Chronological history of the Beaufort Male Choir
Many choirs emerged in the Welsh valleys in the late 19th century. Their roots lay in the chapels of that time and in the community activities favoured by the families of the miners and iron workers of the industrial districts. The Beaufort Male Choir came into existence in this way though its earliest history can be elusive. In the second half of the nineteenth century various local musical groups and choirs came and went or simply changed their names. Much of our information comes from the columns of local newspapers, especially those of the Merthyr Express, from the 1860’s onwards. What is clear is that the fortunes of choirs were affected by the musically gifted conductors who led them. In the case of Beaufort Choir the longest serving and most influential leaders were undoubtedly John Gulliver, Joseph Price, Randall Williams and John Tunley Over time the Choir grew from a small Glee Party to a choir of 130 voices competing in the Chief Male Voice Choir competitions in National Eisteddfods. Our look at the choir’s origins and history gives a picture over time of a living musical tradition and the creation and survival of the ‘Beaufort sound’.
ORIGINS: THE JOHN GULLIVER YEARS
John Gulliver (1843-1897) was a native of Blackwood who came to Beaufort as an iron miner at Waungoch. He became the choirmaster at Bethesda Calvinistic Methodist Chapel and his two brothers Hiram and William were well known tenors. As early as 1867 the Merthyr Express reported that a public tea meeting on Christmas Day at Barham school-room was followed by a choral concert in the chapel led by John Gulliver. The following year Messrs Gulliver and party sang at meetings in a season of popular readings at the school-room. At Christmas 1868 the Messrs Gulliver and the Glee Party sang ‘Comrades in Arms’ at a Tea Party and Grand Entertainment. They were mentioned as last on a long programme which was said to have ‘tested the patience of the audience to the utmost yet everything passed off to the satisfaction of all!’
For many early choirs choral competitiveness soon became more serious than concerts and entertainments. In a newspaper report of October 16th 1869 there was correspondence which defended Ebbw Vale No 2 United Choir against the charge of a £5 bribe offered to the adjudicator at the Tredegar Eisteddfod. Such slanderous suggestions sparked off several other letters including one that claimed that “occasionally such allegations were resolved by fisticuffs!”
On Christmas Day 1869 there was a very successful concert in Bethesda Chapel. No less a person than Joseph Parry (Pencerdd America) sang several songs, the music of which was his own. He was at that time at the Royal Academy and financed his studies there by organising concerts, with supporting artists, throughout Wales the Glee Party and the choir did their duty well and ‘great praise was due to their conductor Mr. Gulliver for his unflagging energy in teaching the choir. The concert was a decided success.’
John Gulliver was not alone in music making at this time. A Beaufort entry in December 1870 described the village as ‘a place noted for the number of singers it contains and some of those useful members of society have been for years and years quietly doing their duty in such a way as to do a great deal of good to the rising generation.’ It added that what Beaufort wanted more than anything else was an able conductor, one who could form a good choral class. A Philharmonic Society had been formed as early as 1845 led and conducted for a number of years by William Greenland, a grocer and draper. In June 1870 William Greenland had left for America. He was not the only local man to start a new life there. Among advertisements which appeared in the Merthyr Express at that time was one on July 30th 1871 placed by Joseph Price
Prince of Wales Beaufort
Begs respectfully to inform intending emigrants that he has been appointed Emigration Agent according to the provisions of the Passengers’ Acts of 1855 and 1865 and is authorised to receive passenger deposits and to give every information to intending emigrants.
N.B. The above named house is situated in the most convenient place for all passengers awaiting the arrival of trains, being on the same premises as the Railway Station at Beaufort.
This Joseph Price’s son, also Joseph, was ultimately to become John Gulliver’s successor in the musical life of Beaufort and in the early years of the Beaufort Male Choir.
In July 1873 a 500 strong South Wales Choral Union Choir, ‘y cor mawr’, won the championship of Great Britain in front of the Prince and Princess of Wales at the Crystal Palace. and a statue of the cor mawr’s conductor Griffith Rhys Jones (Caradog) was erected in Aberdare. This success must have heightened the interest in choral singing and competitions throughout the Welsh valleys. Certainly in Beaufort John Gulliver’s music making with his choir continued apace. In April 1876 there was an anniversary service at the Wesleyan Chapel Beaufort Hill. A choir conducted by Mr. John Gulliver (Ioan Gwent) took part and Mr. Gulliver was described as ‘a composer of several musical compositions who should be congratulated for his talent.’ The Sunday School anniversary at the same chapel was celebrated in May 1876. John Gulliver conducted both a choir and children singers at this event and composed some of the music. It was reported that ‘their rendering of this had a pleasing effect on the congregation and demonstrated clearly the tuition of an excellent musical trainer.’ In January 1877 a concert was given at Rhyd-y-Blew School which included a Glee Party conducted by John Gulliver and in March 1878 there was an entertainment at the Lower Schoolroom Beaufort featuring a selection of bishops’ glees ‘sweetly rendered by Mr. Gulliver’s Party of male voices.’ On 8th March 1879 it was reported that the seventh in a series of popular entertainments was held at Barham school-room and featured the Glee Party under the leadership of Mr. J Gulliver. In April John Gulliver led a select party in a selection of Moody and Sankey hymns following a lecture at the English Wesleyan Chapel.
One major annual event. was the Christmas Day tea meeting and concert of the Calvinistic Methodists at Bethesda chapel. A typical programme like that of the evening entertainment in 1880 included anthems, songs and part songs. The Merthyr Express noted that the male voices of Mr. John Gulliver’s Beaufort Glee Party sang Parry’s ‘Haul Away’, ‘Comrades in Arms’ and other glees ‘in a capital manner’. It was thought that, with a little attention to the bass voices, this party would be second to none in the district. In February 1881 Mr. Gulliver and the Glee Party took part in a well attended benefit concert at the Barham school-room. J Price of Beaufort was not the only soloist at this concert as others came from Sirhowy, Tredegar and Ebbw Vale. The Brass Band of the 12th Mon. Rifle Volunteers also took part. At the annual Whit-Monday Nonconformist Sunday Schools procession in 1881 each School was led by its choir with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists in the lead as the senior group. With supporters there were some 1500 in all. After the usual tea and cake there was entertainment in the evening with several of the choirs singing ‘Marches’ composed by John Gulliver ‘a well-known musical authority’. Two months later there was the Church Sunday School Treat. There was a tea and sports and music provided by the 2nd Mon Rifle Volunteer Corps Band, a harpist and violinist. There was also an Ebbw Vale and Beaufort String Band under the leadership of Mr. Burchell.
Musical life was undoubtedly varied and rich in Beaufort and area at this time and John Gulliver‘s choir was not even the only one in Beaufort. In the summer of 1881 David Bowen’s united choir gave a concert at Zoar Chapel in which concert parties, led by J O Mason and John James of Ebbw Vale, also took part singing two part-songs ‘Comrades In Arms’ and ‘The Village Blacksmith’. In September 1882 there was an excellent concert at Carmel Chapel with six soloists and Mr. J Price’s male voice party. A shared interest in music also meant that relationships between the various musical groups and chapels were very good. When Henry Wall a member of the Volunteers Brass Band and the son of a leading Wesleyan died Mr. Gulliver’s choir and a ‘strong force headed the funeral cortege.’
In May 1885 a new oratorio ‘Nehemiah’ was performed at Carmel Chapel. Gwilym Phillips was the conductor and the soloist was Joseph Price with a mixed choir of 80 voices. In November 1886 an address and a baton were presented to Gwilym Phillips for conducting Carmel Congregational Choir where he had taught music for fourteen years. Following the presentation there was a solo by Joseph Price.
No one date was published for the formation of the Beaufort Male Voice party but it is likely that it emerged in the 1880’s and was the successor to John Gulliver’s Glee Party first reported by the Merthyr Express in 1877. Certainly by May 1887 the Beaufort Male Voice Party that was to become the most enduring of Beaufort’s musical groups, was reported to be making rapid progress It had been defeated at Abergavenny but intended to compete at Bridgend and London. The members of the Party had been ‘carefully selected from the leading vocalists of the place, which contained an excellent supply of male voices and rehearsals had been well attended.’ The following year the Beaufort Male Voice Party, led by John Gulliver, after a better performance at Abergavenny, was considering competing at the Wrexham Eisteddfod in the summer. The Beaufort Glee Party under the leadership of John Gulliver also entered the Cardiff Eisteddfod on the summer Bank Holiday.
The funeral of William Palmer was reported in March 1889. He had been a prominent member of the male voice party, ‘lately under the leadership of Mr. John Gulliver’. It is likely that around this time John Gulliver left Beaufort. In May 1893 for instance a Beaufort Male Voice Party was to go to the Builth Eisteddfod but under the leadership of Mr. T Doughton. By the time of the 1891 Census John and Margaret Gulliver with four of their seven children were living in New Tredegar. John Gulliver died in 1897 aged 55.
