In 1956 a group of Charlton Kings residents, led by the Revd. Robert Deakin, vicar of St Mary’s Church, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, and later to become Bishop of Tewkesbury, met to discuss the possibility of forming a choir in the village. Reg Legg, a close friend of the Revd. Deakin, became its founder conductor. Reg was Organist and Choirmaster at St Mary’s and Deputy Head of Charlton Kings Secondary School. The school’s Headmaster, Alfie Briggs, served on the Society’s committee, subsequently as Chairman and was an able tenor. Charlton Kings Choral Society was founded the following year, when the subscription for members of the choir was 6d (2.5p) per rehearsal.
The first concert, a performance of Haydn’s Passion was given in St Mary’s Church. Concerts in those early days were largely accompanied by the Lawrence Hudson String Orchestra and Hazel Legg, Reg’s wife, was a soprano soloist. When Reg Legg left in the early 1960s to train for the priesthood, his successor at both the choir and school was Ken Chatwood.
Over the years the Society has progressed from being a village choir to take its place as one of the three main choral societies of Cheltenham. The membership now stands at about 100 and the singers come from all over Cheltenham and the surrounding area. However we still remain proud of our roots in the village of Charlton Kings.
For many years concerts were given in Holy Apostles’ Church in Charlton Kings, but as the choir expanded it has become necessary to find a larger venue; nowadays many of our concerts take place in the Pittville Pump Room. We give two main concerts with orchestra and soloists each year in November and May. In addition there is a family carol concert in St. Mary’s Church, smaller scale summer concerts have been given in recent years in various local venues.
Our conductor John Wright has been with us since 1984, apart from a short break between 1987 and 1989, and our accompanist Fiona Brown joined us in January 2012. In September 2008 the Society was delighted to welcome James Gilchrist as its President.
We have a long association with the orchestral players of the Regency Sinfonia who have accompanied the choir excellently over the years. We also have a long association with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, who have provided us on many occasions with soloists drawn from their opera course students.
We perform a wide ranging and innovative repertoire of music from the 17th to 21st centuries, and have also commissioned the following works in recent years:
- Ian Venables: Awake, Awake, the World is Young (2000 – millennium commission)
- John Wright: In Praise of Earth’s Beauty (2004)
- Guy Turner: Under the Wide Sky (2009)
Another highlight was the rarely performed Morning Heroes by Sir Arthur Bliss in 2001.
We have made four foreign tours: to Brittany in 1995, to Germany (Göttingen) in 1999, Norway and Sweden in 2002 and Annecy in 2010. We have performed several times with the Orchester Göttinger Musikfreunde both here and in Göttingen, and also with St Jacobi Kantorei in 2005 as part of town-twinning celebrations.
The choir has sung Choral Evensong at the cathedrals of Salisbury, Bristol and Wells, and also sings for the annual St George’s Day service in Gloucester Cathedral.
In 2017 the Society celebrated 60 years of singing with a special anniversary performance in May of Mendelssohn’s Elijah in Tewkesbury Abbey.