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The issue of the Leeds Mercury dated 20th September 1726, documents the borough's first known public concert which took place in the 400 seat Assembly Room in Kirkgate. Concerts, music meetings and performances of ballad operas then proliferated at the Assembly Rooms and in local hostelries.

The music of George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) was frequently performed. In 1741, the Welsh harpist, John Parry, a collaborator with the composer in London, gave a recital at the Kirkgate Assembly Room.

In 1767 Singers from Holbeck Chapel celebrated the anniversary of King George III's accession by performing Purcell's 'Te Deum' and excerpts from Handel's 'Messiah'. 'Messiah' was performed no less than 18 times during the following year.

Festival of Music in 1784
The Festival of Music at Leeds in 1784 was a two day event, which featured Handel's sacred and secular music in morning concerts at Holy Trinity Church in Boar Lane and evening performances at the Hunslet Lane Theatre. Works performed included the overture and choruses from the oratorio, 'Esther', the 'Dead March' and selection of choruses from Saul, the Coronation anthem 'Zadock the Priest', the masque 'Acis and Galatea' and performances of the oratorios 'Samson' and 'Messiah'.

Influential Organists
The direction and co-ordination of public music making which from 1772 centred on the annual series of subscription concerts was mainly the responsibility of the organists of Leeds Parish Church. The organists of Leeds were a benign influence on the burgeoning musical life of the borough. The other important influence was the imperative to raise money for good works such as funds for relief of the poor and the upkeep of the first Leeds Infirmary, which was opened in 1771.

Albion Street Music Hall opens in 1794
The Assembly Room became too small to cater for the growing audiences for large-scale performances of oratorios of Handel and other composers. This demand was satisfied – at least for the next 50 years or so, by the opening of the 800 seat Music Hall in Albion Street.

The Strength of Religious Feeling
The nonconformist movement - including Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Congregationalists, and others - made up the early foundations of Leeds' musical tradition. It was estimated that by the mid-19th Century, two thirds of the Borough's religious community were adherents of Chapel and free Church rather than the established Anglican Communion.  The 19th Century choral societies in Leeds drew their largest proportion of singers from the chapels.
Dr W F Hook, Vicar of Leeds Parish Church from 1837-59, was deeply concerned about the growth of the nonconformist movement - especially Methodism.  In 1828, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, the most renowned organist of the day, gave the inaugural recital on the organ at the 2000 seat Brunswick Methodist Chapel in Wade Lane.

Hook later appointed Wesley as organist and choir master of his handsomely re-built Parish Church - a project instigated by Hook and carried out from 1839-41.  Wesley's quest for the highest musical standards at the Parish Church undoubtedly made Leeds into a national centre of musical excellence
long before the opening of the Town Hall and its inaugural Musical Festival in 1858. The distinguished incumbents following Wesley built upon the illustrious traditions that he established, influencing and enhancing the musical life of the City through to the present day.

The distinguished musical tradition of the acoustically superb St Anne's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Cookridge Street, is perhaps less widely recognised. It can however be traced back to the opening of this great church, in 1904. The Norman and Beard organ, built concurrently with the construction of the Cathedral, has been described as one of the most notable examples of Edwardian organ building in Great Britain. St Anne's also claims an unusual world record - that of having had the youngest ever Cathedral organist, Henry Chambers, who at the time of his appointment in 1913 was aged just eleven!

First performance of a piano concerto
The Leeds Intelligencer of September 11th, 1770 advertised for sale the newly invented 'piano forte' from Thomas Bullasse, cabinetmaker and organ builder in Barnsley. A piano concerto was performed with soloist Thomas Lawton for the first time at a subscription concert in 1795.

Music publishing and instrument making
Music publishing and instrument making in Leeds had its origins in the 18th Century town although the bias, at first, was very much towards sacred music. Chetham's Psalmody was published in Leeds by Griffith Wright in 1761. Edward Porter's music opened up in Briggate in 1780. In 1798, the composer and writer George Linley was born in the town. In 1800, Butterworth established a music business in Leeds. Eight years later William Sykes established a music business and in the same year, Joshua Muff began to publish music from premises in Commercial Street. The piano manufacturing firm of John Hopkinson had its beginnings in Leeds as a music publishing business from 1835, before moving production to London in 1849.

Prolific Organ Builders
Organ building in Leeds was prolific during the 19th Century. In 1815, Greenwood Brothers of Leeds undertook substantial enlargement of the Parish Church organ.  In 1869, the firm of Abbott & Smith was founded by Isaac Abbott. The firm built - or re-built - over sixty organs in the Leeds area including the rebuilding of two of the country's most famous instruments: the organs of Leeds Town Hall and Leeds Parish Church (the latter in 1883 and 1899). In 1880, Joseph Jepson Binns (1855-1928) founded his organ works in Bramley. One of the finest examples of his craft still in existence today is the splendid organ of the Albert Hall in Nottingham.

Borough Waits of Leeds
Borough Waits of Leeds were the town musicians from at least as early as 1530, when they were of sufficient repute to have been hired by the monks of Selby Abbey, up to 1835, when the implementation in Leeds of the Municipal Corporations Act led to their abolition. Two Waits are shown as officers of the corporation in the governing charter for 1835 before abolition. Thomas Crawshaw was one of the leading musicians around the time of abolition, living in Harper’s Yard, Kirkgate. His death in 1858 marked the last link with the original Leeds Waits. They were, however, revived again in 1983 and officially recognised by Leeds City Council in 1990.
Click images to enlarge
First White Cloth Hall, housing Assembly Rooms, Kirkgate
First White Cloth Hall, housing Assembly Rooms, Kirkgate
Leeds Musical Festival, 1784
Leeds Musical Festival, 1784
Trinity Church, Boar Lane
Trinity Church, Boar Lane
Music Hall, Albion Street
Music Hall, Albion Street
Brunswick Methodist Chapel, interior
Brunswick Methodist Chapel, interior
Leeds Parish Church, interior
Leeds Parish Church, interior

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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003