Monday, 2 April 2018

Memories of Life as a Chorister 1934-1937 from George Greaves

It is always delightful to be contacted by individuals with their own memories of their time at Lichfield. Aged 95, George Greaves got in touch a few months ago to share his experiences as a chorister from the age of 11 in January 1934 to August 1937. His recollections are reproduced here as sent.

I was a boarder and shared a dormitory with five other boys in the care of Mr C R Bailey and his wife in a house in Dam Street opposite the West end of Minster Pool; Mr Bailey was the only teacher. The private choir school was also in Dam Street, behind the boarding house, and consisted of a classroom on the ground floor, a playroom on the first floor, and a recreation area outside. There were approximately 24 day boys, but the boarders were the backbone of the choir; I became head boy and No. 1 Cantoris.

We sang at services each morning and afternoon on weekdays, apart from Tuesday afternoon, with occasional exceptions for Feast Days and Festivals. There were full choral services on Saturday and Sunday. The three hours' worship on Good Friday was shared between the boys.

Of the 30 or so choir school boys, weekday services were only attended by six on each side, Decani and Cantoris, along with three Lay Vicars of each part; Mr James Coleman was the Senior Lay Vicar during my time. The choir boys were selected by region-wide voice trials which were open to all.

Bank Holiday services were especially well attended, and the congregations were treated to show pieces anthems from oratorios including Messiah and Israel in Egypt.

On weekdays, purple cassocks were worn, and red cassocks were worn on Sundays and Feast Days.

The choir was regarded as one of the country's best, and broadcast on the National Service in February 1934.

Practices were held most days for the boys, and for the whole choir on Fridays. Thursday Evensongs were unaccompanied, with notes being given on a small harmonium.

The Precentor was Canon Moncrief, assisted by Canon Hardy, the subchanter, 'the voice'. The Organist and Choirmaster was Ambrose Porter, FRCO, who lived in Darwin's old house on the border of the Close.

The boys' school day from was 8.00am until 5.00pm with a half day off on both Tuesday and Saturday.

Boys' practices were held in the Song School in the North-West corner of the Close. Although there was the "Cottage" organ there, a piano was used to accompany the rehearsals. The "Cottage" organ was a constant source of fun for the boys, and annoyance to Mr Lott (one of the visiting organists) because of the interchangeable pipes. The other visiting organists included Mr Morgan, a fiery Welshman, and Mr Pettigrew, who was later heard of in the army in Africa.

When I first started, the Bishop was the Rt Rev Kempthorne who was succeeded by Bishop Barnes. The Bishop selected two of the choristers to hold his bejewelled robe, for which they were given a shilling; I was lucky enough to be chosen on a couple of occasions.

There were small Christmas parties for the boarders (as we never went home at Christmas, unlike the day boys), and these were given by the Precentor, Subchanter and others. Canon Hardy gave us a rhyme about someone putting up shutters and sitting in the shop, which he would recite at breakneck speed with us all waiting for him to get the vowels wrong.

Most of the choristers were the exact age to be called up - in my case, to volunteer for service - in the Second World War, soon after leaving. I served in the Royal Navy from August 1941 to August 1946.

I do remember a memorial board in the classroom at school with the names of the choristers who had served in World War One, with Maltese crosses beside the names of those who had did.

The photograph is of me in January 1934, when I was aged 11, when I started in the choir. I got in by the skin of my teeth, as I was born in February 1922 and had I been 12 years old they would not have taken me!

George Greaves, aged 11 in 1934 (Chorister, 1934-1937)
George Greaves, aged 11 in 1934 (Chorister, 1934-1937)

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