JOSEPH PRICE AT THE HELM 1894-1919
Joseph or ‘Jos’ Price (1859-1929) was born in Merthyr Road Beaufort. His father Joseph Senior was a publican, coalminer and emigration agent. The 1861 census showed Joseph as the third eldest of 4 brothers. In the 1871 census the family was living at the Prince of Wales Inn in the Waungoch district and a fifth son had been born. By 1881 the 22 year old Joseph Junior lived at the Post Office at Rising Sun Row Beaufort with his brother William, a pupil teacher. Joseph was a grocer and postmaster and the census of 1891 found him still at Beaufort Rise Post Office with his wife Laura, two sons, two daughters and two boarders. When Joseph Senior died in 1893 Joseph Junior was still the Postmaster and at the time of the 1911 census this was still the case.
Well before John Gulliver left Beaufort Joseph Price had become very active in the chapel choir and seemed a likely successor with the Male Voice Party. The Beaufort Choral Society formed in 1894 soon had both a mixed United Choir and a Male Voice Party and Joseph Price was to be the leading figure in both. In February1894 the ‘much talked of United Choir commenced in real earnest’ and Joseph Price was its conductor. Their first competition was at the Eisteddfod in Brynmawr which also marked the opening of the new Town Hall. Their selected piece was ‘O great is the Depth’ and practices were held at the Board School on Sunday evenings. Nearly 200 turned up at the first rehearsal but the Brynmawr Eisteddfod proved to be a big disappointment. It was reported that ‘bad arrangements kept them nearly five hours over the appointed time’ Also ‘as soon as the choir ascended the platform they were hooted from all parts of the hall, much to the disgrace of the offenders’. Three choirs of between 120 and 180 voices took part – Garnfach United, Beaufort United and Brynmawr United. The adjudicators noted the disadvantages to the choirs of the late hour and heated atmosphere in which they had to sing. They awarded the first prize to Brynmawr United which they considered to be much superior to the other two choirs. Though the United Choir had only begun in February their early experience at Brynmawr must have caused a renewed determination as a report of 18th August noted that the ‘Beaufort United choir is now formed on a sound basis and has held its first rehearsal.’
The Male Voice Party was also revived in 1894 and its first rehearsal was held on 15th June. Selected members were asked to attend regularly. At a memorable Sacred Concert in the Board School an appreciative audience was delighted by the Beaufort choir’s rendering of ‘The War Horse’. ‘Seldom do we hear a trained combination of singers do justice to such a difficult chorus. Great praise is due to Mr. Joseph Price, their conductor, for the pains he has taken in their training’ was the Merthyr Express’s verdict. By request the song was repeated.
The new Male Voice Party next competed at the Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod against Male Voice Parties of at least 35 voices from Ebbw Vale, Abercarn and Blaenavon. The Ebbw Vale Party had been competing at Treorky and only reached home at 6.30pm. The Blaina Party was even later and wired after competing in Swansea that they would be unable to leave there until early evening. Another telegram showed that they had missed the connecting train at Merthyr. The test piece was ‘The War Horse’ and each choir was cheered at the end of their performance by the crowded hall. As the Blaina Party could not arrive until 10pm it was decided to go ahead with the adjudication and the decision came down to two parties – Ebbw Vale and Beaufort. The difference was said to be small but sufficient to award the prize to Ebbw Vale. Though defeated the Beaufort Party came out with credit and their supporters thought that they had done well.
In early January 1895 the Beaufort United Choir and Male Party competed at the Risca Eisteddfod. The Eisteddfod day had been ‘long looked forward to’ and a special train on the Sirhowy line took them to ‘the scene of the conflict.’ They rehearsed at a chapel after they arrived and those who heard them felt that they had heard the winning choirs. The Male Party then gave a brilliant rendering of ‘Martyrs of The Arena’ but were less convincing in the quartet, for which part the other Male Parties had selected some well known vocalists. The United Choir was much larger than those of its rivals – Newport, Abercarn, Bassaleg and Risca. They were also reported to have sung magnificently. ‘The audience agreed that this chorus had never been sung better in that valley’ The adjudicator said that he had been ‘adjudicating for 25 years and had never heard better and more magnificent sopranos than those in the Beaufort choir’. He had no hesitation in awarding them the prize. Feelings ran high as Joseph Price was now carried shoulder-high through the streets and telegrams were sent to Beaufort to announce their victory. When they got back to Beaufort the whole population was said to have turned out to greet them. At the Station Mr. Price was once again carried shoulder-high through the streets to his house. An added bonus was that one of the choir, David James, had won the tenor solo. Encouraged by the Risca success the United Choir planned to compete at Troedyrhiw and Abergavenny.
In March 1895 three Male Parties competed at Brynmawr Chair Eisteddfod including Beaufort but the prize went to Garnfach. However the United Choir was once again in winning form in the choral competition for over 80 voices. They defeated Builth, Brynmawr Harmonic, Brynmawr United and Blaina choirs. The test piece was ‘All men, all things’. On the last occasion that they had competed at Brynmawr the United Choir sang under great difficulties owing to the unpleasant feelings that existed at that time between Brynmawr and Beaufort. Thanks to the efforts of the Committee there was a much better atmosphere this time. The Abergavenny Chronicle reported that the Beaufort Choir ‘excelled for intelligent singing, refinement and good phrasing and was awarded the prize amidst loud applause’. The other choirs also felt that the best choir had secured the prize. The Merthyr Express reported that ‘in the evening Mr. Jos. Price was placed in a chair and carried in triumph through Beaufort amidst great rejoicings’. It was felt that under the baton of its young conductor a bright future lay in store for the choir. The next challenge on Easter Monday was the Abergavenny Eisteddfod with the same set piece but on this occasion they were not successful. In November 1895 it was reported that the United Choir and Male Party had made such good progress on their test pieces for the forthcoming Brynmawr Eisteddfod – ‘The Monk’s War Song ‘ and ‘Put Off, O Jerusalem’- that they would compete with ‘the greatest confidence’. At a very successful concert at Carmel Chapel on the day before the Eisteddfod both choirs ‘rendered the test pieces in admirable style’. The M.P. Mr. W Abraham (Mabon) and his wife attended and he delivered an inspiring speech. In the event they were not successful at the Eisteddfod. A month later there was another Sacred Concert that preceded a competition in Dowlais. For their journey there the station master Mr. A. Price kindly provided the Male Voice Party with a saloon carriage.
Local people were willing to support musical talent. One of the most promising Beaufort tenors of the time was Mr. David James and his local friends and supporters discussed in early 1896 how they could help to provide a musical training for him.
In March 1896 the United Choir rehearsed the difficult chorus ‘Ye nations offer to the Lord’ and the Male Voice Party ‘The destruction of Gaza’ before competing at the Abergavenny Eisteddfod on Easter Monday
In May 1896 Brynmawr won the Male Voice Party competition at the Brynmawr Eisteddfod. The other four parties taking part were New Tredegar, Blaenavon, Garn Vach and Beaufort and Mrs. Joseph Price presented the successful conductor with his medals. The test piece was ‘Martyrs of the Arena’ and the adjudicator commended the choirs on their ‘splendid singing’ At a further Eisteddfod at Brynmawr in May the Beaufort Choral Society was placed second to Dowlais, ahead of Pontypool and Abertillery. The adjudicator believed that the Dowlais and Beaufort choirs were far and away in front of the others and Dowlais won on a shade of difference. In the South Wales Weekly Argus of June 6th there was a more detailed treatment of this Eisteddfod. It was held in a large marquee on the Brynmawr football ground and was said to have been ‘very successful’. However it reported that in the chief choral contest on the test piece ‘Ye nations offer to the Lord’ there was a ‘deplorable outburst’. Pontypool and Abertillery Choirs sang first and when the Abertillery Choir got to the platform someone asked the Rev Gurnos Jones which choir it was. When he answered ‘Abertillery’ there were shouts like ‘No, Abertillery and Merthyr’, ‘Cor Dan Davies yw e’ and ‘Turn them out’. For a time it looked as though the choir would not be allowed to sing but with the Rev Jones’ tactful intervention they were allowed to continue. The Merthyr Express reported that the male voice competition was won by Brynmawr with Porth and Cymmer second. They also drew attention to two letters that they had received. One from the adjudicator, George Oakley, referred to the reasons why he and the other adjudicators had rejected the boys’ voices in one choir as they believed that Male Voice Parties were for men’s voices alone. A further letter from George Oakley took issue with the South Wales Daily News report of the male voice competition and criticised its inaccuracies. Whatever the truth of it there was certainly a growing intensity and rivalry in the competitions.
