The Lady Mayoress's Garden Party in 1895 was the prelude to a number of events organised on a grand scale in the early years of this century. Most prominent were the Conversaziones and the picnics.
The Conversaziones - social gatherings giving opportunity for talk and light refreshments - were held in the City Art Gallery (tickets price 2/-) and proved delightful events for the members of the orchestra and their friends. In 1903 the Conversazione had to be abandoned owing to the absence of the Conductor - clearly he was as essential to the social events as to the concerts! A picnic was held later in the year as an alternative and 24 members and friends enjoyed an outing to Ashbourne and Dovedale. That picnic was so successful that another was held the following year - again to Dovedale.
Next year (1905) they were more ambitious and visited the Dukeries for their picnic. This involved leaving Central Station at 7.58 a.m. and travelling to Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire
'in a specially engaged corridor coach, arriving at about 11 o'clock after a pleasant journey. The journey by train was rather a long one, but the time passed quickly, beguiled by refreshment for both mind and body and admiration of the beautiful country through which we passed... Arriving at Edwinstowe the party walked a short distance to where an excellent luncheon was partaken of. After this two wagonettes were in readiness and we drove through the lovely country. The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest was visited - inside and out - then on to 'Clumber', special permission having been obtained to view the handsome private Church of the Duke of Newcastle and also the grounds. Some excellent photographs were obtained of this charming spot. We afterwards drove to 'Thoresby' and on to the delightful village of Ollerton where tea awaited us. Having to catch the 7.05 p.m. train from Edwinstowe our time was limited. A few of the party drove to the station, but the majority walked and all arrived in good time for the train'.
We can only admire their stamina! Alas the rail services then were no better than they are now, and the return journey was marred by delay. They lost their connection at Sheffield, were stranded at Chinley, and did not arrive back in Manchester until 11.30 p.m.
In spite of this they were able to say 'the day had been a glorious one and the picnic most enjoyable, long to be remembered by everyone'.
No more picnics were arranged, but a number of other events were held in the pre-war years, including a lecture by Gordon Cockrell on his visit to Egypt and the Nile, illustrated with lantern slides, and held in aid of the funds of the Society.
In 1906 the room at Forsyth's was no longer available, and the orchestra moved to the Onward Hall (belonging to the Band of Hope Temperance Society) where rehearsals continued to be held until 1955.
In 1912 a special presentation was made to Gordon Cockrell to mark his 25 years as conductor. A testimonial and an illuminated address were given to him at an ordinary rehearsal and the event received wide coverage in the press. At the same time a booklet was produced, written by him, to mark the first 25 years of the Society's existence.
The 1912 Committee
During the 1914-18 War the Society carried on meeting regularly although the annual concerts were discontinued after 1915. At the 1915 AGM the difficulties were noted but rehearsals were considered to have proved 'a welcome relaxation from the strenuous duties of the day'. Regrettably it was not possible for all to attend the rehearsals and it was noted that 'the slackness in the attendance of the woodwind players at the rehearsals has been very noticeable'. Perhaps they had even more strenuous duties!
In place of the usual concerts the orchestra played for the Committee for Music in War Time in the Houldsworth Hall, and they also gave concerts in Military and Red Cross Hospitals. The Manchester Guardian critic was not prepared to make allowances for any shortcomings due to the War and noted in 1917:
'The most admirable qualities in some players are discounted by faulty intonation in others who take music less seriously. There was much fine playing in the concert yesterday, but what we heard of the concert was not in the strict sense a musical enjoyment'.
During the War a Special General Meeting was convened to change the orchestra's name to The Manchester Orchestral Society - both because of anti-German feeling and because a name more closely identified with the City was felt desirable. The Manchester Guardian disapproved:
'We ourselves could wish the Beethoven Society might have retained its title until it had done a more adequate honour to the composer'.
The Society did not revert to its original name until the Jubilee Year (1938).