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York Church Crawl, Saturday 1st July 2006

by Paul Emmerson

Reprinted from West Gallery no. 39, Autumn 2006

With the sun shining, the birds singing and yes, even the bells ringing, the West Gallery pilgrims to York, arriving on their early morning trains or stepping from their cars, were given the best of omens for a leisurely day of music, good company and interesting sights.

York is a Mecca not only for rail enthusiasts but also for church spotters. There is so much more to the city than its awful Minster, though much is inconspicuous. The impression is that, tucked away behind every street, on every street corner, or standing alone in its own glory, is some variety of church or chapel, offering a multitude of style, tradition and usage. Some are redundant though others hold services still. Others have passed from religious to secular ownership, including one, now a trendy bar, named - you'd never guess - the "Parish".

Judy Whiting and Chris Brown had spent considerable time researching and selecting suitable venues and the four chosen proved excellent for singing and showed vast stylistic differences. Although the music for the day was mostly popular pieces from the 'Red Book' and the 'Psalter', a "Yorkshire Supplement" had been put together of pieces with a special flavour of that county.

Holy Trinity from above
Holy Trinity, Goodramgate,
viewed from York Minster tower

First call on the crawl was York's second oldest church, Holy Trinity, nestling behind Goodramgate in the heart of the city. It is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Over fifty participants, including some welcome ones from southern parts, and several visitors crammed into the box pews, with several having difficultv seeing the conductor owing to the high sides of the pews and some pillars. Mike Bailey was first up as leader, with Wolds Apart's Gordon Corrick, enjoying a rare chance to sing, waiting his turn. Jean Seymour was slightly delayed getting to York and missed the opportunity to point out that Thomas Clark's 'Cranbrook' had more to do with the Kent Weald than Ilkley Moor, and Gordon led her edition of 'Cranbrook' from the Larks of Dean manuscripts, set to Phillip Doddridge's "Grace 'tis a charming sound". Jean did not, however, miss the chance to tell us that Jacob's Well, popular in the Sheffield carolling tradition, was composed by fellow Lancastrian, James Leach of Rochdale. Jean's contribution included other Larks of Dean items, including 'York New', a setting by Henry Nuttall of Watts' "How did my heart rejoice to hear". The York connection of this piece, it seems, is restricted to its title. Jean conducted them all with her usual great gusto.

Strings at Holy Trinity
Cherri Graebe, Dick Watson and Alan Morris
accompany the singing in Holy Trinity
  Singers at Holy Trinity
Singers at Holy Trinity, Gordon Corrick on left

Singing in the Unitarian Chapel
Mike Bailey leading at
the Unitarian Chapel

In sharp contrast to the cramped Holy Trinity was the spacious Unitarian Chapel, a few minutes' walk away. Viewed from the front, this chapel could be a small town house with a pretty wrought iron fenced garden. This modest exterior belied the vastness encountered inside. It is built in the shape of a Greek cross, has high ceilings and tremendous acoustics. Every section could hear the others clearly and there was no problem positioning the small band. Possibly the best singing of the day was to be heard here. The minister was there to welcome the party, staying on to join in with the sopranos, and I'm sure she did not check the words for references to the Trinity. Gordon Corrick from Wolds Apart may have thought he was here for a relaxing day's sing rather than his usual conducting role, but did a splendid job as third leader. No one objected to his chosen pieces, and such as 'Lydia' and 'Sagina' were given spirited renditions.

Other pieces from the supplement were from the works of Halifax Woolcomber, Accepted Widdop. Bunyan's text "He that is down need fear no fall" was set to Widdop's 'Halifax' and "Ho, trav'ling souls from whence come you", a text by Victory Purdy, to Widdop's 'Wainwright'. Many remembered the wonderful Widdop weekend last year. There was also 'Deep Harmony' by Handel Parker of Oxenhope, not really West Gallery but for some it evoked brass bands and for others fond childhood memories of singing "When I survey the Wondrous Cross" to it in the church choir. The text used here was Watts' "Sweet is the work my God and King".

The sun continued to shine during luncheon, adding to the enjoyment of the event, though Mike worked a hard shift having to pull around a trolley laden with the paraphernalia of the day, including spare Psalters.

Singing in All SaintsFirst call after the break was across the river at All Saints, North Street. There has been a church on or around this spot since the 11th century, it first being mentioned in 1089. The present building took its form in the late 14th century and houses a famous display of medieval stained glass. From 1904 until 1956 the Rector was Patrick Shaw. He enhanced the medieval feel by erecting screens to enclose the chancel and installing medieval inspired altars. He established an Anglo-Catholic liturgy and his only nod to reformist views seems to have been in the use of English. Perhaps, therefore, West Gallery music may have seemed a bit anachronistic, though the 'Shropshire Funaral Hymn' came over as suitably solemn in these surroundings.

The party next trudged in the afternoon sun up Micklegate, reluctantly passing an interesting looking old bookshop and the Priory Church of Holy Trinity. This Church was once the starting point for the York Mystery Plays. It also has the city stocks in its churchyard, which conjured up images of tonally challenged singers, racked and being pelted with rolled up manuscript.

The last venue was the Bar Convent, just past Micklegate Bar at the beginning of Blossom Street. By this stage a visitor from the Orient had joined in. He was intrigued and thoroughly enjoyed himself. The Convent is claimed to be the oldest active one in the country and is housed in a Georgian building. Hidden within the convent is an impressive domed chapel, all gold and white. It has a west gallery but it all seems very un-English. The chapel remained well hidden during the period of persecution against Roman Catholics and there is even a priest hole, which apparently was never needed.

Jean Seymour leading the singing at the Bar Convent chapel.

If the singing here was slightly lacklustre, compared with what had gone before, that was no doubt owing to us all, by then, feeling the fatigue of a hot day - or maybe we were just keen to get to the fruit scones long recommended by Judy and Chris.

The organisers and the musical leaders deserve applause for getting together a superbly realised and fulfilling day. I doubt if anyone went away disappointed and as York has much scope to offer for further events in this field, I believe another "crawl" would prove more than worthwhile.

Photographs by Charlotte Bailey


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