Three Serbian Songs

by Phil Jones

No, not late entries for the Eurovision Song Contest, but an interesting survivor from the First World War. The collection bearing this title was published in 1916 by Collard Moultrie and dedicated to the People of Serbia. 

The cover bears the Serbian flag and the names of the two composers, namely: words by Kineton Parkes, music by Ernest Darby. The titles are based on Serbian poems, being "Lado", "The Defender" and "The Plum Tree".

The discovery of this music, and other historical records, has shed new light on the origins of the Wolverhampton School of Music.


At the turn of the century, Kineton Parkes was the Principal of the Nicholson Institute at Leek. He was a lecturer, writer, art critic, and an expert on the silk industry of Leek and Macclesfield. He was also a leading light in the social and artistic life of Leek. 

In 1899 the Leek Amateur Operatic Society staged a production of "Iolanthe'", one of the popular Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas. 

Kineton was Acting Manager, as well as taking the lead role of Lord Chancellor. Mrs Parkes was the Fairy Queen and, completing the family participation, the role of Leila was taken by Kineton's younger sister, nineteen year old Florence.

Florence Parkes Darby.

Florence Parkes had talents for singing and piano playing and these were encouraged by Kineton from an early age. They were two of six children of William Parkes, who was employed in the Birmingham jewellery trade, and were all born in Birmingham. 

Florenceā€™s talents were also encouraged by Mr Henry Wood (the founder of the Proms and later Sir Henry Wood), who in 1900 became Guest Conductor of the Wolverhampton Festival Choral Society. Mr Wood had suggested that Florence pursue a singing career in London.

 However this was disregarded because, in 1902, Florence had met Ernest Darby.

Ernest Darby was a son of John Darby, a Wolverhampton solicitor who, in turn, was a descendant of Francis Darby (brother of Abraham). Born in 1873, Ernest was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School and went on to study Music at Durham University. 

With the award of a Doctorate, Ernest began a career teaching music in Chapel Ash. In 1899 he was appointed Organist and Choirmaster at St Marks Church.

In 1902 Ernest was planning to stage an amateur operatic production at the Grand Theatre. The work chosen was "The Bohemian Girl" by Balfe. This work, never as popular as the G&S operettas, is best known for the Aria "I dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls". The talented Florence Parkes became an automatic choice for the soprano role in this production.

Ernest Darby.

The School's letterhead in its early days.

Florence joined Ernest to develop the School of Music, which was initially based in rooms at the old Art School in Darlington Street. 
They were married at St Marks in 1904 and the honeymoon was taken in North Wales.

 One interesting detail is that, on their return, they were present at the laying of the foundation stone at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.

The interior of St Marks, from an old postcard.

Chapel Ash from a postcard of about the 1930s.  The studios were on the right. As the Wolverhampton School of Music developed, it transferred to permanent studios at 27, Chapel Ash. In 1907, as a means of putting theory into practice, the two established the Wolverhampton Opera Company. This was to be an amateur organisation, with funds being raised for various good causes. Every year a production was mounted in Wolverhampton, usually at the Grand Theatre.
These two postcards probably relate to one of the productions at the Grand.  The card on the right has "Dorothy -Lydia" pencilled on the back.  Presumably this was a production of the comic opera "Dorothy" by B. C. Stephenson (book) and Alfred Cellier (music), first performed in 1886 and running for 931 performances at the Gaiety, it would be a typical production for an amateur opera company.

During the First World War, the activities of the WSM were reduced. Dr Darby had volunteered as a Special Officer with the local Police Force. By 1923, the School had returned to normal and entered a period of consolidation.

27 Chapel Ash today, now occupied by the Flame Lily nursing agency.

7 Summerfield Road today, with the blue plaque commemorating the Darbys between the windows. During 1932 a move was made to the "Marble Halls" of No 7 Summerfield Road, close to West Park. 

This was one of a pair of houses built in 1840 and is well illustrated and described in the book "The Fowler Legacy" by Anthony Perry. As well as being the Studios of WSM, No 7 was also the family home.



The Darbys had two sons, John Kineton (named after Ernest's father and brother-inlaw) and Ludwig (named after his favourite composer Beethoven). The only daughter, Vaudrey, was born in 1912. The name was taken from the heroine in the novel "The Altar of Moloch" written by Kineton Parkes and published in that year.

After gaining LRAM, Vaudrey helped out with taking classes at the WSM, in Singing and Piano.

