, and he was always better known as a member of this quartet than as an orchestral player, and as an exponent of ensemble music generally than as a soloist. For a time he also had his own quartet, of which he was leader, the other members being John Bridge, Jack Holmes, and Walter Hatton. While still in his prime, his deafness caused his withdrawal from teachng and public playing – a personal tragedy and a loss to music.

Rawdon-Briggs, the Manchester Guardian continued, was a cultured man and an able and sensitive musician. As a violinist he was not a briliant solo player and perhaps never had any desire for fame as a “celebrity” in the concert world. He was happy in combining with other performers and in advancing the cause of music by unobtrusive yet valuable work in his profession. His death reduces the now small number of players who were active in Manchester’s great days of music when Hallé, and afterwards Richter, lived and worked here.

Mr. Carl Fuchs writes:- In Christopher Rawdon Briggs I have lost a friend of sterling character. An excellent musician, he was for a number of years leader of the Hallé Orchestra and taught at the Royal Manchester College of Music. For 18 years he was an ideal “second violin” in the quartet led by that great quartet-player Brodsky. He had also formed a quartet of his own [….] My association with him in the Brodsky Quartet is one of my treasured memories not only for his refined nature but for his refreshing sense of humour.

It is reasonable to say that Rawdon-Briggs became financially secure from his early career as from 1868-1908 he sponsored Arthur Stewart, from Preston, a violin student, at the RMCM.[33]

At the concert Rawdon-Briggs asked the children to count four bars and pointed out the difference between duple and march time. He then went on to explain melody as patterns, or themes, that became interwoven with the larger orchestral works.[34]

Walter Mudie

Walter Mudie was the conductor or the Manchester Amateur Orchestral Society Orchestra who performed the orchestral pieces in the first concert. Mudie’s first musical success was in 1894, when he won a book prize for the best male candidate in pianoforte playing at the Liverpool Centre for the Trinity College of Music Examinations (93 marks). (Liverpool Mercury, 22 October, 1894)  He gained a scholarship to Withington Grammar School in 1900.[35] By 1914 he was looking to form the Manchester Amateur Orchestral Society Orchestra. The advert to recruit players informs us that ladies were welcome to apply, and that all players had to pass a test, as Mudie wanted the music performed to be of a high standard.[36]

Mudie was at the end of the long tradition of skilled amateur musicians that emerged in the region that William Millington wrote about in Sketches of Local Musicians and Musical Societies (Pendlebury, 1884). Brass bands and choirs dominated the industrial areas surrounding Manchester but amateur orchestras had a notable presence in the north. In October 1896, for example, the Orchestral Times and Bandsmen, devoted considerable space to the Rothwell Orchestral Society, centred on a pit village in the south-east of Leeds, which included thirteen miners (four violins, viola, cello, double bass, two cornets, two horns, two trombones) and a quarryman (first violin).[37] Elsewhere in the industrial heartlands the formation of orchestras was following the same pattern. The Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestral Society, for example, was formed in 1891, initially from a small group of working-class members that had an ambition to form an ‘orchestral band.’[38] In 1869, Todmorden Harmonic Society and Todmorden Musical Union amalgamated to form the Todmorden Musical Society, and became Todmorden Orchestra in 1915.[39]

Constance Mason

Constance Mason began her musical career as a pianist, but was also a proficient singer. In September, 1906, she passed elementary piano with honours at the Manchester Examination Centre for the London College of Music.[40] She then went on to pass her intermediate piano examination in 1908. In 1913 the local press shows that she was linked with the RMCM as, ‘Constance Mason, of the Royal Manchester College of Music, gave a performance of vocal solos at the reunion of the members of the Association of Educational Societies.’ [41] Reports in the Manchester and Lancashire General Advertiser reveal that she was a soprano singing student at the RMCM, a pupil of Miss Andrews, who graduated with a Performer’s Diploma in April, 1915. At a college concert the paper’s reporter wrote that ‘[Mason] displayed a pleasant soprano voice, though, as yet it is rather studied.’ (11 July, 1914)  From 1915 onwards she was giving regular recitals in Manchester.

Arthur Wilkes

Arthur Wilkes was a chorister (tenor) at Manchester Cathedral and a singing teacher.

