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Now in it’s 60th year

Concert History

York’s very first Community Carol Concert was held in the Tempest Anderson Hall on Sunday 14 December 1958.

An attendance of 500 people listened to York Railway Institute Band, St Helen’s Church Choir and Gwen Hall, a contralto soloist, but joined in the community singing of ten popular Carols, conducted by Roydon Knights and introduced by Canon Noel Porter. Admittance had been by “attractively-designed Carol song sheets” priced at 1/-. The profit of £24 6s was equally divided between the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of York’s Christmas Cheer Fund and the Evening Press Toy Fund

It had been the brain-child of 39 year old Fred Bradbury, a foundry worker, whose life’s passion had been brass bands and at that time played tenor horn for the York Railway Institute Band. He sought the assistance of good friend and conductor of the “Institute” Laurie Bruce along with Derwent Secondary Modern School Music Master Roydon Knights. They were commissioned to put together a recipe for a Carol concert, NOT service to bring people of all denominations together under one roof.

The following year using the same format and ingredients another sell-out concert was hugely successful. A profit of £28 12s resulted in the same two charities receiving their half shares.

It was quite apparent that the Tempest Anderson Hall was not big enough to accommodate the potential amount of people that could attend. So in 1960 a move was made to the SS Empire, at that time one of York’s largest public halls. The date was always fixed so as not to interfere with Carol services taking place in various chapels and churches in the area.

This turned out to be a master stroke. The huge staging area – also used for roller-skating and wrestling - meant that more performers could be housed on stage.

Consequently, 1961 saw the first major change to the as yet unaltered programme in four years. A school choir was to be invited to participate. But sadly, disaster struck, Roydon Knights died after a long illness. As a tribute to Roydon, it was quite appropriate that, Derwent Secondary Modern School be requested to become the first ever school choir to take part in the now named “Annual Community Carol Concert”.

Other changes now became necessary with St Lawrence Church Choir replacing St Helen’s and Archie Sargent taking up the baton for the community singing, along with another addition of St Chad’s Grey Scout Group providing the stewards

1962 saw the introduction of a small committee, former Lord Mayor of York Ald. A Kirk became the first ever chairman, Fred Bradbury continuing as the honorary organiser and the late Roydon Knights’ wife, Noel, became the honorary treasurer.

The SS Empire became the regular home of the concert for ten events. Different school choirs and church choirs from all areas of York were now being invited to perform in front of more than 1000 people. Schools represented over this period included: Burton Stone (Girls), St John’s (Boys), Ashfield. Lowfield, Burnholme, The Mount, Bootham, Mill Mount, Knavesmire and Queen Anne. Church choirs were St. Edward the Confessor, St George’s Garrison, St Philip and St James, St Paul’s, St Chads, St Thomas with St Maurice, St Andrew’s and Holy Trinity.

Because of the massive stage available further adult ensembles got the chance to perform, these included: Wesley Choral Society, St Laurence Male Voice Choir, York Old Priory, Clifton Methodist Messiah Chorus, York Youth Operatic and Choral Society.

The 5th Annual Community Carol Concert saw the introduction of a name that was to become synonymous with the event in years to come. Conducting the Community Carols was the music master of Tadcaster Grammar School, conductor of the York Youth and Operatic Society and the organist and choirmaster at Wesley Chapel – John Warburton!!

1969 saw the twelfth, and what was to be the last, concert at the Empire for some time. The programme notes paid tribute to York Hospital Broadcasting Network (Ebor Tape Club) who had taped all the concerts and relayed them back to the York hospitals, a service which was very much appreciated. The notes also mentioned that after 12 years we had reluctantly had to increase the admission charge from 1/- to 1/6d due to rising costs!

A new venue had to be found in 1970 due to the Empire theatre being put up for sale. Not an easy task because of York’s obvious lack of large halls - a problem that would occupy a lot of Fred Bradbury’s time in the years to come! Mecca Ltd were approached for use of the Rialto, a bingo hall that for years had indeed been used for concerts given by world class artists and orchestras until the bingo boom.

