Memories of a Choir boy at St John's

Jenny Pigott

Memories of a former Choir Boy at St John’s sub Castro….

In 1989, St John’s celebrated its 150th Anniversary and published a booklet giving details of current and past church life. This contains many reminders of people from 1920’s & 1930’s.

One long-standing member was Deputy Church Warden, Fred Bunce, who had been born in Talbot Terrace in 1908, was baptised in the church in 1909, and was admitted to the choir in 1916. He was still in the choir 22 years later, when he married Gwen Heasman, who was a Sunday School Teacher at St John’s!

Fred’s memories are a reminder that young boys could be just as naughty then as they are now. Discipline in the choir was strict and boys were fined 3d (old money!) for any misdemeanours, but despite this penalty, one particularly mischievous choirboy hid in the belfry and lowered a feather on a string through one of the bell rope holes, tickling the bald head of Bert Moorey, the church warden, who was conducting a Bible class.

and those of a Sunday School girl ……..

The anniversary booklet also records the experience of Audrey Turner, who had moved to Talbot Terrace as a child in 1921. Her story shows how different children’s lives were around a hundred years ago. She tells how Miss Mary Poole had called on her mother to ask if the children could go to the Sunday School in the Parish Hall (now St John’s Hall), and continues:

“This was a great treat as, prior to our move, we lived in an isolated part of Warninglid and except for day school, had little contact with other children”.She goes on to mention that Miss Adams was the superintendent of the Infants class, Kath Bunce and her sister Marjorie were teachers, with Dawn Batchelor playing the piano. A Cradle Roll was kept, and when a new baby arrived, the name was added and a card was sent. The children all sang “Baby’s name is on the roll” and when they took a collection, they sang “Hear the pennies dropping”.

One of Audrey’s favourite hymns was “All things bright and beautiful”, which was fine as long as children could read. One small child when asked at home what she’d sung replied “’Brighton’s beautiful’ – can we go there one day?”

After Sunday School was over, the classes marched up the hill to the church, with the boys sitting in one gallery, and the girls in the other. The front row was very desirable, especially if the current boyfriend was in the choir. Audrey knew of two happy marriages that resulted from those carefree days.
She pointed out that there were other reasons for the popularity of the front row: boredom often led to the temptation to make paper pellets and flick them down on the unsuspecting congregation below – often during the singing of a psalm, as a standing position meant greater success! The main target was a sizeable hat worn by the church warden’s wife – Audrey goes on to say that it was fortunate that they came out of church before the sermon.

This page was added on 13/03/2018.

Comments about this page

  • Jennifer Bilington, I very much remember singing in the gallery at the midnight mass. Lil Bell and I would arrive after singing carols in many of the pubs with a group of friends! It’s a treasured memory and as you said, very atmospheric. I sang in the choir from around 1978-1981 and sporadically afterwards for a few years when I was home from nursing school.

    By Jacquie Viegas (16/01/2021)
  • Can anyone remember the choir singing carols from the gallery before Midnight Communion on Christmas Eve?
    That was very atmospheric – the church was in darkness except for tea lights on the pews and a lighted Christmas Tree. For me, that was the real start of Christmas . . .

    By Jennifer Billington (21/12/2019)

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