A curious report in the Merthyr Express in late September 1896 said that the Beaufort Male Voice Party had been reformed and greatly increased with a fine selection of voices. They were to compete at Risca on ‘The Warhorse’ on Mabon’s Day. Whether this ‘reformation’ was due to a drop-off in attendance was not stated. More likely it was in line with the growing competitiveness among the choirs. Whatever the case the Male Voice Party won at Risca, as did the popular tenor David James. Buoyed by this success the United Choir and Male Voice Party said that ‘they were open for anyone now wishing to join’ adding that ‘the list will shortly close and the conductor is anxious that old members should attend’
The Beaufort Choral Society with its United Choir and Male Party were in fact to be inspired by Joseph Price for many years to come. 1897 reports testify to the success of the Society and to their appreciation of Joseph Price’s part in that success. In January the Beaufort Choral Society held its annual knife and fork supper when nearly 300 members and friends attended. In March the Beaufort Choral Society had given a masterly rendering of the choruses they intended competing upon. This mixed choir had been greatly strengthened with a fine combination of voices and was expected to do very well. The Male Voice Party too had given some very fine performances. On Saturday 10th April 1897 the Brynmawr Chair Eisteddfod Male Voice Competition took place. The prize was £10 and a baton to the successful conductor. The Merthyr Express reported that three parties competed viz: Beaufort Male Voice Party, conductor Mr. J Price: Garnfach Male Voice Party, conductor Mr. W D Richards and Abertillery Male Voice Party, conductor Mr. T Stephens. Choir No 1 had ‘tenors of beautiful quality, bassos rich; combination very good; expressions very well observed but though some of the choir took breath in the middle of the words; performance a fine one.’ The prize was divided between Choirs 1 and 3 – £5 each- and an extra baton awarded.
On May 15th 1897 the Express reported that the Beaufort Male Voice Party has had a pressing invitation to give a concert at Crickhowell. ‘The party will leave Beaufort in brakes and will be met by a brass band, and the town will be paraded previous to the concert. Several Beaufort artistes will also appear.’ The report of this concert was published on Saturday June 12th 1897. ‘On Monday last week the Beaufort Male Voice Party held a grand concert at the Clarence Hall Crickhowell. The day was all that could be desired and the drive through the picturesque valley was thoroughly enjoyed. Mr. McNeil, Griffin Hotel, supplied the brakes and carried out the arrangements in a very creditable manner. The party was accompanied by a large number of friends. The concert, from a musical point of view, was one of the finest ever given at Crickhowell. and was very much appreciated with each performance of the party and the soloists being received with applause. Mr. Joseph Price was the conductor and he wielded the baton with his usual ability. Miss Lily Morgan proved an efficient accompanist. Everything passed off without a hitch and the party reached home safely.’
On Saturday May 22nd 1897 it was reported that members of the Choral Society and Male Voice Party intended to present an address to their esteemed conductor Mr. Joseph Price. The address would be suitably illuminated and to mark the occasion a tea and entertainment would take place. Mr. H.W. Southey, Merthyr Express, was to be entrusted with the work. The presentation took place on 6th September when ‘the Beaufort Hill Board School was filled with an enthusiastic audience that had congregated to do honour to Mr. Joseph Price, conductor of the Beaufort Choral Society, who was to be the recipient of a handsome illuminated Address subscribed by the members of the choir and party. A committee had been formed to take some steps towards honouring their conductor and as soon as it was decided to make a presentation, the response by the public was extremely gratifying. The choir under the conductorship of Mr. Price had been very successful in the 4 years he had been in charge of it.’ Mr. Price was said to have worked most ardently devoting his whole time for the choir’s benefit. Mr. R Morgan, grocer, in the absence of Dr Bowen, presided and stated that he was an old chorister, and remembered many competitions, but the present choir far eclipsed any choir that had ever been in Beaufort. This was probably due to Mr. Price’s conductorship for he was possessed of all the good qualities required in a conductor. The party then gave a masterly rendition of ‘The Crusaders’. Mrs. Polly Davies, in a very pleasing manner, followed with ‘Killarney’ and an encore was demanded. Mr. David James gave the audience a treat in his magnificent rendering of a tenor solo and Mr. R Davies also did full justice to the popular solo ‘Off to Philadelphia’. Mr. W Herbert spoke in high terms of Mr. Price’s qualities and Mr. John Thomas (one of the most popular members) followed with an address remarking that he was quite in sympathy with the presentation and that no one deserved it more than Mr. Price. Rev D J Llewellyn was asked to present the address and he did in a very flattering speech. The address presented to Mr. Price was a very handsome one. It had been executed by Messrs H W Southey and sons, through their representative Mr. W Davies. The wording to the address was as follows:-
To MR. JOSEPH PRICE, Beaufort, Conductor of the Beaufort Choral Society.
Dear Sir, we the members of the Beaufort United Choir and the Beaufort Male Voice Party, beg your acceptance of this address in recognition of the able, faithful, patient and untiring services rendered by you as conductor of the above society. We feel that the sincere thanks not only of the society, but of the inhabitants of Beaufort generally, are due to you for the healthy, elevating recreation provided for the young people by the Choral Society since 1894. We are sure it must be a source of satisfaction to you to know that the teaching of the very many noble choruses which you have undertaken has not been labour in vain. The rehearsals themselves have been a source of great pleasure to every member of the society, and have borne testimony to your ability to instruct in a kind, pleasant and acceptable manner; while the valuable assistance given by the society to many charitable objects must have brought to you its own reward. Your great success in Eisteddfodic competitions is sufficient proof of your ability to grasp and efficiently convey to others the ideas of the great masters in their magnificent compositions. The little village choir under your baton has won many brilliant victories when competing against some of the best choirs in Wales, having won the sum of £120 in money prizes, two grand chairs and a silver watch; while the Male Voice Party has also won two prizes and a silver-mounted baton. A pleasing feature in all the adjudications upon our efforts, successful and otherwise, has been the high encomiums bestowed upon your conducting by the adjudicators. We also desire to express our grateful recognition of the splendid assistance given you and the Society by Mrs. Price. Her exceptionally regular attendances, her kind and cheerful manner, her excellent voice and her undaunted spirit, having been so many sources of encouragement, pleasure and confidence to every member of the choir. Therefore while we do not think this address anything like an adequate return for the great service rendered, we nevertheless ask you to accept it as the heartfelt wish that you may both enjoy long lives, which shall be devoted to making the earth brighter and happier, and more like heaven.
On behalf of the Society, we are, dear sir, yours faithfully Thomas Richards CC, miners’ agent, chairman; William Herbert vice-chairman; David Harris; John Thomas, treasurer; John Morgan, Albert Palmer, Lewis Reynolds, William Davies, John Jenkins; John Speake and W J Evans, secretaries.
After the presentation, Mr. Price thanked the donors for the valuable address and said it would always bring, when he looked at it, happy recollections of the good feeling existing between him and the choir. The party then sang ‘Comrades in Arms’ and this concluded one of the most interesting meetings held at Beaufort.
The same edition of the Merthyr Express which had the report of the presentation had an appeal by Joseph Price to all the old members of the choir to attend a Choral Society meeting the following Saturday at the Board School All wishing to become members could do so by applying to the conductor or committee. The Male Voice Party took part in the second Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod three weeks later in the competition for choirs of under 50 voices. The test piece was ‘The Crusaders’ and the Blaina Party was placed first of the five choirs which entered and Beaufort second. Beaufort was also one of eight choirs that competed in the Aberdare Eisteddfod Male Voice Competition where the test piece was “Martyrs of the Arena”. This was won by the Ebbw Vale Party with the Aberdare Party second. This busy time was followed by concerts at Barham school-room and the Market Hall Brynmawr, prior to taking part in the Porth Eisteddfod.
In 1898 The Beaufort Male Party and Choir seem to have had a quieter year but they re-started in October and the Male Party was reported to be ‘very strong.’ By December they were back to winning ways at the Brynmawr Eisteddfod sharing the first prize with the Tirphil and New Tredegar Party. In the same month the Party organised a grand concert. It was reported that there had seldom been such a variety of instrumental and vocal music at a Beaufort concert. Among those taking part were the Mount Pleasant String Band, Joseph Price’s Ladies Choir, the Beaufort Welsh Eight, the Beaufort Jubilee Singers and a number of soloists including David James.
In the New Year Joseph Price‘s United Choir decided to compete at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff but by March there were appeals for old members to attend rehearsals and an extension to the time for the closing of the registers. It was said that ‘up to now the attendance has been very discouraging and the committee are anxious to have a good representative choir at the National Eisteddfod.’ The Male Voice Party meanwhile was to compete at the Builth Eisteddfod and in July it gave a Sacred Concert at Brynmawr Market Hall.
During 1899 perhaps the most widely reported musical group was that of the Beaufort Jubilee Glee Singers which gave concerts at Abergavenny Town Hall, Southport, Llandrindod, Llangammarch and other places. The concert in Abergavenny took place in February and the Singers were reported by the Abergavenny Chronicle to be ‘a choir which has made such a successful tour through North Wales and the West of England since the commencement of the deplorable strike in March last, by which they were thrown out of their regular employment and compelled to make use of their talent in vocalisation. They were all prizewinners and this gave them courage to start on their new line of business. They started on tour and were favourably received wherever they went and for the most part had bumper houses at the places they visited.’
