The Building of St Paul’s Church, Birmingham in the 1770s

The Music Festival

As had happened at St Mary’s, a music festival was held to raise funds for the building of the chapel, but this one was held jointly with the General Hospital and was their second festival, the first having been held in 1768. That first music festival had been suggested to some members of the hospital board as a means of raising funds by James Kempson, who, as choir master and clerk at St Bartholomew’s, had raised funds through musical concerts at St Bartholomew’s for “aged and distressed housekeepers”. Kempson was the chorus master throughout the first festival, which had been a great success. According to Eliezer Edwards, as building work on St Paul’s progressed, Kempson was offered, and accepted, the post of choir master and clerk at St Paul’s and he was requested to start making preparations for a choir. (There is no evidence to be found in the Vestry Minutes for the period that he did become choirmaster and it was to be some years before he became clerk). Kempson knew that the General Hospital had not been completed and so he suggested to St Paul’s that a festival might be arranged with the hospital, and the profits shared. It is recorded that “Accordingly on May 30th, 1778, a deputation from St Paul’s, consisting of Messrs. Jos. Green, Elias Wallace, and Thos. Green, waited on the Hospital Board with the proposal, and on June 6th it was resolved by the Hospital Board that Mr Westley do inform the St Paul’s Committee that the Committee assent to their proposal”. Jos. Green. Elias Wallin (not Wallace), Thos.Green and Westley were all trustees of St Paul’s. The dates for the festival were September 2nd 3rd and 4th 1778 and for each day the pattern was the same, music at St Philips in the morning, a concert at the Theatre in New Street in the evening and a ball each evening at the “Hotel”. There were distinguished vocal and instrumental performers, including the “celebrated WOMEN CHORUS SINGERS from Lancashire”. The gross receipts from the performances amounted to £800 out of which the General Hospital and the building fund of St Paul’s chapel each received £170. The event on the first morning at St Phillip’s was described as a service and included “a sermon to be preached by the Rev. Mr Young”. On September 7th the Gazette reported that the music was performed to “a crowded and respectable Company with universal approbation”, and also that an excellent sermon was preached which pointed out “the necessity of a liberal and public spirited Support of the Objects under Consideration”. This festival was a forerunner to the famous triennial festivals.

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