Of Choristers – ancient and modern

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Winchester, The Pilgrims' School (Choristers)

Origins in the thirteenth century?

Winchester Cathedral
The west front at night
Copyright: Dr John Crook

Early references to boys singing in the priory are many and confusing, but it does seem that as early as the thirteenth century they were to be heard there. Some of the confusion is due to there being two possible sources from which they might have been recruited, the charity boys of the almonry of St Swithun’s priory and the monastic novices’ school. The boys from the almonry from a very early date were divided into two halves (Decani and Cantoris?) when each team gave alms to the poor on alternate days.

The fifteenth century

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries suitably qualified boys had been rare in the priory, but in 1402 John Tyes was appointed organist and choirmaster with a total of only four boys who, for the first time, were singing with the monks. Also they were singing in the Lady Chapel daily with the Marian masses and Marian antiphon owing to the cult of The Virgin Mary which had swept Europe. In 1482 Edward Pynbrygge was master of the choristers with eight boys.

The sixteenth century

He was succeeded in 1510 by Thomas Goodman who was allowed up to ten boys. These increases were partly due to the spread of polyphony and the Ars Nova, the new art, gradually replacing the old arts of organum and conductus.

In 1538 Matthew Fuller was the master who must teach the boys grammar, sing and play the organ at a salary of £4 and 33 pennies per year, with a ration of bread and beer each week. His pupils were the almonry boys and the "children of the Lady Chapel". In the following year the monastery was dissolved and William Basing was made dean. New statutes were made in 1541 ordaining that there should be 12 lay clerks and 10 choristers. These boys were probably sent to live in The Close with their master, Richard Wynslade, with William Way, a lay vicar to assist him.

When Edward the Sixth came to the throne he gave instructions that the boys’ hair was no longer to be tonsured so long as it was neatly cut. He also commanded that their diction when singing should be improved, also that their studies should include the catechism in English, to be taught and tested. It is likely that at this time the choristers were moved from house to house in The Close but in the 1590s one Canon Bennett had to sign an agreement that he would allow a room or rooms for the lodging and or teaching of the choristers.

The seventeenth century

From early in the seventeenth century there survives a carving in Bishop Gardiner’s Chantry chapel reading thus "Adrian Battin 1608", of "Sing we Merrily", and others, later organist of St Paul’s Cathedral. Also early in the century the organist, George Bath was living in rooms over the Porter’s Lodge and owing to a (then) large sum of money paid to him it is likely that he was lodging the choristers for a while.

A short anecdote dates from 1634, from John Crook, A History of The Pilgrims' School; a certain Lieutenant Hammond was on leave in Winchester and on visiting the cathedral at service time observed that:

"the quiristers were skilful and the voices were good, when they sing sweet and heavenly anthems".

Visitation by Archbishop Laud

There followed shortly after a visitation by Archbishop Laud who asked if the boys were allowed to play in the churchyard as he had heard tell of broken windows. He also criticised the size of the choir saying it was too big. However it was not until just before the Civil War that in the Caroline Statutes of 1638 the choristers were reduced to six and in December 1642 Cromwell’s soldiers reduced it to nil, burning the books and music and destroying the organ.

The Restoration

At the Restoration Christopher Gibbons, son of Orlando, was reappointed organist but soon departed for Westminster Abbey. John Silver, already master of the choristers, succeeded Gibbons as organist in 1661, although as yet there was no organ. He took some considerable time to find and train a new set of boys and this was hampered by outbreaks of the plague when the choir had to be temporarily closed down, just when the new organ was nearly ready. However, a Chapter order of the 1680s reveals a happier note; a certain chorister named Corfe was evidently learning to play the guitar which instrument was not to cost more than 40 shillings and subsequently there was the cost of guitar strings amounting to eight shillings in 1685.

