The Port Sunlight Orchestra ("PSO") had its beginnings in the last decade of the 19th century. Early in 1896 the formation of a Port Sunlight Band (for instruction purposes) was proposed, and not long afterwards the Band is recorded as having 27 playing members (but only 24 instruments on which to play).
In 1899 the "Port Sunlight Musical Society" was formed. A conductor offered his services without remuneration and could attend on Monday or Friday evenings. After some consideration Monday evening was chosen. (Over 100 years later the Port Sunlight Orchestra still rehearses on Monday evenings and the Conductor is still unremunerated.) Mr. W. H. Lever - as he then was - consented to become its President.
The first known public performance by the Orchestra* was a performance at Port Sunlight School in January 1900 of Handel's Messiah, rendered by combined Wirral choirs. On this occasion the Orchestra was reinforced by strong professional leaders from Liverpool.
There is no trace of when the "Port Sunlight Orchestral Society" as such was formed, but there is music in the Orchestra's library stamped "Port Sunlight Amateur Orchestral Society" and date-stamped 19th October 1906. The conductor at that time was Mr. F. H. Seddon, the Musical Director for Lever Brothers Ltd. Rehearsals were held in Hulme Hall, at that time an art gallery. They were regularly attended until 1914 when the Society was suspended following the outbreak of war.
The Society re-formed after the war ended. Mr. Lythgoe (of the Lever Staff Training College in what is now the Park Road School) proposed the formation of an orchestra. The response was favourable and within a few weeks rehearsals commenced. The first were attended by about twelve players under the conductorship of Mr. Lythgoe. At first it seemed a hopeless enterprise and the unearthly noises produced for several weeks were enough to dishearten the bravest, but gradually the noises became more harmonious and order emerged from chaos.
On December 16th 1922 the Lady Lever Art Gallery was formally opened by HRH Princess Beatrice. The Orchestra played at the opening ceremony in the first public performance given by the present Society. During that ceremony Lord Leverhulme said: "...we hope that in this hall where we are assembled this afternoon the people of Port Sunlight will gather on many occasions for festivities, concerts and dances, and be happy".
This is the programme for the opening concert:
Herman: Overture Le Diademe
von Blon: Sizilietta
Luigini: Ballet Egyptienne
Herman: Overture - Le Chevalier Breton
Amer: Wee McGregor Patrol
Haydn: Surprise Symphony
Boieldieu: Overture - The Caliph of Baghdad
Gounod: Marche Militaire
Directly following that date the Society gave four concerts on Sunday afternoons. When Mr. Lythgoe vacated his post at the Staff Training College in 1923 and left Port Sunlight, there were others at hand to continue the good work - and the Sunday concerts. The tradition of Sunday concerts established then has been maintained virtually ever since.
(*The progression from "Band" to "Orchestra" is not well documented - the storeroom at the Lady Lever Art Gallery ("LLAG") used by the Orchestra until 2000 was still commonly referred to by LLAG staff as the "Band Room"!)