Charles Henry Dobson
Charles Henry Dobson, a Canterbury cathedral singer with 14 years of service (1825–1839) is not mentioned in the Catch Club records, which is odd because his name crops up repeatedly in newspaper reports covering everything else musical in this period. He and James Shoubridge are frequently found performing together, as is reported here at the Catch Club in the nearby coastal town of Deal in 1833: ‘Messrs Shoubridge and Dobson were as usual quite ‘at home’ in the parts assigned them, and gave great satisfaction’.
In 1834, the same singers joined the Ashford Catch and Glee Club in a meeting attended by ‘250 gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood, being the largest, and at the same time, the most respectable convivial meeting ever held within [the Assembly Rooms’] walls.’ The usual rules applied:
‘in the after evening these gentlemen entertained the company with a great many first-rate songs, glees, and catches, which obtained the most enthusiastic applause, as did several songs given by the amateurs of the neighbourhood.’ They were not alone: ‘The orchestra was composed of the Ashford amateurs, assisted by several professional gentlemen from Canterbury.’
They returned to Ashford—with more of the Canterbury men—in April to round off their season.
The Catch Club was not the only purveyor of convivial music at this time, and the musicians showed no favouritism when their talents were sought: familiar names crop up, for example, in a report of an Apollonian Catch Club meeting in April 1834. It is the only reference to identify Dobson as a bass, and it is also noteworthy for the piano and harp duet performed by the young Masters Longhurst and Mount: ‘a surprisingly clever performance for so young hands.’ This prompted the unexpected celebrity visitor, ‘Mr Hart, the celebrated quadrille composer,’ [Joseph Binns Hart, 1794-1844] to congratulate the company. According to the report he ‘concluded thus: ‘Proud am I to say, that while juvenile talent is so fostered as it appears to be here, Englishmen will never have cause to fear the invasion of any foreigners.’ He then delighted the company by performing ‘God Save the King,’ with variations, on the pianoforte, and amused a numerous company to a very late hour.’ The conviction that invasion by a foreign foe may be deterred with a piano and harp duet probably owes more to the convivial temper of the evening than any historical evidence, but the alacrity with which a provincial musical club may prompt an evocation of national moral fibre is interesting, as is the fact that the traffic of musical personalities was not all one-way: Canterbury attracted musicians from outside the city besides sharing its own with the locality.
The Apollonian Catch Club showed a notable readiness to vary its musical offering in 1834 by holding meetings ‘at the Half-way house between this city Canterbury and Dover.’ In May, at the last of them, ‘upwards of seventy of the surrounding neighbourhood […] met together upon the occasion.’ Once again, Shoubridge and Dobson are in evidence. They and their fellow Lay Clerks continually appear throughout this period at the civic occasions marked by sumptuous dinners enlivened by the music of these men: inaugurations of councillors and mayors; a dinner ‘In Commemoration of His Majesty’s Declaration to preserve inviolate the Constitution in Church and State’ in September 1834; an ‘Inauguration Dinner’ celebrating the election of a Jurist of Dover, attended by His Grace the Duke of Wellington in October 1834; a Messiah in November; other concerts; other dinners, including the annual Cattle Show Christmas event (see below): then as now, musicians’ lives moved fluidly between an artisan trade by day and as much music-making as could be got by night. The need for the manners of a gentleman—however that might be defined in times of socio-political transformation—and the business acumen of a tradesman must have been the ever-present tension of the time.
Some entrepreneurial ability did not go amiss. Although it seems that Shoubridge was the brighter luminary in the Canterbury Harmonic Society, Dobson also performed at its first meeting in May 1834. The brief report gives little detail, but opines enthusiastically about its prospects – as well they might, given its eventual longevity. Unlike the Catch Club, these meetings occurred during the summer months, perhaps with a shrewd eye on the competition.
One of Dobson’s more curious engagements is next seen as he enlivens the later evening revelries of the Brethren of the Druids Lodge in 1838—a claim to fame in itself—with ‘several excellent songs, […] accompanied on the piano.’ Only a week later, on Christmas Day, he and several fellow lay Clerks entertained the guests at the Kent and Canterbury Cattle Show Dinner, which started at 3.30 in the afternoon in the Corn Exchange on St George’s Street. After the National Anthem (‘sung by a party of City vocalists, Messrs. Shoubridge, Dobson, Palmer, &c. in good style’), toasts and speeches are interspersed with Rule Britannia and the glee Mynheer Van Dunk before the 51 ‘Premiums’ (prizes) are awarded. A number of speeches are then reported, practically verbatim, and at some point, presumably, a hearty dinner was eaten, though this is not recorded. Eventually ‘the principal part of the company now retired. Several still kept up the hilarity of the evening, and with the aid of the vocalists, Mr Dobson favouring them with three excellent songs, harmony and good humour prevailed to a late hour.’
Article written by: Dr Chris Price