History of the Festival

The North London Festival of Music, Speech and Drama was founded in November 1920 by a group of North London musicians, including music critics John Graham and Herman Klein.

Here is an extract from the first Festival Syllabus: the “INTRODUCTORY” in which the founders shared their reasons for founding the Festival.

In the early years, the Festival was supported by eminent musicians including Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Dame Clara Butt. It was launched at the Northern Polytechnic Institute in Holloway Road, at a time of significant growth in Music Education. In that same year, the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was formed, Gustav Holst’s ‘Planets Suite’ had its first complete public performance, and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed ‘The Lark Ascending’. Valuing excellence from the beginning, great musicians such as Sir Hugh Allen, Charles Proctor, Sir David Willcocks and Sir Colin Davis have helped steer the Festival through various challenges and changes.

The Festival has run annually since 1920, apart from four years (1939 to 1943) during the Second World War, and the disruption due to COVID-19 in 2020. We were planning to celebrate the Festival’s Centenary in 2020, but that was not possible. We did, however, launch centenary celebrations with a ‘Countdown to 100 years’ concert in November 2019 (final line-up pictured). It was a fantastic night, with some exceptional performances.


Rosemary Cook has started writing a history of the Festival.  She would be delighted to hear from anyone who has memories of the Festival and especially musicians who took part in the Festival as children.  Please get in touch via Email: strings@northlondonfestival.org.uk

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