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Memories of a boy chorister at All Saints Clifton in the 1930s
In the 1920s there was a wayside pulpit outside Emmanuel Church in Guthrie Road, bearing the inscription in gilt letters, "I was glad when they said unto me we will go into the House of the Lord". As a little boy of four my mother taught me these words, and I would repeat them without understanding their meaning, but they always bought approval and sometimes also rewards from Uncles and Aunts!

Later on, in 1932, at the age of eight, having attended junior school and learned some hymn tunes, my parents applied to All Saints Choir School, in the hope that I would be accepted as a pupil and chorister at the church in Pembroke Road. After an interview with Mr. Poad the headmaster and a voice test by Mr. Kirby who was the full time organist and choir master, it was agreed that I could start as a probationer.

The life was quite demanding and the discipline as strict. We sang at evensong every weekday at 5.30 pm after school, which finished at 4.30 pm. There was choir practice each school morning at 9.15 am to 10.15 am, followed by normal lessons. The school was located at number 9 All Saints Road (see photograph below) and had about eighty pupils, all boys, of whom twenty were choristers. The ordinary fees were five guineas a term, but the fees for choristers were paid by the church.

During my years at All Saints there were four full time Priests. They were Canon Gilson, Father Nash, Father Gurney, and Father Haddow who was quite young and left to become a missionary abroad.

The music in the church was varied. Psalms were sung as plainsong chant, as were the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. Responses were also chanted with various readings. Masses were sung with full parts, including those by Stanford, Schubert, Palestrina and Byrd. Sunday evensong usually ended with an anthem or an organ recital.

At weekend services we were joined by a part-time men's choir of twelve voices comprising altos, tenors, and basses, with whom we sang at 11.00 am and 6.30 pm each Sunday. We also sang at special services such as weddings or funerals and with the Bristol Madrigal Society in conjunction with boys from Bristol Cathedral under Dr. Hubert Hunt. Sometimes the choir was employed for special services away from All Saints, quite often at St. Monica's Home at Westbury on Trym, and I remember we once sang at a wedding in the chapel at Tyntsfield near Bristol, which was the home of the very wealthy Gibbs family.

All these duties had to be fitted in around the ordinary school term, which prepared us for the School Certificate; this was taken at 16. A great change occurred in September 1939 when the war started, and I left school in July 1940. At that time most of the BBC was evacuated from London to Bristol, and All Saints Church Hall, now converted to living apartments, was often used by them as a studio for broadcasts etc. A year or so later the hall was used for church services after All Saints was destroyed by fire bombs during an air raid in November 1940.

At present, a lifetime later, in my eighties and living in Wiltshire, I am seldom able to visit All Saints, now splendidly r ebuilt. However, when I do so, I can stand on the same ground and relive many of the bright memories of those boyhood years. I feel that I now more fully understand the words - "I was glad when they said unto me we will go into the House of the Lord".

Roger Gilmour, Great Somerford, Wiltshire, September, 2006.


All Saints Parish Church, Pembroke Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2HY.
Tel: +44 117 9741355
Email for parish office: allsaintsclifton@tiscali.co.uk
Vicar: Fr Kim Taplin
Tel: +44 117 3179467
Web: www.allsaintsclifton.org