The Concert Programme

These local professional and amateur musicians combined to produce the following programme:

Manchester Amateur Orchestral Society (Walter Mudie, Conductor)

Full Fathom Five (Purcell)

I’ll Sail Upon the Dog Star (Purcell)

On the Brow of Richmond Hill (Purcell)

Mr. Arthur Wilkes (Manchester Cathedral)

Andante Di Molto (From Mozart’s Symphony No. 34)

Pianoforte Solos (Arthur Wilkes)

Harmonious Blacksmith (Handel)

‘Pastorle’ and ‘Capriccio’ (Scarlatti)

Mr H. Baynton-Power

My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair (Handel)

When Daisies Pied (Dr. Arne)

The Lass With the Delicate Hair (Michael Arne)

Constance Mason

Toy Symphony (Haydn)

The Manchester Guardian opined that the Children’s Society Concert:

[Was] theirs to make music intelligent. The poetic aspects of music, and to explain music also as not the least wonderful aspect of mathematics [….] Taste cannot in all senses be acquired. As it has its roots in the sensuous and the philosophical nature [….] It is vitiated when it is taught with a moral bias. To the child music is rarely a passion; to the man it is that or nothing [….][42]

More Morality and Music

This commentary was high-Victorian rhetoric for music as ‘Rational Recreation’. In particular it reflected the views of the aforementioned Reverend Hugh Reginald Haweis, who wrote Music and Morals. Music was a moral guide and compass. Haweis lectured that music imitated sounds and sights in the natural world. He argued that music was everywhere in the natural world, writing:

The wailing of the wind at night, the hum of insect life, the nightingale’s note, the scream of the eagle, the cries of animals, and, above all, the natural inflections of the human voice – such are the rough elements of music, multitudinous, incoherent and formless. Earth, and sea, are full of these inarticulate voices; sound floats upward from populous cities to the cloudland […]. Alone by the sea we may listen and hear a distinct and different tone each time the swelling wavelet breaks crisply at our feet; and when the wind, with fitful and angry howl drives inland the foam of the breakers, the shriek of the retiring surge upon the shingles will often run through several descending semitones.[43]

Haweis argued that even though music was not as ancient an art as painting or sculpture it was still valid in expressing human emotions.[44] For Haweis music was pure, linked with nature. It only became tainted with the intervention of external personalities. Music became evil, or impure, when the intentions – or emotions – of the composer, or performer, were impure:

When music becomes a mixed art – that is to say, when it is wedded to words, and associated with definite ideas – when it is made the accompaniment of scenes, which in themselves are calculated to work powerfully for good, or evil upon the emotions – then it is easy to see how music is a moral or an immoral agent.[45]

Haweis felt that the production of sound was at the root of human emotions, the timbre, speed, variety and intensity of sound could influence how a person felt.[46] By 1887 this notion was repeated in regional music journals. In the north the Yorkshire Musician reinforced Haweis’s message:

Music can neither be satirical, witty, nor personal, hence she is innocent as a companion. She is therefore, pure, holy and harmless to all her votaries, and convincingly a universal factor of unselfish love […]. Music can only form an adjunct to debauchery when wedded to words […]. An instrument, which is really music, cannot express a vicious idea, or inspire a corrupt thought.[47]

 The Concert: Sustaining the Future of Music?

The high-Victorian mindset of music and morality was close to the surface in these concerts, yet something else is inferred. These concerts began in November 1916, during and close to the end of the Battle of the Somme. The battle is well documented elsewhere. Ubiquitous death meant a higher premium was placed on life, especially new life. From 1915 babies and children were the chief beneficiaries of this wartime feeling. They came to be seen as a generation of hope that would replace the shattered and demoralised.[48] The ‘cult of the child’ inspired various campaigns that encouraged ‘motherhood and the sustainability of the future.’ Whilst this is a contentious issue, in terms of birth control, morality, affordability and overtones of Empire and race, it could be possible that the concert organisers had sustaining music in mind when thinking of educating the next future generation.

The main theme that emerged from the concert was that musical tradition mattered. In the opinion of the Manchester Guardian these high-class musicians were in a position to give children a quality of music education that the school teacher could not.   For these performers this quality was rooted in the tradition of the academy and the middle class. Examinations and standards were important markers of this tradition. These beliefs had their roots in the notion that music was an improving ‘Rational Recreation.’ The very nature of these performers was that music education would be – in their view – a top-down experience. They, in other words, would always be the educators. This was at the heart of the rational recreation ethos.  Music could make you respectable, part of the local cultural elite. This mattered enough to make a concerted effort to educate Manchester’s children in musical style.

Notes and References:

[1] For an outline of the development of leisure time, through factory acts and industrial action see, Hugh Cunningham, Leisure in the Industrial Revolution (London, 1980)

[2] See R. E. Allen (Ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Oxford, 1964, this edition, 1990).

[3] Reverend Harry Jones, ‘Recreation’, Good Words, 22 (December 1881), pp, 42-43.