In 1933 the family was involved in the production of "Merrie England" in West Park. This was followed in 1935 with the "Jubilee Pageant" and "Pied Piper of Hamelin" at Molineux Football Ground.

Vaudrey Darby.

A page from a mss book of Dr. Darby containing a setting of the 93rd psalm and this Fugue. In addition, the Operatic Company was still mounting its annual production at the Grand Theatre. Dr Darby was the Musical Director and Business Manager; Madam Parkes-Darby was Producer and Principal Soprano. 

With the illness of Dr Darby in 1936, Madam took over as Director of the production of "Rose Marie". Vaudrey took over the Soprano role, with her brother John taking over technical supervision.

Ernest died in January 1937 from a cancer of the leg. The letters received at No 7 demonstrated that Dr Darby was a much loved and respected member of local society. 

At the Memorial Service, held at St Marks Church, the Choir sang his arrangements of the "Magnificat" and "Nunc Dimittis".

The outbreak of the Second World War again interrupted normal activities. Florence and Vaudrey undertook entertainment of employees at local ordnance factories and at local Forces Clubs. 

WSM Classes resumed at No 7 after the War, with Florence and Vaudrey. However the Opera Company was not recommenced. The last production had been the 1938 show "Vagabond King". However by 1950 light opera was already well established in Wolverhampton. Other Societies, such as Willenhall Wesley, carried on the tradition into the post-war years.


The Garden House and the Coach House with a corner of 7 Summerfield Road. (Thanks to Geoff Johnson for permission to enter and photograph). Over the next thirty years Florence and Vaudrey continued at No 7, with Vaudrey gradually taking over the classes. 

Following the death of Florence in 1976, the decision was made to sell No 7 and build an extension to the Coach House known as 'Garden House'. 

In the Studio overlooking the garden Vaudrey continued teaching piano and singing for another 25 years. By 1978 the records of the School of Music and the Opera Company had been deposited in the Borough archives.

1978 also saw the closure of St Marks Church, prior to its conversion to financial offices. With the transfer to St Marks annexe, Vaudrey stepped in as pianist to accompany services. It was decided to transfer the organ from St Marks to Wolverhampton Grammar School, where Dr Darby had been an occasional teacher of Music.

As a memorial to Dr Darby, a decorative carved surround had been installed, with Gothic style drawers. This had previously been dedicated at a service held by Rev Holmes Walker (then Vicar at St Marks). On this occasion the Choir included "Kyrie" and "Jubilate" sung to Dr Darby's arrangements. The organ (with its surround) is still located at the School.

With the WSM Records deposited at Snow Hill in 1978 was included most of Dr Darby's compositions. There is no catalogue of this work and producing one would represent a major project for a local musicologist, to sort out the pieces and compositions worth a second look. Dr Darby is not included in the recently published definitive list of British composers, though it is hoped eventually to remedy this omission. Perhaps one day we will hear again some of Dr Darby's work. To start the process, I have a photocopy of "Serbian Songs" available to any choir or group wishing to try it out.

The School of Music came to an end in 2001 when Vaudrey Darby died on the 10th May that year, after a fall at home. Like her father previously, she had been taking lessons in Summerfield Road, and accompanying Services at St Marks, until just a few days before her death. This was a few months before her ninetieth birthday and marked the end of almost a century of musical education in Wolverhampton.

The blue plaque on the wall of No7 Summerfield Road commemorates the work of the School of Music. Describing the Darbys as "Musicians" is something of an understatement. The following CVs show what an important contribution was made by the Darby family to the musical and social life of Wolverhampton.

George Ernest Darby, Mus. Doc. (Dunelm), ARCO, Hon RCM, MRST (1873 - 1937)

Founder and Director, Wolverhampton School of Music. Founder and Musical Director, Wolverhampton Opera Company. Organist and Choirmaster, St Marks Church, Chapel Ash. Composer of works for St Marks Choir, organ and orchestral groups. Conductor, Wolverhampton Choral Society. Tutor, Orchestral Class at Wolverhampton Technical College. Vice President, Wolverhampton and District Organists and Choirmasters Association.

Madam Florence Parkes-Darby, LRAM, ARCM, MRST (1880 - 1976)

Founder and Director, Wolverhampton School of Music and WOC. Teacher in Drama and Elecution. Tutor, Opera Class, at Wolverhampton Technical College. Member of Advisory Committee, British National Opera Company. Founder, secretary and past President of Wolverhampton Inner Wheel.

Miss Vaudrey Darby, LRAM (1912 - 2001)

Director of Wolverhampton School of Music. Teacher of piano and singing.

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