Inauguration of the Society

The Report of Public Meeting to inaugurate a Tonbridge Philharmonic or Choral Society, held on Friday 7th June 1946 at 8 o’clock pm. Thus opens the first entry in a large dark book, cloth-bound and with leather corners. The endpapers are marbelled and there is an annotation 20/2 in pencil. Was that the price? If so, the first investment the Society made would have been worth more than £25.00 today.

The first few pages have tabs and letters, like an address book, and then there are two blank pages before the minutes start, written in ink in a flowing hand, probably by Mrs AR Hurst, the very first Hon Secretary.

There is little to indicate what prompted this first meeting, except that it must have been only one of many movements to enliven the drabness of the immediate post-war period. Some of the 5 million serving personnel were still to undergo demobilisation (it took 18 months from June 1945). The 18,000 people then living in Tonbridge had understood almost as much as Londoners what it meant to be at war. Tank traps and barbed wire had been installed in the High Street and defensive ‘pillboxes’ were installed along the banks of the River Medway. As 620 trains ferried over 300,000 troops away from the chaos of Dunkirk, local people turned out to provide food and drink from their own limited supplies. On 16th December 1942 bombs aimed at the station destroyed homes in Albert Road and Chichester Road. Three people died and around thirty were injured.

Notables of the town present at this inaugural event included the Vicar of Tonbridge, the Rev Russell White, who presided over the proceedings, together with the Headmaster of Tonbridge School. The purpose of the meeting was declared to be to build into a strong virile fellowship all who valued the practise and performance of great Choral Works as well as other musical activities. The Vicar stressed the hope that any action decided upon that evening would not militate against any choral society existing in Tonbridge, but rather that it might

help to strengthen their interests. The motion that a society be formed was then put to the meeting and carried unanimously.

After some considerable discussion it was agreed that the society be called ‘The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’, and the meeting elected a committee to carry this intention forward. It was agreed that the first annual meeting should take place on October 4th 1946. A discussion regarding the most suitable day for rehearsals concluded that they would gather at 8 o’clock pm prompt and should last one and a half hours. The Parish Church was placed at the disposal of the members for rehearsals, with the first to take place on Friday 14th June 1946. Some eighty people signified their intention to become members of the society. Starting as they meant to go on, the meeting concluded with the singing of certain choruses of Handel’s Messiah, conducted by Dr AW Bunney DMus, organist of Tonbridge School, and accompanied by Mr EM Dent. It had been proposed that the first work to be presented would be rendered in Holy Week 1947.

The large committee, thirteen people, met for the first time in the Parish Church Vestry on 28th June 1946. The first matter under consideration was the proposed set of rules. It is not recorded which was the more contentious, but there were some changes made, and the final rules were set out as follows:

  1. The name of the Society shall be ‘The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’ and its object shall be the practise and performance of great Choral Works and other musical activities
  2. The Officers of the Society shall consist of the President, Vice President, Hon Musical Directors, Hon Secretary, Asst Hon Secretary, and Hon Treasurer
  3. The management of the Society’s affairs shall be in the hands of the Officers

and a Committee of four members (one from each vocal part) with power to co-opt not more then two additional members. In the event of emergency any three of the Officers shall have the power to act

  1. The Officers and Committee shall be elected annually
  2. The subscription of vocal members shall be ten shillings per annum
  3. The subscription of subscribing members shall be not less than five shillings per annum
  4. New members shall be required to sign a form of application, and to give an undertaking to attend rehearsals as regularly as possible and to advise the Hon Secretary of their resignation should it become necessary
  5. An attendance register shall be kept by the Committee Member for each vocal part
  6. The final decision regarding the choice of music shall be in the hands of the Committee
  7. The Society does not undertake to provide music at less than the retail price
  8. The funds of the Society shall be deposited at National Provincial Bank, Tonbridge Branch, in the name of the Society and the Hon Treasurer and Hon Secretary for the time being are authorised jointly to sign and endorse cheques
  9. The Annual Meeting shall be held on the last Friday in June of each year
  10. Any other matter not provided for in the rules shall be dealt with by the Committee

Quite a set of rules! The structure has not changed so much in the intervening years, except that the orchestral players have now swelled the ranks of members. And when the average income was £416, the subscription of ten shillings was actually a smaller percentage (0.12%) than the current subscription of £150 against the current average income, which is 0.35%.

The first meeting also decided that the choice of soloists for the forthcoming performance of Messiah should be left with the Musical Directors, and agreed that they should obtain the services of two really well-known and two lesser known singers, at a total cost not to exceed forty guineas. This budget of £1600 might be considered as less than generous by today’s Musical Director, but they managed to secure the services of Miss Dorothy Bond, a coloratura soprano who became a favourite of Sir Thomas Beecham, before her untimely end in a road accident at the age of 31. She was to be joined by the tenor Mr Thomas Soames, who found fame as an interpreter of Peter Warlock’s music, with a highly-regarded recording of The Curlew to his name. We can only assume that the other two, Miss Bodey and Mr Tate, fell under the category of ‘lesser-known’.

The Secretary was instructed to accept the invitation of the Tonbridge Council of Social Service that the Society should join them, and then agreed that he should represent them on their General Committee.

The issue of finances was already a hot topic and it was suggested that, after the Messiah, they should concentrate on a Festival Evensong, for Ascension Day 1947 – which could be undertaken without engaging soloists.

The first AGM took place, on 4th October in the Parish Church Hall, with 75 members present, at which the Musical Director’s report was received with acclamation. The Treasurer was happy to announce that £50/10/- had been received and expenditure had been £9/1/10, so that there was £41/8/2 in the bank. A great state of affairs.

Things were not quite so rosy as regarded attendance at rehearsals, with average absentees amounting to 30% – although this might have been influenced by the holiday period.

There was a unanimous acceptance of the Rules, and an enthusiastic discussion on future programming.