Brief History of the Choir


The Society was formed in the spring of 1967 by a group inspired by Mrs Doris Jeffries and ably supported by Bill Dixon and Tom Roberts. The first concert was performed in July at St Hilda's Church, Whitby, and the first concert in Guisborough at Park Lane Infants School in November.

Early in 1968 Miss Celia Matthews was appointed as Conductor, and in the next few years the Choir competed successfully in many Festivals and competitions. The most notable achievement was in winning the national Music Festival in 1973. The first major work to be performed was Handel's "Messiah", in 1971.

The Society has had a long-standing relationship with Botton Village, beginning in 1972. We have participated in their celebrations, notably the 50th Jubilee years of the Camphill Trust in 1990 and of Botton Village itself in 2005, and we welcome their residents as regular members of our audience.

The first performance with an orchestra was Haydn's "Creation". For a number of years we had the services of various Youth Orchestras and local Brass Bands, but since 1991 we have been delighted to find that there are many talented musicians in the area who can be brought together to form the "The Priory Symphonia", usually under the leadership of Christopher Haigh. Often there have been talented young musicians in the ensemble, who have gone on to rise in the music profession.

After a brief spell of leadership by Miss Janet Pearson (now Mrs Janet Harbottle) Mr Ernest Dale became our conductor in 1979 for the next ten years, expanding our repertoire to include several large-scale works, and bringing a series of young professional singers as soloists.

In 1988 Sheila Stubley became our Conductor. Sheila had earlier formed the Langbaurgh Youth Choir and Orchestra, who shared the programme and joined us often thereafter, especially at Christmas. Sheila continued the pattern of performing a variety of concerts featuring major and minor works until she was forced by injury in a car accident to retire in 1997.

Michael Pritchard then joined us from the Stockton Vocal Union, "on a temporary basis" for the next six years; a special feature of his leadership were his arrangements of Christmas carols.

Stuart Buckton, was appointed in 2003. Stuart is also Director of Opera Nova, and a teacher of singers. In 2006 it was our privilege to give the first performance of his composition "The Wonders of Light".

In November 2007 the society was very luckily able to draw on the considerable experience of one of their members, Olwen Cameron, when Stuart Buckton was unable to continue due to ill-health. As well as bringing the choir up to the required standard for the then imminent Christmas Concert, Olwen went on to conduct the following three very successful concerts in 2008.

In January 2009 Michael Summers, head of Music Technology at St. Thomas More Catholic School, near Durham, took up the role as Conductor of the society, introducing us to the delights of singing Duruflé's - Requiem and Quatre Motets, followed, in the Autumn, by Mozart's Requiem and Britten's Choral Dances from Gloriana. Michael's final concert with the Society was in May 2012 when he conducted Eric Whitacre's Five Hebrew Love Songs and John Rutter's Magnificat, accompanied by the Innominata String Quartet and scratch orchestra of ten other instrumentalists, plus organ. Michael left the Society to become Musical Director of Durham Choral Society.

Michael was succeeded by Angela Bennett who took up the baton on 23rd May 2012 and lead us through, very successfully, into our 50th Annniversay year, in 2017.

Our current conductor, Rebecca Johnson, took over on 6th September 2017, to close our 50th Anniversay season with Handel's Messiah, the twelth time the society has performed this great work.

In common with all other such organisation Covid 19 meant that all Choral activities had to stop during the height of the pandemic. However, singing resumed in April 2022, albeit with reduced numbers, once it was judged safe enough to continue.

Our current accompanist, Nicola Taylar, took over from Helen Kirk, in April 2022, when Helen took on extra responsibilities at Prior Pursglove. Due to pressure of other activities she stepped down and Angela Hannaford too on the role in April 2023.

In 2023 the Society made a move to expand on the standard format of three concerts per year in Guisborough, by appearing in the Middlesbrough Shine Festival, and later in the year performing an abreviated version of the Messiah in Hartelpool. For this latter concert three of the soloists were from the 'rank and file' of the membership

We extend our thanks to all those wonderful conductors and accompanists who have served us so well since our foundation in 1967, to the members who have shared the responsibilities for running the Society and putting on concerts, and to the patrons and audiences who have supported the work in many ways.

A complete printed history of the Society, in two volumes, is available. Please contact the Society for further details.


Bill Colombi - Profile