History | Musical Directors | Past Accompanists | Committee | The Choir  


Banbury Choral Society was founded in 1942, in the dark days of World War Two. The choral society celebrated its 50th year in 1992 and to mark the occasion, Walter Cheney, compiled a history of the choral society from 1942 to 1992 called 'We are the Music Makers'. This book was dedicated to the memory of Lionel Pratt who died in January 1992. He was a valued member of the tenor section for almost 50 years. It is a wonderful account of how the choir developed over that time and shows the dedication and commitment of its members. To download a copy, please click here.

A succession of inspirational directors from Geoffrey Furnish through Malcolm Sargent, ‘Eddie’ Palmer, Sue Freestone, Keith Smith and Martin Quinn to Julian Harris, have increased the choirs’ repertoire as well as developing our skill and ability to ever greater heights.

Julian has brought a lively and dynamic approach to his conducting of the choir and rehearsals are demanding, but rewarding. Julian is supported by the highly accomplished pianist, Elsa Williams who is much appreciated by the choir.

Committed to building and developing the choir, in 2012, the BCS committee introduced the Youth Outreach Scheme, an exciting initiative to help students to reach their full musical potential in singing with a large choir. One of the students, Lucy Donaldson, wrote about the scheme, “I have learnt so much, including sight-reading, diction and different languages! I have become more confident and love the concerts that showcase what we have learnt. The experience has been amazing and I look forward to attending rehearsals each week.” To build on its success, the scheme is funded and supported by generous donations.

In 2014, aiming to grow the links between choir and the local community, the choir successfully started the Friends of BCS scheme. Launched in September 2014 at a concert held in the Great Hall of Broughton Castle, it is with grateful thanks that we now have a growing list of new Friends to support the choir in its future endeavours.


Musical Director and Conductor

Julian Harris

Julian Harris

Julian Harris has had a long and varied career embracing work at the R.S.C. and Birmingham Repertory Theatre. He has played and conducted all over Europe including Saint Peter’s in Rome as well as in the country’s major halls, including the Queen Elizabeth and Cadogan Halls in London.

Julian is increasingly in demand in the Midlands and in London as a conductor, composer, arranger, accompanist and teacher. He has conducted Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral and led the Sunday services at St Mary le Strand. Nearer to home, in Ilmington, the fourth Ilmington Music Festival saw him accompanying trumpeter, Simon Lenton, and soprano, Mollie Smith and he has concerts for charity and choir all over the North Cotswolds.

He currently conducts 5 choirs; 3 under his ‘St James’s Singers’ (SJS) banner and the Banbury Choral Society and the Ilmington Festival Chorus. These activities absorb the majority of his time. Highlights have included a concert at Broughton Castle to launch The Friends of Banbury Choral Society and a commemoration of WWI called War and Peace with SJS. He recently made his debut as a tenor soloist with I Fagiolini singing early Renaissance works. His singing work also embraces a Kodaly Singing Class at his local school, to reverse the current disastrous decline in school music provision.

His teaching embraces A-level/GCSE, theory, piano and singing as well as the Kodaly Method.

In April 2015 Julian conducted the 30th Anniversary Gala Concert of the Saint James’s Singers who celebrated with a performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and he celebrated in style on September 12th 2015 with a fireworks concert entitled ‘Long to Reign over us’ to mark HM the Queen becoming the country’s longest reigning monarch. In addition, he toured in Venice, playing in La Pieta, Vivaldi’s Church, on the ancient Vivaldi organ.

His schedule continues to keep life very busy.

Elsa Williams - Accompanist

Martin Quinn

Elsa Williams was a junior exhibitioner at Trinity College of Music and studied Music and French at Reading University. She went on to teach French for many years but has always maintained a keen interest in music, playing in various chamber music ensembles and accompanying solo singers and instrumentalists. As well as being the rehearsal pianist for the Banbury Choral Society she is currently the church organist and choir director of Deddington Parish Church, and she also accompanies the Warriner Choral Society.


Past Accompanists

Since Banbury Choral Society was founded in 1942, it has been fortunate to receive the support of some exceptionally talented accompanists. Banbury Choral Society feels it is important to acknowledge them.

1942 Mary Barry - Mary evacuated from London during the war and came to live in the Banbury area. She returned to London after the war ended.

Late 1940s Betty Hobbs - Betty was a good friend of Goeffrey Furnish (the first conductor to lead Banbury Choral Society).

1950 - 60s Ena Grubb - Ena was a well-known Banbury piano teacher.

1960s Thelma Robinson - Past Head of Music at Tudor Hall School.

1974 Anthony Swift - Local pianist and piano teacher as well as an honorary member of BCS.

2004 Jo Benlalam - Music teacher at Tudor Hall School.

2009 Elsa Williams - Local musician and teacher.



CommitteeThe Society is organised by the Officers of the Society and Committee Members. The present Officers are the Chairman, Sheila James; Vice-Chairman, Elizabeth Grint; Treasurer, Leslie Batten; and Secretary, Kate Brooker. The Committee Members are currently Liz Scamans, Lorraine Allett, Michele Hunter and David Beverly.

The Choir’s President is Felix Francis who does an enormous amount of work on behalf of the society. He has warmly embraced his role by attending concerts and has given his support to the choir by opening his home to act as host for BCS Friends events and choir gatherings.

CommitteeFelix is a well-known author and took over writing the ‘Dick Francis’ books from his father, the legendary author and royal jockey. Felix’s first novel, Under Orders, went to the top of the bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic in autumn 2005. Since then he has produced a new bestseller each year set around the exciting world of horse racing.

Felix lives near Banbury with his wife, Debbie, and two red setters. A keen racing and cricket supporter, Felix is a member at Cheltenham, of the MCC and the Lord’s Taverners, as well as of the Crime Writers Association, the International Thriller Writers and the Detection Club.


The Choir

The Choral Society meets on Monday nights during term time at Marlborough Road Methodist Church in Banbury. Rehearsals start at 7.30pm. Social coffee events are held every three to four weeks just prior to the start of rehearsal in order for members of the choir to get to know one another. Twice a year, the social committee organizes a choir party at a member’s home and these informal gatherings are very much enjoyed by the members. Outings to concerts in Birmingham and London are also organized from time to time.

Banbury Choral Society welcomes new members at all times. If you have sung in other choirs or indeed, if you haven’t sung in a choir before, but just love singing, then we would be glad to hear from you. Please complete the Enquiry Form on the Contact Us page and a member of the committee will get back in touch with you.

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