Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Lichfield's Papal Audience (1987)

reproduced from 'Choir Schools Today', the magazine of the Choir Schools' Association, Issue 2 1998, following the Cathedral Choir's tour to Rome during Easter Week in April 1987:

Lichfield's Papal Audience

On a blistering hot April morning we set off in our cassocks for the Vatican, clutching folders in sweaty palms. Arriving at St Peter's Square via a maze of dusty Roman streets we pushed through a crowd of waiting people to our places by the Basilica steps, where a temporary stage had been erected.

After a long, hot, ninety minutes' wait, in which time the number of spectators increased considerably, a loud cheer went up as the 'Pope-mobile' approached. We stood on our chairs hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pope as the car twisted its way through the crowd of onlookers.

Taking the stage, the Pope greeted the visitors in Italian, German, English, French and Spanish A short lesson followed before each individual group was welcomed in its respective tongue. 

Soon it was our turn to sing and we performed Stanford's Coelos ascendit hodie to which the Pope signalled his gratitude. Shortly afterwards he came over to nmeet us. As the uniformed guards directed him towards our party the press photographers closed in. His Holiness greeted us warmly and chatted freely to several choristers. One of our number, namely Jeremy Parker, the Head Chorister, received more than his fair share of attention. That evening, when he was spotted at our convent lodgings wearing a white night-shirt, he earned the nickname 'Boy Pope'!

The following morning, St George's Day, the choir was invited to sing at the Pilgrim's Mass in St Peter's. We performed Byrd's Mass for Four Voices before 800 people. In th evening, we took part in a Festal Evensong to celebrate the centenary of All Saints', the Anglican Church in Rome. This church is linked with Lichfield Cathedral

The remainder of the tour was spent giving concerts, attending a reception at the home of the British Ambassador, eating pizza and sight-seeing. We just about managed to dash to the Trevi Fountain to make a wish. 

Six exhausting days later we returned home, sunburnt and tired. It will be a long time before we forget the shake of that Papal hand. 

This report was written by three 13 year-old choristers:
Andrew Gardner, Joshua Hunt and William Towers. 

The Pope meets choristers from Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield's link with Rome 

All Saints' Church, Rome, was rebuilt in the nineteenth century and completed in 1887, but not without considerable difficulty in finding sufficient funds. The Lichfield diocese gave substantial sums towards its completion and a window in the porch shows St Chad holding the three-spired Lichfield Cathedral in his arms. 

While on holiday in Rome, a Lichfield choirman's wife spotted the window and plans were made to help them celebrate their centenary. Another coincidence is that the Chaplain of All Saints' is the Reverend Bevan Wardrobe, until two years ago Headmaster of the York Minster School, and before that the Priest Vicar at Lichfield. 

Plans are now underway for next year's tour to America. In 1985 the choir went up the eastern seaboard, while this time they will be travelling down it. They hope to be performing in Litchfield, Connecticut this time.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

The Angel Choir Screen at Lichfield Cathedral - 'The Art Journal' March 1862

'The Art Journal' was an important nineteenth-century British magazine founded in 1839. It was published in London but its readership was global. The March 1862 edition includes a page on the new Skidmore screen installed in Lichfield Cathedral, and the text and illustration are reproduced in full below. The original document can be found online at the HathiTrust.


 The Angel Choir Screen at Lichfield Cathedral

The Angel Choir at Lincoln, so well known as one of the crowning achievements of the early Gothic of England, derives its title from the group of angelic figures represented as variously engaged in befitting occupations, and placed in the spandrels of the triforium. Boldly sculptured, and remarkable for their freedom of movement and versatility of expression, these angels of the era of Eleanor of Castile are elevated about sixty feet from the spectators who stand in the presbytery below. And they have been designed expressly for their lofty positions: and their proper effect is then only duly estimated, when some sixty feet of space intervene between the eyes that gaze upon them and themselves.

Lichfield Cathedral may now claim to possess, not indeed a second Angel Choir, but a choir screen that most justly may derive its distinctive title from the celestial hierarchy. The new Angel Choir Screen at Lichfield is one of the most remarkable, the most beautiful, and the most gratifying productions of the era of Queen Victoria. It is as original in its conception as in its execution it is absolutely unsurpassed. What renders it so eminently valuable is its high character, as the exponent of the capabilities of living English workers in the hard metals. This screen, unlike every other cathedral choir screen, is entirely composed of iron, brass, and copper — the constructive details of the composition being produced in the iron and brass, and the angel figures that give a distinctive character to the whole being executed in copper. It is with these copper statuettes (for they are considerably less than full life-size) that we are at present particularly concerned, and therefore we now must be content to leave the screen itself with no more than a general expression of our warmest admiration.

On either side of the central entrance are four enriched circles of open work, resting upon the arches of the lateral arcades, and rising above their intervening spandrels. Standing upon a corbel of exquisite foliage — the abacus which forms the actual pedestal being encircled with a coronet-like border of burnished brass — in front of each circle, is one of the group of angel figures. These figures are set in pairs, back to back; and thus they are, in all, sixteen in number, — eight of them facing eastwards towards the interior of the choir; and the second group, of the same number of figures, looking to the west, and consequently having their faces towards the nave. The figures are all winged: some are playing upon instruments of music, and others, with uplifted hands, appear as in the act of taking such a part as angels might take in a hymn of the loftiest adoration. And, so far as human thought may conceive, and human hands may execute, what may be accepted as the personal forms of the ministrants of heaven, these figures are veritable figures of angels. They also most truly constitute an angelic choir; the feeling of harmonious praise pervades the entire group. Each individual sympathises with every other; and all are engaged with kindred devotion in a common act, which all feel alike, and all express with perfect unanimity. The variety of these figures is no less remarkable than the distinct and emphatic individuality of each figure. They are at once earnest and graceful, animated and dignified. The wings, which are all gemmed with eyes, are adjusted to various attitudes in the different. figures. Some are raised aloft, as in our example, while others droop, and convey the sentiment of calm repose. These wings are distinguished by the peculiar originality of the thought, which has expressed itself in their majestic plumage. In them the ideal of such wings as might be imagined to convey hither and thither the messengers of light, is realised with a truly wonderful truthfulness; so that if man’s conception of an angel requires the existence of actual wings as appendages of his person, these indeed are angels’ wings. The figure from which our engraving has been drawn, stands second from the centre in the north-eastern group. To do full justice to the original, except by photography, has been found to be impossible. Our woodcut, however, has been thoughtfully and carefully executed, so that it may be accepted as giving a thoroughly correct conception of this eminently beautiful figure. It is to be borne in mind that this particular figure has not been selected for engraving, in consequence of possessing any pre-eminent excellence; on the contrary, all are absolutely equal in merit as works of Art, while in their treatment all have their several distinct characteristics.


This fine screen, with its admirable statuettes, is the production of Mr Skidmore, the artist who presides over and directs so ably the important establishment for producing architectural and other artistic metal-work, at Coventry. Mr Skidmore’s Lichfield Screen is a work that may be regarded with unqualified and most just pride, seeing that it is equally honourable to his own rare ability, to the Coventry establishment for metal-working, to the authorities of Lichfield, and to the distinguished architect who directed the recent restoration of their cathedral. We congratulate all parties on the success of the Lichfield Screen, and rejoice to record our own high appreciation of so beautiful and so felicitous a work. Our correspondent, ‘An Architect,’ glances at this screen as affording a striking contrast to the metal-work in the Great Exhibition Building. We ourselves are able to corroborate his views, from our own personal study of both the South Kensington castings and Mr Skidmore’s bandwrought works; with him, therefore, we inquire, with commingled surprise and regret, why was not the South Kensington metal-work produced under the direction of Mr Skidmore, at Coventry?

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Some Nineteenth Century Choristers' Lives

Since April 2020, I have been running a project involving the transcription of nineteenth-century music lists from Lichfield Cathedral at www.cathedralmusic.org.uk. There is a small band of dedicated individuals who have been transcribing thousands of records over the past eight months, but one person has created their own piece of mini-research from the records.

The music lists (or weekly tables as they were called) had to be copied out manually, and going through the sheets, there are some which have obviously been copied out by the boy choristers who then appended their name to the bottom of the page. Whether the copying was part of their handwriting practice, or (as my fairly groundless suspicion is) a punishment, is unclear, but their work provides an additional historical record.