It seems likely that the choristers were now day boys making the enforcement of attendance difficult, there being much absenteeism. They seem to have been recruited from the families of the cathedral staff such as lay clerks or vergers – a limited catchment area probably not producing a high standard of talent.

John Silver was succeeded as organist by Randolph Jewett in turn quickly succeeded by John Reading who was reprimanded for being over-severe to the choristers. He stayed for just three years, his successor being Daniel Roseingrave, a pupil of Purcell. After his first year in 1681 his first move was to make the practice room more comfortable and better furnished and adequately heated in cold weather. The Chapter, too, turned its attention towards the boys, providing a bonfire for Guy Fawkes celebrations on 5 November 1683. From which followed attempts by the Dean and Chapter to make some provision for the choristers after their voices had broken. Vaughan Richardson succeeded Roseingrave who in turn was succeeded by John Bishop. Both numbers and salaries were inadequate, there being nine lay clerks, and five or six choristers (sometimes only four).

The eighteenth century

Sculpture by Antony Gormley in the Crypt
Photo by "red betty black"
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At the beginning of the eighteenth century the organist received 55 guineas per year, £2, 13 shillings and four pence per chorister and £13 and10 shillings for each lay clerk. These amounts continued into the nineteenth century. James Kent was the next organist both of the cathedral and of the college, himself an old chorister of the cathedral. By 1742 the choristers were being sent to Mr Hollowey’s school for reading, writing and arithmetic for which Mr Hollowey was paid £6 per year.

Charles Dibdin

In 1756 a chorister called Charles Dibdin was making a name for himself with his singing both in the cathedral and at outside functions in the city. He grew up to be a fairly well known singer, composer and impresario in London and was the composer of Tom Bowling. James Kent was sorely needing some more choristers and in 1772 The Chapter gave permission for him to have an extra two. However, he retired shortly after, already in his seventies and in 1774 another former chorister, James Fussell took his place and was supplied with an assistant for whom Fussell had to pay out of his salary. The Winchester quiristers were also at this time in a bad way, so that in 1781 the choristers earned some pocket money by helping out with the singing at the college chapel.

Meanwhile Fussell was neglecting his duties in the cathedral and practice room so much so that the senior chorister was ordered to bring a written account to the Chapter every month stating how many days the boys had attended practice with their master in the previous fortnight.

George William Chard, a former chorister of St Paul’s, became assistant organist in 1791 assuming many of the duties of Fussell who died in 1802. He took control of the practices and services and advised The Chapter on hopeful new boys. In 1800 a new practice room was set up in The Long Chamber, now part of the library, complete with harpsichord. At Fussell’s death Chard was made organist at an increased salary of £100 per year. The task of schooling the boys was relegated to a Mr Dennett whose subjects were reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic. These nineteenth century choristers were still getting free education, a new suit every Christmas and also provision for their later apprenticeships – one guinea for every year they had been in the choir.

The nineteenth century

The west front
Photo by Peter Reed
Some rights reserved

However, matters were to deteriorate drastically over the ensuing years. Chard neglected his duties to such an extent that he was sometimes away from work for three months at a time, at the same time receiving a Cambridge honorary doctorate in 1812, and becoming mayor of Winchester in 1832. But before this he was subjected to several admonitions from The Chapter, one stating in one year he had only attended to his duties on 14 days.

Meanwhile the boys were running wild, breaking windows with their stone throwing and generally misbehaving in service times. So that the Chapter decided to appoint a new lay clerk who would be the "schoolmaster of the choristers" in the hopes that he would, in addition to teaching them in reading, writing and arithmetic, be able to instruct them in singing. His name was William Garrett.

At this time the first attempt to educate the choristers and the college quiristers together was made at number 5 College Street but ended in failure after a few months.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Dr Samuel Sebastian Wesley was appointed organist and choirmaster in October 1849. He immediately went to work to publish his ideas on the reform of cathedral music, choirs and organs and in no time he had 12 choristers. However, in time Wesley was neglecting his duties and after three admonitions from the Chapter he departed to Gloucester and the cathedral organistship.

