The choir was founded on 2 July 1931. J R Green, Tom Johnson and H H Thomas, who were members of Barrow Working Men's Club & Institute, approached other members with an interest in singing and they were successful in forming the nucleus of a Male Voice Choir. The institute itself was one of the town's oldest social clubs, having operated since around 1870. It met originally in the Municipal Buildings in Lawson Street and later in Cornwallis Street. Later it acquired premises (now disused) in Abbey Road. The new singing group was originally called the Barrow Working Men's Club & Institute Male Voice Choir: it adopted its present name in 1997. (The abbreviation BWMC continued to appear on the choir's blazer badges right up to September 2011.)
Mr Herbert H
Thomas from Millom, a local schoolmaster and later a schools music
organiser, was selected as effectively the first regular conductor (the
initial appointee having resigned after only a fortnight). At the
opening rehearsal on 9 July 1931 in the Abbey Road Club, twenty-five choristers
presented themselves. The choir had immediate success, gaining
first place only twelve weeks later at a revived Barrow-in-Furness Musical
Festival. This win was soon repeated at the Workington Musical Festival. In
addition to competitive singing at festivals (which featured very regularly until the
early 1980s and rather less frequently in subsequent years) the choir assisted local and national
charitable organisations by performing in concerts without payment.
The above picture was taken in the late 1970s and features, from the back row L to R:
Micheal Graham, Sid Williams, Jack Garner, Ken Ralph, Peter Bubber, George Dickson, Norman Dandy, Unknown, Ernie Johnston.
Edwin Griffith, Fred Morgan, Les Sonofeld, Les Stewart, Bob Gerrard, Mr Oxley, Harold Sharpe, Ted Wilson, Alan Bolton, Sam Strange, Alan Barber, Unknown, Ben High, Unknown.
Bill Ritto, Henry Webb, John Babbs, Harold Kerr, Reg Lanworn, Martin Tonge, Unknown, Unknown, Aurthur Silver, Barry Schofield.
(If you can identify any of the singers shown as Unknown then please get in touch using the link on the Homepage)
The choir generally performed around fifteen concerts a year, and in 2000 it took part in two mass male voice concerts for the new millennium. One was held at Whitehaven with three hundred voices and another at Manchester with around two thousand voices. The year 2001 saw our 70th birthday and we made it a special year by staging a bumper concert at Barrow's theatre venue Forum 28 and by holding extra social events.
During the next few years the choir was also represented amongst those attending the Festival of Sound and Brass, held in London's Royal Albert Hall (2006 & 2009). In 2008 the choir visited Derbyshire and performed in Tideswell Parish Church alongside Thorntons Brass Band. In October 2010 there was another memorable concert in Forum 28 in conjunction with the touring Wagga City Rugby Male Choir from Australia. The visiting singers included the former Barrow and Great Britain Rugby League star Phil Jackson, making a nostalgic return to the town.
2011 was another anniversary, the choir's 80th and this was celebrated
with a concert at the Forum. In 2012 the choir visited South Wales and
performed at the Millenium Centre in Cardiff and shared a concert with
Cowbridge Male VoiceChoir at All Hallows Church. Travelling further
afield in 2014 the choir visited Ireland and sang in Christ Church
Cathederal, Dublin and in St Mary's,Tipperary. Much Wenlock Male Voice
Choir were hosted here in Cumbria in 2015 and a joint concert was held
in the Victoria Hall, Grange over Sands. In 2016 the choir performed a
joint concert with Beverly Male Voice Choir in The Methodist Church,
Ulverston. Later the same year the choir travelled to Belgium and The Netherlands and performed on
the Hull to Rotterdam Ferry, at Mechelen Cathederal and at the Arnhem
Airborne Museum. 2017 highlights included a memorial concert for local
born musician Thomas Round with Barrow Savoyards, and a joint concert
with Much Wenlock Male Voice Choir in Shropshire.
The original conductor H H Thomas [photo centre front] retired in 1951 due to ill-health. He was succeeded by Gilbert Uren, who like his predecessor worked in civilian life as a teacher and the local schools music advisor. Subsequent conductors following Mr Uren's retirement in 1975 can be traced via the covers of various programmes for the choir's annual concerts: E (Ted) Wilson 1976-1977, a bass singer and a former conductor of the Vickers Male Voice Choir; Reginald Lanworn 1978-1982 [photo centre front] ; William Crawford 1983-1984; Michael Petty 1985-2003, Les Stewart in 2004, and Anthony Milledge from 2005 until 2017.
Local solicitor Martyn Tongue gave the choir more than forty years of voluntary service as a piano accompanist up to the 1996 annual concert, when he was succeeded by Rita Matthews and Sue Quarmby who shared the duties, Rita was succeeded by Christine Searle who remained with the choir until 2005 when she was succeeded by Margaret Harrison.
For many years the choir would hold two rehearsals each week on Mondays and Thursdays, but this was eventually reduced to one per week. A new code of rules had been approved in 1935, whereby members failing to attend three successive rehearsals (without sufficient reason) were liable to be excluded from the choir. Rehearsals were held mostly in an upstairs room at the Working Men's Club's main premises in Abbey Road. The same building also housed the choir's music library - an arrangement which lasted until 1996. Subsequently the venue had to be transferred to the nearby Salvation Army citadel, although this agreement ended a year or two later. The choir then moved permanently to the Holy Family Catholic Church Hall in Newbarns, which had already been used briefly during the transitional arrangements after vacating the Working Men's Club. In 2018 they moved once again - to the Nan Tait Centre, Abbey Road, Barrow.
Annual concerts have been held fairly regularly since 1952. The same year also saw the first of a series of annual dinners, although these were eventually discontinued.
Before the 1980s there had been no official uniform - members appearing at concerts would generally wear a dark suit or evening dress together with a bow tie. Eventually light blue shirts were adopted for the choir's television appearance in 1980, and these were supplemented shortly before the 1983 annual concert with navy blue blazers. New maroon blazers and ties were purchased in 1992, with financial support being raised from raffles and various sponsors. Maroon then remained the favoured colour until October 2011, when the choir reverted to a new set of dark blue blazers and ties, on the occasion of their annual concert.
Portable staging was initially built by first tenor Denis Reed, this later being commemorated by the addition of a small plaque which recorded his choir membership between 1993-2003. New staging was subsequently purchased in July 2013, aided by a substantial grant from the Sir John Fisher Foundation.
In 1996 revenue problems had forced the closure of the Barrow Working Men's Club and Institute, thus depriving the choir of its main sponsor. As a consequence it was decided to adopt the simpler name Barrow Male Voice Choir. This also reflected the fact that it had become the sole survivor of several similar male voice choirs which had in previous times operated in south-west Cumbria. These had included separate choirs in Ulverston, Millom, and in several local workplaces, including the Vickers shipyard at Barrow.
Today the choir's membership fluctuates around the thirty to forty mark (although the aim remains to grow still further). It still regularly enters for competition in the South Cumbria Music Festival at Ulverston.