A Bevington brought to light …

The present  church of St. Thomas with St. Andrew and St. Philip Kensal Town (London, W10, UK) replaces an earlier building and was opened in 1967; built to the design of Romilly E. Craze (1892-1974).

The former church here was opened in 1889, built  to the designs of Demaine and Brierley of York, J. Demaine being described as ‘Diocesan Surveyor’.  The building was demolished following aerial bombing during the Second World War. It has not been possible to locate any pre-war images of the interior of this building.

The pipe organ

The pipe organ in the 1889 building was lost to war damage; details of that instrument are given in the National Pipe Organ Register. The present west-gallery instrument is a second-hand 1-manual organ by Bevington and Sons of Rose Street, Soho, London.  This address. and the builder’s plate  would give the organ a date between 1867 and 1896.

While the previous location of this instrument is unknown,  its recent history can be traced in the PCC minute books as follows:

        • PCC Minutes 21.9.1965. “Organ & Choir. It would be possible and most Desirable. to site Both of choir & organ at West End When type of organ has been decided upon and the Organ Builder so that they can consult with Mr Craze” [Romilly E. Craze was the new building’s architect].
        • PCC Minutes 20.10.1965. ”Makers of Compton Organ inform us that if we PURCHASE  our organ now they will Guarantee to maintain present day price.”
        • PCC Minutes. 5.4.1967 “Organ.  Letter from Diocesan House re organ Stating that they cannot see their way clear to supply cash for organ. Mr Craze is going to see Secondhand Organ which is for sale at £675. For the remodernising and installation of the organ final cost would be approx. £1000.”
        • PCC minutes 16.4 1972 “The 16 stop American reed organ has been given to the Cecil Club.” [The Cecil Club, 1-5 Wedlake Street, was a nearby local authority facility for senior ciizens]

References

St Matthias in Stoke Newington

The Anglican church of St Matthias in Stoke Newington, London (UK) is an imposing mid-c19 building located in a modest side-street of this densely populated, multicultural district of north London. The parochial area was established in 1849 and the church building was constructed 1851-53 to the designs of the architect William Butterfield (1814–1900).

From its earliest years the church of St Matthias was home to “high-church” ritual, and remains firmly rooted in the Catholic traditions of the Church of England.

The building occupies a surprisingly spacious site – not immediately obvious – comprising  church halls, a post-war  vicarage and recently rebuilt St Matthias primary school, all separated by well-kept tranquil grounds .

In 1954 – following substantial war-damage – a reconstruction of the church (with a new vicarage) was completed to the design of Nugent Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976). Although most of the original fittings and decorative scheme had been irretrievably lost, Cachemaille-Day’s bright, broad and lofty ‘restoration’ has a powerful numinous quality.

The pipe organ

The current four-manual and pedal pipe organ (1952) sits on a fine west gallery and is the work of Noterman & Co of London. It contains some pipework from the church’s former instrument, by Henry Willis & Co. A detailed technical description is online with the National Pipe Organ Register (see References).

‘William Henry Monk (1823–9), Organist and hymn writer’ by W. & A.H. Fry c.1870 [Source: National Portrait Gallery, London. (NPGx21372), with permission]
W. H. Monk

The first organist at St Matthias was W.H. Monk, a pioneer in the reintroduction of plainsong to Anglican worship. He remained in this post for 37 years until his death in 1889. Shortly after arriving at St Matthias Monk was appointed (1857) the first editor of the Church of England’s ubiquitous Hymns Ancient and Modern. He also held posts at the University of London (Bedford College and King’s College) and the Royal College of Music.

Today W. H. Monk’s most-performed work is the music for the hymn Abide With Me (Eventide).

Stephen Jasper – present-day Director of Music at St Matthias Stoke Newington – plays W. H. Monk’s tune ‘Eventide’ (Abide with me).

Sources

  • William Butterfield‘. Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 23 June 2019
  • T. F. Bumpus. London Churches Churches Ancient and Modern (T. Laurie: London, 1908)
  • ‘Nugent Cachemaille-Day‘. Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 23 June 2019
  • ‘N. F. Cachemailled-Day. A search for somwthing more’, by  Anthony Hill. The Thirties Society Journal, No. 7 (1991), pp. 20-27
  • St Matthias Stoke Newington, parish website. Online resource, accessed 21 June 2019
  • St Matthias Stoke Newington‘, A Church Near You. Online resource accessed 21 June 2019
  • ‘St Matthias Stoke Newington, Wordsworth Road, Hackney’; records (1848-1993) in the London Metropolitan Archives, ref. P94/MTS
  • William Henry Monk‘. Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 23 July 2019.