Dr Arnold was appointed organist in 1865 in his place. Meanwhile, between 1866 and 1871 the choristers were suffering many house moves including, The Training School, Wolvesly Palace (the bishop was then living at Farnham Castle), West Hill (now St Alfred’s College), Mr Shepard’s Commercial School (as boarders) and finally number 4 The Close as day boys in 1872. These moves can have done nothing for the already poor state of discipline among the boys. Their master was now a young lay clerk, a Mr Southcott. At this time the quiristers found themselves without a master following the death of William Whiting; so once more an attempt was made to educate the choristers and the quiristers together at number 4 The Close. Once more this arrangement was doomed to failure, each group having its own master and each indulging in jealousies and bad tempers against the other. So that after a few months' trial the quiristers were moved to a new house.

Sources of information contradict themselves at this point as to whether the boys were boarding or not, as a chorister, Harry Twyman was said to be unhappy with Mr and Mrs Southcott and was sent to board with a Mr Newman of the Hyde Dairy. Perhaps there was a mixture of day boys and boarders. Mr Southcott clashed swords with Dr Arnold and the precentor over the subject of voice trials ending with the dismissal of Mr Southcott as schoolmaster, but retaining him as a lay clerk. His successor was a Mr Hone who took up his appointment in 1887. Another house move was imminent; the county council in agreement with the Chapter were to rent number 4 The Close for the judges on their western circuit and the school was to move into Colebrook House in 1897. This was large house well suited for its purpose with plenty of space for the choristers and a number of "private boarders".

The Hone family provided a substantial proportion of the singers at the start of the new century, including four Hone boys as choristers and their father as a tenor lay clerk. Dr Arnold died in 1902 shortly after the announcement of his resignation had been made. He was followed by William Prendergast whose wish it was that the school should become an all boarding school. This was accomplished in 1908.

The twentieth century

Winchester Cathedral
Copyright: Dr John Crook

About this time Edward Hone was given a much needed assistant in the person of Percy Spillett. This partnership worked admirably, however, the regime was severe with much use of the cane. Spillets’ hobby was the seeking of Palaeolithic flints on his walks with the school on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons.

After so many changes in the previous century the early years of the twentieth century between 1903 and 1919 saw a period of stability with the same dean, organist, headmaster and assistant master which made for a higher standard both of behaviour and singing. Matins was still sung daily as well as Evensong, except on Wednesdays, which meant that school work suffered as only religious knowledge, maths, English language and drawing formed the curriculum. Games played included football and cricket and swimming in summer. A few hobbies were enjoyed such as fishing, birds nesting and photography.

The first world war

Food was scarce during the war years and the boys made many an illegal trip into town to supplement their rations. At this time an extra Sunday evening service was added, "The Soldiers’ Service" when half the choristers sang one week and half the next. Despite war time difficulties however, many of the summer and winter outings and parties continued thanks to the efforts of many well wishers.

Edward Hone died in 1925 and after a short period when Percy Spillett took over, minor canon Norman Woods was appointed headmaster. At this point residence at Colebrook house came to an end and a move was made to number 9 The Close. The fees were now £90 a year and £21 a year for day boys, who were now reintroduced. Choristers had half their fees paid by The Dean and Chapter. However, the school did not prosper as had been hoped and there were never more than about 30 boys in all, so after much discussion it was decided to close it.

An upturn in fortunes in the 1930s

At this point, in 1931, the appointment of Dean Selwyn proved to be the miracle that was needed. He dedicated his energies to establishing a good preparatory school for the boys and set about finding a suitable headmaster. This he found in the person of Humphrey Salwey who came to Winchester to meet the dean. As they both stood outside number 3 The Close, a possible home for the school, they discussed a possible name for the school. The dean was anxious to get away from "choir" or "cathedral" schools; it chanced that Mr Salwey asked the dean for the name of the building next door, to which the dean replied "The Pilgrims' Hall" whereupon they both thought the same thought – "The Pilgrims' School" of course! What could be more suitable? And so it was.