Fortunately, as gambling laws did not permit bingo halls to open on a Sunday, the request for use of the Rialto was accepted. With an admission charge of 2/- and a silver collection, something that had been continued since 1958.

Fred Bradbury’s enthusiasm for music and organising came to the fore again in 1971 for a very special reason. The City of York celebrated its 1900th anniversary and with a year of celebrations around our city – what better way than with a mass choir of mixed voices. Fred teamed up with John Warburton and formed the York Celebrations Choir which gained international acclaim. Of course they were an obvious choice to appear in the 14th Carol Concert, the programme notes read: One of the finest things to come out of the 1900th Celebrations is the huge mixed voice choir which has had a most phenomenal year since its first concert in York Minster in November 1971. Almost everyone must have seen or heard the Choir singing on the radio, television or on the LP record which has been made. Here is another occasion for you to hear this fine choir and to join them in the singing of Carols under the baton of its chorus master, John Warburton.

Our first “novelty” item seemingly appeared the same year, an electronic organ played by Stan Seeds, he proved so popular it stayed in the programme for the next eight years.

Sadly co-founder Laurie Bruce passed away on New Year’s Eve and during 1972, Chairman Ald Archibald Kirk decided to step down as he felt the time was right to do so and nominated Councillor Joe Coleclough as his successor.

School choirs to appear at the Rialto included: Manor, Mill Mount and Canon Lee with Holy Trinity, St Stephen’s, St Clement’s and St Lawrence’s Church Choirs.

After 16 successive performances, York Railway Institute Band made way for someone else. Indeed for the 1974 concert apart from Stan Seeds on the organ the whole of the programme was taken over by the York Citadel Corps of the Salvation Army including their timbrel group and of course the York Citadel Band.

When new bingo equipment was installed on the stage at the Rialto in 1975 another problem confronted the organisers, can the Carol Concert carry on? Where could an expected 1000 plus people be seated? York does not have such a hall, so there remained only – one of York’s large Chapels.

Wesley Chapel in Priory Street was to be the venue, the first time the event had taken place in a house of God. One thousand people filled the chapel listening to a concert of “firsts”: Brian Elliott (Bass), Wesley Chapel Choir, St Thomas Church Choir, Scarcroft Junior School became the youngest school to appear and it was fitting that the Minister at Wesley, Sister Mavis Platter, became the first lady to act as Mistress of Ceremonies. Stan Seeds reappeared with his electronic organ and the community singing was led by – John Warburton. Because a lack of stage space did not allow, a brass band was not used and the carols were accompanied again by Stan Seeds on the organ

The following year circumstances had changed again with the Empire reopening. This was to allow the concert to continue for a further nine years.

1976 saw Rowntree Mackintosh Works Band make their debut as a brass band returned and the following year to mark the 20th annual concert York Schools Brass Band along with York Youth Operatic and Choral Society and Fishergate Junior Singers gave a strong element of youth to the programme – something that has continued in future years.

The Community Carol Concert was now a firmly established fixture in the City of York calendar, regularly playing to sell-out audiences. It was also becoming a tough job to organise, so a small organising committee was formed which consisted of Chairman Joe Coleclough, treasurer: Noel Bellemy (formerly Knights), her husband Geoff Bellemy, Norah Bradbury (Fred’s wife) and Joan Sadler and of course the organising secretary Fred Bradbury.

