Sunday, 1 November 2020

Herbert Parker (1875-1956): 52 years a Lay Vicar

Herbert Parker was a Bass Lay Vicar at Lichfield Cathedral from the age of 29 until his death in 1956, 52 years later. I was recently sent a 78 record which he had recorded during his career; unfortunately, there is no date recorded on the disc, but having been recorded in Birmingham it is presumably from some point in his five decades in Lichfield.

The following video is a transcription of the recording which consists of The Wanderer and Awake Beloved. Below the recording are two articles from the Lichfield Mercury which celebrate his fifty years at Lichfield, and then mark his death two years later, respectively.




from The Lichfield Mercury, Friday, 9 July, 1954

Fifty Years Vicar Choral

Cathedral veteran who has sung 'Elijah' more than 300 times

His very wide circle of friends and admirers in Lichfield and throughout the Midlands will, we are confident, wish to be associated with the Mercury in extending hearty congratulations to Mr Herbert Parker, on the completion on Thursday next of fifty years' service as vicar choral of Lichfield Cathedral. Appointed out of 120 applications, Mr Parker was installed as bass vicar choral on July 15, 1904, when the late Mr J B Lott was Cathedral Organist, the Very Revered H M Luckock was Dean, and the Right Reverend Augustus Legge was Bishop of Lichfield.

Mr Herbert Parker was the youngest of a musical family, and from an early age was nurtured in the tradition of good music and good singing. In his teens, he began his training as a singer by taking lessons from his eldest brother who was then studying under an Italian master and was a tenor in Leeds Parish Church choir.

Herbert also began to study the bass solos in the great oratorios, and by the time he was 21 he had mastered most of the bass numbers in Messiah, Elijah, Creation, etc.

About that time, he was sent by his firm to take up a position in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and, having already been a member of the Leeds Philharmonic Society and also the Leeds Choral Union, he at once applied for member of the Newcastle and Gateshead Choral Union. He was tested by the secretary of the Society, who was also the Organist and Choirmaster at a Presbyterian Church, and was, by him, invited to join his choir which he did. There he met the lady whom we now know as Mrs Parker, who was Mayor of Lichfield in 1951, and it also gave him what might be called his start as a professional singing. It happened that the bass singer, David Hughes, who had been engaged to sing the solos in Messiah for the Choral Union, sent a telegram to say he was unable to sing that evening, and the secretary, without hesitation went to Herbert's place of business and asked him to deputise for Mr Hughes. It was something of an ordeal for a young singer to undertake at such short notice, but at the rehearsal, the conductor expressed himself as satisfied and at the concert in the evening, he had a great reception from both audience and chorus, and subsequently received several letters advising him to take up singing as his profession.

Shortly after this event, a vacancy for a bass soloist occurred in Leeds Parish Church choir, for which Mr Parker successfully applied. He went back to Leeds with his mind made up to be a singer. In Newcastle he had continued his training and he now became a pupil of Mr Alfred Benton, organist of Leeds Parish Church and conductor of the Choral Union. This was the hey day of choral singing, when every town and even village had its choral society and engagements came freely. In fact, Mr Parkers remembers one date for which he booked Messiah and had to refuse eight requests for the same date.

His next more was to Lichfield in 1904. He saw the advertisement for a bass vicar choral in Lichfield Cathedral and applied for the post. He was one of 120 applicants, 20 of whom were selected for trial. In this event he was the successful candidate and was installed as vicar choral on July 15.

Before he left Leeds, he had been engaged to sing the part of Beckmesser from Der Meistersingers at the forthcoming Leeds Music Festival in October of that year, and also the understudy new works to be sung at the Festival, including Walford Davies' Everyman and Stanford's Songs of the Sea. This meant many journeys to and from Leeds, but it was a more heartening experience for a young singer at the beginning of his career.

He continued his studies at Lichfield and learned many parts consequent upon his engagements, which took him during the course of years to the Channel Islands in the South, to Inverness in the North, to Jull in the East and to Ireland. He also continued his training in voice production and went to London weekly as a pupil of Mr John Acton who trained many famous singers, such as Norman Allin, Robert Radford and Agnes Nicholls.