The Kensington Chapel

Ground plan (c.1939) of the Kensington Chapel, Allen Street, London W8 [Source: Survey of London]
The Kensington Chapel – Allen Street, London W8 – was opened in 1855 to serve as a Congregationalist place of worship.

The architect was Andrew Trimen (1810–72), a favourite of the English Congregational Chapel-Building Society, and the builder was Thomas Chamberlain (n.d.). The total cost of £8,748 included the purchase of the site from the Phillimore family.

Subsequent additions included the eastern hall and meeting rooms (1856). A new school was provided to one side of the chapel 1868–9 designed by G. Gordon Stanham costing £5,000; subsequently demolished and the site redeveloped.

The chapel building was severely damaged by aerial bombing in 1940 and was not restored to use until 1958, with upgraded minister’s accommodation, halls and meeting rooms.

The pipe-organ

The present west-gallery instrument was installed in 1958, replacing an earlier instrument that was lost when the building suffered war damage. This two-manual and pedal pipe organ is by the firm of Henry Willis and bears two dates: 1868 and 1958. The earlier date suggests the organ had previously been elsewhere, currently unknown. The specification can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register (see ‘References’ below).

Advertisement in the Musical Times, February 1959, for an organist at the kenisington Chapel, and its newly installed Willis organ.

Previously the chapel’s organ had its pipe-organ placed at the centre of the east wall, as we see in the first pipe-organ image above. The history of this former organ is unclear, the first available evidence – dating from 1921 – notes that it was rebuilt in 1890 by the firm of Hele and Co.

A description (1921) of the rebuilt organ in the Kensington Chapel, Allen Street, London W8.[Source: ”Dictionary of organs and organists” F. W. Thornsby, ed. (London, 1921 2nd edition) 145.
References

St Mary Newington

The ancient parish of St Mary Newington is located in the London Borough of Southwark on the south bank of the River Thames about a mile from London Bridge. In its original form it was  geographically commensurate with the ancient manor of Walworth.

The first known church was located at present-day Newington Butts – where the old churchyard still remains as a public park. Here the tern ‘Butts’ probably refers to the triangle of land between the roads, seen on old maps. We find the term used elsewhere in the area south of central London referring to odd corners of land.

The old churchyard sits close by the junction of two major Roman-era roads leading into London: Stane Street, running  from the Sussex-coast port of Chichester to the City; and Watling Street, running from the Kent-coast ports of of Dover, Richborough, Lympne, and Reculver to Westminster. This junction is now better known as ‘Elephant and Castle’, so named after a tavern that once stood here.

While details of the parish clergy can be traced back as far as 1212 the earliest known mentions of the church building date only from the middle of the sixteenth century. In 1719 ir was described as being:

very small, built of Brick and Boulder […] a double Roof covered with Tile, and the Walls with a rough Cast; the Windows are of a modern Gothick; the Floor is paved with Stone [….] Here are three Iles [aisles], and the Roof is supported with wooden Pillars[…] This Church contains 43 Foot in Length, 54 in Breadth, 22 in Heighth, and the Tower (wherein are five Bells) 44 Foot but to the Top of the Turret near 60 Foot. (John Aubrey: History of Surrey)

Next to the church was a moated rectory.

In the early eighteenth century major building work took place to shore-up the church’s crumbling walls. However, by 1779 the building was found to be in such a poor condition that it was entirely rebuilt and enlarged.

In the early 1870s the decision was taken that this church too should be pulled down, in order to accommodate a road-widening scheme. The old churchyard was retained as a public space. A replacement parish church was put up further south along Stane Street, which by then – as now – was known as Kennington Park Road. Meanwhile back in the old St Mary’s churchyard a clock tower was put up to mark the site of the former church.

The newly relocated St Mary Newington church was opened in 1876. It was built to the designs of James Fowler (1828–92) in the Early English style.  The roofs of the nave and chancel were of hammer beam construction, the height of the nave from floor to ridge was 70 feet, and its length 100 feet. The 3-manual organ was by the firm of T.C. Lewis.

Following aerial bomb damage during the Second World War Fowlers’s church was pulled down, leaving only a fragment of the west front and the tower. These now serve to frame the street side of a small courtyard in front of the current building.

