Waters Upton’s first amateur entertainments (Part 1)

Amateur Entertainments.—An entertainment for the benefit of John Preece was given in the Schoolroom on the evening of Wednesday week. As this was the first thing of the kind ever attempted in the locality, considerable interest was manifested in its success, and the room was filled with by a respectable audience. The following programme was given in a satisfactory manner, the Rev. J. T. Halke occupying the chair […]

What a joy to find (in the Wellington Journal, 2 March 1867) details of the first amateur entertainments performed in Waters Upton! And what a joy it must have been for those who witnessed those events too. No doubt songs were sung and tales were told regularly on an informal basis in both of the village inns, and of course entertainments could be attended in Wellington (and possibly in other, larger villages in the district). Never before however had anything quite like this happened in Waters Upton itself.

Behind the joy was a tale of tragedy, and heroism (the full story of which I have written for the Railway Work, Life and Death project). On 29 December 1866 John Preece, a railway porter and gate keeper at Wombridge in Shropshire, had saved the life of a child who strayed onto the railway tracks as a train was approaching. The cost to John was a terrible one – struck by the engine, he was left with injuries so severe that he was taken to the Salop Infirmary in Shrewsbury. There, it was found necessary to amputate John’s right foot and hand, and the whole of his left arm below the shoulder. A subscription was set up “to alleviate the suffering incurred in this act of courage and humanity” (Eddowes’s Shrewsbury Journal, 16 January 1867).

The entertainments at Waters Upton were arranged to contribute to the funds being raised for the gallant Mr Preece and his family (he had a wife and two children). The first was held on Wednesday 20 January and the second, “given for the amusement of the working classes” on the following Friday (Wellington Journal, 2 March 1867).

The man occupying the chair at the entertainments, the Reverend J T Halke, was the subject of my first post to this blog: John Thomas Halke and the Church of Waters Upton. As you will soon see, he also contributed readings to the proceedings (and was clearly one of Charles Dickens’ many fans). Few if any of the other performers were Waters Upton residents, but several lived close by on the eastern side of Ercall Magna parish and others came from further afield.

Rather than simply give you the names of those who played, sang and read, and of the pieces they performed, as listed in the report from the Wellington Journal which I have quoted from above, I am going to try something a little different. Put on your most old-fashioned formal wear and prepare to step back in time, as I attempt to recreate an evening of songs, music, and readings in mid-Victorian rural Shropshire.

Grand march (pianoforte and organ flutina), Miss Humphreys and Mr. Hughes.

Unfortunately we have arrived just after the opening number, but that does mean we can make an unobtrusive entrance during the applause and take our seats at the back. The newspaper report of this evening’s programme tells us that a ‘grand march’ was just played, but there are several ‘grand marches’ so there’s no telling which one this was. I’m not sure who Miss Humphreys is. Mr Hughes on the other hand I believe have read about in the Shropshire papers, appearing at concerts as a member of the Shrewsbury Vocal Union. Have you ever seen a flutina before? It’s a type of accordion. Ah, we’re almost ready for the second item.

Glee, ‘The Village Choristers,’ Mr. Palmer and friends.

I’ve not seen him before, but I’m pretty sure this is Moses Palmer of Redlake, over in Wellington. He’s given quite a few songs and recitations, sometimes accompanied by friends as now, and also by his son and daughter (I read about that in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of 8 January 1864). Would you believe he’s actually a mining agent / engineer? This is a glee for four voices, which should be interesting; here is one version of the words (which I found in a programme for the Wells Harmonic Society’s 1848-9 season) if you’d like to follow along:

Come, Brothers, tune the Lay,
For all who can must sing to-day.
Ye jovial Sons of Song!
Here at Pleasure’s summons throng.
Now pray let all be Harmony,
Beware, beware,
Now pray let all be Harmony,
Take care, take care,
That all who hear may praise the strain,
Again, and yet again.
Tra, la, la, &c.

Now I with PRIMO start,
I’ll take the {SECOND / BASSO} part,
The rest will try their choral art.
Now you, Sir, mind what you’re about,
Keep Time, or else you’ll all be out.
Now pray let all be Harmony,
Take care, take care,
That all who hear may praise the strain,
Again, and yet again.
Tra, la, la, &c.

So far there’s nothing wrong.
For ever live the Soul of Song!
Let all the burthen share,
And Music’s glorious praise declare.
Bravissimo! what Harmony:
Aha! aha!
Sweet Harmony, brave Harmony:
Aha! aha!
It is indeed a noble strain,
We’ll have it yet again.
Tra, la, la, &c.

Song, ‘Let us all speak our minds,’ Miss Shakeshaft.

Now, if I’m not mistaken this is young Charlotte Emma Shakeshaft, daughter of William and Sarah at Cold Hatton, just north of here in Ercall Magna. She doesn’t know it yet but she’s going to marry William Henry Atcherley from the Moortown, a little west of us and also in Ercall Magna. He’s her second cousin on their mothers’ sides (they have shared Icke ancestry) – and also my first cousin four generations removed. So many things we have to keep quiet about when we go back in time! Anyway, for those unfortunate enough not to have travelled back to 1867 with me, here are the words and a rendition of the song on YouTube:

Men tell us ‘tis fit that wives should submit
To their husbands, submissively, weakly,
Tho’ whatever they say their wives should obey,
Unquestioning, stupidly, meekly.
Our husbands would make us their own dictum take
Without ever a wherefore or why for it.
But I don’t and I can’t, and I won’t and I shan’t!
No, I will speak my mind if I die for it.

For we know it’s all fudge to say man’s the best judge
Of what should be, and shouldn’t, and so on,
That woman should bow, nor attempt to say how
She considers that matters should go on.
I never yet gave up myself thus a slave,
However my husband might try for it.
For I can’t and I won’t, and I shan’t and I don’t,
But I will speak my mind if I die for it.

And all ladies I hope who’ve with husbands to cope,
With the rights of the sex will not trifle,
We all, if we choose our tongues but to use,
Can all opposition soon stifle.
Let man if he will then bid us be still,
And silent, a price he’ll pay high for it.
For we won’t and we can’t, and we don’t and we shan’t,
Let us all speak our minds if we die for it.

This song was only published four years ago in 1863. It sound like an early feminist statement, but it might not be all that it appears. It was written by a man (William Brough), is intended as a comedic if not a satirical song, and at least one performer of the piece in the music halls sings it as “Mrs Naggit”. Mark my words though, in time the ladies will turn the tables and adopt this as a suffrage song!

> On to Part 2.

Picture credits.Musical notes: Public domain image from Pixabay. Flutina: Modified from a photo by Wikimedia Commons contributor Bpierreb; used under a Creative Commons licence. Sheet music for Let us all speak our minds: From 8notes.com; used under a Creative Commons licence.

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