As a teacher himself, Mr Parker was, and is, well-known in the Midlands, and several of his pupils are now cathedral singers.

With the coming of radio, a new outlet was opened for singers, and Mr Parker had the pleasure of singing many times from Savoy Hill, Birmingham and Newcastle.

Sometimes he has been asked what his favourite role is, and finds is difficult to make a choice. The most popular successes seem to have been Elijah, which he has sung more than three hundred times, and Messiah, almost as many. Amongst other works he has greatly enjoyed singing are Verdi's Requiem, Elgar's The Apostles and Caractacus, Walford Davies' Everyman, and the St Matthew and St John Passions of Bach.

He has had the privilege of singing under the batons of Sir Charles Stanford, Sir Hubert Parry, Sir Edward Elgar, and other famour English conductors, and with such orchestras as the Halle, Queens Hall, Scottish, Leeds Symphony, etc.

In his early career, Mr Parker met and sang with many famous singers of the day, including Dolores, Ravogli, Agnes Nicholls, Ben Davies, Parry Jones, Marie Brema and Else Suddaby.

Perhaps now he likes best of all singing in the Cathedral the fine bass solos in the anthems written by the great masters of the past.


the Mercury reported on his funeral Friday 27 July 1956

Funeral of Mr Herbert Parker

Large attendance at Cathedral

In an atmosphere of solemnity and respect, the funeral service of the late Mr Herbert Parker, for 52 years a Vicar Choral of Lichfield Cathedral, took place at the Cathedral on Monday.

The service was fully choral and the opening prayers were read by the Precentor (Canon S G B Exham). The Dean (Very Rev W S Macpherson) read the lesson and the committal was taken by the Bishop of Lichfield (Dr A S Reeve). Other robed clergy were Canon A T Jenkins, Preb E E F Walter (officiating as the Bishop's Chaplain), Rev H H Follis and Rev L E H Caller.

During the service, the choir sang the 23rd psalm, a special hymn and the anthem If we believe (Goss). Mr A P Porter was at the organ.

At the graveside, Mr Parker's fellow Freemasons placed sprigs of acacia on the coffin, whilst after the service headed by the Provincial Worshipful Brother J Whyld they assembled at the Lodge Room where eulogies were expressed to Past Worshipful Brother Parker and the toast of 'Departed Merit' was drunk. Sympathy to the relatives was expressed by the Worshipful Master.

[following a long list of the great and good of Lichfield who were in attendance,
there is then a tribute by the Dean, the Very Reverend W S Macpherson:]

"I am going to ask you to pause for a moment and remember with thankfulness to Almighty God the long and faithful service of His servant Herbert Parker, who passed to his rest last Thursday after completing fifty-two years as a Lay Vicar of this Cathedral.

"As a singer, nurtured in the tradition of good music and good singing from an early age, Herbert Parker excelled.

"He is still remembered with affection and respect in Leeds Parish Church, that stronghold of sound Church Music, though he left there over half a century ago.

"But though he attained fame as a bass soloist and was in demand literally throughout the length and breadth of this land and sang with some of the greatest singers of his time, he would, I think, have agreed that it was here in this Cathedral that his heart really found its home, and where his greatest work was done. For Herbert Parker was not just a singer, though few could equal him in the power, the accuracy and the quality of his voice even at the age of eighty.

"He was much more than that. The gift he possessed in such rich measure he treasured and trained as being a gift from God; and through all the many years he sang in this Cathedral - and how regular and punctual he was - it was to the Glory of God that he sang.

"His singing was never an end in itself, but always the vehicle through which he strove to help others to glimpse something of the ineffable beauty of God.

"A man who combined a natural humility with his native Yorkshire forthrightness of speech - faithful Churchman and regular Communicant who was helped and supported for over fifty years by a devoted wife, Herbert Parker has left a name and an example which will long be cherished here in the City of adoption, and more especially in this Cathedral which he loved so well, and served so faithfully."

