NSSO Humble beginnings

The North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra began its life in humble surroundings in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent


The orchestra was formed by the young and talented musician, John Cope. Cope had recently returned to the Potteries from Munich where he had been studying the organ with Rheinberger and was encouraged to establish the orchestra by his former teacher and mentor, Madame Reymond.

John Cope and Madame Reymond
The orchestra  was given the name of The Potteries Orchestral Society and drew amateur musicians from miles around the district. Cope was a task master and instilled on the members of the orchestra the disciplines so necessary for the enterprise. Players were worked hard but they began to love what Cope was beginning to achieve.

The orchestra's first concert was held in the Old Town Hall in Burslem, but the audience was very small. Choral singing at the time was a very strong tradition in The Potteries and the launch of a new purely orchestral music society was thought of as something superfluous. In fact many local choirs shunned the orchestra and Cope was often ridiculed by fellow choir masters. Cope and his orchestra carried on.

In 1906 the orchestra changed its name to The North Staffordshire Orchestral Society and its first concert given in Hanley was in the Victoria Hall on November 1st. Although local interest was again poor, support did come from further afield and Sir Granville Bantock and Ernest Newman of Birmingham were very keen to see the orchestra succeed. Newman attended the concert and was delighted with the performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Lady Halle as soloist. The concert also included Sibelius's newly composed Finlandia.

In 1907 the name was changed again, this time to The North Staffordshire Orchestra and yet again in 1909 to The North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra. During those early years Madame Reymond was a major patron and supporter of the orchestra. She was successful in persuading none other than Sibelius to become a fellow Patron. She had come to North Staffordshire from Denmark in 1887 and set up a private music school at Beethoven House in Moorland Road, Burslem. It was here that she first spotted Cope and encouraged his musical talent. She helped to manage the orchestra and indeed funded it by carrying much of its costs. As today there was no profit in classical music making, only losses.

By 1919 her personal funds ran out and Madame Reymond was forced to withdraw her support. There is no doubt that we owe a debt of gratitude to the lady who helped the birth of the NSSO. She died in 1926.

The orchestra continued to grow in stature under Cope's direction until in 1954 at its Jubilee concert he decided to retire. He died at his home in Charles Street, Hanley in April 1962 and was buried in the same grave as Marie Reymond in Hanley cemetery.

Recommended reading

Kathy Niblett's 'A Unique Orchestra'
The History of the NSSO, now on sale at Barewall Gallery, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
Barewall Website here>>