By historian Roger Bingham of Ackenthwaite:

TO MANY local musicians, spring is heralded by the Mary Wakefield festival.

Founded in 1885 by the daughter of Kendal’s leading banking and gunpowder manufacturing family, it is the country’s oldest competitive festival.

Mary was a stout jolly old maid of 32. She and her sister Agnes Argles of Eversley House, Heversham, held the first choir festival on the tennis court of Sedgwick House, the Wakefields' country house.

In 1887, the venue moved to St George’s Hall in Kendal - where the impression that the festival was on ‘the behoof’ of parish churches was counteracted by the affirmation that it was open without ‘distinction of class or creed’. Even so, the committee was composed mainly of gentry and half gentry who recruited their own staff and tenants as competitors. But they did their best awarding prizes for good attendance at practices and reimbursing travel costs.

By 1891, there were 400 ‘voices’ in the festival chorus. Moreover, Mary’s festival was already attracting celebrities, including Sir Henry Wood, conductor of London’s Promenade Concerts, who may have appreciated the sentiments, if not the lyrics, of the children’s chorus: “We do not wish our skilfulness the slightest bit to boast about but harmony is just what we surely know the most about.”