manx celtic music and dance

Poulter, Frederick Charles ‘Pa’

A man much involved in Manx musical matters.

 ‘. . . he performed wonders in keeping up the spirits of the people during the dark days of the war’.

Born 1858, Rotherham, West Yorkshire.

Died 15th July, 1919, Douglas, Isle of Man.

Father: Robert Poulter. Born c. 1815, Hunsingore, North Yorkshire; 1 died 26th October, 1877, Rotherham, aged 62.   

Mother: Elizabeth. Born in Sheffield c. 1822; died in Rotherham 1884, aged 62.

Brother: William Robert. Born c. 1853;2 died in Rotherham in 1887, aged 34 years.

Wife: Grace Mary Johnson. Born c. 1865, Manchester; died Braddan, May 1949, aged 84 years.

Issue: Son:  Sydney Johnson. Born c. 1888; died Purley, Surrey, 18th August, 1959, aged 71 years.3

Daughter: Marjery. Born 5th June, 1886; died, Braddan, 19th May, 1962, aged 75 years.

Like his close friend and musical colleague Harry Wood, Fred Poulter was the son of an innkeeper and moved to the Isle of Man from Yorkshire. Their careers were destined to run on similar, frequently over-lapping lines: Wood as a young concert violinist, orchestral leader and ultimately the musical director of the Palace & Derby Castle Company;4 Fred Poulter as an accomplished pianist and accompanist, church organist, band conductor, and musical director at the Gaiety Theatre and Villa Marina. Both were active Freemasons.

His father Robert was the licensee of the Falstaff Inn situated at number 3, Effingham Street, Rotherham, and it goes without saying that daily life would have been hectic. For a period during the 1870s the household consisted of Robert and Elizabeth Poulter, the two Poulter brothers, a niece and one or two general servants. In his late teens his elder brother William had been described as a hair dresser, but by the 1880s5 he was described as a ‘musician’. However, nothing is known about Fred’s early musical training, but it is likely that he sang in his local church choir and took piano and organ lessons from local teachers. It is also possible that he was partly self-taught, as we know that he took up the cornet in early 1881, and became proficient enough to play the strenuous trumpet obbligato in The Trumpet Shall Sound from Handel’s Messiah in the Victoria Hall, Douglas, by December that year.

The precise circumstances that brought Fred Poulter to Douglas in 1880 or 1881 is unknown, as he does not appear to have had any connection with the Island other than the fact that his brother visited Douglas in August 1878, the year after the death of Robert Poulter.6 Initially Fred was the proprietor of the Victoria Music Bazaar in Victoria Road, Douglas, and in the 1881 census was described as a ‘musician’. The first concert he took part in that we know about was as an accompanist for the Douglas Excelsior Glee Club in October 1881, after which he donated 5s to the High Bailiff’s Office to the Lifeboat Fund. The following month he played for the Pickwick Amateur Dramatic Club, and before long he was much in demand as an accompanist and piano soloist at a wide variety of local events including Rechabite entertainments, church Tea Festivals and bazaars, the Manx Union for the Promotion of Temperance, Masonic concerts, Glee Club concerts, Bachelor Tea Meetings and the Rifle Volunteers’ concerts.

In 1883 he began to give private piano lessons and succeeded to the position of organist at St. Thomas’s Church, a position he occupied with great distinction until his death. By 1884 he had moved from Victoria Street to Woodburn Square, Douglas, and was listed in Brown’s Directory as a ‘music teacher’. In September 1885 at the age of twenty-seven he married Grace Mary Johnson, the daughter of a well-known Douglas auctioneer, and moved house yet again, this time to 46, Princes Street, Douglas, where he was known as a ‘Professor of Music’ and listed among the shareholders of the ill-fated Dumbell’s Bank.  

By now the range of his musical activities had increased to include conducting of the Isle of Man Rifle Volunteers’ Band in 1886, and we find his name listed as a piano teacher at Woodville Cottage, Victoria Road, Douglas, and in February 1886, at 16 Albert Street, Douglas. This would be the pattern of an increasingly industrious life. ‘His touch is superb’ wrote the reviewer after a St. Thomas’s Bazaar concert in 1883; and maybe there was something of the showman lurking behind his normally sober exterior, as later that year a group of Douglas youths were ejected from the Peel Centenary Hall for stamping their feet too energetically during his barn-storming rendering of The Keel Row.

In March 1900 he was appointed musical director at the new Gaiety Theatre, having previously been engaged as a pianist entertaining ‘the picturegoers’ at the short-lived Pavilion Theatre on the same site. As musical director at the Gaiety Theatre his main task was to select the incidental music for the plays and conduct the orchestra. In 1901 the family, which had grown to include a daughter, Marjery, and a son Sydney, moved to Knowsley House on Loch Promenade, a household which also included his wife’s father, Joseph Johnson, a niece, Annie Poulter, a housemaid and a cook.

The Poulter family were very generous with the time they devoted to ‘good works’ and also with donations to various charities. In 1902 Mrs Poulter gave £1 3s 3d to the Douglas Hospital Sunday after dinner collection, Master Sydney Poulter – already a budding thespian, and later a successful theatrical manager under the professional name Robert Brasher – gave £4 1s 9d from the proceeds of a Midget Pierrots concert to the Douglas Boot and Clothing Fund, and Fred himself donated 17s to the same cause. In 1905, Sydney Poulter, who was by then associated with the Juvenile Pantomimes at the Gaiety Theatre, donated £18 from the proceeds of Dick Wittington to the Children’s Free Dinner and Boot and Clothing Funds, and in 1905, part of the proceeds of £37 2s from Cinderella to the same fund.

By 1906 Fred Poulter had become the owner of the sixty-room  Belvedere Temperance Hotel at  numbers 5-6 Loch Parade, Douglas, and in the census of 1911, was described as a ‘teacher of music and boarding house keeper’, with a household which had grown further to included four maids and one ‘boots’. One wonders how he managed to organise and juggle his busy careers: musical director, band conductor, composer of popular dances such as the Promenade Schottisch, piano teacher, church organist, conductor of the Douglas Choral Union and now hotelier He was also gave many hours of his time to those institutions dear to his heart: he was on the committee of the Manx Music Festival, an active Freemason,8 and from January 1901, a member of the Eastern District Higher Education Board, displaying a keen interest in both elementary and higher education. He was Chairman of the Board for five years and at his death, also Chairman of the Board Finance Committee. In November 1911 he was elected to the Douglas Board of Guardians, a position which gave him further scope to express his deep interest in public service and particularly in the welfare of the poor.9


The sad fate of Douglas’s entertainment industry during the First World War is well-documented, but the otherwise dire state of things presented Fred Poulter with opportunities to fully display his talents. The Palace and the Derby Castle theatres and dance halls soon became deserted of visitors and after the dismissal of Her Wurm’s Imperial Viennese Orchestra from the Villa Marina Kursaal, the was a noticeable dearth of music in Douglas.. For a time various ‘scratch’ orchestras organised by Harry Wood and others, endeavoured to keep things going and brighten the leaden atmosphere during the winter months, but in May 1915 the Promenades Committee of Douglas Town Council appointed Fred Poulter as the conductor of the new Douglas Corporation Orchestra at the Villa Marina, in recognition of his long service to the Island and because, as a local man, ‘he would spend his money in the town!’ He quickly organised a series of Grand Patriotic Concerts, and thrice-daily concerts in the grounds, but in June the hastily-organised and under-funded season ended, and Fred Poulter disappears from the Villa Marina as a conductor until 1917, but not, happily, as a player. In 1916 the well-known local entertainer and entrepreneur Frederick Buxton was appointed the Responsible Manager of the Villa Marina, and appointed Harry Wood to form the Villa Marina Bijou Orchestra, whose carefully selected musicians included Fred Poulter; when Wood left Douglas for Blackpool in 1917, he was again appointed to conduct the Villa’s Bijou Orchestra.

Sometime after the start of the war the Poulters gave up the Belvedere Hotel and moved to Oakwood, Mount Bradda, Douglas, and after the war life continued to be busy with church and other concerts. In April the Gaiety Theatre re-opened after the war with a three act play, ‘The K. C.,’ in which Sydney Poulter played a leading role, and Fred’s orchestra provided the music at the Villa Marina for a Reception for Manx Heroes, during which 100 officers and men who had served during the war were fêted and treated to a sumptuous tea. The Villa Marina was fully opened for dancing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and doubtless Fred enjoyed the new dances: the Fox-trot, the Maxina, the Tickle-toe and the Saunter.

In May 1919 Fred was appointed the Chairman of the Douglas Board of Guardians, and attended the annual meeting of the Douglas School Board. Later that month came news of the sudden death of J. D. Looney, the renowned teacher of music and singing, and one of the Island’s most successful choir trainers. It fell to Fred to announce the sad news to the committee of the Manx Music Festival, whose Chairman he had recently been appointed. The signing of the peace Treaty between the Allied Powers and Germany was celebrated on the Island in June, 1919, and Fred and his colleague J. T. Wood played a fanfare dressed in the scarlet dress uniform of the Isle of Man Volunteer Corps. Dancing at the Villa Marina week commenced on 7th July with Fred conducting the Bijou Orchestra from 7.45 until 10.45 each evening, and on 13th July the operatic soprano Madame Stralia was the guest artiste at the Sunday Concert along with the popular Manx bass Alan Quirk.

Fred Poulter died two days later ‘. . . with startling suddenness at home on Tuesday afternoon’, 15th July, 1919. Earlier that afternoon he had undergone routine dental treatment, but suffered a heart-attack soon after arriving back home. He had been an active man who wore his sixty-one years lightly despite the affects of the heart disease from which he had been suffering for some time. Not even his closest friends knew of his illness.10 The internment took place on Friday 18th July at Braddan Cemetery following a service at St. Thomas’s Church attended by an augmented choir of singers from many Douglas Churches, Freemasons, members of the various boards he served on and bandsman from the Isle of Man Volunteers. Miss M. L. Wood played Mendelssohn’s O rest in the Lord on the organ as the coffin was borne into the church, and at Fred’s request, a small ensemble played Chopin’s Funeral March. The following Sunday there was a memorial service at St. Thomas’s; Fred’s successor as organist, W. Clegg, F.R.C.O., was appointed in October 1919. Both Fred’s wife and daughter continued to be associated with St. Thomas’s Church, particularly the Sunday School, and in October 1919, Marjery advertised herself as a piano teacher, perhaps taking over some of her father’s pupils.

The obituaries were full of praise for the man and his musical legacy. His had been ‘a most happy disposition’; he had commonly ‘radiated good will’ and displayed ‘tolerance and kind heartedness’. He was described as a loyal friend and a gentleman, and known affectionately as ‘Pa’ Poulter. His great skill as an accompanist was acknowledged, and many local concerts would be the poorer without the sound of his ‘cheery cornet’. The Mona’s Herald11 struck the right note, as it were, in their obituary which appeared the week after his death:

One of the best-known men in Douglas . . . much involved in Manx musical matters . . .  and held in high esteem by all who knew him. His motto . . . doing good for all’.

Maurice Powell, November, 2016.


1. Just north of Wetherby near today’s AI and close to the site of the battle of Marston Moor.

2. He married Annie Copley in 1878.

3. Johnson was his mother’s maiden name; he married Olive Louise Simmons, 4th January, 1917, at St Anne’s Church, Soho, London; at his death, his estate was valued at over £11,000.

4. See Maurice Powell, Harry Wood, ‘Manxland’s King of Music’, Supplement to New Manx Worthies, Culture Vannin.

5. 1881 Manx census.

6. Isle of Man newspapers visitors list.

7. See ‘Tedimus H’, Notes and Notions, Our Liverpool Letter, IoME, 26th July, 1919.

8. From 1882 he was associated with the Tynwald Lodge (number 1242) and eventually earned the titles of Past-Provincial Grand Officer of the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Isle of Man, Provincial Grand Senior Warden and Provincial Grand Secretary and organist.

9. He was listed as a Poor Law Guardian in the IoME Official Directory for 1915.

10. Both his elder brother and father had died comparatively young.

11. The Mona’s Herald, 23rd July, 1919.

by Maurice Powell 2016