In September 1899 the Beaufort Male Voice Party was one of ten choirs which competed at the annual Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod. Though Beaufort was placed in the top three it was the Rhymney Choir that won. In November Beaufort competed at Dowlais in a competition again won by the Rhymney Choir. The new century brought a return to winning ways with the Male Voice Party winning a Christmas Eisteddfod in 1900 at Blaenavon. The popular tenor David James continued to win too and in February1901 he was given a grand testimonial for his efforts by the Male Voice Party, having sung various solos in the Party’s competitions. He was presented with a marble clock and two matching ornaments, with a suitable inscription. In April 1901 the Choral Society and Male Voice Party competed at Abergavenny and New Tredegar and in May won the prize at the Brynmawr Eisteddfod
In September 1902 the first annual Beaufort Eisteddfod was held. There was a record number of entries with nine male voice choirs, seven mixed choirs and six juvenile choirs. In a well attended Eisteddfod held in a spacious marquee the male voice competition was won by Abertillery with Ebbw Vale second. The test piece was ‘The Crusaders’. The mixed choir competition was won by Twynyrodyn Choral Society with Young Beginners (Beaufort) second.
In November 1902 the 38 year old William Price, the younger brother of Joseph Price and Senior Master of Pengam School, died. He was well known and highly respected in Beaufort and the Male Voice Party passed a vote of sympathy at its Sunday rehearsal which was forwarded to their conductor.
In February 1903 at an Eisteddfod at Barham chapel the Beaufort Excelsiors defeated the West End Ebbw Vale party in the male voice competition. Interestingly one of the winners in the duet for boys and girls was one Master Randall Williams of Beaufort who went on to be one of Joseph Price’s successors and a highly successful conductor. The second annual Eisteddfod of the Beaufort Male Voice party was held in July. The organisers’ intention was to make it equal to a National with large prizes and this Eisteddfod proved to be a great success from a musical and financial point of view. Apart from organising this event the Male Voice Party itself had a very good year. It was reported to be in its old form and numbered nearly a hundred voices. On Whit Monday they won at the Rhymney Eisteddfod and they decided to enter the National Eisteddfod at Llanelly. They also won at the Gilwern Eisteddfod in August and New Tredegar Eisteddfod in September. In November they were the only district representatives at an international contest in Cardiff.
In February 1904 there was a major choral contest at the Queen’s Hall in London in which eight choirs competed. Beaufort was bracketed with the London Welsh Male Choir as the second best in the competition and ran the winners, Rhos Male Voice Choir, ‘very close’. In July 1904 the third annual Eisteddfod was held at the Coedcae Field. Later in the year Beaufort were defeated by Mid-Rhondda at the Merthyr Eisteddfod. Merthyr Express reports were less frequent in the following months and in February 1905 the reason became clear. ‘After a long rest through bad attendance the Beaufort Male Voice Party are again resuming their former strength. This party will take part in the forthcoming Mountain Ash Eisteddfod’. However, whilst they were said in a later report to have given ‘a good account of themselves’, it was also noted that ‘a large number of members did not put in their appearance.’
Whatever their varying strength the Male Voice Party was a very happy and supportive one. The local PC James Richards had been in Beaufort for nearly 20 years and was a member of the Male Voice Party. When he left to become a Sergeant in Pontypool in July 1905 there was a farewell and presentation evening at Barham Church with soloists and the singing of ‘Crossing the Plain’ and ‘Martyrs of the Arena’ by the Male Voice Party.
In the chief choral competition for 70 to 100 voices at Tredegar Eisteddfod in September 1905 ‘Crossing the Plain’ was the test piece. There were four entries – Coleford and District, Beaufort, Pontypool and District and Tirphil and Tredegar Harmonic Society. The prize was divided between the Beaufort and Coleford Choirs. In October the Beaufort choir went one better as outright winners. They defeated seven choirs from Treorky, Merthyr Vale, Dowlais, Mountain Ash, Merthyr, Whitchurch and Clydach. The adjudicator had no hesitation in awarding the prize to Joseph Price’s choir. Of their rendering of ‘The Crusaders’ he said: ‘Excellent voices. Intonation good. Attack very clean; expression very careful; reading very good. An excellent rendering from beginning to end.’
Strangely by February 1906 things had changed once more. An appeal was made for members to attend rehearsal in preparation for the Abergavenny Eisteddfod. ‘Unless there was a good attendance’ it was said that ‘the Party will again disband.’ In April they did take part at Abergavenny in the Male Voice competition for 60 to 90 voices but they were placed seventh of the choirs which sang ‘On the ramparts’ By July things had again improved as they were judged to be the best of five choirs in the Male Voice Competition at the Bargoed Eisteddfod. In August Beaufort defeated Bargoed choir at the Tredegar Hospital Eisteddfod though not without criticisms from the adjudicators. At the Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod in October 1906 they defeated Ebbw Vale, Llechryd and Rhymney choirs and were dubbed ‘a splendid band of singers.’ After an indifferent start to the year the second half of 1906 had proved to be one of the best of times for the choir.
The Male Voice Party began 1907 with its first annual banquet at the Parish Hall. Some 80 members and friends attended. to celebrate the achievement of many noted victories. The evening’s President Rev D J Llewellyn, Vicar of St David’s Beaufort, was ‘pleased to grant the use of the Hall at any time to this party who deserved the highest praise for the continual success achieved under the able leadership of Mr. Jos Price the conductor. Wherever he went, the Beaufort Male Voice Party was known.’ Many musical items followed and Jos Price gave some ‘interesting incidents’ in connection with the Party and spoke of his pride in a record of nearly £300 in a long list of prizes as well as medals, batons, cups etc.
At the Abergavenny Eisteddfod in March 1907 the Beaufort and Bargoed choirs were joint runners up though they were less successful at the Brecon Eisteddfod in May. By August 1907 things had begun to decline once again as, though they had entered for the Pontlottyn Eisteddfod, ‘lack of interest and a large number leaving for their holidays’ meant that it was thought necessary to withdraw.’ That said they had been the only entrants. Nevertheless another of the periodic appeals to all old and intending new members was issued by the conductor and committee in August as there were several local eisteddfodau coming up in which they wanted to compete. In late November the Choir gave a free concert at a crowded Brynmawr Market Hall.
The fluctuating fortunes of the Male Voice Party over time was mirrored in the changing nature of industrial and employment prospects in Beaufort. Whilst it’s leading role in the early iron industry had brought prosperity Beaufort had become something of a suburb to Ebbw Vale when the steelworks and mines there were in the ascendancy in the second half of the 19th Century. Yet in November 1907 it was reported that ‘practically inexhaustible beds of clay have been discovered’ at Beaufort. These were to lead to the formation of the Beaufort Sanitary Pipe and Brick Company which promised to restore the village to industrial prominence.
Choral competitions resumed in 1908 with the Abergavenny Chair Eisteddfod in April. Beaufort was placed fifth of nine choirs in the chief Male Voice Competition for choirs of 60 to 80 voices. By June there were concerns over poor attendance once more and the Party did not enter the forthcoming Brecon Eisteddfod. Things must have declined as ‘the conductor and committee will consider the advisability of abandoning practices for an indefinite period.’ This had the desired effect as they competed at Brecon in July giving an excellent account of themselves and coming second.
By now there were other male voice parties in Beaufort – the Beaufort Hill Excelsiors and the Beaufort Cricket Party – which also entered competitions. In November the first annual Eisteddfod organised by the Cricket Club was held at Barham and the Beaufort United choir conducted by Mr. H Jones won the Male Voice Competition. In late January 1909 the surprising announcement was made that the Beaufort Male Voice Party was to be disbanded. ‘It was thought advisable to discontinue owing to lack of interest and attendance.’ It seemed to be final as ‘the accounts will be audited shortly and a meeting held to consider how to dispose of the funds and property.’
