The Proms begin today, July 19, perhaps the quintessential British cultural event, held each year in several venues in London between July and September, though most notably at The Royal Albert Hall.
The word proms is in fact a shortening of the term Promenade Concerts, a cultural phenomena which had its origins in 18th century London, which took place in pleasure gardens where the spectators were allowed to move around the orchestras. The word promenade is a borrowing from the French language, meaning to walk.
Music for the masses
In the 19th century this style of concert moved indoors as well, leading eventually to the establishment of ‘The Proms’ on August 10 1895 at the Queens Hall, Langham Place by the well known impresario, Robert Newman.
The idea was to offer the experience of classical music to the general public, with lower ticket prices in an informal setting. It has to be said that the idea worked, with a comprehensive schedule of performances spanning over two months.
However, the Proms do have their detractors. For instance, I have heard it said more than once that they are too English. Whilst there is certainly a great deal of flag waving, a cursory look at the famous ‘Last Night of the Proms’, will reveal flags from all over the world.
What is more, much time and energy has been put in to diversifying the content, with the inclusion of world music, as well as folk music from all over Great Britain and Ireland.
My father has been dead a long time now, but I’ve never stopped missing him.
I was brought up in an agricultural community of intensive farming, but with just enough ‘real nature’ around us to appreciate the clean air (usually), the silence, the freedom. I virtually grew up on a bike and cars were relatively rare down our road.
Through all that time my father seemed to be in the background, always there, but quiet, shy. He’d had various jobs before retirement, a butcher, farm labourer mainly, but he was an intelligent man of few words.
And I feel I never really knew or understood him.
I wish I’d asked more questions, about his early life, his family. But we never know or ask enough, do we? We take it for granted that our family are there. For us.
Then one day, one of them is not. It’s too late. Yes, of course, I’m stating the obvious, but most often we ignore the obvious all around us, don’t we?
My abiding memory is of my father on his piece land at the back of our house, digging, simply digging the rich soil, surrounded by the vast fertile fields and eyed by hungry, inquisitive birds.
Ayscoughfee Hall in Spalding Lincolnshire is simply an architectural gem.
However, I don’t believe it’s known for sure how it got its name (it’s pronounced ‘Ascoffey’ folks).
Nevertheless, recent archaeology has discovered much that was once hidden; stairs, passageways, tiles… all of which are included in the comprehensive museum illustrating the history, not only of Spalding, but of the whole South Holland region and its wonderful agricultural heritage.