Before 1870 the church did not have an organ to provide music for the church services. Instead there was a church band. It seems that various people played various instruments, the most common being the Bass Viol, the Harmonium, flute, clarinet and violin or viola.
Church band players
Rev. William Way was vicar of Chrishall between 1864 and 1881 and his wife is often mentioned as ‘presiding at the harmonium’. Perhaps it was part of the ‘job description’ for the vicar’s wife however. The previous vicar was Rev. Robert Ware and his wife also played the harmonium. We know this from our collection of correspondence of Robert Brand from Builden End Farm. Robert wrote down everything and kept copies of all his correspondence. On 30th January 1864 he wrote the following to Mr Drage:
Mrs Ware was anxious to have the Harmonium so I have carried it to the church today. Miss Pigg has fixed upon her tunes.
- Stephens Harts
- Mariners Old …
- & Sun of my Soul
Miss Cressell has engaged to assist her and I hope you will assist the tenors.
I have seen Mr Ware and he seems pleased
with the hope that all will agree.
We know the Cranwell family were also engaged in church music. William Cranwell played the clarinet, and his brothers Clear played the viola or violin and John played the bass viol.
The school were also much engaged in church music and there was a regular school choir that sang.
However things did not always go smoothly and Mr Brand got tangled up in a dispute and ended up in the newspapers. He was obviously not happy about this and was keen to make clear what happened. Unfortunately I have no date for the following article and cannot find the newspaper reports that are alluded to but Mr Neville who is referred to was probably the Rev. L. Neville (vicar of Heydon in 1869) who also composed the hymn sung locally for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. Mr Brand also mentions an ‘official opening‘ so it was perhaps around the time of the restoration of the church in 1869, but I have no definite evidence currently.
But here’s Mr Brand to take up the story:
The dispute was not between the Bass Viol and the Harmonium, but the following will show you how it was.
About a year ago, our clarinet man being ill, Mr Neville lent a flute to another man who was assisted by the School Mistress (who was a good singer) I had no trouble to follow with the Bass Viol. After a time the man laid the flue aside and joined his voice with the School Mistress – then I could not follow as the pitch was always varying – then my troubles began and it seems the mans wife’s trouble began too, she said she would destroy herself.
They were changing the hymns and tunes every … week after I had selected them and having new chants almost every Sunday. About Harvest Time as the School Mistress was leaving I expected we should be at a loss so had a place prepared for the Harmonium and by chance met Mr Neville in the church and found he had intended to have a formal opening service so thought it best not to use the Harmonium till I heard more about it, and for waiting one Sunday I got in the News by an ignorant writer – The next Sunday Miss Pigg played the harmonium and we got on well till about Christmas when the new School Mistress had the Harmonium up to the school for her … in the School and said she would head the trebles at Church. Soon after she was seated in the leading seat Young Newman was heard to say “we are going to keep silent today and hear what can do without us” so when the time came to sing we had almost a breakdown in the Chants. The Hymns I took the lead of the School Mistress then said she would not take charge if they were going to get all (the School and all) against her. I then said to the Vicar we would manage if we chanted only to the “Gloria Patri” to which he agreed.
Then very soon after the New Choir as they called themselves said they would help again if we had the Chants as before. I said we broke down so lately that it would be best to wait till the School were perfect, but they were determined to have their way and they knew my fears of the Vicar on their side hence my hurry and mistake in having the Magnificat before the Psalms.
[Extra note dated] 24th January
The reason they hate the Bass Viol is because they know I can lead. I have it in my hand without being dependent upon them or anyone else. We do much better when all try to help, but I do not feel it my duty to stand silent in the Church while the young choir mocked, and told the young varmints to behave better or walk out so then I got in the News again.
A separate write-up of the issue by Mr Brand
The harmonium was removed by the Vicar’s order made to the young lady who plays the Harmonium and Mr Chater who was at our church while the harmonium was away expressed himself very much pleased with the service of the Church altogether.
Robert Newman said in Church one Sunday we, that is the Harmonic class, are going to keep silent today and see what can be done without us. I have always attended and assisted them to the best of my power and as they had taken offence with one (not me) they thought they would see what is called a break down. I therefore ordered the man that keeps the Bass Viol to bring it every Sunday while the Harmonium was away so that I might be able to start the School Children (who number about 70) in the proper pitch and I also had tunes that the new Class were used to and yet they did not think proper to assist in the singing and while I was in the Church I could hear them hooting the man that brought the Bass Viol up the Church Yard and in the Porch to the very threshold of the Church.
Exactly when the church did get the organ we don’t know, but in 1890 there are records of the church organ being enlarged, so it was certainly there well before 1890, and the National Pipe Organ Register (https://npor.org.uk/) estimate the date of the organ to be 1870. Maybe the disputes in the Church Band hastened the decision to purchase an organ for the church!