At first glance the accommodation seemed small and there was little money to make enlargements and alterations. However, enough money was found to make changing rooms, and accommodation for two masters replaced the stables. The harness room became a small common room. As there was not enough room for all 22 boys some were sent to the deanery and to Cheney Court to sleep. Classroom space was also limited but rooms in Dome Alley were able to be used. In addition much cleaning was necessary. To give more time for school work the singing of Matins was reduced to twice weekly, and morning practice began at 8.30am instead of 9am. The boys were allowed to use the college gymnasium and at the request of the dean the fees were reasonable, for commoners £105 per year and for choristers £30 per year. Food improved in quality and quantity under the careful supervision of Lorna Salwey.

Popular with the boys were the lantern lectures in winter, the Guy Fawkes party and the Hogmanay party at the Deanery. Not so popular were the early morning cold showers. Neither the standard of sport nor the academic standard was high just yet. Mr Salwey himself coached the cricket in the summer term, and football was played in the winter. Dr Prendergast died in February 1933 and was succeeded by Dr Rhodes from Coventry Cathedral whose wife refused to live in the rambling organist’s house and insisted on living in a smaller, more modern house in the city. She won the day.

Rising academic standards too

The Lady Chapel
Photo by Matt Quelch
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Things were looking up so the Dean and Chapter gave the go ahead for a new wing to be built. In record time it was ready for use in September 1933, only just in time, for by the following summer the numbers had risen to 39. Academically too the tide was turning, for at this time several scholarships to public schools were won. In 1933 the school was recognised as efficient by the Board of Education; but the achievement of that year was that a chorister was placed Head of Roll at Winchester College. During the summer holidays of 1935 a party consisting of the dean, the sacrist, the headmaster, the organist, the lay clerks and the choristers made a singing trip to the Channel Islands. They gave a concert in Jersey at the house of Lady Trent; then on to Guernsey where a short trip took them to Herm where the dean baptised a baby and the choir sang. Back to Guernsey and a successful concert.

Further expansion

1937 saw the introduction of Rugby which was played on the Winchester RUFC ground. A year later the numbers at the school rose to 60 so that more building expansion had to be undertaken. In 1939 the outbreak of war saw many discussions as to whether to evacuate the school or not. In the end it was decided to stay in Winchester and so good air raid shelters were constructed beneath the school. This turned out to be a wise decision as the city escaped fairly lightly, partly owing to the close proximity of Southampton. Like all schools there were staffing and catering difficulties. However, vegetables including potatoes were grown in every available plot. By now there were 67 boys in the school. Rugby escaped by the skin of its teeth as the King’s Worthy ground was now inaccessible owing to there being no buses for transport, however the army leased its Bar End field to the school.

Many hobby clubs had gradually evolved namely the Spotter’s Club, the Music Club, the Stamp Society, the Model Yacht Club and the Science Club. The choir was in good shape and gave several broadcasts at this time as well as recordings for the Overseas Service.

The post-war period

With the end of the war things gradually returned to near normal  although Mrs Salwey and her domestic staff had to battle with rationing for some time to come.  Overcrowding was now a major problem so some senior boys were housed at the Deanery and some at Cheney Court. Christmas perhaps was the highlight of the year with the annual Turkey Feast and the carol service. The Salweys took a great deal of trouble to provide a home-from-home atmosphere for the choristers.

1947 saw the beginnings of a much needed science laboratory with at first perhaps only a few Bunsen Burners and running water. The following year produced seven public school scholarships with some top awards at Winchester, Radley, Cranleigh and Dartmouth.

