Proudly Renewing a Tradition

The Valley Festival, the biggest musical event in the district for nearly 80 years, is now in its third year.  It revives a tradition dating back to  1907 when the very first festival took place and ran for  more than 30 years.

Dr Walter Midgeley Robertshaw  founded the annual festival which lasted until the outbreak of the second world war. There was a limited revival after the war until Dr Robertshaw’s death in 1948.  There were two Robertshaw memorial concerts in the 1950s.

Dr Robertshaw, son of the Rev Henry Robertshaw, a Congregational minister in Stocksbridge, was educated at Silcoates boarding school near Wakefield, qualified at medical school in Edinburgh, where he met this wife, before returning to Stocksbridge to work as a general practitioner.

The good Doctor formed five local choirs who practised weekly. At one time there were 110 children in the junior choir. The Choral Union comprised a mixed choir, a male voice and a female choir, later named the St Cecilia Choir. Occasionally these choirs joined with others from Penistone, also promoted by Dr Robertshaw, to perform as the Pennine Choir with some 200 voices

The kindly, though to some intimidating doctor, lived at Belmont where he had his surgery and a music room for practices, later moving to nearby Knoll Top to live.  He was “the moving and controlling spirit” of the local music festival.  By 1910 the number of competitive musical classes had increased to nine, by 1917 there were 13 and by 1918 17 when the festival name changed to the South Yorkshire Music Festival. 

By 1927 there were 26 classes with competitors coming from all parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.  The festival ran over three full days in three venues: the Victory Club, the Railway Dining Rooms (in Fox’s yard) and the British Hall. (Now demolished, it stood on land adjoining the former Palace Cinema).

On the eve of war, Dr Robertshaw’s choirs were disbanded for the duration of the conflict.  Then, in October 1946 Dr Robertshaw re-assembled his local talent to stage Handel’s “Messiah”, his last major musical initiative before his death.

A souvenir programme of the “Messiah”, performed in the Victory Club, gives details of those taking part: the Pennine Choir of 200 voices; Stocksbridge Works Social Services Orchestra, led by Ernest Aspinall (a leading local musician who ran a music shop where he gave violin lessons); Mary Worth, soprano; Lilian Ward, contralto; Wilfred Chappelle, tenor; Arthur Copley, bass; solo trumpet, Mervyn Griffiths; organist, Clement Marsden.  Dr Robertshaw, of course, was conductor.

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