Harry Nicholson – Organist and Choirmaster

Amongst our collection of ephemera we have several items from the earlier part of the Twentieth Century relating to Mr Harry Nicholson and his Ladies Choir.

Harry Nicholson – At Flore’s House

Harry Nicholson A.R.C.O 1853 -1922
Harry Nicholson was born on January 31st 1853 in Horncastle, Lincolnshire. His parents were Henry and Mary Ann Nicholson who owned a draper’s business in the market town of Horncastle. His birth and baptism were both registered in 1853 under the name Harry Nicholson. After school he began his musical career at Southwell Minster as an apprentice organist. After a few years he moved to Peterborough Cathedral under the tutelage of Dr Haydn Keeton. Harry Nicholson was his first articled pupil and Malcolm Sargent his last.
In 1877 Harry became organist at All Saints Stamford but later that year he moved to Oakham, where he became the organist at All Saints and music master at Oakham School, a dual role that he held for forty-four years. During his time in Oakham he lived, in lodgings, at Flores House. He never married.
When Harry arrived in Oakham there was no surpliced choir at All Saints but he soon set about achieving this whilst raising the standard of music in the parish to a very high level. He became the conductor of the Oakham Choral Society and one of the promoters of the Rutland Church Choirs Festival. He was also involved in the Rutland Music Festivals. For forty years he organized and performed in an annual benefit concert in Oakham, like those held during the Great War to raise funds for the troops. Through his connections he persuaded some of the best musicians to perform in concerts and recitals in the town; Dr Keeton, Malcolm Sargent, Walford Davies, E H Lemare (composer and organist) and Gervase Elwes (English tenor) to name but a few.

Harry Nicholson had a strong relationship with Sir Malcolm Sargent, for many years conductor at The Proms. Sargent was also a pupil of Haydn Keeton, organist at Peterborough Cathedral, but he also received lessons at Oakham from Harry Nicholson. Sargent was quoted in newspapers saying that any success he may have achieved was due to the almost fatherly interest that Mr. Nicholson took in his career.
Through this personal connection, Sargent came to participate in the musical life of Oakham and surrounding county. He would conduct and perform in various concerts particularly those associated with the Rutland Music Festival. In 1924, after leaving Melton where he was organist and choirmaster, he moved to Oakham and lived there for several years.

Mr H Nicholson’s Ladies Choir. Miss Hilda Pettifer, Miss Ethel Ball, Miss M Alderwood, Miss D Healey, Miss E Grinter, Miss K Franks (Mrs W Stimson), Miss Peggy Durham, Mr H Nicholson, Miss V Wearn, Mrs Axtell Gardener.

Harry Nicholson died at Flores House of pneumonia in November 1922. He was sixty-nine and had served the parish church and Oakham school for nearly forty-five years. His death came as a shock to those who knew him. On the eve of his funeral at All Saints members of his ladies choir, friends and colleagues mounted a vigil beside his coffin in the church.
The funeral was well attended, the church full with many more gathered outside. Malcolm Sargent was organist for the funeral service. The full choir was present and was joined by the choral society and ladies choir. The coffin was wheeled to the cemetery on Kilburn Road on a bier made by J R Baines, the undertaker. More than 50 wreaths were placed at the grave. One was from the Earl and Countess of Lonsdale, with a note saying…A last token of respect to our dear friend, Henry Nicholson, Earl and Countess of Lonsdale.

Harry Nicholson’s Memorial Tablet – All Saints Church, Oakham.

It was decided that a fitting memorial should be erected to honor Harry’s service and dedication to his adopted town. Money was raised by subscription, and it was agreed that a memorial should be commissioned. The design was by J N Comper, who designed the memorial cross in All Saints churchyard. It was made by Messrs. Rattle and Kett of Cambridge from slate with a Purbeck marble frame. Surplus subscription money was to be put towards refurbishing the church organ. The Nicholson Memorial was unveiled at a special service in March 1926 and the organ was refurbished by the original builders, Brindley & Foster.

Another Epic Williams-Hall Production – Brought to you by Rutland County Museum.