Monday, 28 April 2014

Handel's Messiah, Snibston Discovery Museum, Jennens and an international supermarket - part 2!

Last week I mentioned to you that I'd been singing Handel at Snibston, and that I'd visited the wonderful exhibition connected with Handel's librettist, Jennens. This week I want to connect you with something in Loughborough you may have just dismissed as a rather scruffy old building ...

Information board in the Music & Performance display cabinet.

When I visited the Jennens exhibition, I'd expected to see nothing other than a history of his life, and maybe a bit about his connection with Handel, so imagine my surprise and excitement when there was a cabinet devoted to music and performance! So what, I hear you say! Well, there were a couple of things here that really "floated my boat" which I'll tell you about.

There's an international supermarket that I frequent on Sparrow Hill. It's a bit scruffy on the outside, but they sell a good range of pasta, dried beans, herbs and paklava! Before becoming a supermarket, it was an outdoor supplies shop, called "Up the Mountain" where I bought some ski kit for my eldest child when he was going on a Garendon High School skiing trip, quite a few years ago. When I first came to Loughborough I think it was Cunningham's the carpet shop, although I never went in there. Before that I think it was a cycle shop. If we go even further back, it was home to Adkinson and Freckletons auction mart (I don't know what happened to Adkinson, but Freckletons is now on the corner of Leicester Road and Woodgate).

18 months ago, when I was doing my guide training, this building was one that I investigated for my exam, so it holds a special place in my affection, as it helped me pass said exam! I also have memories of excitedly talking about this building on one of my guided walks, whilst it was pouring down with rain, and we were all getting awfully wet, but despite the rain, the group managed to show huge enthusiasm!

On 2nd June, 1823 Loughborough's earliest purpose-built theatre was opened in Sparrow Hill. The owner/manager was one Mr Bennett, who also had theatres in Ashby, Worcester, Coventry, and Wolverhampton. Local subscribers paid £700 for the building and the first plays to be performed were "Speed the plough", a comedy in 5 acts by Thomas Morton (1764-1838), written in 1800 and first performed 8th February 1800, and "The Warlock of the Glen", a melodrama in two acts by C[harles]. E. Walker, probably written around 1800, and certainly performed at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden on Tuesday April 3rd, 1821 and at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal* in April 1825. At the Sparrow Hill theatre, these plays played for about six weeks.

However, the theatre wasn't terribly successful, in its early years. There was somewhat of a revival in the 1830s, and Master B Grossmith**, aged about seven, performed all the characters in three short plays one evening. This was part of a mini revival and led to the installation of gas lighting in the theatre in 1845. However, the success was short-lived, and the theatre closed in about 1848, opening again seven years later, having been converted into a free church, before being remodelled again into a dance hall and music salon.

Only a year later, in 1856, the building changed hands and was managed by The Loyal Sovereign Lodge of Oddfellows. This branch of the Oddfellows was established in 1831, and according to the current District Secretary, they met at the "Odd Fellows Hall" in Sparrow Hill, presumably from those early days. During the next 90 years, the theatre building was used for the odd theatrical performance, to show some of the earliest films, and for dances and dancing lessons, before being sold to Adkinson and Freckleton in 1945.

One of the things that excited me about the Jennens display was that there was a model of the Georgian Theatre in Richmond in the Music and Performance cabinet. This was fascinating because not only had the model been made by students of Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University, where I have worked for the past 27 years), but they'd done this with the help of Richard Leacroft, who has written a number of books on the subject of theatre and cinema nationally, in Leicestershire, and in Loughborough, some joint authored with Helen Leacroft.

So, I expect you've guessed by now that this all has something to do with that international supermarket? And you'd be right! There exists in our little market town, a theatre based on the model of the Georgian Theatre in Richmond, which is hiding under a coat of crumbling white paint, a society's crest and posters of appealing groceries! I have to admit, the new inner relief road has also revealed an interesting view of our former theatre. Although the ground floor was added a very long time ago, and its use, as outlined above, has changed dramatically over the years, there is still apparently, evidence of the theatre in the basement. Now that the relief road has been built the rear of the theatre is quite evident and it looks juts so like the theatre in Richmond that there really is no doubt of its original purpose.

The former Sparrow Hill Theatre, now an international supermarket.

Close-up of the Oddfellows crest and first floor window lintels.

The rear gable of the Sparrow Hill Theatre seen in front of the Post Office exchange
Over the years there have been a number of theatres in Loughborough, but now only the Town Hall (formerly the Corn Exchange) still stands and is used as a theatre.

