These are the reflections of Tony Forsgate who joined the choir of St Mary’s Church in 1936.
I first joined the choir as a child of seven, in 1936, in an age when choirs only had boy choristers. The Rector at the time was the Reverend Boothroyd and the choirmaster was Mr. Jack Glozier. I believe that Mr. Glozier was church organist from the age of 14 and had played at the funeral of Mr. Charles Gooch Snr, the first of that family to own and live at Wivenhoe Park.
The choir in those day was made up of approximately 10 to 12 boys, 4 to 6 young ladies, and approximately 10 to 12 men.
Members of the Choir in 1936
Amongst the young ladies were my sister, Doreen, Mary Braithwaite, Helen Scofield,and Iris Gould. Names recalled amongst the men were Roger Sparling, Jim Gould, Dick Paul, Bill Cracknell, Arthur Beckwith plus two from Rowhedge, Mr. Springett and Mr. Sparling Snr who came over via the Rowhedge ferry. Practices were held on a Thursday evening – 7.00p.m. for the boys, followed by the addition of the ladies and men at 7.30 p.m. One recalls the practices for the special occasions – Easter “Olivet to Calvary” or “The Crucifixion”, Christmas – carols, etc. Choir boys wore the normal black cassock and white surplice, and, in addition, a stiff collar and black bow-shaped tie ( very uncomfortable) The boys eagerly anticipated Christmas as we were asked to go to the Rector’s vestry after the Christmas morning service where we were given a half-crown each, a fortune in those days, by the Rector’s Warden and People’s Warden, and in return we said “Thank you Mr. Hook and Mr Moore” (the churchwardens) !!!
Another outing was to the Hippodrome cinema in Colchester High Street when, previous to the day, we called at the houses of the congregation asking for donations to cover the cost of transport and tickets. All went well until we called at the house of P.C.”Tolly” Day who told us, very forcefully, that we were not allowed to go begging !!! End of collection. At the age of approx. 14 I left the choir as voices started to break – much later in those days.
The Choir in 1974
I returned to the choir in approximately 1974 when, obviously, it had seen many changes. Graham Wadley had become organist/choirmaster, with John Dowden as assistant organist. There were approximately 20+ children – both boys and girls – approx. six ladies including Hilary Wadley, Janet Pike, Iris Gould, Joyce Nevard (Braithwaite), Julie Whaley, Jenny Delafontain, Rhona Hook etc. and a number of men, including Frank Pike, Graham White, Ron Gorman and Gordon Dobson. For many years following, the choir would number 40-plus children, ladies and men thanks to the enthusiasm of Graham.
Became more of a ‘family-choir’ under Rev Stephen Hardie
During the years of the Reverend Stephen Hardie the choir became a “family-choir” in some respects, with Graham, Hilary, Lucy,and James Wadley, Olive, Lynne, Julie, Christopher Whaley, Ann and Lyn Horner, Liz and Stephen Baines, Shirley, Tony, Alison, Judith Forsgate, Fiona and Clarissa Corke, Linda Reynolds and Marion, Robin, Helen and Wendy Gee, John and Frances Dowden. Choir parties were held, and after-church evening swimming in the summer took place.
For a few years, due to his work, Graham left his role as choirmaster. We were then joined by John James as Choirmaster, his wife, Emmelia as organist, plus John Dowden as reserve organist. They were followed by a number of students from Colchester Institute as organist/choir masters, initially one from Liverpool, whose name I cannot recall, followed by Alistair Berwick, a brilliant organist whose playing of Widor’s “Tocatta” on our organ was masterful, and then Andrew Rootham and Martin Seymour.
When Graham returned, Stuart Wilkes, Jessica Shaw, and Jennifer Botterill joined us individually, again as students from the Colchester Institute.
The Choir becomes smaller
Gradually the number of children declined, possibly because families no longer attended church on a regular basis, sports practices commenced using Sunday morning as a meeting time etc. This was happening in many churches, and it became very difficult to persuade adults to join choirs, possibly because of the commitment to attend practices and services regularly. When Graham started St. Marys’ Singers, some of the adults joined as it was not a regular commitment.
To-day many churches, such as ours, either have no choir or just a small group who attend regularly to lead the music of the church. In spite of regular appeals for choir members we recruit very few and rely upon our faithful group and a very committed choirmaster/organist.
Note: This article first appeared in Tidings, the magazine of St Mary’s Church, Wivenhoe. After singing in the choir for 52 years, Tony has decided to retire and join Shirley, his wife for a great many years and also a former long-standing member of the choir, in the pews for Sunday Services. In February 2019, Tony will be celebrating his 90th birthday.
and here for a page on which there is a picture of the choir in 1905