My View, Tony Storey: Town’s first music superstar

St Georges church after the fire feb 28th 1853
St Georges church after the fire feb 28th 1853

Doncaster can be proud of its musical tradition, currently evident in our choral group, youth orchestra and jazz orchestra.

We owe a lot to the hard work over recent years of Peter Beard and John Ellis, a freeman, in enthusing young people to develop their instrumental skills.

Dennis Rollins, another freeman, is also an international jazz musician, while at the opposite pole, Louis Tomlinson is in One Direction.

We also have lots of musicals performed by secondary schools and Doncaster Operatic Society .

Doncaster’s most famous organist and musician was Edward Miller (1735-1807), who lived at Church Hill next to our minster church.

Miller was multi-talented – organist, flautist, conductor, composer, choirmaster, teacher and historian.

He had 10 children, having married Elizabeth Lee, although only one of the children reached the age of 23.

Miller came to Doncaster in 1756 as the organist at St George’s Church, playing its new organ on a salary of £30.

To integrate into society he enlisted in the local militia, commanded by the Marquis of Rockingham, and joined a group of music makers who met at Netherhall, the home of Robert Copley, and at that time just outside the township’s urban footprint.

The house survives but the parkland has long gone. Miller supplemented his income by playing flute solos on local concert platforms at the Mansion House, instructing the small corporation Waites band in their scarlet cloaks playing at civic functions, and publishing his folk songs and flute solos and an introduction to the harpsicord.

One of Miller’s close friends was Herr Herschel, a young German organist who often came to stay and join the Netherhall music making.

Herschel was the son of a Hanoverian Guard bandmaster who came to England as a church organist.

He had eclectic interests in astronomy and optics and in due course was to design telescopes that discovered the planet Uranus, become court astronomer, and in 1816, receive a knighthood.

Miller retained strong London links. He was a key organist of the Handel Commemoration Concert of 1784 at Westminster Abbey, and charity fundraising concerts at the Kings Theatre in Haymarket in 1787. He had been made a doctor of music in 1786. In his younger days he had met Handel.

His patron and friend was Charles Watson Wentworth, one of the instigators of the St Leger and resident at Wentworth Woodhouse, one of the largest country houses in Europe.

Miller never remarried when his wife died at 28, but did beget two sone via Elizabeth Brailsford, one of whom was to succeed him as St George’s organist in 1807. Sadly, the Miller memorial was destroyed in the St George’s Church fire of 1853, as was the organ he and his sons has played for 90 years.