While he was transcribing the records, James Giddings collected the choristers' names from the tables which they had signed from 1852 to 1866, and using publicly available records (such as census returns, probate grants etc.), he started exploring how being a chorister may have affected their lives. He very kindly forwarded the information to me, and it is presented in its entirety below.

From a list of 26 choristers, twelve went on to have careers in the church, ten of those in church music; most of the others had careers involving written work.

  • John Hemsley (b. 1838, d. 1893)
    occupation as adult: Vicar Choral (Dublin)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Plumber
  • William Harrison (b. 1840, d. 1889)
    occupation as adult: Organist St James', Edinburgh; Teacher of Music
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Vicar Choral at Lichfield (John Harrison (senior) died in 1848)
  • John Harrison (b. 1842, d. 1904)
    occupation as adult: Bank Manager
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Vicar Choral at Lichfield (John Harrison (senior) died in 1848)
  • John Thomas Parker (b. 1842, d. 1886)
    occupation as adult: Organist and Schoolmaster; died in Jersey City, USA, fleeing debt
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Schoolmaster
  • Henry Hill Stone (b. 1842, d. 1923)
    occupation as adult: Sales Agent (Electric Lighting)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Laundress
  • James Newman Hemsley (b. 1844, d. 1887)
    occupation as adult: Vicar Choral (Wells); Teacher of Music
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Plumber
  • Charles Bonell (b. 1845, d. 1915)
    occupation as adult: Lay Clerk (Christ Church, Oxford)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Carpenter
  • James Cooksey Culwick (b. 1845, d. 1907)
    occupation as adult: Organist (Chapel Royal, Dublin); Teacher of Music
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Vicar Choral at Lichfield
  • George Thomas Hemsley (b. 1847, d. unknown)
    occupation as adult: Lay Vicar (Lincoln); Teacher of Music
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Plumber
  • Charles Robinson Austin (b. 1849, d. 1897)
    occupation as adult: Second Mate, Merchant Navy; emigrated to New South Wales
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Court Clerk
  • William Austin (b. 1849, d. 1891)
    occupation as adult: Customs Clerk (London)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Court Clerk
  • Matthew Francis Harrison (b. 1849, d. 1895)
    occupation as adult: Brewer's Clerk
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Laundress (wife of John Harrison (senior))
  • Charles Moray Stewart Patterson (b. 1850, d. 1930)
    occupation as adult: Vicar of Chebsey
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Priest Vicar at Lichfield Cathedral
  • Arthur Austin (b. 1851, d. unknown)
    occupation as adult: emigrated to New South Wales
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Court Clerk
  • William Bannister (b. 1851, d. 1910)
    occupation as adult: Picture frame maker, and sang in choir of St Mary's, Lichfield
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Ornamental wood carver and Turner
  • John H Lloyd (b. 1852, d. unknown)
    occupation as adult: Organist (St Nicholas, Newton-Abbot)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Laundress
  • Julian Edward Chichester Patterson (b. 1852, d. 1939)
    occupation as adult: Rector (Hittisleigh (Devon), Brockenhurst &co.)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Priest Vicar at Lichfield Cathedral
  • Henry R Windsor (b. 1852, d. 1924)
    occupation as adult: Greengrocer (Proprietor)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Agricultural Labourer
  • Walter Wood (b. 1852, d. 1923)
    occupation as adult: Clerk, Commercial Traveller, Brickworks Manager
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Plumber and Painter
  • Thomas W Gilbert (b. 1853, d. 1920)
    occupation as adult: Commercial Clerk
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Victualler
  • Arthur B Plant (b. 1853, d. 1914)
    occupation as adult: Organist, Composer, Teacher. Mus.D (Oxon)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Tailor
  • George William Welch (his elder brother Henry sang in choir of St Mary's, Lichfield, for a "probably unparalleled" 55 years) (b. 1853, d. 1906)
    occupation as adult: Cathedral Clerk (Durham), with a note that he was "the Cathedral's principal Tenor for 25 years"
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Cheese Factor
  • Arthur Derry (b. 1854, d. 1870) was chorister by age 6, but died of tuberculosis at 15
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Brewery Engineman
  • Henry Grundy (b. 1854, d. 1937)
    occupation as adult: Butler
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Gentleman's Gardener
  • Charles Owen (b. 1854, d. 1944)
    occupation as adult: Architect
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Coach Painter/Milliner
  • James Grundy (b. 1859, d. 1914)
    occupation as adult: Postman (who, according to the Lichfield Mercury, walked 176, 245 miles in his 33 year career)
    parent's (principal wage-earner's) occupation: Gentleman's Gardener

Using the census records and the dates of the signed weekly tables, James put together an incomplete list of when the individuals were choristers. The years appended to their names indicate the times at which they were a chorister; the individual dates in brackets indicate the date of a signed music list within an academic year.

