Clacton Choral Society has been in existence for over a hundred years although the precise date of its founding is shrouded in mystery. Its founding father and first chief conductor was Frederick Lewellen who came to Clacton in 1881 and set up what was to be a very prosperous ironmongery business in the Public Buildings in Pier Avenue.
He and his wife Ellen were devout Congregationalists and started a church which initially met in the drawing-room of their Clacton home. About this time, possibly in 1887 or 1888, he is said to have conducted a performance of Messiah in The Assembly Room at The Royal Hotel. Frederick’s congregation eventually founded and built Christ Church in 1897 where he became organist and formed a splendid choir which gave concerts at Easter. Thus 1897 is taken as the founding date of the Society, though it could have been much earlier.
The first recorded details of a formal Clacton Choral Society concert date from 1901 when Frederick Lewellen, with Harry Baynton and his family in charge of the orchestral side of things, performed Elijah and Messiah at the Old Town Hall, then on the corner of Station Road and High Street, to huge acclaim. Annual concerts soon followed with performances of the great oratorio works of the English Choral Tradition -The Creation, Hymn of Praise, Crucifixion, Olivet to Calvary.
The fortunes of the Society closely followed the involvement of the Lewellen family for the next twenty years, some great triumphs being succeeded by leaner times. However, despite the ups and downs, one or two concerts were given every year, only being suspended for the hostilities of the First World War.
With the retirement of F W. Lewellen in the twenties, there followed a time of great choral activity in Clacton with some intense and often bitter rivalry between the various churches who were centres of choral singing in the town, each forming its own society. This conflict, which resulted in the stretching of resources and diminution of audiences, was finally and amicably resolved in 1930 when everybody got together and amalgamated their efforts to form the organisation as it exists today.
The Society flourished during the thirties under the leadership of Francis Sharp, a local butcher, as Clacton went through a period of massive expansion which was brought to a sudden and dreadful stop by World War II. The town had to be evacuated in 1940 and, although F T. Sharp stayed behind to oversee the Government’s meat rationing programme, all artistic activity ceased.
The world was a very different place post-war but the society was revived under F. T. Sharp’s son Eric and the conductorship of Colchester-based Dr. W. H. Swinburne. In 1955 the baton passed to Desmond Pye, an erstwhile student of Swinburne’s, who led the Society through thick and thin, broadening its repertoire and building the membership. Desmond Pye retired in 2003 after nearly fifty years in charge
Desmond was followed by the very dynamic Peter Kenvyn Jones, who during his five year reign introduced the choir to much of the music of neglected modern British composers. From Autumn 2008 the choir was in the hands of Martin Huggett, who unfortunately felt obliged to leave the choir in December 2009 because of the pressure of business.
A choir member and local church organist, Paul Siddall took over in January 2010 only to suffer a severe eye problem several months later which forced his resignation.
Happily a suitable candidate was at hand to take over and Gillian Dulieu has impressed the choir by her energy, personal charm and musicianship.
Under her leadership the choir has engaged rather more in reaching out to the wider community, with Choral Workshops - three so far and visits to local old people’s homes.