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Past Images of the Month - August 2021

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Invitation from Luther Munday to the first concert he organised for the Lyric Club, Piccadilly East (corner of Coventry Street), 6 July 1888.  As the club's new premises were not open by that date the concert took place on 10 July at the town house of Sir Julian and Lady Goldsmid at 105 Piccadilly. The club opened later in the year on 16 November.

Invitation from Luther Munday to the first concert he organised for the Lyric Club, Piccadilly East (corner of Coventry Street), 6 July 1888. As the club's new premises were not open by that date the concert took place on 10 July at the town house of Sir Julian and Lady Goldsmid at 105 Piccadilly. The club opened later in the year on 16 November.

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George Luther Munday and the Lyric Club
 

Luther Munday, as he was always known, was an amateur tenor, founder, secretary or manager of various clubs, and organiser of their charity entertainments, a sculptor and an artist in black & white.  He was elected to the membership of 46 clubs in all.

With his friend Lord Londesborough as Chairman and an impressive committee from high society, sport and the arts, he became Secretary and Entertainments Manager of London's Lyric Club during its greatest period 1887-93.  When the Club had to be wound up he acted as Receiver, and the Chairman and Committee sent him a letter of thanks for arranging 182 musical entertainments and by his personal influence winning the gratuitous support of 680 leading artists of the musical and dramatic profession.  He produced 43 plays there and founded an amateur orchestral society of 60 members.  He also oversaw the sporting events which took place at the Club's summer premises at St Anne's, Barnes and the annual arrangements for members visiting Ascot Week.  Munday wrote in his A Chronicle of Friendships (London, [1912]) "... it may truly be said that the Lyric Club never had a rival during the years of its glorious existence."

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

Luther Munday. Frontispiece to his A Chronicle of Friendships, London, [1912]. Photograph, 1890.

Munday was born in Widcombe near Bath on 10 March 1857 where his father, also George Luther Munday, opened a private school in 1862.  When the publisher of the Bible in shorthand, Isaac Pitman, was working on a new edition, 11-year-old Munday spent a miserable year reading the Bible to him for hours on end with all the punctuation marks.  Aged 17 after working as a clerk and learning something of business, he travelled to London looking for work.  After trudging the streets for years without finding fulfilling employment, by great good fortune he met his future wife Ellen Mabel English (known as Mabel) and they became engaged.  She was the daughter of Colonel Frederick English and granddaughter of Admiral Sir Francis Collier.  Unable at that time to support a wife, he travelled to Ceylon to 'establish himself'.  He acquired a coffee plantation and estate and in 1880 returned to marry Mabel at St Alban's Abbey.  It proved a long and happy marriage and Mabel's support contributed greatly to his success.  They went back to Ceylon but after years of crop failures and other disasters he was thrown from his horse, concussed, then gravely ill.  They decided to return to England, both of them "broken in health and spirit".

Based in London again and gradually recovering they spent long periods with his wife's relatives at Lyndhurst, Hampshire, where he met for the first time his lifelong friends, Hamilton Aïdé (his wife's cousin) and Lord and Lady Londesborough.  Aïdé suggested that his singing voice could be worth training, so at the age of 27 and desperate to find something profitable to do, he spent three terms at the Royal Academy of Music.  The principal was Sir George Macfarren and his fellow students included Arthur Goring Thomas, Lawrence Kellie, Edward German, Ben Davies, Marie Tempest, Ethel Winn and Julia Neilson.  He then left to study singing privately with Goring Thomas, Randegger, Shakespeare, Blume, Bethune, Kellie, Tosti, Fiori, and finally Garcia who was by then in his eighties.  He also studied declamation under Isabella Glyn and Walter Lacey.

On 1 June 1886 he first sang with Mr Evan-Thomas's Drawing Room Operetta Company, a charity performance attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales.  In the autumn the little company toured country places and the Hampshire Chronicle noted "Between the pieces, Mr Luther Munday, who possesses a beautiful tenor voice, of much power and sweetness, sang a well-known ballad, and was rapturously applauded."

