Leith Hill Music Festival

Evangeline Farrer
Drawing by C. Geoffroy Dechaume

The Leith Hill Musical Competition was founded by Margaret (Meggie) Vaughan Williams and Evangeline (Eva), Lady Farrer of Abinger Hall, in 1904. Eva presided and Meggie acted as secretary, cycling between Leith Hill Place and Abinger Hall.

The image shows Eva Farrer who had studied at the Royal College of Music with Meggie’s brother, Ralph, and had come to the Farrer household as a music teacher.

Miss Constance Travers
Miss Constance Travers
Image : Dorking Museum

The first competition was held at the Public Hall in West Street, Dorking, on 10th May 1905. 8 choirs from villages within a 10 mile radius of Abinger Hall competed in 6 classes: full chorus, male voices, female voices, madrigal, quarter and sight reading. The evening concert was conducted by Meggie’s brother, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who, with other musicians including Lucy Broadwood , chose the music.

The image shows Miss Constance Travers with a festival banner at Rokefield, the Westcott home of choir organiser Mrs Carey Druce, 1905.

Westcott Children's Choir 1925
Westcott Children’s Choir in 1925
Image : Dorking Museum

It was always intended to hold the competition annually. (The only complete break was during the First World War). In 1908 Eva wrote that ‘Dorking was worked up to an unknown pitch of excitement. Such a concert has never been in Dorking before. Hundreds were turned away from the door – but they stood outside and heard a good deal and joined loudly in the applause!’ Vaughan Williams attracted some of the most distinguished musicians of the day to participate. The composer Gustav Holst came in 1909 as an adjudicator and Hubert Parry presented the awards in 1911.

Leith Hill Music Festival Poster 1929

Ralph Vaughan Williams was devoted to the competition. He took village choir practices and inspired members to achieve difficult works. In 1931 Bach’s St Matthew Passion was performed by a choir and orchestra of 800 in the newly opened Dorking Halls. The Leith Hill Musical Competition contributed to the building fund for the halls.

In 1950 the name was changed to the Leith Hill Musical Festival. After Vaughan Williams’ death in 1958 Dorking decided to honour his memory in bronze plaques at Dorking Halls and at St Martin’s church, and in its support for the Festival. In 2005 Dorking celebrated the centenary of this great community endeavour.

Further Reading

The motto of the Leith Hill Musical Festival has been chosen as the title of this book, published during the Festival’s centenary celebrations.

Shirley Corke’s newly researched history describes how and why Evangeline Farrer (to whom Shirley is related) and Margaret Vaughan Williams founded the Festival and the way its original successful pattern has essentially continued through the years.

176 pages with black and white photographs.

Published by the Leith Hill Music Festival in 2005.

The book is priced at £5.00. Buy it online here.

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