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Reconstructing the network of people and places that made up William Baldock’s smuggling enterprise uncovers some curious situations and characters. We come across men like Charles Delmar who married William’s stepdaughter, Harriot.

Charles Delmar came from a well-established Kent family. Nevertheless, he and Harriot had to turn to William Baldock for financial support. Charles also had a share in a Canterbury brewery with his father-in-law. The success of this partnership is questionable. We know William had to provide loans to Charles and some 30 years after Baldock’s death, Charles is the plaintiff in a court case concerning a large number of public houses in Kent.

But he did have a passion for music. Like his father, Charles is destined to become Chairman of the Canterbury Catch Club.

This was a members’ only club with strong political ties. It was started in 1779 at the Prince of Orange and over the years, became one of the most successful ‘political’ music clubs in Kent. It was a fraternity dedicated to the enjoyment of music, beer, claret and tobacco.

canterbury catch club

Catches and glees were characteristically English forms of part song typically sung by male voices. The catch was primarily known for its often crude sense of humour and originates from the 16th century; the glee with its more refined subject matter was encouraged during the mid-18th century.

Regardless of whatever visiting celebrities may have contributed, most of the evening’s music would have been provided by the members, themselves. All would have been capable of holding a part in the ‘catches’ which lie at the heart of the Club’s repertoire. The sophisticated glees would have been sung by more musically proficient members and included musicians in the service of Canterbury Cathedral at the time.

The Kent Herald describes the Canterbury Catch Club as ‘the mother club of England, originating from a social meeting of vocalists whose objective was the practice of catches, glees and madrigals’. The club existed between 1779 and 1865.

Canterbury catch club music

After a period of time, a musical department was introduced with an orchestra that was intended to add to the ‘celebrity’ and status of the Club but it went into a period of decline until, in 1810 a new orchestra leader, Mr Thomas Goodban, was brought in.

The Canterbury Catch Club was to be the key to Mr Goodban’s subsequent success and popularity. He appears to have gained an influential reputation and in 1819 was presented with a silver bowl and salver worth 50 guineas.

“Given the endless problems with the air pump, the Ladies’ Room, and the various musical celebrities from foreign countries (Italy and America) … it is something of a wonder that a series of thirty concerts of vocal and orchestral music was held every Wednesday evening from October to May throughout this period.”

All this was overseen by Charles Delmar Snr, father of Charles Delmar Jnr who married into the Baldock family.

Like most of the clubs, the Canterbury Catch Club was maintained by annual subscriptions of 20 shillings for a season (in 1840) with fines for those who failed to attend. Honorary membership was granted to a few gentlemen who acted as endorsements for the club and enhanced its reputation.

In contrast, the most significant of London clubs was the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club founded in 1751. Aside from their rather exclusive meetings (most members were titled and the waiting list was long), the club also initiated an annual competition for the best new glees and catches.

This encouraged part song composition amongst English composers. Nearly a century later, William Horsley wrote in the preface to Vocal Harmony, ‘it is to the “Catch Club” we owe the only distinctive species of music which England has furnished for the last fifty years’.

Other influential clubs emerged. The club at the Thatched House Tavern, St. Jame’s Street, Westminster was started in 1762. It described itself as being for ‘the improvement of vocal harmony’ and was established by ‘a great number of the nobility and gentlemen’ who met for the purpose emulating the model of the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Club. As an incentive, the Thatched House Tavern Catch Club also awarded medals to those who excelled in the competition of canons and catches.

There was also a ‘Glee Club’ at the Newcastle Coffee House in Castle Street, the Strand with the first event held on 22 December 1787. It may be that Catch Clubs and Glee Clubs served different purposes and were seen differently by their patrons.

Harmony and unanimity.

The Catch and Glee clubs were primarily, male venues (the Canterbury Catch Club maintained a separate Ladies lounge) and although the focus was music, drinking fine claret with jovial male company, was essential in 18th century culture.

In a glee written in 1785-6 by Thomas Arne one group of singers questions ’which is the properest day to drink’ to which another group replies ‘each is the properest day I think’. The Catch Club gave considerable attention to the quality and quantity of claret consumed during their meetings by holding wine tastings and putting in large orders. Arne’s glee parodied the subtle distinction between the catch and glee. The glee singers appear slightly more sober than the catch singers but they are nevertheless singing about, and enjoying a good drink.

By the end of the 18th century, composers began to offer the ladies something appealing. More bawdy catches were held back for the male gatherings and acceptable compilations were offered containing pieces which were thought to be suitable and intended to be sung by women.

From the Club’s records, their motto of ‘Harmony and Unanimity’ appears to have been beset with disagreements over musicians’ fees and other quarrels. Perhaps the Ladies Lounge, at least, brought some harmony between the sexes.





Canterbury Catch Club archives

Thomas Ludford Bellamy. Lyric Poetry of Glees, Madrigals, Catches, Rounds, Canons and Duets. 1840

The Quarterly Musical Review. Volume 2. 1820. Catch and Glee Clubs

‘Catches and Glees in the Jerwood Library’ March 2013

The British Museum Collection Database holds manuscripts of some of the most popular Catches and Glees: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database.aspx)

19th century gleeful music club’s secrets unlocked