Joseph Price was seriously indisposed for a time in the summer of 1908 but by early 1909 he was organising a meeting to make a final effort to provide a public hall, institute and reading-room in Beaufort. Locals had hoped for this for over 50 years. It was felt that they had been too dependent on the kindness of religious bodies and the time had come for a public hall especially for the ‘rising generation.’ Preliminary meetings had been held and a Newport brewery was prepared to surrender the lease on four cottages and ground adjoining the Globe Inn if the Duke of Beaufort’s agent would extend the lease on the inn. This had been agreed so that the four cottages and adjoining ground were made available on a 99 year lease for the building of a public hall and institute. Joseph Price said that the Beaufort Male Voice Party in particular had lost heavily because they could not get a suitable place to hold their annual Eisteddfod. He had visited Abersychan to see their District Workmen’s Institute and felt that something similar was possible for Beaufort. To raise money he suggested a £1 share scheme. The meeting was an undoubted success as £200 in shares were taken up and a large committee was elected with Joseph Price as Secretary
At the annual bachelors’ tea party at the Presbyterian Church in February the Excelsior Male Voice Party under the leadership of Richard Davies took part in the entertainment. By April the Beaufort Male Voice Party had been re-organised and greatly strengthened. Attendance was once again satisfactory and they were soon competing again – first in Pontypool and then in May at the Brecon Chair Eisteddfod. They didn’t win at Brecon but at least they had re-formed. Unfortunately by January 1910 there was once again the feeling that the Party should be re-formed so all was not well. At the end of the month they were awarded the prize at the Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod but they were the only choir taking part. By May it was reported that the Party had ‘again been re-organised on a firm basis and the conductor, Joseph Price, was delighted with the progress being made.’ Soon they were winning again at the Newtown Eisteddfod singing ‘The Ramparts’ and were planning to enter other competitions at Tredegar and Blaenavon.
In May 1911 Beaufort defeated five other choirs at Brynmawr Eisteddfod. In June they competed against Cardiff, Dowlais, Glynneath and Bargoed choirs at the Gwent Eisteddfod at Rhymney but were placed fifth. However at their next Eisteddfod in Crickhowell in July they were placed first of the six parties which entered. In August at the Brynmawr Eisteddfod they were once again placed first ahead of seven other choirs. In October 1911 the Party began rehearsing ‘Spartan Heroes’ for the Blaenavon and Newport Eisteddfodau. In February 1912 they took first prize at the Abertillery Eisteddfod. They then began to practise ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ for the Abergavenny Eisteddfod at Easter.
At a public rehearsal at the Parish Hall in June 1912 the Vicar of Beaufort congratulated the Party on their run of success. The Party then sang ‘The Fisherman’, the test piece for the forthcoming Newtown Eisteddfod, and ‘The Weary Pilgrim’. In July the Party contributed to the programme at ‘Dooners’ luxurious cinema in Brynmawr. In August Beaufort beat Aberfan and Clydach Male Voice Parties at the Crickhowell Eisteddfod singing ‘The Crusaders’. Later in August there were seven parties at the Brynmawr Eisteddfod with ‘Valiant Warriors’ as the test-piece. First prize went to Ebbw Vale with Tredegar Orpheus second and Beaufort fifth.
1913 was the year of the National Eisteddfod at Abergavenny. Beaufort entered after getting signed declarations by choristers that they would attend practices regularly. Prior to the Eisteddfod there were two public rehearsals at the Parish Hall and at Beaufort Hill School and ‘every confidence was expressed that the party will favourably acquit themselves at Abergavenny.’ They were one of thirteen choirs which took part in the Second Choral Competition and were placed ninth.
April 1914 saw yet another re-organisation. The former Secretary of the Male Voice Party felt that there was a general desire among old members and young men ‘to make one strong party in Beaufort again.’ It seems that this followed the end of Joseph Price’s time as conductor. Yet Mr. Price was visited on a number of occasions and soon was prepared to return. It was hoped that the Party could again be raised to its former standard. In the meantime the Beaufort Hill Excelsior Party, conducted by Mr. Edwin Herbert, had won in three successive competitions.
In December 1914 Bert Price of Cambrian Stores Beaufort, the 32 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Price died. His funeral took place at St David’s and the Male Voice Party was there. December also saw the revival of the Beaufort Eisteddfod by the Beaufort Cinema Hall Company. The event was considered an unqualified success though the Beaufort choir was defeated by the Gwalia Glee Party from Nantyglo in the Male Voice competition.
In May 1915 nine choirs competed at Brynmawr Eisteddfod. Cwmcarn won with Beaufort Excelsiors, conducted by Mr Edwin Herbert, placed fourth and Beaufort ninth. The test piece was ‘The Crusaders.’ At the end of May at the Crumlin Eisteddfod the Beaufort Party were placed second to Cwmcarn Choir. In June however a meeting at Beaufort Hill School was to ‘reform the Male Voice Choir’ which suggests that all was not well. However the meeting did appoint Joseph Price as conductor, Mrs A M Davies as the accompanist and a new Committee and officers. In 1916 Mrs Davies obtained her advanced certificate from the London Associated Board of Music. Unfortunately in November of that year the affairs of the Male Voice Party were wound up. A statement said that Mr Joseph Price had tried to hold the party together for a number of years.
A newspaper report of 1919 headed “Beaufort Conductor rests baton” said that Joseph Price had been presented with a gold watch and chain and a pitch pipe on his retirement as conductor after 25 years. The Choir had won between £4000 and £5000 in prizes under Joseph Price’s leadership.
THE RANDALL WILLIAMS YEARS 1919-29, 1948-1957.
In 1919 two choirs competed at the Eisteddfod at Beaufort – Gwent Glee Party and the Cendl Glee Society, conductor Randall Williams. . In December, a concert in Barham Congregational Church, in aid of St Dunstan’s Hostel for blinded soldiers and sailors, featured the Cendl Glee Party conducted by Randall Williams. The 1920’s was to herald a major new phase in the choral life of Beaufort. When the Cendl Glee Party held their annual supper party at Carmel vestry there was a first class concert and the choir members made a presentation to their conductor Mr. Randall Williams. The Chairman reported that they had won a few prizes in competitions and had given three concerts. The President, Councillor J Phillips, in making the presentation of a dressing case said that he could not remember a presentation being made in such a short time by members of any party. He told Randall Williams that he had ‘won the unanimous confidence of the Party and with your efforts and your talents there is no question in my mind that you have a bright future before you.’ In March 1920 the Cendl Glee Party gave a grand concert at Carmel with excellent renderings of ‘The Crusaders’, ‘Spartan Heroes’, ‘The Martyrs of the Arena’ and ‘Valiant Warriors’. It was reported that ‘the Party is a very young one and great credit is due to Mr. Williams for the manner in which he has brought them out in so short a time.’
By 1921 it was once again Mr. Edwin Herbert’s Beaufort Welsh Glee singers who seemed to be the more active. In February they gave an excellent concert at Tybryn and when, in April 1921, representatives from the local churches set up a fund to relieve acute causes of distress in the area Mr. Herbert’s singers set out to raise money. They held an excellent concert at the Cinema Hall. In June they set out on tour to collect for the Distress Fund, beginning with Llangynidr, Talgarth and Builth before travelling further into mid-Wales. In July they had a week’s engagement in Monmouth. In October they entertained a very large audience at Bwlch. The Merthyr Express noted that there were ‘four glee societies in the neighbourhood, under the respective conductorships of Mr. Edwin Herbert, Mr. Joseph Williams, Mr. James Price and Mr. Randall Williams’ adding the question ‘who said male voice singing in Beaufort is dead ?’
In September 1921 the funeral took place of Mrs. Joseph Price who had done so much to support her husband’s leadership of the Male Voice Party. She had been one of the prime movers in the formation of the Choral Society in 1894 and for over a quarter of a century was actively connected with all forms of choral work in the district.
In January 1922 the Cendl, now known as the Celtic Glee Party, conducted by Randall Williams made its first public appearance. Soon it was one of the busiest musical groups In February they held concerts at Barham school-room and at the Soar Guild. In March they gave a concert in aid of Ebbw Vale AFC at the Cinema Hall in Beaufort (home of the new ‘Gaiety Cinema’) and a concert at Carmel vestry for the Young People’s Guild. They came second in the Male Voice Glee Party competition at the Beaufort Eisteddfod in April. In May Randall Williams succeeded Joseph Price as choirmaster of Carmel Church Choir. In June the Celtic Glee Party and the Excelsior Glee Party competed at the Llangynidr Eisteddfod but they were the smallest choirs of the nine competitors, coming fourth and fifth. Most of the parties were over 80 strong. It was reported that ‘the Beaufortians need not in any way be discouraged; rather do they deserve a word of congratulation. There might have been a different tale if both glee parties had combined.’ The report concluded that ‘there is plenty of material in Beaufort for the making of a strong male voice party worthy of its best traditions.’ For the moment the two Glee Parties continued apart. In October and November the Excelsior Party gave concerts at Bwlch and Blaina whilst the Celtic Glee Party won a competition at Ebbw Vale. In a report of this victory they were said to be ‘gradually making a name for themselves in the district’. It added ‘Mr. Randall Williams has already gained a great reputation as conductor and trainer of the Waunlwyd Children’s choir and there appears to be every justification for the belief that his male voice party is also coming to the forefront.’ In December 1922 a Distress Concert at the Soar Baptist Church gave the Celtic Glee Party ‘a grand reception’. In the same month the Party defeated the Brynmawr Male Party at the 67th Annual Christmas Day Eisteddfod at Soar on the test piece ‘Crossing the Plain’.