*A review of the performance appeared in the Edinburgh Review, No. CXXIII, Volume III of Wednesday, April 13, 1825. "Gladly would we give this piece, excellent as it is, the go-be, to relieve ourselves of labour; but as the benefits are approaching, we cannot withhold praise from those to whom it is eminently due; - therefore, we are bound to observe that Pritchard's Warlock, the Andrew Mucklestane of Mackay, and the Sandy of Denham were most meritorious. Lee's Donald and McGregor's Murdoch were both good, and Rae's Ruthven far from amiss."

**Master B Grossmith was actually Benjamin Grossmith (1825-1849?), the younger brother of William Robert Grossmith (1816-1899), and both were uncles to George and Weedon Grossmith, the brothers who wrote the popular "Diary of a nobody", which was published in book form in 1892. Both young Grossmith actors were billed as the "Young Roscius": Quintus Roscius Gallus (died BC 62) was a very successful Roman actor, and the epithet has become a term used for a successful actor. One of the most famous Young Roscius to appear in the late 18th and early 19th century was William Henry West Betty (1791-1874), popularly known as Master Betty. A young actor who followed in the footsteps of the Grossmith brothers was Master Henry Herbert (born 1822), who was particularly influenced by them as his father opened a boarding school in Reading, and since this was where the Grossmiths were born and lived, young Master Herbert was able to see them acting on stage. More recently, Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, has also been described as a Young Rosicus.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Handel's Messiah, Snibston Discovery Museum, Jennens and an international supermarket!

A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to be able to join in a mass sing through of some of the choruses from Handel's Messiah. And what a good sing this was! And what a wonderful venue!
My music score

The organisation, Music For Everyone (formerly Nottingham Choral Trust) offered the chance to local people for them to get together with a handful of proficient musicians and sing selected movements from The Messiah. There were literally hundreds of singers and we were separated into two groups, those with experience of singing, and those new to singing, each group being conducted by a very experienced conductor!

This is one you'll all know!

The enrolment fee was modest, the rehearsals were relatively short and the lunch superb! After about 4 hours of rehearsals, a public performance was given for friends and relatives who'd turned up to listen. This was also a treat for other people to, because the event took place in the wonderful Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville, so visitors who'd come to the museum got an extra delight for their entrance fee!!

Of course, this meant that singers also had a reduced price entrance fee to the museum, and this was particularly relevant, as tucked away in a corner of the museum was a special exhibition about the life and times of Charles Jennens. Jennens, was a Leicestershire man, being brought up in Gopsall Hall, which I believe he had extended during his lifetime. Gopsall Hall was demolished in about 1952, and replaced by Gospall Leisure Park. But, Charles Jennens' memory lives on ... for he was a great friend of Handel, and wrote the words for that great Handel oratorio, The Messiah!

Today, there are a few small remnants of Gopsall Hall to be seen, which include the temple which was believed to have been where Handel wrote the Messiah. However, it seems to have been proved that actually the temple was built after the Messiah had been completed in 1741, and that although Handel frequently visited Jennens, there is little evidence that he actually stayed at Gopsall Hall. The temple, which was built as a homage to Jennens' friend Edward Holdsworth, a Latin poet and classical scholar, was the subject of a restoration in about 2003, and can still be visited today. 

The exhibition at Snibston was fantastic, being a commentary on Georgian life, a depiction of what Georgian entertainment was like, and a summary of the life of Charles Jennens. The relationship between Jennens and Handel also formed a large part of the exhibition.

One of the information boards.

I'm not sure how long this exhibition is on for, but it's well worth a visit. But then, so is Snibston worth a visit, before the museum in its present format is closed for good ... Here's the facebook page for the friends of the museum.

Did I say international supermarket?? Run out of time ... see next week's post for an exciting revelation in Loughborough!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Empire Cinema, WW2 and Sir Malcolm Sargent!

In May 1939, Malcolm Sargent went on tour in Australia, conducting their National Symphony Orchestra. Sargent had been in talks with ABC, an independent Australian broadcasting corporation, and after he’d guest conducted a series of concerts and written a report on the future of Australian music-making, ABC asked him to return on a more permanent basis. He’d only been there about six weeks when Britain declared war on Germany. Ironically, on the day war was announced, he was conducting a performance of Britten’s Belshazzar’s Feast, a choral work about war and conquest. Sargent’s son, Peter was sure that if war hadn’t been declared, Sargent would have taken his whole family to Australia to live. ABC tried to persuade him to stay until the war was over, but the outbreak of war made Sargent think, and his sense of honour meant that he asked to be relieved of his duties so he could return home to Britain. ABC refused his request, and he had to conduct about 16 concerts before he was able to travel home to Britain, and arrived on 27 November 1939.

Apparently, English life hadn’t changed much, despite the fact that the country was at war, and Sargent was able to conduct many one-off concerts. But, by the summer of 1940, war had come a bit closer to home, as Hitler turned his attention to an invasion of Britain, sending bombers over British cities. However, the Royal Air Force was too powerful for the Luftwaffe and the threat of an invasion passed, although the Blitz continued. The areas attacked tended to be near ports, or manufacturing areas.