Over the next 4 years we saw further new schools and groups introduced including the Guitar Group from Queen Anne’s Music Centre, Huntington Ladies Choir, Manor Secondary School Band and St Barnabas School Choir. Elected onto the committee during 1981 was Roydon Knights’ daughter, Patricia Gibson

To celebrate our Silver Anniversary St Helen’s Church Choir and York Railway Institute Band were invited to participate as they had done in the very first concert back in 1958. They were accompanied by Kingsway Junior School along with both York Youth Operatic & Choral Society and York Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society, organist was Derek Brayshaw, MC was the Rev Dr A Brown Lawson and the conductor for the community Carols was none other than – John Warburton. Grateful thanks were made in the programme to St Chad’s Grey Scout Troup who had continued to provide stewarding and to York Hospital Broadcasting for their sterling work in providing transmission of the concert to York Hospitals for so many years.

An increase in admission charge to 50p was introduced in 1983 but children accompanied by an adult were admitted free and this would remain the same until 1990.

The closure of York Empire in 1985 marked the end of an era. It meant yet another venue had to be found. Once more the lack of a concert hall to accommodate over 1000 people proved to be a stumbling block.

Derek Brayshaw, who had appeared regularly over the last few years, was also organist at Central Methodist Church approached the Minister, Rev David Gamble for permission to use his chapel. This request was granted and for the second time the Carol Concert would be staged in a House of God.

More schools and groups would continue to provide musical entertainment for the hundreds of people still attending the concerts each year. Fulford School, Christi Singers, Acomb Primary School, St Thomas with St Maurice, York Music Centre Junior Concert Band, Oaklands School, Tang Hall Junior School, York Old Priory Ladies Choir, Minster School, and Pocklington Methodist Church were all represented during our time at Central Methodist.

One person making his mark over the next few years was Rev David Mullins who had taken over from Rev David Gamble as Minister at Central Methodist. He made his first appearance in 1987 making the introductions and entertaining with his guitar playing. We also welcomed a new Chairman, Councillor Cyril Waite a man who for many years had given much to the civic life of the City of York.

Two new committee members were brought in during 1990 Judith Pinder, who was the Lord Mayor of York’s secretary and Sue Mitchell who worked at the Yorkshire Evening Press. They were also representing the two major charities that had been supported since 1958, The Lord Mayor & Sheriff of York’s Christmas Cheer Fund and the newly named Yorkshire Evening Press Community Appeal.

But it was activities occurring less than a mile away from Fred Bradbury’s Hull Road home that were occupying his mind. Work had begun on the structure of a new concert hall near Walmgate Bar – The Barbican!

After 33 years York’s Annual Community Carol Concert moved into York’s newest venue – on 8 December 1991 over 1000 people crowded into The Barbican to celebrate Christmas. With a larger stage area available more musical groups could be accommodated. St Helen’s Church Choir, Kingsway Junior School, The Poppleton Singers, York Youth Opertatic & Choral Society, York Citadel Salvation Army Band & Timbrel Group,Pauline Chadwick (Soprano) with John Warburton conducting and Rev David Mullins acting as master of ceremonies all participated in a hugely successful concert.

Local artist and graphic designer Peter Turpin had been commissioned to design a new corporate identity for the Carol Concert and to coincide with the move to the Barbican the “Snowman” poster became easily identifiable with our concert.

At the next organising committee meeting it was announced that all future Carol Concerts would be held at the York Barbican.

Fred Bradbury’s notes for the 1993 programme read “After the amazing outcome of the 1992 Community Carol Concert which saw each of the two charitable causes receive cheques for £1000, we have been wondering what will the result of the 1993 concert, and as these notes are being prepared, the indications are that York Barbican Centre will have another capacity audience. The coming of the Barbican to York has certainly been the right thing for this event”.

So two milestones had been achieved, the first time a £1000 had been donated and “full-houses” (1450) at the 1992 and 1993 concerts.

These were to be Fred Bradbury’s last annotations as in April 1994, Fred sadly passed away. But his achievements had been magnificent. From the first concert in 1958 with an attendance of 400 he had organised 36 Carol Concerts quadrupling the audience and generating £1000’s to be distributed amongst local charities. But more importantly, York’s Annual Community Carol Concert was now firmly established as a major event in York’s Civic and Community calendar.

