Dr WILLIAM REA (1827 - 1903)


William Rea was born in London in 1827. From being young, he showed a remarkable aptitude for music and at an early stage was placed under Mr Joseph Pitman, organist of Christ Church, Spitalfields, who was one of the first generation of English Bach players. Rea made such rapid progress that before he was in his teens, he was acting as Deputy Organist to his Master at Spitalfields. After studying in Leipzig and Prague, he was appointed organist to the Harmonic Union in 1851 and in 1858 he became organist at St Michaels in Stockwell, London. In 1860, he was selected as the most outstanding candidate for the newly created Council Organist post in Newcastle, earning £150 a year, and moved his entire family north, where he was to spend the rest of his life.

He made an immediate impact on the musical life of the region and within a few years had transformed Newcastle from a provincial musical backwater and revitalised the city's interest in a higher form of musical culture that attracted notice beyond the region, attracting musicians from London to perform in the city, founding a long running series of Promenade Concerts and introducing the Corporation People's Concerts. He had amazing energy and enthusiasm, and at various times fulfilled the role of organist, concert pianist, conductor, choir master, concert promoter, arranger and composer!! He also gave a series of lectures, musical classes and piano recitals of modern music at the Lit and Phil, Newcastle.

He held the posts of organist at St Thomas's, Gateshead, St Andrew's in Newcastle, St Mary's, Tyne Dock, the Elswick Road Chapel and, from 1880 until his death, St Hilda's in South Shields.

His wider contribution to musical life on Tyneside was recognised by Durham University, who in 1886 conferred upon him an honorary degree of Doctor of Music. He also received a public testimonial in 1889 for his musical services, which received wide support, and was presented by Alderman Jonathon Barker Ellis, who had worked closely with him as Chairman of the Newcastle Council's People's Concerts Committee.

Following a short illness in 1903, Dr Rea died at his home in Summerhill Grove, Newcastle. In his memory, three years later his two surviving sons erected a fine gravestone in Jesmond Old Cemetery. 

The above information was provided by Mr Michael Johnston and Mr Joe Pegg. Thanks to the efforts of Mr Pegg, the memorial to Dr Rea is now a Grade II listed monument, despite it being broken in half. It originally stood at over 7 feet high and includes a bronze medallion, set in the upper part of the monument, by the sculptor Francis Derwent Wood, who is probably more famous for his Machine Gun Corps Memorial in Hyde Park Corner and 'Canadas Golgotha' for the Canadian War Memorials Exhibition. He also modelled the wreaths for Lutyen's Cenotaph. 

The Friends of Jesmond Old Cemetery have tried, so far without success, to attract funding for the monuments restoration. We remain, as ever, optimistic that we will eventually succeed. 

The inscription reads:

In Loving Memory of
Who devoted more than forty years
to cultivating a love of good music
amongst the people of this City.
Born, March 25th, 1827; died, March 8th, 1903.
And his dearly beloved wife,
Daughter of Wesley Stoker Woolhouse F.R.A.S.
Born April 7th, 1835. Died May 6th, 1893
Also of his children, who died in 1861
Eleanor Gertrude, age 6 years: Emma Beatrice, age 3 years.
The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God
wisdom, chap 3  

The bronze relief of Dr Rea's profile, designed by Francis Derwent Wood.

Canada's Golgotha Memorial

The Machine Gun Corps Memorial


      The 'blue plaque' outside the former residence of Dr Rea in Summerhill Grove.

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