  • John Hemsley: 1851
  • William Harrison: 1851
  • John Harrison: 1859 (13 Aug 1859)
  • John Thomas Parker: 1853 (14 May 1853)
  • Henry Hill Stone: 1852-1857 (7 Aug 1852; 25 Dec 1852; 7 Feb 1857)
  • James Newman Hemsley: 1853-1862 (16 Jul 1853; 19 Nov 1853; 27 Apr 1860; 6 Oct 1860; 5 Jul 1862)
  • Charles Bonell: 1853-1859 (13 Aug 1853; 26 Aug 1854; 27 Aug 1859; 5 Nov 1859)
  • James Cooksey Culwick: 1857-1860 (31 Jan 1857; 20 Aug 1859; 30 Jun 1860)
  • George Thomas Hemsley: 1861 (15 Jun 1861)
  • Charles Robinson Austin: 1861-1864 (16 Mar 1861; 21 Dec 1861; 9 Jan 1864)
  • William Austin: 1860-1861 (14 Jun 1860; 6 July 1861)
  • Matthew Francis Harrison: 1863 (16 May 1863)
  • Charles Moray Stewart Patterson: 1860-1862 (18 Feb 1860; 31 Aug 1861; 19 Apr 1862)
  • Arthur Austin: 1862 (11 Oct 1862)
  • William Bannister: 1863-1866 (28 Nov 1863; 5 May 1866)
  • John H Lloyd: 1864 (27 Aug 1864)
  • Julian Edward Chichester Patterson: 1860-1865 (12 May 1860; 15 Feb 1862; 24 Jun 1865)
  • Henry R Windsor: 1862-1864 (25 Oct 1862; 16 Jul 1864)
  • Walter Wood: 1861-1865 (18 Oct 1862; 8 Jul 1865)
  • Thomas W Gilbert: 1863-1866 (18 Jul 1863; 19 Aug 1865; 23 Jun 1866)
  • Arthur B Plant: 1863-1865 (11 Jul 1863; 25 Mar 1865)
  • George William Welch: 1863-1865 (12 Dec 1863; 29 Jan 1866)
  • Arthur Derry: 1861-1866 (22 Nov 1862; 6 Oct 1866)
  • Henry Grundy: 1862-1866 (1 Nov 1862; 17 Oct 1863; 19 Nov 1864; 8 Sep 1866)
  • Charles Owen: 1863-1864 (19 Dec 1863; 1 Oct 1864)
  • James Grundy: 1866 (24 Nov 1866)

Where the census records have been used, the occupation of choristers was sometimes stated explicitly on the returns, but more commonly they were simply listed, like other children, as "scholar".

When I am around the Cathedral or working on the choir's archives, I am reminded of the part I play in a long tradition of cathedral music, and details such as these give the history a technicolour glow: many thanks to James for having shared his findings.

If you have any further questions about the sources used for this research, or want to explore details in greater depth, James is happy to be contacted by e-mail.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

A Chorister's Christmas Day 1942

The 1993 edition of the Lichfield Cathedral School magazine printed the following account of Christmas Day for the 24 choristers in Lichfield in 1942. It was an edited version of the original, which had been written for, and published in, the Jersey Evening Post in December 1992.

Christmas morning dawned sharp and bitterly cold - but then winter mornings were always cold in those days, for efficient central heating and double glazing were unknown. Jack Frost had painted his beautiful crystal patterns on the huge windows of the dormitory, and putting ones bare feet on the cold bare boards was like a mediaeval torture.