Just before the outbreak of war, the government had started an initiative (the Council for the Encouragement of Music CEMA), to take the arts to factory workers and to arrange for musical performances that were affordable for ordinary people. A number of Britain’s large orchestras performed such concerts, and were pleased to help boost morale. However, factory workers were not always keen on the classical music on offer to them, so in 1940 there was a need for someone to make classical music more popular.

One of England’s most well-known dance band leaders of the day, Jack Hylton, approached Sargent’s orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, to undertake a 3-month national tour, which would involve performing twice a night in music halls, mostly in big industrial cities in the North and Midlands. His aim was two-fold: To raise public spirits, and to boost the popularity of record companies. In America, some classical musicians had already been taking advantage of the new broadcasting medium and were quite revered, however, this wasn’t yet the case in Britain.

Jack Hylton reassured the manager of LPO that the orchestra wouldn’t have to play with any music hall acts, but that they did need a flamboyant conductor with a sense of entertainment: Malcolm Sargent was the obvious choice, because as well as being an orchestral conductor, he was also interested in lighting and staging, and he had also been broadcasting popular programmes on the BBC. Two weeks after being asked, Malcolm Sargent gave the first of the Blitz Tour concerts, at the Glasgow Empire on 12 August 1940. This concert really was the start of the attempt to take classical music to the masses, and seems to have worked as the Empire was full, the cheap seats having been sold mostly to workers from the dockyard.

The programme Sargent presented that evening comprised some of the more popular classical pieces, and the audience was most appreciative and it is often claimed that these “Blitz Tours” became part of the war effort.    

Ghost sign on the side of today's Odeon in Cattle Market.

Now, I’m hoping I’ve piqued your interest about where all this is going and what this has to do with Loughborough, but I suspect you’ve already guessed that Malcolm Sargent came to the Loughborough Empire cinema and conducted one of his Blitz Tour concerts! Moreover, a friend and I actually found a concert programme from one from of these London Philharmonic Orchestra concerts that Malcolm Sargent conducted!

What a joy! The programme was a simple fold-out A5leaflet, containing programme notes for each of the pieces being performed. As we already know, these concerts were set up with a view to raising spirits in the industrial towns of Britain, and to bring classical music to a new audience. It is wonderful to learn that the concert included Dvorak’s Carneval Overture, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart, Delius’s Walk to the Paradise Garden, and the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 by Grieg which filled the first half of the concert, while the second half was filled with the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in E Minor. Each half would have lasted about 50 minutes.
The front and back of the concert programme

The middle of the concert programme with programme notes
Isn’t this all so exciting? However, in my efforts to find out a bit more about this concert, I trawled through the local newspapers of the day and found an advert for the event.
Loughborough Echo 30 July 1943, p.1. The prices are: 7/6, 5/-, & 2/6
And then, joy of joys, I found a couple of reviews! But wait!! Both reviews report that on the afternoon of the concert Malcolm Sargent was indisposed and never made it, his conducting role being undertaken by Warwick Braithwaite instead! Such a shame, although I do expect that Braithwaite was an excellent conductor too!
Review from the Loughborough Monitor, August 5th, 1943, pg.3
And this it the text of the review from the Loughborough Echo, Friday August 6th, 1943, pg.3: 

London Philharmonic Orchestra
“The London Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Jean Pougnet, gave an excellent programme at The Empire Cinema on Sunday afternoon. Dr. Malcolm Sargent was unable to conduct owing to indisposition and his place was taken by Warwick Braithwaite.*
The programme opened with Dvorak’s “Carneval” Overture, the brilliant, rhythmic character of which was much appreciated by the large audience. A feature of this item was the excellence of the percussion instruments, cymbals, timpani and tambourine, all of which helped to mark the strong rhythm, together with the persistent figure of the cor anglais, which stressed the melody.
Mozart’s Serenade Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, was perhaps the most popular item of the programme. Written for strings only, its effect was soothing and melodious, as Mozart always is.
The intermezzo from “A Village Romeo and Juliet” by Delius employs more instruments than the Mozart number and abounds in fragments of melody that seem to float about with but little decision. The work is characteristic of Delius, and a perfect diminuendo was produced at the end.
“Peer Gynt” Suite No.1 showed Grief to advantage. Once again rhythm was predominant and the ever-popular “In the Hall of the Mountain Kings [sic]”was excellently given. It was noticeable that in one of the pianissimo passages the crowing of a back-yard rooster in the neighbourhood could clearly be heard.
Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony, in E Minor, concluded the programme and showed together with what had gone before, Mr Braithwaite’s complete control of the orchestra, whose light and shade throughout were delightful.”
*Henry Warwick Braithwaite was a conductor from New Zealand who studied at the Royal Academy of Music and spent most of his career in Britain, particularly conducting opera. He played a part in the film “Battle for Music” which documents the plight of the LPO before and during the war.  
Of course, I’m now wondering about the identity of the Echo’s music critic: Who was M.R.? 
The Odeon during its life as the popular Curzon.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Great Central Railway, the Diesel Gala, and an information session on electrification of the mainline!