The latest church building and fittings (1957-8) were designed by Sir Arthur Llewellyn Smith (1903-78). The church is described as being in a stripped Neo-Classical style built with yellow stock bricks with Portland stone dressings and copper roof. The organ – by the firm of Henry Willis – is in a west gallery, with a detached console in the north transept. Stained glass windows are signed H. Powell. A practical connection with the parish’s long history is kept in the form of silver altar plate, which includes: two silver cups and a paten (1675), a silver flagon (1681), two silver covers (c.1727), and two silver salvers (1783).

References

 

 

 

 

Cool green at St Barnabas Southfields

The location of the church of St Barnabas Southfields, London UK
The location of the church of St Barnabas Southfields, London UK

Southfields lies to the south-west of central London in the London Borough of Wandsorth. With the coming of the railway in the 1860s the rural landscape was steadily built over. The Anglican church of St Barnabas (Diocese of Southwark) was built in the period 1906-08 among ‘roomy’ middle-class villas and is the work of the architect Charles Ford Whitcombe (1872-1930), a prolific designer and restorer of churches. In 1916 he emigrated to Queensland Australia.

The church of ST. BARNABAS, Southfields, was begun in 1906 and is still incomplete. It has a chancel and nave with aisles to both; the nave has a tall clearstory. Toothings are left in the walls for a future north-west tower. The walls are of red brick with stone dressings; the roofs are covered with slates, and a flèche stands above the chancel arch. [‘A History of the County of Surrey’ (1912)]

At first glance the building presents a modest profile, set back from a wide busy road. However on approaching it we find a rather impressive stately building. It seems to be designed in a not untypical rather plain Victorian Gothic ‘Perpendicular’ style, but on close inspection, and particularly once we are inside, we sense a more Edwardian-era ‘Arts and Crafts’ sensibility at work; large and spacious with generous use of colour, light and space with carefully designed fixtures and fittings.

Since it first opened the church building has had a chequered history.  By the 1920s the building was suffering catastrophic subsidence of the western foundations and rain-water damage to the walls – inside and out – from a poorly executed design. Remedial work was carried out c.1929 and a plan for a newly embellished sanctuary – much as we see it today – was approved. [LMA DS/F/1929/23/1-6].

Notes attached to the catalogue of the  parish records held in the London Metropolitan Archive [P95/BAN] state that the church: “was badly damaged by incendiaries in 1941, and not fully restored until 1955” . More recent alterations to the interior at the west end – to provide meeting-room facilities –  have managed not to upset the elegance of the interior whose cool light is created by the distinctive green tint of the windows.

The pipe organ

The first organ in the church appears to have been a hand-blown instrument, with payments recorded for: “Organist, Choir, Blower, and Music. £67”  (Parish magazine May  1910, p.5). This may be a reference to a pipe-organ at St Barnabas that is mentioned in the records of the organ-builders Hill, Norman and Beard Ltd.: “1919. Vol=02  Page=281  Job=1648 small : advice & estimate £5

From parish magazines of the 1920s we find articles headed: ‘St Barnabas Thank Offering for Victory and Peace’. These describe a fundraising project to provide a new organ -£1600 – as well as new vestry accommodation and a chancel screen – £3000. (Parish Magazine, March 1920, p. 4). The idea to include the screen had been dropped in later issues of the magazine. There is no further mention of the new organ until a reference is made of  adjustments made to it in the late 1920s. This may well be the three-manual organ by G.H.C. Foskett  (London) that is shown  in the National Pipe Organ Register [N17318] – surveyed 1947 – describing the organ on a north-chancel gallery.  Given the survey date it would seem that the organ was largely unscathed by the fire-bombs dropped on the church – as we have earlier noted – in 1941.

The present two-manual organ – also on a north-chancel gallery – dates from 1962 and is by the firm of Henry Willis with later adjustments undertaken by Michael Buttolph.

References

  • Charles Ford Whitcombe‘, Wikipedia. accessed 1 February 2019
  • ‘Church Building Society Records’, Lambeth Palace Library. Online resource, accessed 1 February 2019
  • Parishes: Wandsworth‘, in A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 4, ed. H E Malden (London, 1912), pp. 108-120. British History Online  [accessed 8 February 2019].
  • St Barnabas, 146 Lavenham Road‘, National Pipe Organ Register. Online resource accessed 1 February 2019
  • ‘St Barnabas Southfields’. Diocese of Southwark Faculty Records, London Metropolitan Archives.
  • St Barnabas Southfileds‘, Diocese of Southwark: Find a Church. Online resource, accessed 1 February 2019
  • ‘St Barnabas Southfields’. Parish magazines. London Metropolitan Archive.

