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Vernon bows out after 35 years as Newmarket's Carols at Tattersalls conductor

A familiar face will be missing from this year’s popular Carols at Tattersalls, with conductor Vernon Place handing over the baton 35 years after he co-founded the event.

It was 1984 when local choirmaster and former Journal photographer Vernon and Margaret Minns, a special needs teacher at Newmarket Upper School, got together to stage a carol concert in a hall at the school. The following year, the event moved to a larger hall at Laureate Primary School but by 1986 it had continued to expand to such an extent that extreme measures had to be taken.

“I remember Margaret ringing me and saying ‘We’ve got a problem. We won’t be able to get everybody in the hall but don’t worry we’ll just hire Tattersalls’,” said Vernon. “I was terrified because this was before Rotary were involved so she and I would have been jointly responsible for paying a large bill if anything went wrong.”

Vernon Place (21923649)
Vernon Place (21923649)

Luckily, the new venue proved perfect for the concert and its success has continued under the Rotary banner as one of the organisation’s key fund-raising events of the year.

In its inaugural year at Tattersalls it was the first non-racing event to be held there. It remains, as Vernon insisted, as a Newmarket event bringing the town’s community and surrounding villages together for a traditional celebration of Christmas with only choirs from the local area invited to participate.

Vernon Place (21928920)
Vernon Place (21928920)

Proceeds from ticket and programme sales and donations go to local charities with this year’s concert raising money for the Newmarket Volunteer Network which provides Dial-a-Ride Transport and a Befriending Service for people living alone.

Wielding the baton for the first time will be Christine Shand, a maths teacher at Newmarket Academy, who has been involved for many years with music at Exning Church as organist and choirmistress.

“I am very pleased Christine has agreed to take it on,” said Vernon, 85, who took the decision to step down because of a problem with his eyes which occasionally affects his balance.

“I am rather proud of how the concert has lasted for so many years and it’s good to know it will be in a very safe pair of hands.”

Tickets for this year’s concert, on December 13 at 7.30pm, are on sale at Goldings in Newmarket High Street.