The following year he finally found his métier when The People's Palace, Mile End Road was opened by the Queen.  As Entertainments Manager Munday escorted Madame Albani to the event.  He went on to arrange 57 entertainments there.

When George Power retired as Secretary of the Lyric Club - situated then at 175 Bond Street - Munday was invited to replace him.  He accepted at once and worked there voluntarily for two years saying that he must prove himself first then ask for a good salary only if he was successful.  He invited Lord Londesborough to accept the Presidency and was given carte blanche to reconstruct the social and artistic affairs of the club.  This was how Munday worked best.  He could not brook interference and however tough the task in hand, left alone he could achieve remarkable results.

The beginnings of the Lyric Club are uncertain but Munday claimed that it lasted 26 years.  In early September 1872 several provincial newspapers, quoting The Athenaeum, stated that "a Lyric Club for artists and amateurs is now forming, under very distinguished auspices, with a very high subscription to maintain its exclusive character, and that among the artists who have already signified their intention of joining the club are Madame Adelina Patti, Madame Pauline Lucca, Madame Alboni, Mdlle Tietjens, Madame Nilsson-Rouzaud, Prince Poniatowski, Sir Julius Benedict, Mr A. Sullivan, &c."

The Lyric Club was founded and managed in its earliest years by Lieutenant-Colonel Osborne Hall Goodenough, RA (1838-1882) and meetings and concerts took place at his house at 75 Belgrave Road.  The Lyric supplied a want much felt in London, especially on a Sunday evening.  Colonel Goodenough not only appreciated good singing in others but himself sang very well.  In his day, he was a devoted admirer of Tietjens and on her death he commissioned Domenico Brucciani to execute a remarkably fine bust of her in marble, which latterly adorned the salon of the Lyric Club.

Three years after Goodenough's death in 1882, the reconstituted club moved to larger premises at 175 Bond Street with George Power as Secretary.  He was succeeded in 1887 by Luther Munday.  After a much heralded move to even larger premises in Coventry Street, Piccadilly East, the club enjoyed its heyday.  The Lyric became the most successful social, musical, dramatic and sporting club in London, providing its large, all-male, elected membership with comfortable premises, interesting concerts, plays and soirées with some of the top musicians and performers of the time taking part.  Members could invite ladies to dine and attend events.  At least a hundred servants were employed to see to the needs of the membership.  Munday could be very persuasive and encouraged artistes to perform there voluntarily in the concert hall and theatre.  Melba was willing to sing for him and even turned down a paid engagement in order to appear at a concert he had arranged.  Musicians were encouraged to write new short pieces or songs to be tried out on these occasions.  The printed programmes would often have a drawing on the cover by one of the many artists who were members.

The large country house and grounds at St Anne's, Barnes was also available to the members.  Sometimes special trains were laid on to take them there.  Members could stay overnight and enjoy tennis, cricket, football and events on the Thames close by.  Sadly, this extravagant life style could not be paid for.  Fraudulent cheques were cashed bearing Lord Londesborough's fake signature, the culprit was arrested and sentenced to six years imprisonment and Munday was left to pick up the pieces and act as receiver.  A New Lyric Club was constituted but it was not the same as the old one and after a considerable number of years disappeared.  The great times were over.

Due to his success with the Lyric Club for a short time he was business manager to Sir Charles Wyndham and to Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.  Munday was also on the board of three London theatres.  On his retirement at the age of only 50, he was given a complimentary matinee at the St James's Theatre when Sir George Alexander paid tribute to his many successes.

He died at Windsor on 29 March 1922.

  1. Of all the boys that are so smart,
  2. There's none like Luther Munday.
  3. The darling of each lyric heart
  4. On week days and on Sunday.
  5. So deft he plays the double part,
  6. Beau Nash and Mistress Grundy.
  7. The darling of each Lyric heart
  8. Is clever Luther Munday.
This is the first stanza of a verse of praise written by Sir Morrell Mackenzie, the distinguished throat surgeon, in Munday's personal album.

 

© Jennie Bisset 2021