The Ministry of Choir and Music
Among the papers and pamphlets loosely inserted in the Red Book, Thomas Brayshaw has included extracts from the Church Wardens’ Minute Books which, in the record for 1772, has the earliest mention of a church choir in Giggleswick Church.We learn that a Mr Moor had been appointed as choirmaster with a salary of 5 guineas. He stayed for 5 years before the church advertised for a replacement. This was not successful and the church must have been without a choirmaster for some time. We do not know how long before 1772 there had been a church choir in Giggleswick. Possibly the first choir was formed towards the end of the 17th century when the beautiful oakwood pulpit, the “Pore Box”, the Communion table and rails first made their appearance. In parish churches, hymn singing became more popular from the late 17th century and the need for the talented singers and musicians to lead the congregation became apparent.
In the early 19th century, before the major restoration of 1890-2, there were repairs done to the church, as indeed had happened in earlier centuries when the need arose, as it did at the end of the 14th and 15th centuries, and indeed in modern times. The last major “re-ordering”, which included the organ, was in 2004. From 1821-35, the pews were renewed and the roof underdrawn. The earlier 19th-century church, its layout and furnishings would be similar to those of the post-Restoration and 18th-century church.
According to Brayshaw’s excellent photos taken before the 1890s’ restoration, box pews covered virtually all the ground floor of the church. How the seating was organised in the upper galleries used by the congregation, we do not know. Before 1838, the church served the people of Settle, Rathmell with Wigglesworth, Langcliffe and Stainforth and the church had seating for a congregation of 1,000. In the main church, the Communion table, set on earth amid rushes below the plain glass east window and with box pews on either side, became the focus only during the occasional celebrations of Holy Communion services. In 1757, the Sacrament of Holy Communion was administered just 3 times, in addition to Easter.
The congregation’s main focus for the sermon was on the 3-decker pulpit situated near the main door on the south side. During the hymn singing, their attention was drawn to the minstrels’ gallery above and near the west door where the choir and instrument players sat. There is an instruction that the congregation should look towards the choir to lead during the singing of the hymns. In one of his pamphlets, Brayshaw comments how small the congregation was during the 1850s and how feeble the hymn singing. This was after the division of the “ancient parish” and the creation of the 4 other parishes from the larger unit. In Giggleswick church, a small chamber organ was in use for a time before a pipe organ with 1,478 pipes was installed in 1892. A harmonium supplied accompanying music in the old grammar school building, the temporary place of worship during the restoration of 1890-2. Before the chamber organ and maybe, on occasions, alongside, there was a base fiddle (cello) and before that, presumably in the 18th century and maybe before, a flute. The Red Book does not mention when the first choir was formed.
The organisation of post-1892 Giggleswick Church was radically different from what had gone before. The main focus now was on the sanctuary in the east end. The pulpit, now a 2-decker, was still in view but adjacent to the organ on the north-east side of the sanctuary. The central focal point was the movable Communion Table (altar) at the far east end. In close proximity to the new pipe organ, seating was provided on the north and south sides of the aisle for choir members. The church in its re-organisation was celebrating Word and Sacrament with singing and music as powerful accompaniments.
From 1900-33, the Revd Theodore Brocklehurst was vicar. He was probably one of the most gifted musically of any vicar of Giggleswick. Before coming to Giggleswick, he had for a time, been organist and choirmaster at Woodhouse Grove School in Leeds. He was also a recognised authority on organs and supervised a repair to the Giggleswick organ in 1911. His time in Giggleswick was not without controversy. Included amongst the papers in the Red Book are a number which give evidence of the growing rift between him and Thomas Brayshaw as well as of various disagreements he, the vicar, had with others. In many ways, Brocklehurst was a law unto himself and on several occasions, got into conflict with the church authorities.
There is no doubt however, that Theodore Brocklehurst established the choir and its music as one of the best church choirs for miles around. He was also responsible for the formation of an orchestra in which a number of different instruments were played. In the early years of the 20th century, the instruments in the orchestra comprised 5 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 contrabass, 2 cornets, 2 euphoniums, 2 bassoons and tympani. That there were so many musicians in the area able to play so many different instruments to the high standard required in an orchestra of this size, is amazing. The orchestra was employed to supplement the choir for the performance of oratorios and other ambitious pieces. All musicians had to be Anglicans. Inserted in the Red Book are extracts from parish magazines and other documents (not always in chronological order), which report on the choir and music undertaken during the first 3 decades of the 20th century. I select a few of the most interesting items.
In the early years of the 20th century, Giggleswick Church had the services of a professional organist and composer, Robert Barrett Wilson who wrote a hymn tune dedicated to St Alkelda along with other pieces for “sacred” concerts undertaken by the church choir for the general public as well as for the congregation. There are some details of the church music for 1906 performed when Barrett-Wilson was the organist. There was an “excellent” performance of Mozart’s XII Mass. At Easter, the choir with “supplemental voices” (women) and orchestra attempted Barnby’s Rebekah, at Harvest, Weber’s Jubilee Cantata and at Christmas, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Barrett Wilson resigned as organist in 1907 for a “more lucrative” position elsewhere.
There is also a report of an annual choir outing, the “choristers” going to Blackpool, the “singing men” to Glasgow. It poured with rain at both places all day. The vicar’s wife was an accomplished organist and gave her services voluntarily from 1913-24. Before Mrs Brocklehurst became organist in 1913, the choir was going through a difficult period. Its performance of Handel’s Messiah was well below par “owing to the unhappy conditions at church”. We are not told what they were. Standards were soon up again. In 1923, after attending a service in Giggleswick Church, a Hull gentleman wrote to a local paper that the church choir “would put many a town church choir to the blush” and the organ was “most tastefully played”. In 1925, after 12 years service, the choir master, Andrew Warren, retired. A salaried post of organist and choir master combined was advertised as £65 per annum.
One of the most informative leaflets inserted in the Red Book is one by Theodore Brocklehurst on “The Ministry of the Choir” containing rules, regulations and advice on choir members’ behaviour. Since R.B Watson is given as the organist and the director of music, the leaflet must refer to the years between 1902-7. There are 15 “singing men” listed, one of them a “contralto” (counter tenor), 15 boy “choristers” with 3 probationers. There are 13 ladies in the “supplemental” choir, whose services are called upon when any major work like an oratorio or cantata is attempted. There is an interesting footnote referring to the Benedictine monastic choir of Finchale Priory regarding how the choir’s seating should be arranged. Finchale Priory held the living of Giggleswick Church during the Middle Ages:
“As Giggleswick Church is an old presentment (Finchale Priory) of Durham Cathedral we here naturally follow the Use of that See which is that the Decani sit on the north and the Cantores on the south side respectively.”