The Pilgrims' School Society

The Choir looking west
Photo by Henry Law
Some rights reserved

The Pilgrims' School Society was started in 1949 in order that parents, interested friends and others might keep in touch with the school, offer advice and to give some financial help when needed.

In the summer of that year the choir once again gave a few concerts in the Channel Islands. They appeared first in St Helier where they gave two concerts and sang three services followed by much the same in Guernsey with short trips to Sark and Herm for singing and recreation. It was Dr Rhodes’ last trip as he was retiring after 16 years as organist. He was succeeded by Alwyn Surplice from Bristol Cathedral.

A steady rise to 76 boys in 1950 meant that the need for more buildings or conversion of those already there made the problem of expansion an urgent necessity. All that was possible was the addition of a new playing field in front of Wolvesly Palace. At the Pilgrims' Society meeting in 1952 plans were launched to raise money for extending the buildings. Ultimately this was successful but it took time and was not until 1957 that work began on part of the Priory stables.

November 1954 saw two television broadcasts from the cathedral, the choristers were well used to sound broadcasting but this was their first experience of television. The following summer the number of scholarships and exhibitions reached three figures, a great testimony to Mr Salwey’s organisation of the timetable so that the choristers did not miss out on the basic essentials owing to their cathedral duties. During this year the sad news came of the death of Dr Rhodes, a much loved and kindly musician.

In July 1956 the school celebrated its Silver Jubilee. There was an Evensong of Thanksgiving in the cathedral at which the music included God be in my Head, Stanford in B Flat and Parry’s I Was Glad. There was also a cricket match against the Old Boys and other festivities. A year later much of the conversion of the Priory Stables had been done and by the following spring it was finished. More extra-curricular activities were added including a play reading society run by Rodney Blake who had recently returned from New Zealand and was shortly to become the first deputy headmaster with a view to taking up the headmastership on Mr Salwey’s retirement.

There were now nine forms in the school with a total of 82 boys. This was increased in 1963 to about 88, partly because Dean Gibbs-Smith had decided to increase the number of choristers and probationers from 20 to 24, so that school numbers crept up to 90 in the new year of 1964 with plans for about 100 later on. The taking of more probationers was funded by increasing the number of commoners. Major extensive building took place in 1963 and at Christmas of that year Mr Salwey retired. Mr Blake felt that science should become a regular subject and with all the new space available, in time, a new science room was established. He also organised the out of school activities into four guilds each with progressive levels of proficiency. New emphasis was laid on modern languages and the latest techniques were employed. A new tennis court was built on part of the garden of number 3 The Close in the early summer of 1965. Drama was given a new lease of life in June, 1965 when a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was given, postponed from the Easter term on account of illness among the cast. Another new project at this time was the formation of a swimming pool committee by the parents who successfully raised enough money by various means so that the work could be started by the spring of 1966.

1966 – the two schools join together

The original burial place of Saint Swithun
Photo by "bury_dog_walker"
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In the Autumn term of that year another attempt was made, this time successfully to absorb the quiristers of Winchester College into the Pilgrims' School.  A number of dayboys were taken as well so that in 1967 numbers stood at 150. There were ten forms divided into seniors and juniors; this had its problems at first. There were difficulties of administration, many changes of staff, and for the first time a lowering of numbers of boys gaining scholarships. However, on the plus side, dramatics fared well with such large forces and many ambitious productions were undertaken. The choristers seemed the least affected by the changes; their daily routine within the cathedral was still the same with practices and services. The Southern Cathedrals' Festival and "choir times" (ie, school holidays) served as an anchor in their lives. In October 1966 they made a trip to Mont St Michel in Brittany where they sang in the Abbey Church; one Roman Catholic mass and one Evensong. It was a great experience for all despite the wet and windy weather.

Despite overcrowding the school was beginning to settle down when early in 1969 Mr Blake tendered his resignation. At the same time Dean Gibbs retired, and sadly died in the summer of that year. In October the appointment of Martin Briggs as headmaster was announced. He and his wife and two children moved into the headmaster’s flat in April 1970; it had been used as a dormitory and a French room during the interregnum so that with the addition of 14 new boys in the school the problems of space were in no way alleviated.

