Music has been an integral part of the Ethical Society’s activities since 1887, when the famous Sunday Concerts began.The Concerts at Conway Hall trace their history back to 1878 when the Peoples Concert Society was formed for the purpose of “increasing the popularity of good music by means of cheap concerts.” Many of these concerts were held at the South Place Institute, in the City but in 1887 the Peoples Concert Society had to cut short their season through lack of funds. It was then that the South Place Ethical Society acquired them using the name ‘South Place Sunday Concerts’ and continued to run them.
In 1929 the South Place Ethical Society had Conway Hall, in Holborn, purpose built for them and with the exception of the war years, the concerts seasons have continued ever since.
The current patrons of the Sunday Concert programme are Stephen Hough, Prunella Scales, Roderick Swanston, Hiro Takenouchi, Petroc Trelawny and Timothy West.
For a richer understanding of the history and significance of the South Place Sunday Concerts, the research on Walter Wilson Cobbett (links to document), by Betsi Hodges, serves as an excellent topographical survey of the chamber music terrain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Alfred J. Clements served as the first organiser and Honorary Secretary of the Sunday Concerts from 1887 – 1938. In 1926 he was awarded the Cobbett Gold Medal at the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
Frank Hawkins served as Treasurer of the Sunday Concerts for over 24 years. Sadly, he died in June 1929, shortly before the inauguration of Conway Hall, with its magnificent acoustics. He collected nearly 2,000 pieces of sheet music of principally classical and romantic chamber music, which were bequeathed to the Society. It is out of copyright and is free of markings. The collection has been catalogued by composer and instrument combination, but it is not open to the public. The purchase of copies can be arranged.