Part-singing has existed in the North of England since at least the thirteenth century.5 As the industrial period progressed, and, as a result of various factory acts and industrial action, there was the parallel development of free time for the working class.
The top-down view was that this leisure time should be regulated. Workers should pursue pastimes that kept them away from pubs, alcohol and rough behaviour. Music was viewed by Victorian and Edwardian social reformers as being the ideal ‘rational recreation’ that could improve behaviour and purify the soul. Singing was the most accessible musical activity and the choral tradition began when people met in each other’s homes to sing.
Larger choral societies attracted a cross-class membership, being popular amongst people from a wide range of backgrounds. Yet, as the nineteenth century progressed, they clearly attracted a working-class membership, and, by the later nineteenth century, choirs belonged to every conceivable working-class organisation.
By the outbreak of World War One there were at least 293 choral groups in West Yorkshire alone. within a three-mile radius of Huddersfield there were 15 choral societies, and, in the Colne and Holme Valleys, there were at least 29 choral groups.6
As part of the civic identity of Huddersfield, the Town Hall, officially opened in 1881, and containing a large concert hall, attracted many of these choirs to perform. Shown below are three of the area’s prominent choral groups which are indicative of this choral tradition: