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Welsh voices raising the roof for 85 years
Buy this photo » Musical director Helen Swift conducts the choir
WHEN a small group of Welsh men began meeting at East Oxford’s Cape of Good Hope pub in 1928 to form a choir, they could not have predicted its success.
In a year when 1,000 Welsh miners and their families migrated to Oxford for work and the first ever Morris Minor rolled off the production line, the singers started out as a simple octet.
Yet they quickly grew to become the larger Cowley Male Voice Choir and then, in 1931, became the Oxford Welsh Prize Glee Singers.
Now known as the Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir, the 50-strong group is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.
George Jenkinson – the first non-Welsh chairman in its history – said: “We are very excited about the prospect of reaching 85 and breaking the barrier of 50 members.
“In the last 12 months we have had so many new members.
“In these times when choirs are having trouble recruiting, we feel we’re bucking the trend.”
The choir spans nearly 70 years in its age range. The youngest is a university student in his early 20s and the oldest is 88.
And despite the moniker, members do not have to have a Welsh background.
Mr Jenkinson, 60, of Headington, said: “The average age is about 60 at the moment, but it is coming down.
“We still sing a lot of traditional Welsh songs and hymns, but also try to make some of it more accessible.”
During the 1930s depression, workers migrated from Wales for jobs at the Morris Motors and Pressed Steel factories.
Such was the influx of countrymen that the Florence Park area of Cowley became known as the ‘Welsh Estate.’ To celebrate the choir’s 75th anniversary in 2003, members completed a 110-mile sponsored walk in six days to Risca, South Wales, where many came from to seek work.
In August 2009, with help from an appeal in the Oxford Mail, the choir was rehoused from the Lord Nuffield Club in Cowley to the Oxford Academy in Littlemore.
The choir holds rehearsals there every Thursday evening from 7.30pm.
The choir will hold a celebratory St David’s Day concert on Saturday, February 23, and those aged 85 can get in free. The performance at the Wesley Memorial Church, New Inn Hall Street, will start with traditional Welsh tea and home-made Welsh cakes at 6.30pm. Tickets are £10 and can be booked on 01865 741419.