The leaflet!

To be honest, I had no idea that I was at all interested in trains, and in reality, I don’t think I am, but I was intrigued by a leaflet telling me about a discussion that was planned by the East Midlands branch of Railfuture, the focus of which was the electrification of the Midland Mainline from Bedford to Sheffield, and I hoped to bump into some people I knew, as well as spend some time in a building I was last in when I was doing my tour guide training!

Lovatt House from the rear!

One of the diesel engines at the gala.

The railway landscape has changed over the last 20 years, when stations north of Bedford were in danger of being closed. Now, there has been much improvement and development of the train services in our area, and the latest plan is electrification of the line.  David Horne, Managing Director of East Midlands Trains, spent a couple of hours giving us information on the growth of the service, projects on the go, upgrading and electrification of the network, and other development opportunities, as well as answering numerous questions and concerns, and receiving high praise from a critical audience.

In 1993, at the time of the privatisation of the railways, annual passenger numbers amounted to about 5 million. East Midlands Trains were awarded the second franchise for the area in 2007, and in 2014 passenger numbers had risen to a healthy 14 million, that, despite the economic recession and all the hardships that this brings. Interestingly, the Public Performance Measures (PPM – which shows the percentage of trains that arrive at the destination on time and combines punctuality and reliability figures into one measure) for East Midlands Trains run into the early 90s, making them one of the more high-performing train operators (see also the sub-operator performance link about three-quarters of the way down the page).

Station approach, Loughborough

If you’ve ever travelled to or through Leicester station you will know that this received a very large, successful make-over in 2012 (see the review from the Leicester Victorian Society). And, if you’re reading this on a blog about Loughborough, then you probably know that Loughborough train station had a major programme of improvement works in 2012, with a new footbridge and lift, extensions to the length of the platforms, new car and cycle parks, new ticket machines and various refurbs.

Summer 2013 saw the turn of Nottingham station, although this work was more about signalling improvements, as well as improvements to the entrance and concourse. David explained in more detail about the signalling, and other improvements, but also stressed that the 750,000 rail travellers affected by the temporary closure of the station would not be interested in such technicalities, so EMT embarked on a serious customer care campaign, introducing a life-size mascot, a dance-off, and engaged staff from areas of railway work who would not normally be involved in face-to-face interaction with the public, to guide people to waiting buses. Staggeringly, customer satisfaction was running at about 86% before the works, and 92% during! Other improvements at Nottingham (some still to be completed) included a new multi-storey car park restoration of the glass canopy, repairs to the terracotta frontage, a new cycle hub, the linking of a tram bridge and a new southern concourse. 
Other projects in the area that David drew our attention to were the increase in speed from 100 to 125 miles per hour, although some areas, like around Wellingborough, are still running more slowly due to things like the curvature of the line.  Plans in the pipeline include improvements to the Leicester area, particularly around Wigston (maybe a flyover), some re-signalling work at Derby, and, plans for improvements at Market Harborough are in their infancy, although it was recognised that the platforms are too short and not in line with the height of the trains, no shelter and poor access for the disabled.

David’s description of the electrification of the line was comprehensive, discussing details like work that would be needed on 100 bridges, the use of diversionary lines (used by freight and during times of maintenance), the older electrification systems in use south of Bedford, and what rolling stock would be appropriate to use on the new system. More information on the electrification can be found in East Midlands Route: Summary Route Plan from Network Rail.

As the second speaker was not available, David fielded a wide range of questions from an audience with a wide interest, ranging from someone who was concerned at the possible use of continental-style, heavy locomotives that would most certainly cause unwanted vibrations thereby threatening older buildings, to the question of extra capacity at Nottingham, the need for the national grid to up its game in relation to the increasing need for energy, to a concern that St Pancras station was too cold and the new seats (made out of the Olympic rings that adorned the station entrance in 2012) too exposed, to a suggestion for re-routing of a few lines to include Loughborough, to a consideration of possible HS3 and HS4 routes.

I for one, was glued to my seat for the duration of the presentation and ensuing discussions, and am now looking forward to journeying to Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Market Harborough just so I can witness the improvements and some of the problems at first hand! Maybe I should invest in one of those new Two Together railcards! And was it just me who thought there was a degree of irony in the fact that we were meeting in a building belonging to the Great Central Railway, who that day were having a diesel gala - and there we were talking about electrification!
The Great Central Railway, Loughborough station.