Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

The Singing Miner

By Terry Fry

Alfred Webster Kingston was born at Sparrows Forge, Wednesbury, Staffordshire on March 16th 1875. Soon afterwards the family moved to 64 Beardall Street, Hucknall. He became a choirboy at St. John’s Church, Butlers Hill and played the horn in the Hucknall Excelsior Silver Band.

He left school at ten and soon was working in the local colliery. But his interest in music grew and he was a prominent member of the St. John’s Glee Society. His choirmaster formed the Byron Quartette of which Kingston was a part.

Kingston married in 1895 and remained in Hucknall till 1906. Then he moved to the newly-sunk Crown Farm Colliery in Mansfield. There his singing impressed the under-manager Mr. Davies who allowed him to go to London for two days a week for lessons in singing and speech. Also the Rev. Stainer of Warsop St. Peter and St. Paul was very impressed and took him to London to meet influential people and to find him a permanent teacher, Evelyn Edwardes. In paying tribute to his help Kingston said ‘I could only speak Nottinghamshire English at that time’.

Under the name Morgan Kingston he made his first appearance in London at the Queen’s Hall on November 13th 1909. He still worked hard at the pit but music was taking over. Kingston, a tall man of athletic build with good presence on stage, was singing in more and more festivals. He performed in Elijah, Hiawatha, Parsifal, and Flying Dutchman with other backing artistes. He also sang in the Wagner centenary concert at the Albert Hall. His career took off by 1911 but he did not sing on the operatic stage properly till 1912, with the Chicago Philharmonic Opera hiring him in 1913. His first real operatic performance was with the Century Operatic Company when he sang in Lohengrin, and Samson and Delilah. He worked hard and quickly added La Boheme, Tosca, Pagliacci, and Carmen to his repertoire, all sung in English. He soon became famous in the United States. In 1913 Kingston sang at the White House for President and Mrs Woodrow Wilson. He was presented with a model of the Welsh Harp with an American eagle at its base. It was in solid gold and he was very proud of it. He left it to his son Bert in his will.

Kingston continued his studies of Italian, German and French and sang in those languages at the New York Metropolitan Opera. His natural talent combined with sheer hard study took him to the top, where he became part of a tenor rota which contained Enrico Caruso, Giovanni Martinelli and Hipolito Lazaro. He was now 42 and had come a long way in a short time from singing at the opening of the Drill Hall in Mansfield in 1909. In 1924 he returned to England. He appeared at Covent Garden in Pagliacci and Madame Butterfly and in a concert at The Albert Hall sang in four languages. In 1926 he returned to home territory in Mansfield to sing at a concert there. The final concert of his career was at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, on November 14th 1928. By now, Kingston’s health was failing, not helped when a business venture proved unsuccessful. (His wife, sons and daughter had lived in Canada for some time).

Finally he moved to Stoke Poges where his health deteriorated and he died in a London hospital on August 4th 1936. He was buried in the famous cemetery of Stoke Poges’ St. Giles, immortalised by Thomas Grey’s famous elegy: ‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave’

(With acknowledgment to the information supplied by the late Ewan Gibby)