In January 1923 the Celtic Glee Party held its annual meeting. In response to the Chairman‘s kind words about the choir Randall Williams said that ‘it was true they had achieved successes on the competitive platform recently, but after having been together for nearly two years he was sure their success had not been premature’. There had been a steady improvement and if they would only keep together he predicted a promising future for the party. In June the Celtic Glee Party held a very successful concert at Carmel Chapel. There were two soloists – the famous baritone Mostyn Thomas, the soprano Margaret Jewell – and an elocutionist Ithel Williams. The Party sang ‘Fallen Heroes’, ‘Castilla‘and ‘Alice where art thou’ and ended with ‘Invictus’
The Beaufort Apollo Glee Party, conducted by Mr. James Price, shared second prize at Tenbury Wells in their first competition and in October 1923 were one of four parties which competed in the male voice competition in an Eisteddfod at the Parish Hall Beaufort. The test piece was ‘Crossing the Plain’ and the Celtic Glee Society defeated Abertillery Orpheus, the Beaufort Hill Excelsiors and Mr. Price’s Beaufort Apollo. In November the local branch of the British Legion held two very well attended concerts. The Excelsior Glee Singers performed on one evening at the Memorial Hall and the Celtic Glee Singers performed at the Parish Hall on the following evening.
At the 67th annual Christmas Day Eisteddfod at Zoar Baptist Church the Celtic Glee Singers once again won, defeating the Excelsior Glee Party. At the annual meeting of the Celtic Glee Party in the new year there was every reason to report good progress. The Chairman Mr. H.E.Speake said that ‘in the competitive world they had met the cream of Monmouthshire Glee Societies and their record proved conclusively that they could now count themselves amongst premier organisations.’ Socially and financially too there had been progress and it was hoped that all of this would increase interest in the organisation. Randall Williams weighed in with his musical report thanking the officers and members for their efforts in a successful year. They had been successful in Eisteddfodau and had freely assisted in many charity concerts. He also spoke highly of the first-class concert which had given local people the opportunity to hear some of the best singers of the day. Indeed he felt that to him this was one of the main purposes of the society. ‘They must foster musical art by giving the people an opportunity of hearing the best.’ He ended with a rallying cry. ‘There was a danger that the members looked upon the society in the light of self, but success depended upon the united efforts of all the members remembering their individual responsibility to the society, supported by regularity and punctuality in their attendances at rehearsals.’
On St David’s Day 1924 the Celtic Glee Party gave a concert in support of the Barham Congregational Church’s Young People’s Guild. In May they shared the first prize with Glanffrwd Party in the Male Voice Competition at Abertillery. It was reported that ‘a glowing tribute was paid to Randall Williams by Mr. Leigh Henry Mus. Bac., M.A., Ph.D. and the party too were highly complimented on their very fine performance. May this success be an incentive to the gaining of further laurels.’ The following month they won at the Llangynidr Eisteddfod on Whit Monday and were again highly complimented by the judges. Their greatest success so far came later in June when they defeated five other choirs in the Male Voice competition at Sophia Gardens Cardiff, even though they were the smallest party. The four adjudicators were unanimous in their verdict and the Celtic won a £15 prize and a silver cup. Speaking for the adjudicators Mr. DJ Evans described their performance as outstanding. They had ‘a very fine balance and blend that was maintained right throughout.’ The adjudicators felt that this choir began with a mission and succeeded in it. Their performance was ‘imaginative, interesting and decidedly artistic’.
In August 1924 the Celtic Glee Singers competed twice on one Saturday afternoon at Risca and at Pentwyn, Aberbeeg. At Risca they were placed third out of eight parties but at Pentwyn they defeated four other parties. In September they came second to Tredegar Orpheus at Oakdale but in October were ahead of Tredegar at a competition in Blackwood. Buoyed by their successes the Celtic decided to ‘strengthen the organisation’ in the hope that they could take part in the second Male Voice Competition for choirs of 40 to 60 voices at the 1925 Pwllheli National Eisteddfod. In the hope that they could do so they asked that all who wished to join should make an immediate written application to the Secretary. Soon after this they defeated nine other male voice parties at Pengam. This earned Randall Williams a handsome oak chair. Three weeks later they won again at the Blaenavon Eisteddfod defeating four other parties. They closed the year in a Blackwood competition in which six of the best Monmouthshire choirs took part and they came second to the Tredegar Orpheus.
Not surprisingly the third annual meeting of the Celtic Male Choir at Barham school-room was very upbeat. The Secretary felt that the year that had just ended was a most successful one and the most eventful for the Choir. They had competed in no less than 15 Eisteddfodau and had won eight prizes including two silver cups and a fine oak chair. They had also performed in a number of charity concerts. Funds had also increased. The Chairman, H E Speake, reviewed overall progress. After their first year they had felt they were on the right lines. Even though they were not at that time known outside their district they had done some good ‘spade work’ which had since reaped its reward. ‘At the end of 1923 they were making themselves felt a little and entered 1924 optimistically’. Even so he felt that the progress made in 1924 had been far greater than they could have expected. As a result the constitution had changed. Up until the previous May they were known as the Celtic Glee Society but then membership was increased to a maximum of 60 and subsequently they had both quantity and quality. In the following 6 months they had brought home 8 prizes. He gave the lion’s share of the credit to the conductor. They had success on merit and had built a reputation. Randall Williams said that he had never anticipated such a year. He analysed the ingredients necessary for such a success concluding that last but not least was to sing for the love of singing. ‘It was not only good for the lungs, but for the soul.’ He hoped that 1925 would be as successful and that the interest would be maintained.
In February 1925 the Celtic Male Choir won at the Rogerstone Eisteddfod. In April they came second to Tredegar Orpheus at the Carmel Church Eisteddfod on Good Friday. In May they were placed joint second at a close competition in Lydney. The winning choir Bristol Harmonic had 140 voices whilst the Celtic at 55 voices was the smallest in the competition. Shortly afterwards they went to a male voice competition at Llangynidr only to find that there had been a written objection to their taking part. It was claimed that one of the musical adjudicators was a relative of Randall Williams, even though this was not the case. The Committee ignored the protest and the conductor of the proceedings offered £5 to the person who had written the protest if he came forward and revealed his identity. Additionally £50 was offered to a charitable institution if the accused could prove his statement. No-one responded to these offers. The Celtic came second in the competition. They went on in late June to defeat six other choirs at a competition in Trinant and in August they won at the Risca Eisteddfod being awarded the maximum marks. At the end of August they won at Erwood Eisteddfod. They gave two concerts in November at the end of another eventful year. They were well received by a large audience at the Town Hall in Abergavenny and also gave a free benefit concert at Cwm.
In January 1926 the Celtic Male Choir took part in a memorable concert at the Wesleyan Church organised by the Cricket Section of the Beaufort Welfare Scheme. In addition to the Choir there were three soloists, an elocutionist and a ’cellist in one of the most successful concerts in the neighbourhood for some time.
At the annual meeting the Chairman felt that although 1924 had been a remarkable year he felt that 1925 had been a greater year. He thought that ‘they were now a finer and stronger organisation. They were more established and better known.’ They had twenty wins in two and a half years. Again they hoped to compete in the National Eisteddfod. The vice-chairman also felt that 1925 had been better than 1924. A member of the choir who had been in choirs for 40 years said that he had never enjoyed himself as much as he had with the Celtic. It was good to have so many young men in the choir and he paid tribute to Randall Williams who was in the business for the love of music and not for the winning of prizes. Randall Williams attributed the successful year to ‘the splendid organisation, their regularity of attendance at practices and the fine brotherly feeling which existed amongst the members.’ He hoped that they would compete in the 1926 National Eisteddfod and hoped that they would win – though they would have achieved something in competing. He felt that this was a transitional phase in choral music which would demand ‘more intelligence and musicianship in its treatment.’ He concluded with the wish that 1926 would be the most successful year in their history. In April the Party won the male voice competition at the Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod and performed creditably at the Cardiff Eisteddfod on Easter Monday.
The best was yet to come as in August they won first prize in the second male voice competition at the Swansea National Eisteddfod. They defeated 4 other choirs – Haverfordwest Excelsior, Glanffrydd, Tynant and Beddau and Blaenavon. Two of the three test pieces – ‘Yr Hufen Melyn’ and ‘Men of Eric’ were unaccompanied. When the news reached Beaufort a couple of thousand people gathered at Carmel Town to give them a rousing reception in the early hours of the morning. The choir found it hard to get out of their charabancs and Randall Williams tried to escape on the other side of one of the vehicles. He was soon caught and carried shoulder high by a cheering crowd. A procession formed up and led by a band went through the village. When they reached the conductor’s house the crowd expected a speech. A tired Randall Williams simply said ‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of the choir and myself, for the wonderful reception you have given us. It has surpassed anything I ever expected. I cannot say how delighted I am to bring the honour home and I am too proud and too full to say more. If you let me off now, I shall be the happiest man in the world.’ Rev R.O.Jones (Barham) congratulated Mr. Williams on the choir’s magnificent success and the crowd cheered and sang ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow.’
