In 1916 there was a call from many prominent cultural figures in Britain, including the poet laureate Robert Bridges, to find ways to support the war effort at a time of deep distress as it became clearer that the war at the front was turning into an humanitarian disaster. The movement was titled Fight for Right and there was a special appeal for choral support with Elgar writing Fight for Right for it and Parry writing Jerusalem also in 1916.
It was at this point that Keir Hett, an eminent dweller in Ardingly, set in train the formation of a village choral society. The church, of which he was a member, had a choir and the Women's Institute also had an enthusiastic choir. Caroline Hett (always known as Helen C. Hett) was a great supporter and considerable help in getting the society going. Furthermore the new Headmaster at Ardingly College had a very musical wife, Ella Wilson, who was keen to get involved.
It was decided to enter the Lewes Music Festival in 1917 and the programme included Barnby's Sweet and Low (a great favourite at that time) and two other simple partsongs. It cannot have been easy to balance the parts during the most desperate time of the war as so many of the menfolk would obviously not have been available but the choir seems to have acquitted themselves satisfactorily! This became a tradition, as there were entries to the Lewes Festival for the next five years.
By 1923 the choral society sang under Ella Wilson's direction and Percival Taylor (Director of Music at the college) teamed up with her. The next step came with the arrival of Robin Miller as Director of Music at Ardingly College in 1948 and he was appointed conductor of the Ardingly Choral Society. He told me, when I became Director of Music at the college in 1996, that he immediately decided to augment the college choir with any teachers and parents who were able to join and thus double the size of the Ardingly College Choral Society, as it now became known. This led to his first programme which he said 'had' to be Messiah.
Following my retirement in 2007 as Director of Music of Ardingly College the choir changed its name to the Ardingly Choral Society, registered as an independent charity and affiliated to “Making Music” (the national federation of music societies) which supports and champions voluntary music making. We perform our concerts in conjunction with the Mid-Sussex Sinfonia and we use professional soloists as well as, on suitable occasions, young singers from the local area.
Three major concerts are performed each year. A Remembrance Concert, unique in the area, in aid of The Royal British Legion, an Advent Carol Concert by Candlelight in Ardingly College Chapel in aid of a chosen charity and a Spring Concert also in the Chapel. In alternate years there is an opportunity to sing Choral Evensong in venues including Chichester Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral and St George's Chapel, Windsor.
The choir has had a long relationship with the Hett family, as Caroline remained secretary of the society for many years and then their nephew, Sandy, joined and sang as a tenor with the choir for decades, even beyond his 90th birthday. He has been invaluable in providing most of this information, for which we are highly indebted.