The following summer a "Mediĉval Pageant and Fair" was performed outlining the lives of choristers from Saxon times onwards. The money raised went towards improvements in the buildings and for musical instruments. Towards the end of 1970 the college did a swap with the school, giving the latter two floors in Wellington House in exchange for three rooms at number 12 College Street. The extra space meant that the choristers could have a practice room on the first floor of the Priory Stables. The school celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 1971 and there was a performance of Noah’s Fludde as well as a thanksgiving service in the cathedral.

Alwyn Surplice retired later in the year and was succeeded in 1972 by Martin Neary. The time of Evensong was put back so that the full choir could practice the music before service, and on Mondays the choristers were given a free evening to make up for this. Meanwhile the standards of the non-choristers' music continued to rise helped by the many enthusiastic musicians on the staff. Chamber music and music for the two orchestras continued to thrive. Drama too played a big part in the early seventies, and athletics came into its own. All the school needed now was more accommodation. The appeal of 1972 was launched and Old Pilgrims, parents and friends raised the staggering sum of £30,000. A sponsored swim, a Harvest Festival Ball, a bazaar and other events all brought in substantial amounts. All this was organised by the parents’ committee and the Pilgrims’ School Society.

Planning permission was granted in 1973 for a purpose built classroom block with five main rooms and in April 1974 work was begun. By September of that year it was ready for use and named The Salwey Building. At the end of that term Martin Briggs announced that he was retiring from schoolmastering and it was not until January 1976 that Stephen McWatters replaced him. In March 1977 the Music Rooms Appeal was launched and the same bodies were responsible for its organisation. Work went ahead and the rooms were opened in December of that year. At the same time scholarship awards rose to an all time high.

Overseas tours

Stained glass window in
Winchester Cathedral
Photo by "markjhandel"
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Foreign trips were once more in the news and the choristers sang in Nôtre Dame in Paris early in 1978.  Far more ambitious was the tour of North America in February and March 1979 to mark the opening of the cathedral’s nine hundredth anniversary celebrations. The party had to be specially kitted out for the sub zero temperatures – minus 29 in Ottawa. They sang 13 services and gave 15 concerts in altogether seven major cities. Accommodation was had in schools, colleges and private houses. Perhaps best of all was the sight of a frozen Niagara Falls.

Back home it was the turn of Winchester to host the distribution of the Maundy money by HM The Queen. As usual the choir shared the singing with that of the Chapel Royal. In 1980 the choir had an invitation to give the opening concert of the City of London Festival at the church of St Bartholomew the Great at Smithfield. Then in October of that year there was a two day visit to the Channel Isles where in addition to two concerts and a short TV programme they had time to visit a local zoo. Less than six months later, in February 1981 they were in Sweden for half term break where, among other things they attended a buffet lunch at the British embassy in Stockholm. Then in March there were two performances of a dramatic Oratorio Passion and Resurrection by Jonathon Hervey which took place in the cathedral with eight choristers in the cast.

The school’s jubilee celebrations took place at the weekend of 10 to12 July 1981. Many classrooms were taken over for sundry exhibitions and there was a jubilee shop selling mugs, cards, school histories etc. At 4 pm everyone went over to the cathedral for Evensong, the choir being made up of choristers, quiristers, commoners with the under parts being supplied by some staff, Old Pilgrims, some parents and a few lay clerks. Later in the evening there was an Old Pilgrims’ dinner. During the week there were two sherry parties and finally a jubilee dance.

As soon as the holidays had begun the builders moved in to create a new extension comprising larger changing rooms, a dormitory and a sick room, a utility room and a bed sitting room and a bathroom for the head matron as well as a guest room. There were many changes of staff for the coming term and amongst those who left, two were to become headmasters.

