Morley & District Family History Group
Tom William Jenkins
.......the violin virtuoso, was born on 4 th November 1910 at Harlech Crescent, Hunslet, the second son of Harry Jenkins, a Wakefield man of Welsh stock. Soon after Tom’s birth the family moved, with his elder brother George Hollins Jenkins, first to Batley and then after a short time to 14, Highfield Crescent, Tingley within sight of Topcliffe Pit where Mr. Jenkins senior was employed as an engineman. The family was completed with the arrival of the third son Albert Hilton Jenkins. Tom’s mother, Henrietta, was a well known contralto singer, pianist and the daughter of Thomas H. Hall who was renowned throughout the West Riding as an expert violinist. Tom’s paternal grandfather was also an accomplished musician. In subsequent years the family resided at Syke Terrace and Fairfield Avenue in West Ardsley.
At the age of three years Tom was given a toy violin and as an eight year old he began to study the instrument. At ten year old he made his first public performance in a church concert and four years later he made his first radio broadcast. After much pestering his father bought him a half-sized violin from a Morley pawnshop, an instrument he grew to love. At that time he received tuition for four years as a pupil of Mr. Alf Inman another Morley expert violinist. During those formative years he was an enthusiastic entrant to the major music festivals of Northern England and was invariably among the prize-winners. Many of his performances at that time were given in aid of local charitable causes, particularly those associated with the Wesleyan and Baptist Chapels. He also performed on the stage at Morley’s New Pavilion Theatre on Sunday 30 th November 1924, in aid of the Morley and District Corps of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade.
Tom’s early education was at Westerton Road Junior School and in 1923 he won a scholarship for Morley Grammar School where he made a deep impression on the music master Mr. Arthur Gower. He then became a pupil of Edward Maude, leader of the Leeds Symphony Orchestra under whose tuition he won first prize in the Junior Violin Class at the Hull Musical Festival in 1924 and in November of 1925, he took part in his first radio broadcast, it was from the Leeds-Bradford radio station in a series called “With the Classics.”
Tom was now advanced enough musically to play regularly with Edward Maude’s String Orchestra. He appeared with the Malton White Star band giving “Sacred Concerts” of popular classical music. In 1927 he played his first full concerto in public, giving a full rendition of Bach’s Violin Concerto at the Leeds Church Institute. He took a two-year professional engagement with Cecil Moon’ Royal Baths Quartet at Harrogate, Cecil was a pianist from the well known Morley musical family. At the same time he took up the position of solo violinist with the Harrogate Central Cinema Orchestra having in earlier days played with orchestras accompanying silent films at Batley and Thirsk. In the summer of 1930 he joined the Hastings Municipal Orchestra at the White Rock Pavilion. By early 1932 his virtuosity resulted in rave notices in the local press and when Spa towns such as Harrogate were out-of-season, he played with orchestras at coastal venues such as Blackpool, Scarborough and Whitby. The summer seasons of 1935 and 1936 saw him leader and deputy conductor of the Whitby Municipal Orchestra at the Spa Pavilion, an orchestra famous for its weekly radio broadcasts. It was a remarkable achievement for a man so young to be a leader of a broadcasting orchestra.
Tom married Violet Harrop, a fine pianist from the well known Harrogate family, the Cholmondeley-Harrops.
Mr. Jenkins decided to branch out on his own and one of his earliest bookings was to star in a concert at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in November 1936. He was billed as “The Amazing Violin Virtuoso, Tom Jenkins, considered the Greatest British Soloist of his Generation.” He made headline news when he insured his hands for £10,000 and was covered to receive £20 a week for any period he was unable to play due to injury, in those days they were large sums. In 1936 he secured a recording contract with His Majesty’s Voice.
Tom became one of the most popular performers of his era as a result of his appointment, in 1938, to the leadership of the Grand Hotel Orchestra, Eastbourne when his broadcasts from there resulted in a spontaneous acclaim and the receipt of hundreds of letters. Although now a national celebrity he still found time to support local charities. At the Pavilion in the November of 1939 in the OMADS revue entitled “Odds On,” he was billed as “Tom Jenkins, violinist, famous for his broadcasts from the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne.”
On the 15 th October 1942 he joined the Royal Army Service Corps and his military service ended in March 1946 followed by the broadcast of the radio series “Voice of the Violin,” he then stepped fully into the limelight again with the BBC “Grand Hotel” broadcasts. This revival of his fortunes coincided with the acquisition of a Stradivarius violin with which he was to achieve the pinnacle of his popularity. In 1948 the BBC asked Tom Jenkins to take over permanently from Albert Sandler as leader of the Palm Court Orchestra and at this time he made frequent tours around Britain mainly with Reginald Kilbey (cello) and Jack Byfield (piano). The Palm Court Orchestra produced regular recordings of popular tunes on the HMV label from 1949 and also attracted huge audiences.
In 1951 he married the soprano Dorothy Bond who was a well-known coloratura, whose purity of tone had established her reputation on the concert platform; she was also an accomplished pianist. Unfortunately their partnership was tragically cut short in November 1952 when Dorothy was killed in a car accident when she was thirty-one years of age.
Also in 1951, on Saturday 3rd March, an audience of 1,000 Morley admirers packed into the Ebenezer Methodist Church to give a big welcome to Tom; he rewarded them with a brilliant performance. After the concert he had a busy time signing autographs and greeting many admirers and old friends.
The culmination of his public acclaim came when he won the National Radio Award for the Most Popular Musical Entertainer two years running, in the periods 1952/3 and 1953/4.
Mr. Jenkins was appointed the musical director at the Spa at Scarborough and his 20 strong orchestra played there in the 1953, 1954 and 1955 seasons. During the 1953 season the BBC broadcast 15 of the shows under the title “On the Spa” and in the July he became engaged to his flautist, Michelle LeMesurier Croll and they were married at Kensington Registry Office on the 7 th December. Along with Tom’s sixteen-month-old son (by his marriage to Dorothy Bond), they settled in Streatham, South London.
Tom continued to broadcast almost continually until July 1956 when increasing ill health forced him to abandon his leadership and he died on 13 th February 1957 at his home at 3, Selwood Terrace, Kensington at the age of only forty-six. Following his death Tom’s Stradivarius, with which he had risen to the peak of his fame languished in a bank strong room until 1995 when Michelle Jenkins decided that it should be sold. On the 20 th June 1995 it was the centerpiece of an auction of musical instruments at Sotheby’s and after fierce bidding it was sold for £375,000.The memory of Tom Jenkins lives on in the memories of many Morley people and also in the City of London where an award is still presented annually at the London Guild of Music in the name of this exceptionally talented musician.
information supplied by R Barraclough
© Carol Sklinar