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 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!