In April 1982 the cathedral choir set off for western Canada. They sang in Calgary Cathedral, visited a ranch, saw killer whales in an aquarium and gave a concert at the Orpheum, Edmonton, which was sold out. The following summer holidays saw a performance by the cathedral choir and The Waynflete Singers of Bach's Magnificat at a Promenade concert in The Royal Albert Hall, directed by Martin Neary.

At this time a computer was first introduced to the school to be used as a serious timetable subject, and by 1983 there were no fewer than eight. By 1987 there was a head of computer studies and the history room had become the computer centre. Stephen McWatters retired in 1983 and was succeeded by Michael Kefford as headmaster, one of whose aims was to make the school look as pleasant and welcoming as possible which seemed very good psychology.

In July 1984 a very special music event took place. Andrew Lloyd-Webber had written a Requiem Mass and the cathedral choir gave this at a concert in Burghclere church. The work immediately caught on and arrangements were made for them to record it during the Choir Time at Christmas 1984. This took place at EMI’s studios and the entire choir was put up at the Northumberland Hotel overlooking Lord’s. The climax came when the choir was asked to take part in the world premiere of the work in St Thomas’ Church, Fifth Avenue, New York in February 1985. They sang with St Thomas’ choir who have the only choir school in the USA. The Winchester choir was accommodated in the New York Hilton Hotel and were taken on sightseeing trips including an ascent of the Empire State Building. During the Easter holidays in 1986 they sang the requiem in Westminster Abbey as a memorial to those killed in the Brighton bomb attack and afterwards attended a reception at number 12 Downing Street, the home of the Parliamentary Whips. Early in June Mr Salwey died and many felt that this was indeed the end of an era.

Twelfth and thirteenth century wall
paintings in the Sepulchre Chapel
Photo by Dave Rutt
Some rights reserved

1985 and 1986 saw the choristers in different parts of the world. At the Christmas half term they went to Fleury-sur-Loire in France. The next trip was to Vienna where they sang with The Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Petite Chanteurs de Paris, and the Toller Kraberchor which concert was televised. Between rehearsals there was just time for a hurried visit to one of Beethoven’s houses and the Vienna Woods.

At the beginning of March 1986 the choir plus the quiristers this time, were back in Vienna for a performance of Lloyd-Webber’s Requiem. It was the first time the choristers and quiristers had joined forces in a major event. Finally the cathedral choir toured the United States for nearly three weeks after Easter. They visited Dallas, Macon (Georgia), New York, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston.

1987 was an important year for the school when Michael Kefford decided that there must be considerable expansion in the school buildings and in September of that year a Pilgrims' School appeal was launched with an appeal director living in the school.

About the same time the appointment of Martin Neary as organist of Westminster Abbey was announced. A sad loss for Winchester. In September 1987 also, the choir gave a performance of a very different requiem – that of Duruflé in The Royal Festival Hall.

Mr David Hill, organist of Westminster Cathedral was appointed to succeed Martin Neary after a short interregnum during which the music at Winchester was under the direction of the assistant organist, Timothy Byram-Wigfield.

During the year the appeal fund had been growing at an unprecedented rate and by the beginning of the new school year the building work was nearly completed. Over £5,000 was raised by a gala concert by choristers, quiristers and various celebrities including Humphrey Burton, Peter Frankl, Barry Tuckwell and Charles Brett. By the end of the Christmas term the boys were able to carry books and furniture from the old buildings to the new.

1989 saw the opening of the Stancliffe Building by HRH The Princess Margaret on the 28 April. The service of inauguration was held in the cathedral after which the Bishop of Winchester dedicated the Stancliffe Building. In the evening there was a firework display at Wolvesly Palace. In the following October the choir went on a mini tour to Paris taking part in a concert with the European Baroque Chamber Orchestra at the church of St Eustache as part of the Festival d’Art Sacré.

