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In Search of Music

Music Books - Printed and manuscript
Because printed books were relatively expensive, the average church or chapel choir may have only bought two or three. Most singers and musicians probably performed from hand-written copies and often a member of the choir would spend hours by candlelight copying out the favoured tunes into blank books for the other choir members. Occasionally churchwardens' accounts include "Paid for books for the singers" or "Paid Mr X for pricking out psalm tunes", ie copying out the music.

Page 1 of Psalm 1NV set to the tune 'Chatham' from
the Kentish Divine Harmony by John Barwick of Canterbury.

When the village bands were replaced by organs, the music books which survived in a reasonable condition either found their way into the parish chest or remained with the musicians and were passed down through their families. Books from churches at Aldington, Kemsing and Pluckley, have been deposited in the Centre for Kentish Studies at Maidstone along with parish registers, ratings assessments, etc.

Music books, passed down in families, have occasionally turned up in charity shops and on eBay, although many more are still hidden away as family heirlooms, or maybe just forgotten in a cupboard or attic. Manuscript books from non-Conformist Chapels have so far come to light from Bethersden and Smarden.

If you have an old music book, printed or hand-written, please contact us - a digital camera can capture the images without damaging the books and the music can be brought to life again by the Marsh Warblers.

Over the Georgian period, there have been many changes in the way music was laid out in print. The music was mostly printed in open score, ie with one stave per part, either instrumental or vocal, and with the melody or air next above the bass, to facilitate keyboard accompaniment for domestic use or where there was an organ. Until about 1800, music for country choirs was printed with the air in the tenor (usually SATB), afterwards in the treble (or soprano) ie TASB, although some publications favoured ATSB.

The alto and, less often, the tenor clefs were sometimes used until the end of the eighteenth century and the alto line was set an octave above sung pitch, so that it looks incredibly high (see picture below).

Manuscript sources can be more problematical as they may have been copied inaccurately or have a reduced number of parts. Providing a melody can be identified, it can be coded and if it has been in print, its source can be identified using Professor Nicholas Temperley's online Hymn Tune Index. However, it often happens that many tunes found in manuscript sources cannot be identified with a printed source, often because they have been composed by local amateurs and never published. Some are of little musical merit but often an excellent arrangement can be discovered.

Golden Harp
Page 1 of a hymn tune 'Golden Harp' from a manuscript book
used at the Union Chapel, Bethersden.


Evidence for West Gallery Choirs

    Diaries/Literary refs

    Stephen Rouse, the parish clerk of Minster on the Isle of Sheppey kept a diary for about forty years, recording all aspects of his life, his work, his family, and his involvement with the church, including attending choir rehearsals ("singing psalms") and copying out tunes for other choir members.

    John Byng, later the Fifth Viscount Torrington, travelled extensively in England and recorded details of his journeys. He visited many churches and was interested in the standard of music he found and often made enquiries of the parish clerk regarding the music. You can read an article about his comments on church matters HERE

    Singers' Agreements

    Before a choir was formed, some money had to be made available to buy music books or pay someone to teach or lead the members. Sometimes a decision was made by the Vestry, the principle ratepayers, to find the money, or a subscription was raised and parishioners contributed. Details of such a subscription has survived in the Hawkhurst parish chest:

    "March 10th 1784 - To the Inhabitants of the parish of Hawkhurst

    Whereas many young Persons and others of the said Parish are desirous of Learning to Sing Psalms in the Church, but the Employing a Master and other incidental Expenses are too burdensome for them to bear, being many of them Children of Poor Parents, Servants and otherwise not able to spare the money. Now therefore We whose names are under written being desirous of encouraging their good Intentions do Enter into a Subscription for their Assistance. The money Arising from which Subscription to be paid into the hands of the Minister and Churchwardens and by them to be Applied from time to time in such manner as They may think most necessary for that purpose"

    The names of 19 subscribers follow with their subscriptions totalling £1 13s 0d

    When a choir was formed, a set of rules was sometimes drawn up regarding attendance at rehearsals and services, small fines being imposed for absence.

    Kenardington, on the edge of Romney Marsh, was one such parish which formed a choir in 1773.

    "1773 Oct. 28th Ann agreement made for the Company of Psalm singers in Kenardington. We Do gree to forfitt two pence on all Sundays for not being at Church in Divine Sarvis time to joyn to sing to the praise an glory of GOD and to meet on Sunday Evening at Six o'clock and forfitt one penny and to meet on all Thursday evenings at Six o'clock or forfitt one penny for each Neglect of not being there at the time. The mony to be gathered by One Whom the Company apoint for that purpus and the forfitt mony to be Spent on January 1st 1774 at a place apointed by the Company. Agreed and aproved of by us Who have hear unto Sett our Names."
    The members signed their names (or made their mark). You can read a short article about this and a similar agreement HERE

    Subscription lists in printed music collections: Composers often sought subscriptions in advance of their first publication to help towards the printing costs, eg Henry Tolhurst's "Six Anthems & Six Psalms" was subscribed to by choirs from Ightham (4 books), Stroud (2), Wateringbury (2), Hollingbourn (2), East Sutton (2), East Farleigh (1), and Sutton Valence (1)

    "The Society of Singers" at Zion Chapel, Margate subscribed to 4 copies of Thomas Clark's (First) Set of Psalm & Hymn Tunes

    "The Select Company of Singers" at Minster in Sheppey subscribed for 4 copies of John Barwick's Kentish Divine Harmony and 6 copies were purchased by the churchwardens of Whitstable parish church; in fact 31 copies were purchased by residents of Whitstable in total.

    19th C Gallery Quire Churchwardens Accounts often include payments incurred by a choir such as for :

    Most choir members worked 6 days a week and so rehearsals in the winter months were held after dusk.
    Music books
    Printed books or books of blank sheets for copying out music needed to be purchased.
    "Pricking out" tunes
    ie copying out music from a printed or another ms source for singers and instrumentalists to perform from. Stephen Rouse, the parish clerk of Minster, Isle of Sheppey, often records in his diaries how he copied out music for his fellow choristers.
    Larger instruments may have been purchased out of church funds while reeds and strings were purchased for musicians with their own (smaller and therefore cheaper) instruments. Payments for strings for violins and cellos, and reeds for oboes and clarinets are sometimes found in churchwardens' accounts.
    Teaching singers
    Either the resident choirmaster was paid or a peripatetic singing master was employed (see below) for "instructing the psalm singers"
    Singers' Feasts
    Payments of from one to three guineas often appear in church wardens' accounts towards the end of the 18th century for the "Singers' Feast" or "Singers' Treat". This usually took place after Christmas and accounts sometimes include payments to named publicans who provided the hospitality.
    Galleries & reserved pews
    With the church full of box pews, which were the property of individuals or families, a space had to be created for a choir. This was either a specially built pew, referred to as a "Singing Seat", or "Singers' Pew" or a gallery at the west end of the church. Major alterations required a 'faculty', ie church planning consent and a few of these have survived in the diocesan archives. The costs were met by subscriptions or from church rates.

    You can find out more about Galleries and other Georgian church fixtures HERE


Singing Masters

"Now was the long expected time arrived, when the psalms of King David should be hymned unto the same tunes to which he played them upon his harp; (so I was informed by my singing-master, a man right cunning in psalmody). Now was our over-abundant quaver and trilling done away, and in lieu thereof was instituted the sol-fa, in such guise as is sung in his majesty's chapel. I was ordained to adjoin myself unto them, though an unworthy disciple, in order to instruct my fellow-parishioners in this new manner of worship. I tutored the young men and maidens to tune their voice as it were a psaltery; and the church on the Sunday was filled with these new hallelujahs."

Men with musical ability travelled around their area training village choirs and were paid from church funds. Sometimes they were also named in subscription lists, although those in the larger towns and cities mostly taught music lessons to private pupils. Singing masters (or 'teachers of psalmody') may also have been amateur composers and taken the opportunity of teaching some of their own arrangements to the choirs they instructed.

Singing masters identified so far (more information about these men would be greatly appreciated):

    John Austin of Otham (1783)
    Thomas Filmer of Sheldwich (1783)
    Mr (John) Greenland - paid for instructing singers in Lydd 1797-1812; Old Romney 1806-7; Dymchurch 1815
    George Jennings of Canterbury (subscriber 1783)
    William Post, Bapchild (subscriber 1783)
    Thomas Saffery of Canterbury (subscriber 1783)
    William Spratt of Eythorne (subscriber 1783)
    John Thornton of Margate (subscriber 1783)
    Mr (James) Francis - paid for instructing singers in Dymchurch 1788-9; Aldington and Mersham (near Ashford) 1804-5. A manuscript book from Aldington church has half a dozen tunes attributed to him and he had two tunes published.
    Jeremy Francis was paid to teach the Kenardington choir for most years from 1788-1797.


Unpublished Composers

Many West Gallery composers were amateurs, often self-taught, and they mostly carried on a day job, even those more widely known through their published music, such as Thomas Clark, John Barwick or Henry Tolhurst. They were never figures of national importance, although thousands sang their music. However, it is interesting to find out more about their lives, their social background and their place in their communities.

In an age when a musical education was only for the well to do, many people with musical ability, from humble backgrounds, found an outlet playing or singing in the church choir or in the pub. Some choir members even turned their hand to composing and their arrangements may have been copied into books used by church choirs in parishes many miles away.

    Isaac Bongard was a publican in Folkestone and possibly a sailor when younger but, when he died, aged 85, in 1797, he was described in the parish registers as "Master Psalm Singer". A short obituary appeared in the Kentish Gazette newspaper after his death, stating that, for the last fifty years of his life, he had been the singing master of the parish church of Folkestone. It also claimed that "he taught several choirs, at different places in this county, and in Sussex. His compositions in Psalmody are well known, and are sung in country churches." Three of his compositions, along with single parts of several psalm settings have been found in manuscript books as far away as Boughton, near Canterbury.

There are many more settings of psalms, hymns and anthems which have been found in manuscript books which cannot be traced to printed sources so there's probably a good number of other amateur composers out there waiting to be identified.

If you have any enquiries, comments or information you wish to share, please contact Tony Singleton


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