[4] Chris Waters, British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture 1884-1914 (Manchester, 1990), p. 23.

[5] See Bruce Hayley The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture (Cambridge, 1978), pp. 124-125, cited in Waters, British Socialists, p. 24.

[6] See the oft cited descriptions of ‘weaver poets’  in , E .P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963, this edition 1980), pp. 297-298, also see, J. Marshall Mather, Rambles around Rossendale (Darwen, 1844, this edition, 1850) and, for musical heritage in the industrial regions, see, Roger Elbourne, Music and Tradition in Early Industrial Lancashire (Woodbridge, 1980)

[7] Jones, ‘Recreation’, p. 45.

[8] Jones, ‘Recreation’, p. 46.

[9] Ross McKibbin, ‘Work and Hobbies in Britain, 1880-1950’, from, Ross McKibbin, The Ideologies of Class, Social Relations in Britain 1880-1950 (Oxford, 1990), p.140.

[10] Musical Herald (4 July, 1846), p. 24. This article contains materials from Hogarth’s Musical History: Biography and Criticism (London, 1835).Cited in Trevor Herbert, ‘Nineteenth-Century Bands: Making a Movement’ in Trevor Herbert (Ed.), The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford, 2000), p. 32.

[11] Anon, Recreation for the Working Classes on Temperance Principles (Dublin, 1857), p. 6.

[12] Derek B. Scott, ‘Music, Morality and Rational Amusement at the Victorian Middle-Class Soirée’ in, Bennett Zon (Ed.), Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Music and Performance Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Temperley (Farnham, 2012), p. 83.

[13] Scott, ‘Music, Morality and Rational Amusement at the Victorian Middle-Class Soirée’, p. 83.

[14] Waters, British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, 1884-1914, p. 98.

[15] Herbert, ‘Nineteenth-Century Bands: Making a Movement’, p.32.

[16] Herbert, ‘Nineteenth-Century Bands: Making a Movement’, p.32.

[17] Waters, British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, p. 98.

[18] Carpenter Papers, MSS 14;Clarion (20 November, 1903), p. 8.Cited in, Waters, British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, p. 98.

[19] Simon Gunn, ‘The Sublime and the Vulgar: the Hallé Concerts and the Constitution of “High Culture” in Manchester c.1850-1880’, Journal of Victorian Culture, Vol 2, Issue 2 (1997) p. 208.

[20] See Catherine Dale, ‘The Provincial Musical Festival in Nineteenth-Century England: A Case Study of Bridlington’, in, Rachel Cowgill and Peter Holman (Eds.), Music in the British Provinces, 1690-1914 (Aldershot, 2007), p. 331.

[21] Gunn, ‘The Sublime and the Vulgar’, p. 208

[22] See, Harold Perkin, The Rise of Professional Society in England Since 1880 (Abingdon,1989)

[23] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (1 December, 1909)

[24] The School Music Review: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools, 25/295 (December, 1916), p. 112.

[25] The School Music Review, p. 112.

[26] The School Music Review, p. 112.

[27] See, for example, the commentary in the press and other local journals about the Leeds Music Festival.

[28] See, Harold Perkins, The Rise of Professional Society

[29] Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (6 September, 1895)

[30] The Yorkshire Herald and The York Herald (11 November, 1899) and The Leeds Mercury (30 October, 1900)

[31] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (8 February, 1902)

[32] See, the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (16 February, 1907, and 13 February, 1913)

[33] Register of Honour Roll Students, Royal Northern College of Music Archives

[34] The School Music Review, p. 112.

[35] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (6 July, 1900)

[36] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (8 May, 1914)

[37] Dave Russell, Popular Music in England 1840-1914: A Social History (Manchester, 1987, this edition 1991) p. 197.

[38] A. Smith, An Improbable Centenary: The Life and Times of The Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra, 1891-1900 , pp. 1-2.

[39]Todmorden Orchestra <>

[40] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser ( 1 September, 1906)

[41] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser ( 1 December, 1913)

[42] Manchester Guardian (17 November, 1916)

[43] Hugh Reginald Haweis, Music and Morals, (London, 1871, this edition, 1917), pp .4-5.

[44] Haweis, Music and Morals, pp. 9-10.

[45] Haweis, Music and Morals, pp. 46-47.

[46] Haweis, Music and Morals, pp. 18-21.

[47] Yorkshire Musician (1 January, 1887), p. 81.

[48] Gerard J. DeGroot, Blighty: British Society in the Era of the Great War (Harlow, 1996),p. 214.

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