Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.
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The old, merry burgesses of Newcastle maintained, time out of mind, a band of musicians, that waited upon the mayor on gala occasions, played at weddings, and serenaded the inhabitants during winter. They were called the Town's Waits, and were dressed in three-cocked hats and blue cloaks. There is a tradition that they played while Oliver Cromwell dined in the Town's House on the Sandhill. One of the towers upon the town's walls was appropriated to their use; but, amidst some modern, narrow, and gloomy schemes of economy, this company was discharged above 20 years ago. (fn. 1)
When Dr. Brown became vicar of Newcastle in 1761, he zealously co-operated with his friend, the celebrated Charles Avison, in reviving a taste for music in Newcastle. He added a room to the vicarage-house for the accommodation of his musical friends at his Sunday evening concerts, at which the late Mr. Hesleton of Durham, Dr. Rotheram, the late Mrs. Ord of Fenham, the late Ralph Beilby of Newcastle, and many other amateurs, assisted. At this time, a respectable musical club met at Moore's public house in the Close, and which gave rise, about the year 1779, to the Newcastle Subscription Concerts. At the latter, Mr. William Shield, the famous English composer, then a boat-builder at South Shields, presided, where he repeatedly played solo parts of Geminiani's and Giardini's concertos. These Concerts continued, with occasional interruptions, until the year 1813. After this, some gentlemen amateurs (fn. 2) formed a society, which, until lately, held concerts almost every winter. In May, 1824, the Amateur Harmonic Society was commenced, and, from that time to April, 1827, has held thirty-one concerts in the Joiners' Hall. Most of the performers, both vocal and instrumental, are mechanics, and maintain this institution by a subscription of 2s. per month. (fn. 3) The performances, are very respectable, and have certainly contributed to prevent a decline of the musical taste of the town. In November, 1826, the Phil-Harmonic Society was instituted, and began a series of monthly concerts in the Concert-room, Bigg Market. It consists of 100 ordinary members, who pay 4s. each every month, and receive three tickets of admission; and 36 honorary members, or performers, who are each presented with two tickets. Thus, the audience usually consists of about 340 persons, exclusive of performers; and the ladies being all dressed, the whole has a gay and pleasing effect. Mr. Wilmot, of Sunderland, leads the band; and several professional singers assist. The band consists mostly of amateurs, who perform gratis. A Choral Society has also been lately established, which consists of about 50 members, including most of the best vocal and instrumental performers in this place. It is expected that they will perform Sacred Oratorios in public on a grand scale.
In 1796, Messrs. Meredith and Thompson ventured to treat the Newcastle public with a Grand Musical Festival, under the patronage of Prince William of Gloucester. It commenced on Wednesday, July 27, and was continued during the three succeeding days. The Oratorios were performed in St. Nicholas' church in the mornings, and the Concerts in the Assembly-rooms each evening. The elder Cramer was leader of the band. The tickets were £1, 11s. 6d. each; but the conductors of this spirited undertaking lost 120 guineas, besides all their trouble and fatigue. Another Musical Festival was held in 1814, commencing on Tuesday, September 20, and continuing during the three following days. It was under the patronage of a body of stewards; the tickets were £2, 2s. each; and one clear fifth of the receipts, amounting to £400, was given for the benefit of the Infirmary. The church in the morning, and the theatre in the evening, were crowded by a brilliant audience. Mr. Ashley was leader of the band, which was excellent, but rather defective; and Catalani, Hughes, and Braham, were amongst the vocal performers. The last and most splendid Musical Festival commenced on Tuesday, October 5, 1824, and lasted during the three succeeding days. It was under the patronage of a respectable body of stewards, and the management of a committee. One-fifth of the receipts was given to charitable institutions in Newcastle, Durham, and Northumberland. The Chevalier Valabreque, Madame Catalani's husband, took upon himself the risk of the undertaking. St. Nicholas' church was conveniently fitted up for the occasion. A ticket for the three Oratorios was £1, 10s.; and a ticket for the boxes or pit at the theatre was 12s. and for the gallery 6s. The band was very complete; and the vocalists consisted of Catalani, Salmon, Stephens, Hammond, Braham, Bedford, &c. At the close, £769 were divided amongst various public charities. (fn. 4)