Every other month, we will be adding a new profile of women we are researching for our “Working women of B and H in the 20th Century” project. Our first profile for 2023 is Molly Paley, leader of the original Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Molly Paley was born at 38 Montpelier Road in Brighton in April 1893. Her father was Dr Frederick John Paley, an English GP who married Maude Cecil Attfield from Western Australian.  Molly had 2 younger brothers, Frederick and John. Molly attended Brighton Girls School from the age of 4 to 7. At the early age of 8years, she began her musical career by learning to play the Violin. She was taught by George Menges who was the father of Herbert Menges. This began a long and intimate connection with the Menges family who were the family who created what was to eventually become the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Molly developed into a highly successful musician who first came to prominence as a young woman playing solo violin in various concerts within Brighton and Sussex. In the early 1920s she was variously described in local newspapers as “a remarkably skilful violinist”:“exquisite performer of Bach” etc. After her initial teaching from the Menges family she had refined her violin playing in Paris. Her teacher was Scipione Guidi, who later became the Leader of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Committee of Management: Miss Molly Paley reads a report from the Brighton Philharmonic circle

In 1925 the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra was formed by the Menges family. Herbert Menges became its first conductor. It was initially called the Symphonic String Players and sometimes the Sussex Symphonic. Molly was chosen to be the first leader of the Orchestra. When she began to lead the orchestra in 1925, the orchestra consisted regularly of 35-40 players, 75% of whom were women. Brighton was quite progressive in this musical area compared to many of the London based professional orchestras of the time, that were predominantly using male musicians. She remained the leader right through World War 2 until 1945. She then became a committee member and later Vice President of the Brighton Philharmonic Society Ltd.

During her many years with the Brighton Philharmonic, she lead the orchestra under such eminent conductors as Sir Adrian Boult and Richard Austin and shared the concert platform with world renowned soloists such as Solomon; Moura Lympany; Franz Osborn and many others.

Molly’s musical influence was a wide one within the city as she also conducted various Chamber Orchestras and was Professor of Music and the Conductor of the orchestra at The Brighton School of Music, 5 Marlborough Place. She also gave private tuition to young string players. She continued all her life to perform as a solo violinist in various concerts throughout Sussex. She married Ernest Draper in 1944 and died in Hassocks in 1974 aged 81.

She lived at various addresses in Brighton and Hove and Sussex during her musical career: Cambridge Court, Cambridge Road, Brighton: 26 Salisbury Road, Hove: 12 Farnham Avenue, Hassocks

BHWHG would like to thank Cat Stead (Company Secretary of the Brighton and Hove Philharmonic Society) for permission to use the photograph above and for helping us find material within the BPO’s archive that we could use in this profile.

Molly’s Obituary from BPO in 1974