Monday, 8 July 2019

Herbert Howells, Ambrose Porter and an Organ Sonata

The information and photographs in this post were collated by Lay Vicar Emeritus, Michael Guest, for a forthcoming display in the Cathedral, and are reproduced here with permission.

The celebrated teacher and composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was born at Lydney in Gloucestershire, and became an articled pupil of Sir Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral in 1905.  Ambrose Porter, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Lichfield from 1925-1959, was also a Gloucestrian, born in Coleford in 1885; he likewise became one of Brewer’s pupils.

Howells and Porter were members of what turned out to be a remarkable group of budding musicians, which included  the composer/poet Ivor Gurney, and Ivor Davies (later known as Ivor Novello) the composer of popular musicals.

Friendships formed in the organ loft at Gloucester ran deep, and Howells dedicated his first attempt at an Organ Sonata to his contemporary, Porter. The manuscript is specifically dated and, in all probability, formed a part of the portfolio of compositions which Howells submitted as part of an application to become a student at the Royal College of Music, in which aim he succeeded in 1912.

The title page of Howell's First Organ Sonata

On the title page of the remarkably clear manuscript, the complete inscription in Howells’s handwriting reads
To my friend
Ambrose P Porter
who first performed it.

Sonata in C Minor
For Organ
Op.2

Composed by
Herbert N Howells

In  Lydney
October 26th-30th 1911


For many years it was believed that the manuscript of this sonata was lost, and Howells tended to regard it as a work of somewhat immaturity, giving wider publicity to his second Organ Sonata which he composed in 1933 and published the following year.

However, Dr Tustin Baker, another pupil from the Gloucester stable, had made his own copy from the original, and many years later as retiring organist of Sheffield Cathedral bequeathed this to his successor, the organist Graham Matthews,who collaborated with David Wells to produce an edition for publication which Matthews subsequently recorded for commercial distribution.

Recently, the grandchildren of Ambrose Porter presented a significant corpus of his unpublished work to Lichfield Cathedral and among the manuscripts was this supposedly lost treasure.

The opening page of Howells's First Organ Sonata

Title and autograph detail from the cover of Howells' First Organ Sonata

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

(de) Hamel's Tape Mills, Tamworth #localhistory


While clearing out, I was sorting through some old photographs and found some which my Dad had digitised in 2001 for Ian de Hamel, a steward and regular member of the Cathedral's congregation until his death in 2003. Although this post is more to do with local history than the Cathedral Choir, there is a tenuous link, as Ian's wife - Polly - was married to Richard Greening (Organist and Master of the Choristers from 1959) and they lived in Darwin House.

The six photographs are of aspects of the plant and work of Hamel's Tape Mills which was based in Tamworth. A 2014 article from the local Tamworth Herald provides some history:

French origins of Hamel's Mill
by John Harper | 13 November 2014
FOR over 140 years Hamel's tape mill was one of Tamworth's biggest employers. Generations of local families earned their living at the textile factory that evolved and expanded from a house in Bolebridge Street.
Bruno de Hamel was a persecuted French Huguenot (Calvinist protestant) who, among over half-a million of his countrymen, fled into exile to escape the bloody revolution that led many to a premature death at the hand of 'Madame Guillotine'.
Bruno came to England and eventually arrived in Tamworth. He made his living as a teacher of French, and opened a small China shop in Market Street.
After moving to a larger house in Bolebridge Street, he built a loom and encouraged his son Etienne to 'get weaving'. In 1837 a tape manufacturing business was born. Orders came in thick and fast, the house was extended, before a mill was built and more labour taken on.
Etienne proved himself to be an astute businessman, but he was also a talented artist, creating many splendid landscape views of Tamworth.
With the advent of the zip fastener in the 1920s, business expanded even more.
By the early 1960s over 600 worked at Hamels when Bruno's greatgrandson, Ian, was in charge. Sadly, he was to be the last of the family to manage the mill before competition from abroad became too much and sales declined.
The old mill was demolished in 1980 - the town's Job Centre and Saxon Mill housing development now stands on the site.
I have no information about the photographs, beyond the scanned filenames. They are recorded here as it they are clearly a part of local history which may interest someone in future, or link to other research:

deHamel - Tamworth
This looks like the site of the Tamworth mill. What appears
to be facade of the building can be seen in a photo on flikr

deHamel - Chase Terrace
deHamel - Dye Works
deHamel - Loom
deHamel - Lichfield Cathedral
This looks to be some form of exhibition at Lichfield Cathedral,
as the equipment and products are pictured in
front of the Great West Door.


The local history of the de Hamel family proves fascinating, and there are a variety of references online to 'E B Hamel and Sons Ltd', which was the company name, based at Felix Mills on Bolebridge Street in Tamworth. There are some more pictures available through Staffordshire Past Track, and some more details of the family, who lived at Middleton Hall, in an edition of the Nuneaton and North Warwickshire Family History Society journal.