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

BBC Songs of Praise with the Choir Schools Association from Lichfield Cathedral (9 September 1990)

 Songs of Praise was broadcast from Lichfield in September 1990 (having been recorded four months previously) to mark HRH the Duchess of Kent taking on the role of patron of the Choir Schools' Association. The service involved choristers from all over the north of England.

Although there has been a recording available on YouTube for some time, I have recently been sent a better (and complete) copy of the original VHS which has now been added to YouTube. 



To accompany the broadcast, I have also found two accounts from the Lichfield Cathedral School Magazine which marked the event:

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Former Chorister: John “Jack” Thomas Read

As always, it is interesting when people get in touch to share a Lichfield connection. I recently received an email from a lady in Canada who understands that her grandmother's brother was a chorister at the Lichfield.

Jack Read was born on 24 January 1916, and the staged photograph she sent reproduced below is dated May 1930. The photograph (presented as a postcard) was taken by Lichfield photographers Edgar Bates of Bore Street, who owned three shops, now demolished.


Jack was born at 61 Wade Street, in Lichfield and later attended St. Mary's Infants School. He was the only boy and had five older sisters. After his time singing, he became a motor driver, and he began army training in 1935. During the war, he served with the North Staffords in Italy, and on 9 December 1939 married Gladys Mary Smith. He died of complications after a routine gall-bladder operation in 1994.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

John Bennett, Lay Vicar, 1771-1862

Last year, I was contacted by someone researching their family history, as they discovered that they were related to John Bennett who was a Lay Vicar at Lichfield. I was able to provide some information about Bennett's time in Lichfield which forms part of the research that the original enquirer, Humphrey Palmer, incorporated into biography of Bennett. Bennett's biography is reproduced here from Palmer's research in an edited form.

John Bennett was baptised on 19 January 1771 at the Parish Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Southwell, Nottinghamshire; he was the son of William Bennett and Mary Johnson. John was the fourth of nine children. By 1781 he was singing in the choir of St Mary the Virgin, Southwell, and he left when his voice broke on 21 July 1785. At least five of the children of William and Mary died before the age of 10. At the age of 22, John married Ann Nattrass at St Michael's Church, Hoveringham, on the 21 May 1793; she was 20 years old.

John and Ann had five sons and three daughters: George, born 1793; Cornelius buried 1795; Matthew born 1796, died 1797; Mary, born 5 September 1798; Matthew, born 1801; Ann, born 1803, died early 1804; Ann, born 1804; Cornelius, born 1806. Only three of the sons survived into adulthood. All the children were born at Southwell, and baptised at St Mary the Virgin, the Minster Church, Southwell.

Bennett became a probationer at the Southwell School, and appears in a list of singing men at the beginning of 1799; he was admitted to the Southwell Collegiate Church as a singing man in the category of a Bass singer on 17 April 1800 at the age of 29. He would have been under the Organist Thomas Spofforth whilst at Southwell, and he may have come into contact with the Reverend John Thomas Becher who commissioned and built the Workhouse at Southwell (this was, in principle, the layout for most of the Workhouses throughout Great Britain).

Bennett remained at Southwell for nearly seven years, and at the age of 36 he was appointed as a Lay Clerk at Worcester Cathedral. Bennett's youngest son, Corneluis, would have only been about 1 year old when Bennett was appointed, and it seems that the whole family moved to Worcester in 1807. During his time in the choir at Worcester, Bennett would have been singing in the annual Three Choirs Festival.

Whilst at Worcester, John and Ann had another son, William Brough Bennett, baptised at St Peter's Church on 13 October 1808, and the other boys joined the choir at Worcester Cathedral. Matthew was in the choir from 1808 to 1817; he was also a King's Scholar. Cornelius was in the choir from 1813 to 1818, and William from the age of 8 until 1818, when the Bennetts left Worcester.

George Bennett, John's eldest son, had moved to Worcester with the family in 1807, but he seems to have moved to Durham sometime after 1808. He became a member of the Cathedral Choir, and married Sarah Bird at the end of 1819 at the church of St Giles in Durham; they had two girls and two boys, but both the girls died young.

Bennett remained at Worcester until the middle of 1818, when the position of Vicar Choral belonging to the Prebend of Bishophull in the Cathedral Church at Lichfield became vacant on the death of Thomas Birch who had served for 45 years since 1773 in that role. At this time, there were a total of seven vicars choral at Lichfield Cathedral. Samuel Spofforth, the nephew of Thomas Spofforth, was the Organist at Lichfield from 1807 to 1864. (Spofforth was buried in the same year as Matthew Bennett, who never married and was a Dancing Master at Lichfield and lived in The Close Lichfield.)

Bennett was elected to the Lay Vicarship having the majority of the vicars in his favour and the Dean and Chapter being satisfied as to his life from the Dean and Chapter of Worcester. His daughter, Mary, stayed in Worcester and married George Vaughan Palmer on 12 July 1821; they had a daughter Jemima prior to their marriage in 1820 who may have been John's first grandchild. John's wife, Ann, must have visited Worcester on many occasions, as she died and was buried at St Peter's, Worcester in September 1827, where George and Mary's three boys were baptised.

Bennett is recorded in The History and Gazetteer of Staffordshire in the years 1833 and 1834 as a Vicar Choral in the Prebend of Bishop's Hull with an annual salary of between £80 and £100 exclusive of his residence in The Close, Lichfield. His occupation and residence is confirmed by the 1841 census, which also reveals him to be a widower, with his daughter Ann recorded as housekeeper, and living with him at The Close, as was Mary, his daughter, who was also widowed and two of her children Alfred and Edgar. The census indicates that William Machin and James Matthews both Lay Vicars also lived at the same property. The Close contained about 62 houses, which were available for members of the Cathedral, but some of the houses were in a poor condition and many clergyman,vergers and Lay Vicars lived outside the Close; at this time about 250 people lived in the Close.

During 1847 a complaint from the Lay Vicar of Longdon, Mr Samuel Pearsall, about the repairs of the property owned by John Bennett indicates there was some dispute about how he had treated his property when Pearsall took it on. However, the Dean and Chapter ruled that because of the time lapsed since Mr Pearsall had taken over the property in 1844, no action was taken against John Bennett.

The 1851 census reveals Bennett living in the Close with his daughters Mary and Ann; however, Jemima, his granddaughter (now aged 29), and her husband Joseph (age 34) where also living in the close with and Maria (9), John (7), Arthur (5), and Anne (4). Mary Palmer died, aged 58, in April 1859 and was buried in The Close. The Lay Vicars were freeholders, and held their post until their death (unless they left or were dismissed). This meant that they continued to receive the income from the Corporation's property, but as they got older many stopped singing and engaged a deputy to sing on their behalf. There is no record of John Bennett securing a deputy's services specifically, but there are several deputies singing at the Cathedral during this time, and at a meeting 7 June 1859 to discuss the Corporation's business, John Bennett was listed as one of three Lay Vicars absent as reported in the Chapter Act Books.

At the age of 90, John was still living at The Close with his daughter Ann and was employing a servant to live in, and his great-granddaughter, Anne Preston, (13) was registered at the same address in the 1861 census. Matthew Bennett, his son, was also living in The Close, and his neighbours were the Prestons (Joseph, Jemima, John and 7 month old Ada).

John died on 23 February 1862, and was buried in the Cathedral Close four days later.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Lichfield Cathedral Choristers and Top Gear in 1994/5

The 1995 edition of Lichfield Cathedral School's magazine includes the following photograph of some of the choristers with the then presenter of BBC's Top Gear, Quentin Wilson outside Lichfield Cathedral School.


In the Organist and Master of the Choristers' annual report within the magazine, Andrew Lumsden writes
[The choristers] also appeared in the BBC 2 car programme Top Gear, when they had to sing a few ditties and then, with some other hardy folk of all shapes and sizes, clamber over a brand new red BMW Compact! Some were even interviewed by Quentin Wilson. [...] The programme obviously has a large following, because when we were at Keele University a few days after it was broadcast, when I mentioned that some of the audience might recognise one or two of the front row, a large number of heads nodded in agreement.

I have tried, in vain, to find a copy of this edition of Top Gear: if anyone can help, please email.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Memories of a Chorister at Lichfield from 1939 to 1941


In sorting through some old papers, I found the 2003 copy of Lichfield Cathedral School's annual magazine. The edition included the following text written by former chorister, Stuart Pearson (born 1928), about his time in the choir from 1939-1941. It is reproduced in its entirety, with photographs, from the magazine.

I don’t know when the School was founded, but above the main door of the School House wits carved the shield of the cross of St Chad, with the motto, Serve God and Be Cheerful, and the date 1912 (I think). This would no doubt be a reference to the date of the building. The motto was adopted (at a later date) from that of Bishop Hackett, Bishop of Lichfield 1662-9.

On Dam Street itself was a double-fronted dwelling known as Choristers’ House, a Victorian building with three storeys and a basement. This was the house of the Headmaster, Mr Bailey, and his wife, the Matron. It was also home to the Boarders and to Lily the maid, and I think a cook.

There was accommodation for up to eight boarders, but when I arrived on 9 September 1939, I made the numbers up to six. The dormitory was on the top floor: one long room across the front of the house with bathrooms and toilet at the rear.

The boarders outside Choristers' House, Easter 1940
from L to R: J E Dent, J S Dykes, J S Pearson, G J Wiseman, G N Burtt.
J Low (absent)
We were summoned to meals by bells. The dining room was on the left of the front door (the boys, of course, only ever used the back door); it held a long mahogany table, with the Head sitting at one end and Mrs Bailey at the other. There was one meal, I think lunch, a formal meal when Mrs Bailey was present, where we only spoke when we were spoken to. We each had our own places identified by our napkin rings, and the senior boys sat nearer the Head. We were served by the hard-working maid Lily who brought up the food from the basement kitchen and placed it before the Headmaster to serve.

Supper was informal and brought to us in our own playroom by the senior boy. It always consisted of a plateful of thick slices of white bread with jam or cheese and one knife with which to spread it. There was also a huge jug of cocoa which we poured into our own mugs. As the food arrived we would all cry out ‘fog [first] knife fog odd [piece of bread] fog spoon’ — not that it made much difference because the bigger boys grabbed first and the junior ones what was left!

School House
Behind Choristers’ House was the School, with a large gravel yard in front of it. The form room was on the ground floor on the left of the entrance, and the club - or recreation - room upstairs. The Headmaster’s study was at the top of the stone stairs. There was a small cottage further down the yard where one of the vergers lived with his wife. They looked after the cleaning and heating of the School. At the bottom of the yard was a high wall with a gate leading to the sports field and football pitch. It seemed always to have sheep grazing on it. Alongside the field was the Headmaster’s allotment which he attended assiduously, and which provided us with much of our fruit and vegetables. The School was fairly basic but probably typical of its time, with double-bench desks and seats, and blackboards and easels. There was the usual teacher’s desk with a high stool. There was accommodation for between 20 and 24 boys but not all desks were occupied. We were all taught together by Mr Bailey, who we called Boss, and the age range would be between 8 and 13 years.

Educational methods were very much based on the ‘three Rs’ and rote learning: we had to learn the times tables by heart, and repeat other rules of arithmetic and English until we remembered them. So we did sums every morning, and spelling tests, parsing sentences and writing stories. I don’t remember algebra or geometry. I do remember Geography lessons with scrolled maps of the world hung over easels and studying the areas coloured pink, but recollect nothing of Art or drawing or even History. A large part of the school day was, of course, given over to music.

The Music
 I have recently received, from the present Headmaster [Mr Peter Allwood], a leaflet describing the Choir School of today and inviting applications from boys to attend a voice test. The procedure seems to be much the same as I encountered in 1938. First, I went with my parents to visit Mr Porter at his house for sight reading and an ear test and then to sing a prepared piece of music. Later we visited Mr Bailey, who asked about my education to date; I don’t remember sitting an examination, as such, at that time.