St Agnes Kennington

Destroyed by the diocese of Southwark after some war damage.

South London’s Anglican parish of St Agnes Kennington was established in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The church sits alongside the green space of Kennington Park, formerly Kennington Common, which is an ancient site of executions and political rallies. The nearby Kennington Park Road follows the line of the ancient Roman Road of Stane Street that runs for 90 kms from London Bridge to the south-coast port city of Chichester (Roman Noviomagus Reginorum).

The current building (1957-58) was designed by Ralph Covell (1911–88) – also the church organist –  and was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwark  on 24 May 1958. It replaced an earlier building.

The earlier church building was designed by the great Victorian architect  George Gilbert-Scott Jnr. (1839-97) and consecrated by the Bishop of London on 20 January 1877. 

The rapidly developing  district it served was taken out of the parish of St. Paul Lorrimore Square. Along side the church Gilbert-Scott also designed a vicarage and a school. The site – given by the Church Commissioners – had previously been occupied by a vitriol factory established by a Richard Farmer about 1796 in what were then open fields.

St Agnes Kennington, London, UK. The nave looking towards the chancel screen (1898). [Source. RIBA 58067]
St Agnes Kennington, London, UK. The nave looking towards the chancel screen (1898). [Source. RIBA 58067]
According to British History Online the building was designed in a 14th-century Decorated style, using Bath stone dressings. The unusually lofty nave rose to about 60 feet. A most imposing feature of the church was the six-light chancel window, 40 feet high, with stained glass designed and executed by C. E. Kempe (1837–1907). Over the chancel screen was a loft, intended to be utilized for an orchestra on the occasion of high festivals, surmounted by an arched beam and massive cross.

Many of the internal fittings  were completed by Scott’s pupil Temple Moore (1856–1920), some of these were moved to the new church e.g. the chancel screen and loft (1885–89), reredos (1891), font canopy (1893), and choir stalls (1902). 

Interior of St Agnes Kennington c.1890. [Source: Architectural Review 5 (1898-99) 63]
Interior of St Agnes Kennington c.1890. [Source: Architectural Review 5 (1898-99) 63]
This church was demolished after the Second World War following minor aerial bomb damage. A campaign  to save the magnificent building from demolition was one of several heritage ‘causes célèbres’ championed by the poet laureate Sir John Betjeman (1906-84), but in this case to no avail. Writing in The Spectator magazine (30 September 1955, p.14) he said of St Agnes Kennington

Despite representations from famous architects, such as Sir Ninian Comper, from the Central Council for the Care of Churches and from the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Bishop of Southwark is going to pull down St. Agnes, Ken- nington, and build a smaller church on its site. St. Agnes was designed in 1877 by George Gilbert Scott, Jnr., the father of Sir Giles, and it has long been thought the finest work of the Gothic Revival in South London, and one of the finest in England. No financial arguments can really excuse this vandalism, nor is it true that the parish lacks parishioners. Most of the fittings of the church survive, and the architect appointed to repair it after the war, Mr. Stephen Dykes Bower, resigned from his post rather than agree to the destruction of a building which could perfectly well be repaired.

Later, in his Collins guide to the parish churches of England and Wales (Collins: London, 1958) – a book he dedicated to the memory of St Agnes Kennington – Betjeman noted tersely that the building was  “destroyed by the diocese of Southwark after some war damage.

The pipe organ

The earliest mention of an organ in St Agnes Kennington comes from the British Organ Archive (Boa-ref=7656), which names the firm of Gray and Davidson as the builder. The earliest description of what was probably that organ comes from 1886.

In St Agnes Kennington there is a small organ; it is splendidly placed on the loft above the screen. […] Though more diversified effect could be produced with a larger instrument it suffices for its purpose, and no one would believe that it has only an 8ft. pedal stop and about six others on one manual. […] Raise the organ high up on a wooden floor, give it plenty of room to speak, and a comparatively small instrumnet will do a s much duty as a large one. (‘On Church Organs’ by “Church Times” in Musical Opinion 10/111 (1 December 1886) 114-5)

Another description is found in the Proceeedings of the Musical Association 1880-90.

