Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: Musical institutions

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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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: Musical institutions', Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 590-592. British History Online [accessed 24 June 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: Musical institutions", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 590-592. British History Online, accessed June 24, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Institutions for the Arts & Amusement: Musical institutions", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 590-592. British History Online. Web. 24 June 2024,


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)


  • 1. John Peacock was one of the last members of this corporation band. He was an excellent performer on the Northumberland small-pipes, which instrument he greatly improved by adding a stop and five keys, and also a fourth drone, which enables the player to alter the key. The late Thomas Wright, of Newcastle, a famous clarionet player, published, under Peacock's directions, a collection of tunes adapted for the pipes.
  • 2. Mr. Robert Taylor is considered the best amateur violin player in Newcastle. Mr. John Cockerill is also an excellent performer, particularly of pathetic music, requiring taste, feeling, and delicacy. David Hawks, Esq. (a son of Sir R. S. Hawks), who lost his sight early in infancy, possesses considerable musical genius. Such was his early proficiency under Mr. Thompson, that he performed the service on the organ of Gateshead church when only seven years of age. On January 25, 1824, he opened the new organ in the same church in a very masterly style. His principal compositions are, an overture, not published, containing some very brilliant points, and variations to the "Keel-row."
  • 3. Mr. George Bagnall is the manager and leader of the band. This ingenious young man is entirely selftaught; and, notwithstanding the incompatibility of his employment as a chain-maker, has become an able and scientific performer. His variations to the "Corn Riggs,"—"Hope told a flattering tale,"—"My Lodging is on the cold Ground,"—"There's nae Luck about the House," &c. are favourable specimens of his skill in composition. He has lately become organist to St. John's church, on Gateshead Fell. The bands attached to the numerous military corps embodied during the late war have tended greatly to extend the knowledge of music. At present, there is a band belonging to almost every extensive colliery upon the Tyne and the Wear, all of which are encouraged by the owners on account of the moral influence of music. In Newcastle, it has become, as in other parts, an essential part of education.
  • 4. Thomas Thompson, professor of music, had the honour of presiding at the organ at all these Festivals, the first of which was projected by his father. He was born at Sunderland, in the co. of Durham, in 1777. His father, who excelled in the science of music, was the pupil of James Hesletine, organist of the cathedral, Durham. In 1778, he removed to Newcastle, where his son, Thomas, at the early age of nine years, was initiated into the practice of the violin and French horn under the tuition of his father, and performed on the horn at the theatre and at concerts when only twelve years of age. At this time, he had lessons on the piano-forte from Hawdon, the organist of All Saints, and on the organ and piano-forte from Charles Avison, son of the celebrated Avison. In the beginning of 1793, he was placed under the tuition of Muzio Clementi, and pursued the study of his favourite instrument with such ardour, that he practised on an average ten hours a day. He also received instructions from Frick in thorough-bass and composition. In 1801 and 1803, he had lessons of G. B. Cramer, and has since occasionally visited London, to receive lessons from Ries, Kalkbrenner, and other eminent masters. In 1794, he returned from London, being chosen successor to Hawdon, organist of All Saints; and, in the following year, he succeeded Avison, organist of St. Nicholas. Since the Subscription Concerts ceased, he has performed little in public; but, during their continuance, "the brilliancy of his finger in rapid passages, and the still more striking feeling, expression, and taste displayed in the cantabile parts of the performance, never failed to call forth great and merited applause." His engagements in teaching are extensive, his attendance punctual, and his behaviour kind and conciliatory. Many of his songs and duets are elegant and pleasing; and they are all marked by a simple and flowing melody. He has published two airs with variations; "Cease your Funning," and an original "Thema:" the latter would do credit to any master; but his professional avocations leave him little leisure for attempting the higher walks of composition.— See page 251, and Dict. of Musicians, Henry Monro, professor of music, was born at Lincoln, on October 8, 1777. His father was a musician in that city (see page 333), who, discovering the great delight his son took in music, at a very early age placed him in the cathedral church there as a chorister. After the breaking of his voice, he left the choir, and became a pupil of the late John James Ashley, of Belgrave Place, Pimlico, by whom he was taught the principles of music, and the practice of the piano-forte and organ. He also received lessons from the celebrated Dussek, Dittenhofer, and D. Corri. In 1796, he commenced his musical career in this town, and was, in the same year, appointed organist of St. Andrew's church. He is considered by competent judges as a brilliant pianist, and always played alternately with Thompson at the Subscription Concerts. He introduced the Logerian system of education into Newcastle in 1817. His principal published works are, "A Sonata for the Pianoforte and Violin," dedicated to Miss Bell; "A Rondo," dedicated to Miss Jones; "A Duet for Harp and Piano-forte," dedicated to Misses A. and C. Clarke; "A Sonata," dedicated to Miss G. Clarke; also several pieces with variations, songs, &c. Mr. Monro is uncle to Mrs. Bedford, late Miss Greene, who received instructions from him on the piano-forte, pedal harp, and singing, before she was articled to Bishop, the composer, to qualify her as a public singer. Newcastle is well supplied with able teachers in music and singing. Mr. Richardson, an excellent fluteplayer; Mr. Hemy, a German; Mrs. Garrick and Mrs. Hammond, the well-known vocalists; and several others, give instructions in music. Charles Byrne, professor of music, one of Thompson's pupils, has removed to Edinburgh, but is succeeded as organist in the Catholic chapel by a promising performer, Mr. Miller, jun. This chapel can boast of a good choral company. Psalmody music is improving in Brunswick Chapel, under Mr. Marr, the organist; and, in other churches and chapels, under Mr. Moore, the Messrs. Nixons, and other able singers.