Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

[91] Sing, Choirs of Angels …

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It’s time for the next blog about St Andrew’s Church and I’m going to start with a look at typical services there in the sixties.


It won’t surprise you, after reading about Religion when I was younger, to find out that services always followed the Book of Common Prayer. In those days there was no alternative liturgy available. Every Sunday there were the two main services of Matins (at 11:00 am) and Evensong (at 6:30 pm) with everything according to the book. More details will come when I look at the Choir.

The only other services were Holy Communion and occasional Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals – all according to Common Prayer – and one or two special services through the Church Year. There were the same services every Easter (including Good Friday), Whitsun, Ascension Day and Christmas.


It also won’t surprise you that we always used the Authorized Version of the Bible and all or hymns were from Hymns Ancient and Modern.

(The first replacement to the Authorized Version came with the Good News Bible, available for the New Testament from the late sixties. The Alternative Service Book came in 1980, originally as an alternative to the Book of Common Prayer, but soon almost a complete replacement. There are many more even more modern versions of both now!)

I don’t think we actually went to these services. Mum and Dad were not churchgoers so I don’t know why we formed such a close link. We certainly always received the monthly Parish Magazine.

Mothers’ Union

The church then had several clubs and societies meeting regularly in the Church Hall. There was a Youth Club, Young Wives Fellowship, Mothers’ Union and S.A.M.S., the Men’s society.

The Mothers’ Union is an international Christian charity that seeks to support families worldwide. According to Wikipedia, its members are not all mothers or even all women, as there are many parents, men, widows, singles and grandparents involved in its work. I suspect that in the sixties it was mainly (if not all) women. It main aim is to support monogamous marriage and family life.

Mum joined the Mothers’ Union as soon as we moved to the parish. I can’t remember much about how this was managed – perhaps there were afternoon meetings when Nan could look after us. But she did make some very close friends through it. In those days just about the only thing they could do as friends was to meet at each other’s houses for a cup of tea and a biscuit. (There was no coffee shop culture and in any case Mum couldn’t drive anywhere.)

Sunday School

I am going to look at several activities associated with the church. I’m not sure I can remember the ages at which we were involved so these may not come in chronological order

We did go to Sunday School as young children – I think from when we first moved to our second house. This was from 3 to 4 in the afternoon in the Church Hall. I don’t know how or why this was arranged. Maybe it was to give Mum and Dad some time without us at home. We walked to the church.


At some stage when we still went to Highlands School there was a group for children that met every Thursday evening called Discoverers. This short for ‘Discoverers of the Way,’ and it was a bit like Sunday School, based on Bible stories – with art and craft activities.


I must have joined the church choir at about the age of nine and I can remember some of the details of how it happened. My younger brother somehow volunteered to join and he came home and told us something about it. They had been learning to sing the well-known anthem about ‘highly flavoured gravy,’ which was, of course the Christmas Carol, ‘The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,’ recounting part of the Magnificat, and the actual words were, “Most Highly Favoured Lady.”

This very well-known anthem recounts how Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus:

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,

his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;

“All hail”, said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,

most highly favoured lady.” Gloria.

Within a matter of weeks I had joined, with my twin brother and the younger brother had left. I think have always enjoyed singing and I enjoyed everything about the choir. I stayed for a few years until my voice broke (at about twelve.)

The choir sang at the main services (Matins and Evensong) every Sunday and we filled the choir stalls of the church – two rows each side. They were not ‘left’ and ‘right.’ They were always Cantoris and Decani. The front rows were boy trebles and the back rows were men, mostly bass and tenor with about two altos each side. The men seemed to be permanent features – I don’t remember their membership ever changing. (And there were no women or girls. I suspect that this aspect has changed now.)

14 year old chorister Aled Jones at St Edmundsbury Cathedral today 25/4/85.

We wore robes – a long, plain blue cassock, white surplice and ruff, but for choir practice it was just a cassock. [Yes, it’s red in the picture but we had blue ones.] Our robes were in the Wilson Room in the Church Hall. We would move to the vestry for services and join the vicar to walk to the back of the church. We would process into the church as we sang the first verse of the first hymn.

The service followed a formal structure and the choir was part of that formality. For each hymn the organist would play an introduction and the choir stood en masse on the first note from the organ. There were notices (mostly banns of marriage) but apart from these the vicar never said a word that did not follow the standard liturgy. For the sermon, delivered from the pulpit, the choirboys sat in the front rows with the congregation – supposedly so that they could listen attentively.

(The liturgy is actually quite complex with wording changing within seven days of Easter, Christmas and other dates. It’s all in Common Prayer.)

In our weekly practice we learned how to sing properly, how to breathe properly for hymns and how to read the complex notation for Psalms. (The trouble with Psalms is that the words of each verse can be of any length with variations of stress and metre. The same music, which covered two verses, just repeated.) Everything was in four part harmony but some verses of some hymns were marked for unison. Just occasionally the trebles had a descant for one verse of a hymn – such as the well-known one for verse three of O Come All ye Faithful: ‘Sing, choirs of Angels …’

I don’t know how others coped but I had the advantage of being able to read music. In later life I came back to singing choral music and for a few years sang in a chapel choir as a bass.

We did actually get paid in the choir. Every quarter (thirteen weeks) we were each given a little brown envelope containing … about 7s 6d. (Yes, that’s 37½p in modern money for singing 26 times!) The amounts were variable and we all seemed to get different amounts. It must have depended on attendance and quality of singing but were never told how it was worked out. And, of course, we never asked.

Weddings were a bonus but there were only a few each year. They were nearly always on a Saturday morning and we were asked if we could attend. For each wedding we were paid two shillings. (That’s 10p! It was a lot to us then) Just occasionally the bridegroom must have felt generous and we would get 2s 6d. It will not surprise you that the service always followed the Book of Common Prayer rigidly.


The choir just about had enough time in the weekly practice to cover hymns and psalms for the next Sunday and we only occasionally sang an anthem. My of my favourite anthem was All in an April Evening, which I have listed in my first Music blog. We probably only sang it twice. (It’s about Easter but has to come in a year when Easter is late to fit the April setting.)

All in the April morning, April airs were abroad; The sheep with their little lambs – Pass’d me by on the road. The sheep with their little lambs – Pass’d me by on the road; All in an April evening – I thought on the Lamb of God. …


Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

One thought on “[91] Sing, Choirs of Angels …

  1. Pingback: [95] Dyb, Dyb, Dyb | Remembrance of Things Past

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