But that was nothing to the shock of taking off one's pyjama top, queuing to go into the bathroom and there bending over a bath of cold water to have a saucepanful poured over your head and shoulders. This morning ritual was considered good for both body and soul! Scrambling frantically into grey shorts, shirts, socks and pullovers and sturdy black shoes, our internal central heating was fired up when we then all had to run around the Cathedral Close in a clockwise direction until our blood pounded through our bodies.

Minutes later 24 pink-cheeked little faces queued up in the dining room for a bowl of porridge followed by bread and jam and mugs of scalding hot tea from a large and very shiny urn.
After breakfast it was out into the cold and a race down to the choir practice room. We never walked in those days - running was one way of keeping warm. There, sitting at his piano, was the Organist and Choirmaster, a plump, forbidding little man whose beady eye, enlarged by his small but thick-lensed glasses, could chill the heart of the most ebullient small boy.

Scales, scales and more scales were followed by the hymns, psalms and responses which would be part of the day's services, and then we went through the carols for the morrow. There were no lessons on Christmas Day, but after a brief break we were all in the Cathedral choir room donning red cassocks and white surplices for Matins. After nearly a year of seven services a week, we were now old hands at the game and to a nine-year old veteran, the responses came naturally and almost without thought.

During sermons we were allowed to draw or read. Hidden, as we were behind shoulder-high choir stalls, we played 'battleships' or read the Magnet or Beano while some doddery old Prebendary droned on and on from the pulpit on the after-life and how to go to the right place. After matins we had some free time to race around the classroom and play with what toys our parents had managed to find for us, before filing in for Christmas dinner (not lunch as it is today), which was as good as cook and the school staff could manage in those hard times.

The evening of Christmas Day was special because we had a conjurer. Looking back on it, he was not a very good conjurer and smelled of stale cigarettes and ale, but he tried hard despite the fact that his lighter would not work when he wanted to bring a lighted candle from under his jacket. When at last it did, as I recall, he set fire to the lining of his jacket. But he did have a real live rabbit which he produced from a top hat.

Yet even in this hour of joy we were still choristers. We were not allowed to shout or cheer because of our precious throats. Apparently a year or so previously, a conjurer had encouraged the children to shout back when he called out "Is everybody happy?" He made them shout louder and louder and the next day none of them could sing a note. So, at seven o'clock, 24 tired little choirboys went up to the dorms. 

Friday, 18 December 2020

The Choristers' Christmas Holiday 1990

The 1991 edition of the Lichfield Cathedral School magazine includes the following report by a chorister then in the fourth form (or Year 6 in modern parlance).

Day 1: Wednesday, 19 December, 1990
At about 7.00 we watching a video called 'Christmas Vacation'.

Day 2: Thursday, 20 December, 1990
We went to sing to the postal staff at Wolverhampton. It took an hour to get there and we saw quite a bit of snow. When we got there, the bus couldn't get in (of course, it was only two centimetres too big). We went up about seven floors, until we came to someone's office. We got changed, then went downstairs, until we came to the sorting office. We sang a few carols, and we spied a chart with all the street names in Wolverhampton. One was 'The Dingle'. We changed back into uniform and had lunch (turkey, as you probably guessed). Then we had a tour of the place, and had a go at sorting post. When it was time to leave, we were given a book of mint stamps, a status of Rowland Hill, a bookmark (and millions of elastic bands!).

Day 3: Friday, 21 December, 1991
We got up early and went to Matins. Then we went to St Thomas's Dole.

Day 4: Saturday, 22 December, 1991
Was a usual, boring Saturday.

Day 5: Sunday, 23 December, 1991
It was a normal Sunday until we went to the Bishop's House, and he bought 120 mince pies for us!

Day 6: Monday, 24 December, 1991 (Christmas Eve)
We had a party at the Deanery and played a few games. At the end, we were given a Christmas present each off the Dean and the Precentor.

Day 7: Tuesday, 25 December, 1991 (Christmas Day)
The rain was atrocious. We were desperately waiting by the tree. When the Headteacher shouted "GO!", there was a flurry of ripping and wrapping flew everywhere. We had lunch late, and in the afternoon we watched E.T. We had a very long afternoon.

Day 8: Wednesday, 26 December, 1991 (Boxing Day)
The Carol Service was brilliant, and home was even more brilliant!

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: