Make your own free website on

Home Early Years Middle Years Later Years Recent Years 1 Recent Years 2 Choir Personalities SITE Info


    The Early Years      1900 - 1930

                       Birmingham Icknield Male Voice Choir   

                                   The history of the oldest choir in Birmingham. 1900 - 2007

      Circa 1912 ..................... to ............................. 2007        

Icknield School                                                                                           St. Pauls (Jewellers Church) June 2006



    Icknield Street school was one of those that as part of music studies  formed a Male Choir, at about the turn of the 20th century and it is known that "Icknield Street Early Morning Adult School Male Voice Choir" as was then known, was singing at concerts in Hockley district, around the early years of the century. There is sure proof a little later, in as much as when Adult School Union introduced a Musical Festival, Cadbury’s furnished a large Challenge Shield for Male Voice Choirs Competition, this being 1910,


This was presented by Barrow Cadbury,  (born1862-1958), and his wife Geraldine Southall Cadbury, b 1865 – 1941. Barrow was the eldest son of chocolate magnate Richard Cadbury, and nephew of George Cadbury.



    The first winners under Conductor E. Norton were Icknield Street Early Morning Adult School Male Voice Choir, (rather a long title as you will see later), and medals were presented to the winning choir members one of which has survived in the name of Mr Grantham. Medal Front View, Medal Obverse, It is known that choir kept singing at concerts, up to 1914 when First World War caused a suspension of activities for duration, and some departed for the killing fields of the Somme, including ALF KIRBY. After the war the school tried to return to some semblance of normality with activities such as FOOTBALL, competing for the Tiptaft Cup, named after Norman Tiptaft, and  indeed in March 1921, an L(Len?) Bedford left the School team and signed as professional for West Bromwich Albion, and the school were sent a cheque for £10! Other activities included those of a musical bent, including the choir. 


                        They started to reform in 1919 – 1920, and members were returning, but   what had happened to Mr E. Norton  the Conductor, no one appears to know, which is of no surprise considering the events of the past five years, putting apart the loss of life in the Great War, many families were decimated by an Influenza epidemic that swept Europe. Whether he left the Midlands or just gave up, it is unclear, but he was not available as Conductor, so someone had to be found with ability to control and bring up the choir to the required standard for concerts and competitions. Several people tried to fill in, but found it too much and gave up. Eventually along came a man with musical knowledge and some connections with the Adult School. Mr Albert Lancaster an Engraver with a business in Hockley Street in the Jewellery Quarter, was a man who planned everything he tackled, hence his influence on the choir. He was a local man who lived at 43 Grosvenor Rd, Handsworth. His daughter, Mrs Price was a fluent pianist, and was later to become official choir pianist, and his son Les was a very fine violinist, these played as a trio, and with Albert playing Cello, you get a picture of the man, who was to take over. One of the first things Mr Lancaster realized was, that with just one practice a week this was not good enough to maintain a good choir. The first recorded rehearsal was Tuesday Jan 11th. Rehearsal nights have historically been on Tuesdays. Also an application, was made to Birmingham Education Evening Institute for a class at Icknield Street School, this was granted for a New Icknield Music Class on Sunday July 17th 1921.  The next thing was to get an organised choir working to achieve a reasonable standard of singing. As regards organisation, Mr Lancaster had formed a committee to make certain decisions, with a Secretary for booking engagements, also a Treasurer for subs, and banking which was very important in early days, starting from scratch it was necessary to build funds to buy music.




    However it is apparent that a lot of hard work was put in by members because around 1921 the choir was again giving concerts in and around the district. Albert Lancaster also formed a quartet with singers Mr Reynolds 1st T, Mr Kirby 2nd T, Unknown (presume 1B), and Mr Edwards 2nd Bass.

    It was always the intention, to be able to give a good concert, and have pleasure in their performances. Around this time the choir would fulfil between 30 and 40 engagements a year, so it was necessary to maintain a high standard, plus a large repertoire. There were so many engagements of interest, including as on June 4th the choir had a holiday at the MASU house at Bewdley for the grand sum of 12/6d board. In this year it is also mentioned that there was a Icknield Ladies Choir so they were not neglected.




    Of course at this time there was not much in way of entertainments on Sunday Evenings, no cinemas were allowed to open, except for charity, thus the Sunday Observance Society would put on concerts at some cinemas and theatres. The choir was invited to give concerts at Villa Cross Cinema, the Lozells Cinema, Grand Cinema, Soho Rd Handsworth, Elite Handsworth,  and the Bordesley Palace Theatre, which was situated at Camp Hill.  The Lozells Cinema was destroyed by bombing in the second world war. We also gave concerts on Sunday afternoon, to prisoners at Winson Green Jail, one of which in 1923. It was an experience to sing solo or choir items, and they, the prisoners were always a very attentive audience also it was surprising what type of solo they were prepared to accept and enjoy, Alf Dawson personally  sang, the “Ave Maria”, Bach-Gonoud, Ave Maria, also “The Sanctuary of The Heart”, Ketelby, which confirms that opinion, and of course prisoners were at that time wearing uniforms, three different colours to denote class of prisoner. Also in 1923 we sung at Sparkbrook and Farm Rd EMS. In March of this year in the monthly magazine 'One & All' it was stated that, "The beautiful shield which Mr & Mrs Barrow Cadbury presented to the Union is at present held by Nelson Street. I hope that in the not too distant future Moseley Road will want to know why." Mr & Mrs B. Cadbury were leaders at the Moseley Rd. Friends Institute.

    Appearing on April 14th at the MASU Music Festival for two classes we gained a 4th out of 17th, and a 7th.  On June 23rd there was a choir ramble. Good ideas never die, and in 2005 this idea was revived. There was also a school ramble at Marston Green on July 1924.