So the Beaufort Male Celtic Choir in a few years had grown from an initial 28 voices to a choir of 60 voices and had won 25 prizes together with several cups, chairs and batons culminating in their National victory. The Choir was said to have ‘excellent voices of beautiful balance and blend, well trained and excellently disciplined.’ Randall Williams, a teacher, had had a full and interesting career. He had won many prizes as a boy singer. His choral career began with the successful Waunlwyd Juvenile Choir which gained many successes at Eisteddfodau in Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. Conductor of the Celtic choir since its inception, its success was thought to be due to his outstanding capability.
A week after their success a benefit concert for the local Distress Fund was planned for the Welfare Grounds but rain meant that it had to be held indoors at the Parish Hall. So hundreds of people were denied the opportunity to join in the reception. Inside the Hall Rev R.O. Jones, the vicar, Rev F Rowlands and Rev Thomas Davies of Bethesda Calvinistic Methodist Church added their congratulations and best wishes. Mr. D W Phillips J.P. then presented Randall Williams with a box of cigars saying that ‘the cigars will end up in smoke but the achievements of the party will remain indelibly while our lives last.’ Randall Williams was proud that the choir had brought honour to Beaufort, to themselves and to the accompanist Mrs. D E Speake.
The Celtic continued to give many charity concerts to aid the Distress fund. A number were held in Beaufort but they also went to Brynmawr, Ebbw Vale, Victoria and Tredegar. In December they competed in the semi-national Eisteddfod at Pontypridd where only a few marks separated them from the winners.
1926 was also a very eventful year for one of the smaller choirs in the district the Beaufort Hill Male Voice Choir conducted by Edwin Herbert. When the General Strike began in May the members of the Beaufort Hill Party decided to raise money to buy the materials for shoe repairs for the children of miners. The members also volunteered to do open air singing to raise money for the Local Distress Committee. The Distress Fund advanced them £10 so that they could travel to Bristol to sing in various parts of Somerset. A diary was kept of their 19 day trip which began on May 15th. In all they raised £50.
It was no surprise that the Beaufort Celtic Male Choir’s fifth annual meeting in January 1927 was an enthusiastic gathering. The National victory had been the first by a choir from the district. Choir membership had risen by about 25%. Also the financial balance was still ‘on the right side’ even though income had fallen in the General Strike year and expenditure had risen. Tributes were paid to those who had made it such a successful year and Randall Williams was again singled out. He thought that this annual meeting was the happiest one that they had ever had. Indeed he saw no reason why their future should not be even more rosy than their past had been. He also paid tribute to the two accompanists Mrs. Speake and Mr. Myrddin Morgan. He was sorry that Mr. Speake was unable to continue as Chairman but was confident that Mr. Aneurin Davies would be a good successor.
At a meeting in March 1927 the Celtic Male Choir recorded a vote of condolence with the bereaved families of the Cwm Colliery explosion victims. One member of the choir, Charles Rich was one of eleven who were found alive in the affected district in the Colliery.
In April the Choir competed against the ‘cream’ of Welsh choirs in the Cardiff Eisteddfod and was placed third behind Williamstown and Treorchy. In April at the Abertillery Eisteddfod the judges spoke in glowing terms of the Celtic’s performance of ‘Fallen Heroes’ and had no hesitation in declaring them winners. In June the Celtic won the male voice competition at Llangynidr. They also announced their intention to enter the Treorchy ‘National’ in 1928. To do this they invited applications for all parts in order to increase the size of the choir. In July the Choir won the chief male voice competition at the Llandrindod Eisteddfod, winning a prize of £100 with a gold watch going to the winning conductor. This choir was much larger than the 60 strong 1926 National winners. Even though many of the new members were inexperienced they had made remarkable progress under Randall Williams’ tuition. The test piece was ‘Nidaros’ and there was an unaccompanied chorus of the choir’s own selection. The Beaufort choir chose ‘Men of Eric’ a very difficult chorus that they performed well. The defeated choirs were Swansea and District, Port Talbot and Llanidloes.
By September the choir was well over 100 strong. In a competition at Port Talbot entered by seven choirs the Celtic was the favourite to win but was placed second to Maesteg. At the end of September they were back to winning ways when they won the Blaenavon Eisteddfod. The adjudicator said that ‘they were a remarkable party which sang a remarkable piece in a remarkable way. They were finely balanced and there was splendid cohesion.’
In November there was a meeting and supper at the Barham schoolroom to honour Randall Williams. He was presented with a gold watch chain to accompany the watch he had won at Llandrindod in July. The choir President Mr. Tom Morgan M.C. said that ‘it was not a new thing for Beaufort to have a male voice party and he would like to pay a tribute to the conductor of the old Party, Mr. Joseph Price.’ He felt that ‘the present party was carrying out an inheritance which had been handed down to them.’ Mr. Herbert Speake in making the presentation referred back to May 1924 when the Party sang at Abertillery. Following their performance that day Dr Leigh Henry made a statement to the effect that from Mr. Randall Williams they had received an object lesson in the art of conducting. In the following three and a half years he estimated that the Choir had spent some one thousand hours in the practice room. During that period they had 25 wins to their credit amounting to some £500 in cash as well as silver cups and other trophies. Mr. Williams had done it all as a labour of love and he felt his tremendous amount of work should be recognised. Randall Williams responded and agreed that ‘theirs was a successful organisation, but it was not due so much to his influence and ability or to the influence of the committee, but the general brotherhood that existed.’ It was all right to win prizes but that was not everything They were also doing a lot of good work for charity and were held in high esteem in the district.
In December the Beaufort Celtic Male Voice Choir noted that there were still a few vacancies and applications were once again invited to increase their strength in readiness for the Treorchy National Eisteddfod.
The annual meeting of January 1928 was a review of another successful year’s work. The President, Mr. Tom Morgan, felt that 1927 had been an even better year than 1926 as a glee party with a small beginning had been able to go into open competition with the cream of Wales and win £100. By his reckoning this placed Beaufort among the ‘giants of Wales’. He felt that ‘there was no party in Wales of which they should be afraid in the future.’ He hoped that they would not only enter competitions but would do some educational work in the district. Finally he appealed for ‘teamwork, combination and enthusiasm’ and regular and punctual attendance at practices. Randall Williams felt that they were not bound to win at Treorchy but was confident that they would do well. He thanked the accompanists and a young member of the Party, David Jones, who was quite capable of conducting the choir if necessary. Mr. Aneurin Davies was unanimously re-elected as chairman.
In May 1928 there was a concert at Carmel chapel organised by the Barham Congregational Church which was said to be reminiscent of the great Good Friday concerts held there many years before. The Male Voice Party and a number of excellent soloists took part. In August at the Treorchy National Eisteddfod the choir took part in the chief male voice competition for the first time. They did not win but gave a very creditable performance. At a meeting in September there was a discussion of the future with an appeal for ‘a firmer and stricter organisation’. It was also unanimously decided to compete at the Liverpool National Eisteddfod in 1929.
Soar Baptist Chapel had held its annual Christmas Day Eisteddfod for over 50 years but this had lapsed in the past couple of years. So instead the Beaufort Male Voice Party put on a very good concert on Christmas Night at the Cinema Hall. Two soloists took part – Miss May Huxley and Mr. Arthur Fear – who had had great success in London. The choir sang the choruses ‘Admiral Death, The Herald, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Nidaros and The Long Day Closes’. It was a pity that such a successful musical event did not attract enough local people to make it a paying proposition.
The annual meeting in January 1929 felt that 1928 had been less successful than previous years. The Chairman Mr. Aneurin Davies felt that ‘it was no good their making resolutions and having good ideals unless they were prepared to work to attain those ideals’. He paid tribute to the conductor’s work over nearly eight years and appealed for more enthusiasm from the members of the choir. Another speaker said that he was sure that if the choir did not rally around and support Randall Williams he would not long be unemployed. The choir’s response was to win at the Newbridge Eisteddfod in April and at Kington in May.
On 26th August 1929 Joseph Price, who had conducted the Male Voice Party for nearly a quarter of a century, died in London where he had been treated for cancer at a Hospital in Chelsea. Beaufort had lost one of its most highly respected people. Under his baton the Male Voice Party had won over £400 in prizes and he had also conducted the successful Choral Society‘s United Choir.
In September a presentation was made to Jack Read a member of the Choir who was emigrating to America. The Choir meanwhile intended to compete at the Llanelly National Eisteddfod in 1930. They decided to hold rehearsals alternately at Beaufort and Ebbw Vale in the hope that this would attract the singers of Waunlwyd and Victoria. In October the choir won at Blackwood Eisteddfod defeating Tredegar Orpheus, Trelewis, Blaina Orpheus, Brynmawr and Cwmfelinfach choirs.