It was a happy and proud day when we received a letter and a Scholarship telling me that I could join the Cathedral Choir. Later there came a list of items of clothing that would be required, which makes interesting reading today. Best dress was an Eton suit with long trousers, and a deep Eton collar with a black bow tie. Our everyday uniform was a dark blue blazer and cap, both with the red badge of St Chad, and short trousers, together with clothes and shoe brushes and sundry other items.

I sat in the choir stalls as a probationer for a week or so, and then was robed fully (I have no recollection of a ceremony). Morning and Evening Prayer were sung every day of the week, with the exception of Wednesday, which was men’s voices only. Thursday was boys’ voices. I don’t remember servers being much used at that time, nor was the ritual elaborate. There was always a crucifer on Sundays and holy days, and that was Mr Bailey, our Headmaster, who watched us continually for any misbehaviour!

There was no sung Matins on Saturdays: that morning was spent in the Practice Room preparing for the Sunday services. But each morning, after Assembly in school, we also marched, two by two up to the Practice Room for an hour’s rehearsal before going across to the Cathedral for Morning Service. The Practice Room was a light and airy room with a good acoustic, having within it just two waist-high benches with an upright piano between and at the head of them Mr Porter, Organist and Master of the Choristers, usually stood at the piano so that he could see each boy. He could be quite fierce as I remember, but singing for me was always a joy and not too difficult. In those days, this room was, I think, situated down a lane between the house of the Custos, Canon Kempson, and the Chancellor, Canon Stockwell. The Dean, The Very Revd F A Iremonger, at that time lived at 9, The Close, the Deanery itself being, I think, closed, no doubt a wartime economy.

The full choir consisted of nine boys on each side and three adults singing each of the under parts, Alto, Tenor and Bass. As the war progressed the boys became fewer and the adults also reduced in number. A Tenor lay vicar, Mr Hall, was responsible for looking after the music and setting it out before services. A senior chorister was asked to prepare the music on the organ console for Mr Porter. During my last few months in the choir, that little task was my responsibility. There was no official Deputy Organist as I remember; we sang without a conductor, as was usual in those days. An Organist would come in to deputise for Mr Porter from time to time. An interesting feature of the choir of those days was that we were still using some manuscript music, notably the chant book and some Victorian verse anthems and the Loosemore Litany, which was regularly in use then.

The choristers - four boarders and eight day boys - walking to the Cathedral for Evensong, Easter 1941
There were a number of memorable occasions during the years I was in the choir. The choir was asked to broadcast Choral Evensong in 1940 and again in 1941. There were Ordination services each year, of course, and on each occasion two choirboys were required to carry the robes of the Bishop. In the course of time, this honour fell to me and my companion and we were given a shilling each for our duties. I remember that Archbishop William Temple visited his friend the Dean on a number of occasions. He always had time for the boys and wrote in our autograph books. I remember a visit from Dr Walford Davies, of Royal School of Church Music fame, and also a friend of the Dean. We were, I am sure, warned that these dignitaries were coming, so that we were singing our best. There were also Confirmation services, and on 19 March, 1941 three or four of us were confirmed by Dr E S Woods, the Bishop of Lichfield, after very thorough preparation by the Revd R L Hodson, the Precentor. We went to his house in the south-west corner of The Close once a week for a whole term. We seemed to take it all quite seriously; for instance, I kept the sequence of notes that he gave to each of us for many years, and I still have the book of private prayers called Before the Throne which I found useful in later life.

It is hard to say, after 60 years, whether the standard of singing at Lichfield in those days was as high as it is now. Perhaps the BBC has a recording of our broadcasts in the 1940s for comparison. We always sang without a conductor, being taught to listen and look at each other, as was the custom. We certainly sang the typical cathedral repertoire of English church music by composers from the sixteenth century onwards, and music from the oratorios of Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn and Brahms. We sang, I think, one or two complete oratorios for concerts, The Creation, the Brahms Requiem and Messiah.