    In 1925 we sang at Soho Hill Mens. Also in the area there were a number of PSA groups. (Pleasant Sunday Afternoons). PSA meetings always had the same format, with an address on an ecumenical topic,

such as ‘Life’ or ‘Hope’,and musical solos with piano accompaniment.

The movement spread throughout the world. PSA Banbury. and Scotland, Click on the links for more details.

    In 1926 April 17th  at the MASU festival the choir gained 2nd place with 172pts. The Quartets won first prize with 190 pts. We also sung at Northfield.

June 19th 1926 the choir sang at the Leamington Music Festival and gained 4th place. On Sept 29th 1927 we sung at a Police Choir concert at Birmingham Town Hall an association with which as the West Midlands Police MVC continues to this day. Also in 1927, on Oct 8th the choir decided to spread it’s wings, and entered Leicester Musical Festival on Oct 8th, along with some 26 Choirs, such as Chesterfield, Barnsley, Doncaster, Moira, South Melbourne all first class choirs of 50 to 60 voices, and we sang just over 40 strong, the Test Piece, “Peace and War” all 12 to 14 pages, and we finished a very respectable 10th. At the end of the competition, the Adjudicator had the choirs assemble on stage at De-Montford Hall, approximately 800 to 900 singers,

The First Tenors Block A, Second Tenors B, First Bass C, and Second Bass Block D. This formation is the one we have today, but in those days most choirs sang in lines, First Tenor Line 1, Second Tenor Line 2, First Bass Line 3, Second Bass Line 4, so to many of us it was a new experience, but very interesting. The choir have always been known for it’s Quartet's, at one time we had 4 Quartet's, all capable of giving a concert on their own.

Also with many of top choirs in and around the Midlands, we also took part on June 11th at the Bournville Festival.






    Also in October 1927,our Quartet the "Richmond Male Voice Quartet" at this period with Messer's Will Smith, Alf Kirby, Harold Cross, Harry Sammons, entered, and  won 2nd place and a Certificate with 81 points at Leicester, whilst Alf Kirby won the Tenor Solo class, at the  MASU Musical Festival on May 8th, accomplishments of which we were very proud.

Of course there was social side going on as well, rambles to country side, including Hampton in Arden to Berkswell, and also to the Lickeys,

    One of the ways of travelling was by tram and a ticket could be purchased for 5d, 2d for children, (2p and 1p respectively), and the tram would start from Navigation Street and go along the Bristol Road, to arrive at the Lickeys. The poem below, by Irene Newey, and published in the, “Down The Old End” a Birmingham Mail Christmas Tree Fund raising book in 1977 of poems that encapsulates the spirit of the times;



Let’s have a day at the Lickeys!

The top of the tram is the place!

Let’s get up the front where it’s open

And feel the wind in our face.


As it rocks up the Bristol Road

We’ll enjoy every clang that it makes

And the sound of the bell adds it’s tune

To enliven the time that it takes.


The trees can be green in the summer

Or tinted with autumn’s gold

But they give a promise of beauty

That the Lickey’s always hold.


There’s no longer a tram to the Lickeys

The buses are not as much fun.

But there’s still a few trees to delight us

And that’s something – when all’s said and done.



     Many of these outings would not cost more than 2/- to 2/6d including tea, to a lot it may sound ridiculous but many members would put 2d or 3d in the bank in order to go on outings. When the choir went to Llandudno it was 3/6  for fare, quite a sum for many, but it was also the first time for some to see the sea, such a difference to modern times. 

    Also in 1928 the choir held it’s first Annual Dinner, this was held at “Farcroft Hotel” Rookery Rd, Handsworth, where "Mine Host" at that time was a well known sportsman Mr Jim Murphy, cost of dinner was 10/- head, part was subsidised for choir members by the choir, and about 120 attended.

The choir was building up it’s funds by Social Evenings at Icknield St. School, about 6 per year, The evenings consisted of 7:30 to 8:30pm, 12 hands of whist, with about 7 prizes, refreshments, then a concert by the choir and members. Also in 1928 the choir decided to update socials, and a Dance with a break for two musical items. This made it possible for many choir members to make their singing debut, so that the choir had many soloists to chose from. The functions at Icknield School on a Sunday included speakers, a Mr Robinson appeared to be popular!




    When the Adult School festival was held each April or May (the 5th May in 1928) quite a number of Icknield St. members entered, and many times there would be 26–30 Tenors 20-30 Baritones, 10-12 Basses, besides entries in Elocution, Pianoforte, Violin and other classes in competition, and to obtain a certificate, was an achievement.

          With regard to Icknield Street, the following Sunday morning was a “Musical Morning”, at which all Soloists, winners or otherwise, performed their piece, then at the end of the morning, certificates would be presented again to those winners, and it was usual for at least 14 to 16 Certificates to be presented, quite a good percentage. Prizes were vouchers to buy music, First Prize £1-1-0, Second 10/6d, third 6/-, so if someone had a good Festival, they could have between £2 to £3 to spend on music, 2/- per copy, so it was a problem to know music to get.




    On May 15th Mr Lancaster asked Alf Kirby to “take the stick”, and try his hand at conducting. He declined, had he accepted the choir’s history may have been different.

    It was felt that the choir should consider forming their own 4 Piece Band, and had a good pianist in Ernie Wakefield, a violinist in Evan Roberts a Welsh Lad, Fred Adamson on banjo and a drummer whose name is not known. They served the choir whenever required, but also made a name for themselves outside, but always remembered  the choir, which gave them their foundations.




                                    This brings the choir to the late 1920s.















                                                        Phone No. 07985041167

                                                Webmaster: Icknield Choir History
                                We take no responsibility for the information on external links

Current Date
by The JavaScript Source