The 1930 Annual Meeting came a week after a win at the Pontllanfraith Eisteddfod over Abercwmboi, Tredegar Orpheus and Blaina Orpheus choirs. It was the fortieth victory in Randall Williams’ time as conductor which had seen some £600 won in prizes. Randall Williams felt they lived in troubled times but did not see why they could not sing. He thought that ‘community song nights’ could be part of their programme. He was proud of the Party but was disappointed with the level of outside public support. Mr. Aneurin Davies was re-elected as Chairman for the fourth year.
Disappointingly due to the industrial situation the choir did not compete at the Llanelly National Eisteddfod. However in September 1930 it was reported that they were about to undertake one of their most ambitious competitions in a London Eisteddfod in November. Efforts were made to increase the funds of the choir to allow this to happen. In a period of depression the financial position had deteriorated and it was reported that funds were required ‘to establish the choir upon a permanent basis.’ This was a disturbing development and the report went on to note that Beaufort had never had a male choir with the fine record of this Beaufort Male Voice Party, good as many of its predecessors had been. To reinforce this and to rally support this report reviewed in a very positive way the history of this choir from its formation as a small glee society in 1922. Early on they had increased to 50 voices and decided to enter competitions. It was a second male voice class choir from 1923 to 1926 and had remarkable success culminating in the 1926 National Eisteddfod victory at Swansea. The adjudicator described the choir as ‘a body of excellent voices with the right balance and blend. The singing was always architectural and their intelligence carried them over many awkward snags.’ Later in 1926 they had decided to enter first-class competition and the choir increased to 100 voices. Soon they won at Llandrindod Wells in a competition with many famous choirs. After failing to win the Treorchy National there was a recovery in 1929 and 1930 with many big prizes won including £50 at Llangennech. In all the choir had won 42 prizes worth over £700 and amongst the trophies were a chair, seven silver cups, several batons, gold medal, gold watch and certificates. The victories had been won over a wide area from Lydney to Kington in the North and Llangennech in the West. The choir had also given dozens of concerts for charity. By September 1930 the report found the choir to be in an excellent condition with ‘130 of matured, well trained voices’. Financial support would allow the Party to overcome an obstacle to its appearance at all the National Eisteddfodau and competitions in all parts of the country. Finally the report said that ‘behind this brilliant body of singers is the great musical genius of its conductor’ and concluded with the ‘sincere hope that the public would give them the support they are so confidently seeking.’ In the following week a meeting was held at the Louis café in Ebbw Vale to appoint a committee and officials for the Beaufort and District Male Voice Party. Mr. Aneurin Davies was elected chairman. Mr. D.R.Davies , President of the Miners Federation, and Councillor Hubert Davies were elected organisers with the selection of a committee to be held later. Another meeting was to be held at an early date ‘to place the choir on a permanent basis’. Mr. Hubert Davies explained at a District Council meeting what the intentions of the Party were and invited the Council to co-operate with them in putting the Party on a firm basis. The members unanimously agreed to attend a meeting with this object in view.
Doubts about the future persisted but there was an encouraging attendance at the annual meeting in January 1931 which suggested a renewed purpose. Tom Morgan MC of Ebbw Vale was re-elected President once again as was Mr. Aneurin Davies as Chairman. Councillor Hubert Davies was delighted by the attendance but knew that he was speaking to an organisation 90% of which was made up of idle men. He hoped that the choir could raise funds to alleviate the distress in the district. Some £270 had already been raised and he was counting on the choir for their full support. Randall Williams felt the attendance was very encouraging after their recent ‘idle lapse’. He hoped that 1931 would be a more prosperous year than 1930 had been. By May reports suggested that this had been realised as the Beaufort Choir had shared victory at the Abergavenny Eisteddfod with Newport Choral Society. Encouraged by their success a permanent organisation was formed called the ‘Beaufort and District Choral Society’. The new choir conducted by Randall Williams intended to compete at the Brecon Eisteddfod in June. On Whit Monday they won the male voice competition at Llangynidr Eisteddfod.
By December1931 the new beginning had stalled and the new choir was disbanded. As had been predicted Randall Williams did not remain idle for long and he was invited to conduct a new choir, the Ebbw Vale and District Male Choir. In January 1932 the Merthyr Express felt it necessary to correct this report. Randall Williams had definitely resigned and was now conductor of the New Ebbw Vale Choir but the Beaufort Party ‘has not disbanded. In fact a serious attempt is being made at re-organisation’ and a meeting was to be held for this purpose. When the weather allowed, this took place and Mr. Jack Morgan was elected Chairman with Mr. Aneurin Davies as Vice-Chairman. Mr. Alfred Jones was chosen as the new conductor. He was the conductor of the Ebbw Vale Amateur Operatic Society and the English Wesleyan Church Choir. Yet another new male voice choir was formed at Beaufort Hill in July under Mr. Edwin Herbert’s conductorship. They planned to compete at the Llangattock Eisteddfod in August and the Abertysswg Eisteddfod in September.
Meanwhile, in November 1932, Randall Williams’ new Ebbw Vale and District Male Choir won the chief choral competition at the semi-national Eisteddfod held at Central Hall Westminster. They defeated choirs from Llanelly, Brynmawr and Wolverhampton to win the £75 prize.
In January 1933 the first annual meeting of the Beaufort Glee Male Voice Party was held with the President Councillor Hubert Davies in the Chair. It was felt that they could be congratulated on their progress in 1932. Mr. Harry Morgan was elected Chairman. In May the party conducted by Mr. Edwin Herbert held a successful concert at the Rassau Welfare Institute. In November the Glee Party was placed second in the Blaenavon Eisteddfod and also held a successful concert at St Andrew’s church Beaufort Hill.
In March 1934 another revived choir called the Celtic Male Choir was formed under the conductorship of Randall Williams. Their first competition was against Cwm Cynon Colliery Choir at the Mountain Ash male voice competition where they were placed second on the test piece ‘Castilla’. However by September 1937 it was reported that there was ‘a movement on foot to resuscitate the old Beaufort Male Voice Party.’ A meeting took place at Barham Chapel in October and there was widespread support. The conductor once again was Randall Williams with Mrs. Speake as the accompanist. Councillor Aneurin Davies was elected chairman with Councillor Alfred Davies as Vice-Chairman. It was hoped that the Party would enter the Cardiff National Eisteddfod.
In September 1937 the Merthyr Express reported that this movement was afoot ‘to resuscitate the old Beaufort Male Voice Party, a distinguished musical organisation in South Wales some years ago.’ It was hoped that all old members and others interested would support this move. For whatever reason this attempt failed and it was 11 years later in November 1948 before another meeting at Barham led to the re-forming of the choir. It held its first practice with Randall Williams as conductor and Mrs. Speake as accompanist. Practices were to be held on Friday and Sunday at the Barham School-room. Councillor N Davies became the chairman. In June 1949 the Beaufort Male Voice Party competed for the first time in 20 years when they entered the Kington Eisteddfod. They were placed second out of six parties. In July they won the Llandrindod Wells Eisteddfod. In September singing ‘Nidaros’ they won the first prize of £30 and a challenge cup at Blackwood Eisteddfod defeating 4 other choirs. The accompanist at these three victories was Mrs. Sadie Edwards of Tredegar.
In February 1950 the Male Choir held a concert at Carmel Congregational Church. By now the choir was nearly 100 voices and they were joined by soprano, tenor and baritone soloists. The Choir sang Daniel Protheroe’s ‘Castilla’, ‘Deus Salutis’, Joseph Parry’s ‘The Pilgrims’, ‘The Sword of Olaf‘, ‘Arise O Sun’ and ‘Nidaros’ The young soprano soloist, Jean Barrell, was a student at the Royal Academy. The tenor soloist Andrew Gold was a member of the English Opera Group and the baritone soloist W T Jones was a National Eisteddfod winner. In all it was a first rate concert before a large audience.
In May 1950 the Male Voice Choir and the Beaufort Ladies Choir, both conducted by Randall Williams, entered the Sennybridge Eisteddfod. The Ladies Choir came second in what was their first competition and the Male Voice Choir third. In June at the Kington Eisteddfod both choirs were winners and the Male Voice Choir was complimented on its performance of Woodgate’s ‘Sword of Olaf’. In July the Male Voice Choir won at the Llandrindod Eisteddfod giving ‘an example of the best in choral singing.’ In the 19 months of its existence the Party had won £135 at various Eisteddfodau. A fortnight later they defeated the Ebbw Vale Choir in what was their seventh win in ten competitions. In September they came third at the Aberystwyth Eisteddfod and the following month won at Blackwood Eisteddfod for the second year running. In November they entered the Oakdale Eisteddfod and won the South Wales Argus Trophy. The choir continued to raise funds as they did at another concert at Carmel church to finance the visit of fifty French schoolchildren to the area.