John Warburton as musical director had to move quickly and close friend, Janet High, was approached to become organising secretary. Noel Bellamy decided that she felt that without Fred’s guidance it was time for her to stand down too as Treasurer. Noel felt that it was important that a Bradbury should still be involved and she asked Fred’s son, Graham, to replace her to look after the accounts.

Graham Bradbury, a partner in a local typesetting company, Typewise, had been involved since 1983 with the assistance in compiling the programme and advertising literature, his contacts within the print industry and more importantly North Wolds Printers, had proved invaluable. Both Typewise and North Wolds Printers had sponsored all printing requirements for the last 12 years, a very generous gesture.

The organsing committee was taking a whole new shape with the addition of two new members, Graham Kay, a solicitor and well-known baritone soloist along with Ken Humphreys a retired school-teacher and well-respected local musician. Noel Bellamy stayed on as a committee member. Probably a fitting acknowledgement to the amount of work that Fred had done he was being replaced by four people!!

The 1994 concert went ahead with Joanne Warburton singing a special “Tribute to Fred”, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory”.

More sad news the following year when it was learn’t our resident MC Rev David Mullins was moving on to pastures new. David had been an integral part of the Carol Concert since 1987.

Father Hugh Curristan filled in for one year in 1995 as host, with an unusual novelty group, Copmanthorpe Mandolin Ensemble, it was also the last time that York Celebrations Choir would perform. The Celebrations Choir had been originally formed in 1971 by Fred Bradbury along with John Warburton to celebrate the city of York’s 1900 celebrations. The group of choristers had enjoyed an enormous amount of worldwide success in the 70’s until it’s demise in the early 1980s. John Warburton reunited around 50 former members to take part in a “Musical Times of Fred Bradbury” tribute and he felt it was the correct way to go out with their final performance.

1996 saw Radio York record the Carol Concert to be broadcast to their listeners over the Christmas period. Rev Andrew Foster made his debut as our Master of Ceremonies adding a new dimension of “magic tricks” to keep everyone entertained.

The 40th Anniversary in 1997 was to be a big celebration. It had been hoped to have St Helen’s Church Choir appear as they did in the very first concert but sadly they folded only weeks before and St Edward the Confessor Church Choir stood in at the last moment. York Railway Institute Band returned after a long gap, with Ian Bruce and Percy Dinsdale performing in the band as they had done in 1958. Also singing with the York Old Priory Choir was Gwen Rennison (nee Hall) who had been our regular soloist for the first six Carol Concerts.

An after concert reception was held when the cheques for £1000 were presented to the Lord Mayor of York and Liz Page, Editor of the Evening Press and a celebratory cake was commissioned to mark this momentous milestone.

Since the move to the Barbican, local businesses had also got more involved. Deans Garden Centre and more latterly Boretree Nurseries supplied a Christmas Tree each year, Nestle donated chocolate bars for the children along with Persimmon plc, Barclays, The Abbey and HSBC making financial donations.

Other local charities were benefitting too from the increased revenue, St Leonard’s Hospice, Salvation Army, MS (York), , York Hospital Radio and the Resource Centre for Deafened People all received substantial contributions

Everything moved along nicely for the next few years, the concert comfortably gaining capacity audiences, being entertained by more local musicians. Flautists, accordion groups, bellringers and steel bands were used along with more, schools and church choirs from York and the greater York areas.

Committee changes had occurred in 1998 with resignations of Sue Mitchell, Judith Pinder, Pat Gibson, Geoff Bellamy and long serving Noel Bellamy. Noel Had been involved since the very early days but felt it was the right time to retire.

Graham Kay resigned in 2000 and sadly the following year Norah Bradbury died leaving the committee very depleated.

In 2001 a problem arose that was to be a thorn in the side of the organisation of the Carol Concert for the next decade.