The School at War
The Second World War had begun just a week before my first term started in September 1939, so many changes were taking place. The School was affected in a number of ways. There was an assistant master on the staff in the early days of the war, Mr Fox. He was a young man, a junior priest and a minor canon, I think. He was great fun, and was responsible for PE and games, and RE and French. But after maybe two terms he left us to take a parish or become a Chaplain in the Services. He was not replaced.

Another change came to us at the School when it was decided, no doubt by the Dean and Chapter, that for our safety we should not sleep on the top floor of Choristers’ House, but in the cavernous cellars of St Mary’s House. This change occurred during the second year of the war. So, some time in the autumn of 1940 we began walking to the corner of Dam Street to the home of Canon Cresswell and his wife and daughter each evening at about 8.00pm. The situation was, of course, quite dangerous. We were very close to the bombing in and around Coventry and Birmingham, and we could certainly hear the explosions from bombs and gunfire and see the red skies in the West across Minster Pool as we marched to our ‘air raid shelter’. Of course we all thought it was rather exciting.

Food became more frugal (it was never lavish anyway) as rationing was introduced early in the war, and identity cards and gas masks were also issued. The windows of our clubroom upstairs were blacked out with paint, I suppose because it was a cheaper option than curtains, but it made for a gloomier existence. Most days after prayers the Headmaster would read out for us the headline news from the morning paper, telling us about the air raids and the number of bombers shot down and where our aircraft had been the previous night, and about the naval losses. Occasionally he would read letters or tell us of the exploits of former choristers who were in the Services. It was a very sad day, especially for Mr and Mrs Bailey, when we were told of the death of Flying Officer Jimmy Evans at the age of 21. He had been a very popular Head Boy and had trained as a fighter pilot after enlisting when he was 18. At that time, his parents still lived in Lichfield, and he had visited us at school when on leave.

In our leisure time we were always scanning the sky on hearing the sound of aircraft. Not far away, up the road to Burton on Trent, there was an RAF training airfield, so there were lots of aircraft flying around and we became quite good at recognising different types.

School Discipline
School discipline was tight, we thought, even by the standards of the day. Boarders, for instance, were not allowed to go out of the school grounds on their own at any time. Once a week we could go into the town for shopping. It was always at lunchtime, for one hour only, usually on Saturdays. Spending money was given to us on these occasions and we each had, I think, sixpence. Typically, I would buy a Walls ice cream or a Mars Bar (3d), a packet of foreign stamps or a comic newspaper. If we were late back, there was trouble. Punishment was frequent for small misdeeds. It was always ‘spellings’, i.e. writing out a difficult word 50, 100 or 200 times, such as ‘receive’ or ‘immediately’ or ‘maintenance’, to be handed in the following morning. There was also the threat of the cane — a thick bamboo rod. This was reserved for really dreadful crimes, such as scrumping. On one occasion about half a dozen of us climbed the high wall of our next-door-neighbour’s orchard. Inevitably, we were seen and reported, and caned, with a strong reprimand, by the Boss.

Leisure Time
Once or twice a month, if the weather was good, we were allowed to go off for a walk, with the senior boy in charge. I remember walks to the main railway line just north of Lichfield, to a footbridge where we could watch the trains. Some of us recorded the names and numbers of the engines. Another shorter walk was alongside Stowe Pool to St Chad’s church and round the little hamlet there. Another walk was to the Clock Tower and the city railway station, and on one or two occasions we were invited on to the footplate of a small tank engine that was stationary for a time.

The highlight of our week was on Sunday afternoons when we walked together to the home of Mr Spencer Madan. He lived in a gracious old Victorian house with extensive gardens and parkland. I fancy that the house is no longer there, but some of the grounds may be incorporated into the City Park. The first hour or so we played games, cricket, croquet or football. If it was wet, we went into the billiard room. Mr Madan would usually be with us and would teach us the rules and how to play the various games. The second hour was given over to reading in his study. He would choose the book and it was read by the senior boy. I recall that we read lots of the Sherlock Holmes stories and Rider Haggard books, as we sat in a semi-circle around the fire with Mr Madan in the corner listening and interpreting where necessary.