The Pilgrims' School celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in July 1991. There was a service in the cathedral on 9 July, and on 24 July a dinner dance. David Hill re-established the song school in the cathedral, furnished with new stalls. Seven million pounds was still needed by the school and the choir made a number of records which went towards the appeal. In December they were called at short notice to tour Brazil and met this challenge remarkably well. 1992 saw the making of many recordings also 19 concerts and recitals in the cathedral. Plans for the future included a concert in Madrid in 1993 and an exchange tour in Spain in 1994.

Nor had the diocese and beyond been neglected. The choir sang Evensong in Poole and gave a concert in Christchurch Priory. They gave a performance at The Arundel Festival in 1992, also The Newbury and Cheltenham festivals. Andover was the venue for a concert in aid of the cathedral appeal. Still in 1992 they were at St David’s Hall in Cardiff for BBC Wales, and very shortly afterwards they travelled to London to The Royal Festival Hall, augmented by the college quiristers, for a performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony. The month of June saw the recording of music by Purcell and in November, the Cantiones Sacrae by Byrd, Handel’s Coronation Anthems and The Foundling Hospital Anthem brought to a close the recordings for 1992. All this as well as the careful rendering of the daily services in the cathedral.

1993 saw the nine hundredth anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral. During the year there were many concerts and celebrations in addition to the Southern Cathedrals' Festival in the summer. HM The Queen was pleased to attend a service in the cathedral in November. Other events included the televised broadcast of midnight Eucharist at Christmas. Evensong was sung in a couple of churches in the diocese and there was a concert in Alresford.

The Epiphany Chapel, Winchester Cathedral
Photo by Dave Rutt
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1994 saw the choir once again travelling abroad and at home. They went to Fleury in France for three days in July where they sang services; also a concert for the community of St Benoit sur Loire.

At home, in January 1995, they sang Evensong at St Lawrence, Alton. During Lent they made a major tour to the USA singing in New York, Colorado, California, Kansas, Georgia, Florida and Washington DC with great success. Following the summer term they were away again on a major tour, this time to Australia singing in Brisbane, Lismore, Canberra, Geelong, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney. As the Purcell tercentenary was being celebrated at this time the choir took part in various concerts of his music including one at the Royal Albert Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra. At least three sets of recordings were released during the year, one of some  John Blow anthems with Hyperion, Christmas Fantasy with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for Virgin and Hymns and Psalms from Winchester Cathedral on the Herald label.

The choir was exceptionally busy during 1996 and there was a splendid service for the installation of the new dean, The Very Reverend Michael Till. At The Southern Cathedrals' Festival in July there was a popular innovation when the Salisbury Cathedral girls’ choir performed a concert and sang Evensong. At the beginning of August the Winchester choir and the choir of New College, Oxford took part in a Promenade Concert with The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conductor, René Jacobs; this concert was televised. Finally there was more televising for the choristers in the last episode of the BBC’s series of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper when two choristers sang during the title music.

1997 saw the retirement of Micha d terhe Pilgrims' School. His place was taken by the Reverend Dr Brian A Rees from Montreal, Canada. Perhaps the highlight of the choir’s year was their visit to St Albans where they sang with the St Alban’s choir and that of St John’s College, Cambridge.

1998 was as busy as ever; a new CD Lux Aterna (Virgin Classics) was made and there was a round of concerts including one at the Spitalfields Festival. By way of innovation a girls’ choir was set up by Sarah Baldock, and sang its first service in the cathedral on Sunday 16 May 1999.

Many generations of pilgrims have passed along this way and many more will do so whether chorister, commoner, or quirister. They all have one thing in common, the influence in their lives and the proximity of, perhaps, the noblest of all churches in our land.


For this chapter the author has drawn in particular on Dr John Crook, A History of the Pilgrims' School 2nd edn. (Phillimore, Chichester, 1991).