The UK Snooker Championships had chosen the Barbican to host their highly prized competition at The Barbican, unfortunately their dates coincided with our traditional second Sunday in December. The City of York Council, realising the problem and not wishing to decline a prestigious televised event, offered us the Barbican, free of charge, but for the last Sunday in November.

Our hands were tied - but financially it was beneficial for us to accede to the council’s request.

The concert went ahead with a mildly reduced attendance, but it was noted comments had been made to say November was too early to be celebrating Christmas.

The following year, 2002, we had the same problem but this time we had to pay running costs at the Barbican.

Fortunately in 2003 UK snooker altered their dates and we were able to return at least to a Sunday in December, but more uncertainty was surrounding the future of the Barbican.

We were fortunate to add the services on the committee of Councillor David Horton in 2003 but the following year Janet High stood down as Secretary after 10 years in the role that had developed into a massive organisational operation. Graham Bradbury took on the joint roll of Organising Secretary/Treasurer.

After massive turnaround on the committee – problems were coming to the fore with the Barbican. A north east entertainment company, Absolute Leisure , had agreed to “buy” the Barbican. They advised us that as soon as the UK Snooker Championships finished the construction workers and builders would move in to redevelop the leisure centre and the auditorium and an alternative venue would have to be found.

The only viable option to hold the Carol Concert was the Central Hall at the University of York, however, we would have to move the date to the first Sunday in December and so it was that the Central Hall became the 7th venue to host York’s Annual Community Carol Concert during its 47 year history.

Unfortunately the refurbishment work on the Barbican did not get started and further delays on the redevelopment continued. The facility lay empty for months, but the UK Snooker was still contracted to be staged there. The secretary along with Ted Griffiths from the York British Legion pursued Absolute Leisure to reopen the Barbican before the snooker tournament and enable the Remembrance Service and the Carol Concert to be staged once more at the Barbican.

Both events were successfully staged, but again as soon as the snooker finished the Barbican went dark once more. Political wrangling and the Save Our Barbican group put further uncertainty on the redevelopment.

Further alterations to the make-up of the committee were enforced in 2006. Sadly, auditor and committee member, Douglas Hall passed away. Dougie had featured on stage in a number of Carol Concerts mainly with York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir. At the following AGM Ald Waite stood down as chairman after 19 years service but wished to stay on the committee. John Warburton was appointed Chairman/Musical Director, Janet High returned to the committee along with new additions Anne Atkinson and Carole Metcalfe (the daughter of founder Fred Bradbury). Steve Beck was appointed as Auditor. This completed the make-up of the organising committee for 2007 and important year for the Carol Concert – our Golden Jubilee.

The Barbican saga continued. We were desperate to hold our 50th Anniversary at our spiritual home. Through the help of City of York Council along with Absolute Leisure we were able to guarantee accommodation at the Barbican on Sunday 2 December 2007.

To mark the occasion John Warburton formed a “Jubilee Choir” made up of hand selected singers from the York area, they were joined by York Railway Institute Band, who had played in the inaugural concert back in 1958. A combined school choir from St Georges, Wigginton and Appleton Roebuck were co-ordinated and conducted by Steve Cassidy with the hugely successful Steel Expression providing our “novelty item”, completing the line-up was MC Rev Andrew Foster and the community Carols conducted by our MD John Warburton.

York Co-operative Funeralcare offered financial assistance for the Golden Jubilee and also laid on transport to the Barbican for some of those attending who had trouble getting access to the venue. This was the start of a very fruitful relationship between the two parties.

A hugely successful concert was enjoyed by a packed house – at the suggestion of John Warburton a bucket collection was reintroduced at the end of the concert, this raised £1044.71. Enabling both our charities to receive £2000 each and £250 to the York Hospital Radio.

Because of the outstanding work done by Norman Fowler (aka Steve Cassidy) in co-ordinating the combined schools choir, he was invited to join the organising committee at the next AGM.