Food aid was given to us, would you believe, on more than one occasion. It happened like this. One of the vergers would wait for us to pass on our way to Mr Madan’s house on Sunday afternoon, and tell us that on our way back to school his wife would give us a boiled egg each. I t was very much a cloak and dagger undertaking, and we were sworn to secrecy. The street at the end of The Close passed along the rear of some small houses with windows but no doors at pavement level. As we came by, the verger’s wife, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, reached out and put the eggs into our hands. We ate them as soon as we could and enjoyed them enormously.

At teatime, two boys in turn were invited to stay at Mr Madan’s house, while the others returned to Choristers’ House. Always, we had delicately cut sandwiches and warm buttered scones, and importantly for us, we could help ourselves to jam or honey! Spencer Madan would have been in his seventies at that time. He was a tall, well-made man with a bald head, but he walked with the aid of a stick to assist a very bad limp. He was probably a veteran of the Boer War as there were old spears and rifles about the house and Zulu memorabilia. He was also, or had been, an archer, as he showed us bows and arrows from time to time. He was usually present in the Cathedral on Sunday mornings, sitting in the same unnamed stall on the Decani side of the choir.

Going to Mr Madan’s house was acknowledged by all of us boarders to be a wonderful treat. It was a visit that we looked forward to each Sunday very much indeed. Before we could set off, however, on the short walk of about half a mile, through The Close and up Beacon Hill, there was a little hurdle to overcome. After lunch we returned to the school to learn the Collect for the Day. Only when we could recite it to the Headmaster, each one separately, and word-perfect, could we begin our treat!

Once a year a school party was held in the Bishop’s Palace. This took the form, as I remember, of a mini-pantomime. A local entertainer, no doubt, put together a show which was always great fun. On one of these occasions I must have become too passionately involved when we all shouted out ‘Behind you!’ or ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to the Dame’s questions, so much so that I became quite hoarse and unable to sing on the following day, Sunday. I sat down in the choir stalls at one point instead of standing up, quite miserable and cross with myself. Games Evenings were organised by the Headmaster from time to time. The long winter evenings after prep were so boring. We did our best with stamp collecting and arranging and playing cards, but resources were limited. I remember that the Headmaster gave us chess lessons and taught us to play cribbage and various games of patience.

The Closure of the School
The end of the School, in 1941, came rather suddenly, it seemed to us. We were not told very much about what was happening, as I remember, just that there was not enough money to keep it open, and that because of the War, teaching staff could not be found. 1941 was also the time of Mr Bailey’s retirement. No doubt our parents were given the full reasons by letter; I don’t recall a meeting. At the end of the summer term we said goodbye to everyone. The four of us boarders certainly, and some of the junior day boys, had a few years of treble singing left, as our voices had not broken; we would most of us have been only 12 or 13 years old at that time.

Then there came for me an unforeseen development. I was asked to come back in September, attend a day school in Lichfield and live with the Dean and his housekeeper at 9, The Close. I still have no idea whose initiative this was - the Dean’s or my parents’ - but I understood that if and when a new Choir School was established, I should enrol and rejoin the choir. When the new school opened, that did not, in fact, happen. I have happy memories of living at number 9, however. So, after two terms on my own, I returned home and attended a Grammar School near Huddersfield and continued singing treble for another 18 months in the choir of Huddersfield Parish Church.

Postscript
I returned to Lichfield in 1946 and attended some of the events of the 750th Anniversary Festival held in June. I met again Mr and Mrs Bailey, now living in retirement at 3 The Close, Mr Porter, and the Dean (briefly). I kept in touch with Mr and Mrs Bailey and they were pleased to hear that I was going forward to ordination. I last saw them in January 1955 when I visited them at home in Norham-on-Tweed near Berwick. We had lunch together and a warm conversation about the old days, and he took me to see the beautiful parish church. We prayed together and he then told me that he remembered ‘his boys’ every day. He was then in his 80th year, and failing in health. I did not see them again.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Choristers and Football

The 1996 Lichfield Cathedral School magazine includes the following exchange between the then Head Chorister and English football professional and personality, Jimmy Hill: