St Mary’s Choir (-1934-1984)

The following article was written by H V Wood for Leigh Parish Magazine November 1984

When I joined Leigh Church Choir over fifty years ago it was a jealously guarded male preserve.  Auditions were required from boys who sought the twelve or fourteen places and young probationers sat tucked away behind the organist waiting for the voice of an older boy to break.

Harry Hitchcock, a cricket ball maker, was the kind but firm organist and choirmaster.

The bass stall and the North side of the Choir was occupied by Charlie Ingram, later to become Verger; Walter Gibbons, headmaster of Leigh school and later becoming organist and choirmaster; Walter seal, head gamekeeper at Hall Place; Bill Hayter, Joseph Randerson, Rural Council Surveyor, whose deep “Amens” sounded long after everyone else’s had faded away; and Fred Eldridge, grocer’s assistant, who later become my brother-in-law.

On the tenor side were Arthur Hitchcock, brother of Harry; Charlie Hayter, chief chemist at the Powder Mills; C. B. Burt, the village grocer; Ken Brooker and Steve Hitchcock, cricket ball makers and, trim and dapper behind the reading desk, our pride and one and only alto, Stan Brooker.  But though only one, Stan’s voice was equal to any three ordinary singers!  Having done his stint on Sunday mornings, Stan would often be seen at the end of the South Aisle.  If the congregation did not appear to his liking, he would come away and find occupation other than in church.

In those days black cassocks were worn, and on Good Fridays, when surplices were discarded, the setting was indeed sombre.  Stainer’s “Crucifixion” was sung with Bill Hayter, Stan Brooker and Ken Brooker singing the leading solos.

Every summer there was a choir outing to Hastings on an early train.  Arrived at Hastings Station, the boys made a dash for the seashore, while the men all disappeared into the “Bodega” cellars.  However, they did not stay too long for, by some strange magic or good management, Leigh Choir Outing always coincided with the Sussex v Kent cricket match on Priory Meadow, and play began at 11am.

The second religion of all choirmen was “Cricket”.  All were connected with the game in one way or another.  Fred Eldridge, scorer for the Leigh Club even claimed that cricket was mentioned in the Bible.  “In the Bible?”  “Yes, Genesis, chapter 24, where Rebekah came out with a full pitcher.”

Those were the “good old days” which our Bishop has reminded us we must not hark back to too fondly or too often.

Then came the War, with the men away in various services, and a depleted choir.  I recall a service with a choir of two, one man and one boy.  But wars bring changes and sometimes improvements.  In 1941 women were admitted and welcomed into those exclusively male stalls.  Among those women were Mrs Crawford and her daughter, Betty, who has been a mainstay of the choir ever since.

Not long after, girls appeared as well a boys.  Black cassocks were cast aside.  Blue robes and gowns appeared, with attractive black mortar-board style caps for the ladies.

Today, ladies and girls predominate.

What may we look forward to?  Real Angels?

H.V. Wood (Nov 1984)

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