Eventually Absolute Leisure went into administration and the Barbican returned under the control of City of York Council. The Barbican has been dormant since 2008 waiting for a new owner to step in.

In the mean time the 2008 and 2009 Carol Concerts were both held at the Central Hall, University of York. There was ample free car parking on the university campus. The auditorium holds just over 1000 but the staging area is much smaller and so the concerts have had to be streamed down.

But 2011 saw the Barbican taken over by SMG one of the countries leading conference and event organisers. We were delighted to see the Carol Concert return to its spiritual home at the newly refreshed York Barbican and we celebrated the 2011 Carol Concert with Tadcaster Grammar School Concert Band, York Opera, Wigginton Singstars and St George’s Christmas Choir accompanied by Steve Cassidy along with Main Street Sound and the unique Yorkulele entertaining a 1200+ audience – not quite full but an extra 400 people attending from the previous years.

The 55th anniversary concert also celebrated fifty years since John Warburton made his debut as the Community Carol conductor. This, along with him celebrating his 80th birthday during November, was marked by good friend, Graham Kay, singing a specially written “ode” in recognition of John’s achievements. York Railway Institute Band, St Olave’s Church Choir, the joint choirs of Appleton Roebuck and St Barnabas Primary Schools, joined with Steve Cassidy and also York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and SoundsFun Singers who sang to a full house, 1400 audience along with 200 people on stage – what a magnificent afternoon! We were so glad to be back at the York Barbican.

2012 and 2013 saw us continuing to successfully support our local charities now all receiving £2000 each and with York Hospital Radio also receiving smaller regular donations.

Sadly during 2013 Ald Cyril Waite passed away after 25 loyal years service to the committee. At the following AGM Anne Platt (Civic Support to Lord Mayor of York) and Philip Taylor (York Co-operative Funeralcare) were both elected to serve on the organising committee.

On the very morning of the Carol Concert, Sunday 14 December 2014, our longest serving and most loyal committee member, Joan Sadler, passed away.  She was 93 and had just been notified that she was to be awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Years Honours List. This was awarded to her posthumously early in 2015.

More sad news came in April 2015, when after long illnesses unfortunately Steve Beck died. In his time with us Steve had brought the Carol Concert into the 21st Century when he introduced the official website for York Community Carols and of course had also monitored our accounts for the last eight years.

Moving to a later date, the last Sunday before Christmas, did not affect the 2015 attendance of around 1300. The audience was entertained by the Bev Jones Singers, the Steve Cassidy Band along with the school choirs of Poppleton Ousebank Primary and Heworth Primary and the York Concert Band providing the accompaniment for the community singing. This year also found conductor Mike Pratt taking on more of the duties of our Musical Director. The chairman’s programme’s notes refer to this decision as “looking to ‘Secure the Succession’”. This 58th annual concert also saw Andrew Foster oversee the event for the twentieth successive year. For the first time ever a “food hamper” worth a £100 was donated by Co-operative Funeralcare – a lucky seat was selected by the York Barbican box office – and the occupant of “Stalls – Row M Seat 33” a Mrs Calpin was the successful recipient.

The start of 2016 was not a good one. Former secretary and committee member, Janet High, passed away in February after a short illness. This was quickly followed by the devastating news of an explosion in nearby Haxby, which resulted in the death of Paul Wilmott.  Paul had been a valuable member of the York Hospital Radio team and had been a regular fixture at the York Barbican and Central Hall, when producing outside broadcasts of the Carol Concert for the radio station.

We believe the York Community Carol Concert to be the longest running Carol Concert in York and has served the city well. Enabling thousands of children and local musicians to showcase their talents in some of our great and historic venues, the Carol Concert will continue to entertain people and welcome in the Christmas season in the best possible way, keeping the spirit of Christmas alive.

 

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— December 13, 2016

Singing their hearts out at the Barbican

Read "The Press" report of our sell-out Carol Concert