We find ourselves in a good-sized parish church […]  high aisles, no chancel arch or break inthe levels between east and west. A shallow transept of the full height of the church projects north and south immediately at the entrance to the chancel. At this point the church is crossed by a high screen, with a loft on it. A small organ stands just in the north transept on the loft, and having plenty of space about it, tells with good effect. It is, indeed, far more effective than most organs three times its size put into the regulation rat hole.” (p.155)

On 5 June 1890 a St Agnes Organ Fund committee was established, the Duke of Newcastle among its members. Its aim was to replace the organ of 7 stops – reportedly acquired second-hand 14 years previously from a neighbouring parish – with a new organ divided between the north and south ends of the chancel screen, in accordance with the architect’s intentions and at a cost estimated to be £1500. [Parish Magazine Xi/7 July 1890]

By September 1893 the new organ was in place above the chancel screen and the specification was published in the Musical Opinion (see image). A descriptive account of the instrument (below) together with a photograph of the console appeared in the May 1899 issue of the St Agnes parish magazine.. (Vol XX/5 36-38) [LMA P92/AGN048]), as follows:

Console of the pipe organ by Brindley and Foster in St Agnes Kennington, London. (UK). [Source: Parish Magazine, May 1899, p. 37)
Console of the pipe organ by Brindley and Foster in St Agnes Kennington, London. (UK). [Source: Parish Magazine, May 1899, p. 37)

The organ contains twenty [sic] speaking stops, seven couplers, three pneumatic pistons to Great, four pneumatic pistons to Swell, three composition pedals to Great and four to Swell, and, on and off, Great to Pedal and a pedal to bring down Swell reeds onto Choir manual. The diapason work on the Great Organ is on the largest scale. The large Open Diapason is placed on the south side, the lower octaves forming the front, while the small Open Diapason forms the front of the north side.

The Great Organ contains nine stops. The “Rohr Flute” is a very useful stop. It is made of metal, although in tone would lead one to believe that it was a wooden stop. The 4ft “Harmonic Flute”brightens the whole tone of the Great Organ. The “Posaune” is also an effective 8ft reed.

The principle stops of the Peadal Organ are on the south side, viz. the 16 “Bourdon,” 16ft”Open Diapason” (an excellent example of Brindley & Foster’s  fine diapason work), and a 16ft “Trombone,” making with the 8ft “Cello”and echo “Bourdon”(which are on the north side) a very fine Pedal Organ.

The Swell Box, of ample proportion, is placed on the north side and is acted upon by vertical venetian shutters. It contains eleven stops and a “Tremulant.” The Solo reed stops, the “Orchestral Clarionet” and the “Orchestral Oboe” are very charming in quality.

The Choir Organ contains four very useful stops.

The whole Organ is built on the “Tubular Pneumatic” principal, upwards of forty miles of metal tubing having been used for the action. Its is blown by hand, two bellows on the screen, and a reservoir high up in the roof of the South Transept. […] All the organ now wants is a handsome case.

In 1901 the organ was cleaned and overhauled by the firm of Brindley and Foster at a cost of £32, chiefly to allow the organ to be used with “much less noise.” (Parish Magazine January 1902, p. 11. [LAMp92/AGN/053]). It is not clear exactly what was the problem.

In 1911 a new case was provided by Temple L. Moore (1856–1920) the designer of the screen on which the organ stood.

There is currently no detail about whose job it was actually to hand-pump the organ but by 1912 the organ was described as “blown by electric motors.” (Dictionary of Organs and Organists by Frederick W. Thornsby. London, 1912).

In 1926 the organ was moved to a west gallery and then was eventually broken up as the church was prepared for demolition after the Second World War.

The pipe organ we find in the church today was newly installed in the west gallery in 1960 by the firm of N. P. Mander Ltd. (now Mander Organs). The opening recital – on Thursday 16 February 1961, 8pm – was given by the then organist of Westminster Abbey Sir William Mckie (1901–84) – formerly assistant organist of St Agnes Kennington, 1921-27. Also performing was Harry Barnes (1909–85) a singer from the Westminster Abbey choir. (Musical Times, Feb 1961, p. 106). The same organ is heard here (2016) played by the composer Matt Geer who is also the resident organist.

Organists

  • 1880. Choirmaster. Mr Powell. [Parish Magazine, 1/i Jan. 1880]
  • 1880-99. Organist and Choirmaster. Willim Hedgecock (1864-1932) [The Musical Times (MT) 73/1075 (1932) 848] / [Thoresby’s Dictionary of Organs and Organists (1912 ) 286] [Parish Magazine, 1/v May1880. Paid in 1882: £71 13s 4d. [Parish Magazine 3/v May1882]. He was also a Professor at Gulldhall School of Music, and Director of Music at Crystal Palace.
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. 'Musical Times' 30/671 (1899) 55
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. ‘Musical Times’ 30/671 (1899) 55
  • 1899–1905.  Cyril G. Church (1871–?) [The Musical Times (MT)  83/1198 (1942) 376] / [Thoresby’s Dictionary of Organs and Organists (1912) 259]. Salary £91. 16s (Annual Statement for 1899. [P92/AGN/050]).
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. 'Musical Times' 40/748 (1905) 362
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. ‘Musical Times’ 40/748 (1905) 362
  • 1905.1921. Harvey Grace (1874–1944) [MT 71/1048 (1930)  534] Pioneering editor for Novello and Co. of the organ works of J.s. Bach (1685–1750)and the organ works of Jospeh Rheinberger (1839–1901).
St Agnes Kenning London. Recruitment advert for an assistant organist. '[Source: Musical Times'Advert 54/848 (1913) 685]
St Agnes Kenning London. Recruitment advert for an assistant organist. ‘[Source: Musical Times’Advert 54/848 (1913) 685]

  • 1921-1927. (Sir) William McKie (idem) [MT 92/1299 (1951) 218], assistant organist at St Agnes Kennington and later organist of Westminster Abbey.
St Agnes Kennington, London. Advert for organist [Source: Musical Times 61/924 (1920) 78]
St Agnes Kennington, London. Advert for organist ‘Musical Times’ 61/924 (1920) 78.
  • 1927. Francis J. Kennard [MT 68/1012 (1927) 537]
  • 1935. J. E. Arnold [MT 76/1107 (1935) 442]
  • ?
  • [1950s?] Ralph Covell. [See ‘Ralph Covell’ below]
  • 1958. M. J. Foley of 8 Wanstead Place, London E11 [MT 99/1385 (1958) 397]
  • ?
  • 2015.  Matt Geer

References

The mutability of tradition

Recently I have been pondering how in the performance of church music a ‘new normal’ is quickly established, overturning previous traditions that are soon forgotten.

For example, the seminal 1906 “The English Hymnal”, whose music editor was Ralph Vaughan Williams (no musical slouch he), in/famously gave metronome markings at the head of each hymn. According to the book’s ‘Preface’ we read”

Speed.-The present custom in English churches is to sing hymns much too fast. It is distressing to hear ‘ Nun Danket’ or ‘ St. Anne’ racedthrough at about twice the proper speed. Metronome marks are added to each hymn, which, the editor believes, indicate the proper speed in a fairly large building with a congrega- tion of average size. (Preface, p. x1v)

The tune 'Adeste fideles from "The English Hymnal" (1906).
The tune ‘Adeste fideles from “The English Hymnal” (1906).

This would seem authoritatively to define performance tempi if one is seeking a proper ‘authenticity’ in the use of that repertoire. But who nowadays would countenance most of these (to contemporary ears) dreary tempi? It seems that within barely a couple of generations a ‘tradition’ has evolved contrary to the evidence. Even Vaughan Williams himself (writing c.1936) appeared ambivalent about what – at face value – seems absolute :

If I remember right the English Hymnal has metronome marks which will give you the tempo which I considered right 30 years ago – but it seems to me that these things depend entirely on circumstances e.g. the size of the building & the number of performers.” [17 May (1936?) : RVW Letters Online].

The historic recordings available through the online “Archive of Recorded Church Music” further demonstrates how, in matters of performance at least, ‘tradition’ – even in the hands of its direct inheritors – is mutable.

Have Mercy Upon Me O God (1611) by William Byrd (1539/40 or 1543–1623)performed 1927 by the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge and un-named instrumentalists, directed by Cyril Rootham; the first ever recording of the choir  (HMV B2448). Time 6′ 22″.

Have Mercy Upon Me O God (1611) by William Byrd (1539/40 or 1543–1623), performed c.2007 by the choir of Magdalen College Choir, Oxford and un-named instrumentalists and director. Time 4′ 03″.

References