Author’s book on the history of music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish

PUBLISHED: 14:32 24 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:21 24 September 2020

St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence, from the east.

St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence, from the east.

Supplied by University of Hertfordshire Press

A new local history book detailing the county’s parish music-making has been published by University of Hertfordshire Press.

St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence, interior, looking towards the patron's gallery at the east end. The organ can be seen on the north side (2013).St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence, interior, looking towards the patron's gallery at the east end. The organ can be seen on the north side (2013).

Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760-1870 is the latest publication from its highly regarded, long-running series of local history books under the Hertfordshire Publications imprint.

The standard of congregational singing in mid-18th century parish churches was often in a parlous state, a situation viewed with alarm by many influential clergy and social commentators.

In this authoritative study, from University of Hertfordshire Press together with Hertfordshire Association for Local History, Maggie Kilbey explores attempts to improve parochial music-making over the following century and the factors that played a part in their success or failure.

Using Hertfordshire as a basis, original research by this respected author and historian uses a wide range of documentary evidence to reveal a complicated picture of influence and interaction between the gentry, clergymen and their parishioners.

The cover of Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760-1870. Picture: Supplied by University of Hertfordshire PressThe cover of Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760-1870. Picture: Supplied by University of Hertfordshire Press

Hertfordshire resident Maggie has a doctorate from the University of Oxford.

Her innovative approach to the social history of church music-making sheds light on interactions between militia and church bands, singers, organists, the role of charity school children and the use of barrel organs.

Because of its proximity to London, Hertfordshire was particularly attractive to elites with an interest in the capital, and fell under the influence of metropolitan music-making more readily than less accessible parts of England.

The involvement of both fashion-conscious and socially aware gentry was mirrored by those further down the social scale, and formed part of a complex pattern of support for church music-making.

Music cupboard presented to the Watton-at-Stone choir by Robert Hanbury (1853).Music cupboard presented to the Watton-at-Stone choir by Robert Hanbury (1853).

Unsurprisingly, this support was not universal, and often short-lived once initial enthusiasm or funding ran out.

Consequently, although many attempts were made to ‘improve’ music-making in parish churches, sooner or later these were considered to be failures, swiftly forgotten — and then tried again.

To make matters worse, church rate disputes hampered efforts to improve or sustain parish music-making during the 19th century, resulting in financial hardship for organists and other church musicians.

Yet this was followed by an 1850s ‘singing craze’ which led to the formation of many church choirs, alterations to the church fabric, and installation of organs.

Memorial window to the organist Emily Ryley at Holy Cross, Sarratt (c.1919) from Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760-1870. Picture: Supplied by University of Hertfordshire PressMemorial window to the organist Emily Ryley at Holy Cross, Sarratt (c.1919) from Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760-1870. Picture: Supplied by University of Hertfordshire Press

This investigation into patterns of parochial music-making will appeal to both those with an interest in the history of the subject, and also those with a general interest in the social history of Hertfordshire.

Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760–1870 is available from all good bookshops, priced £16.99.

T.W. Luppino, Psalms and Hymns for Ware Church (c.1821) from Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760-1870. Picture: Supplied by University of Hertfordshire PressT.W. Luppino, Psalms and Hymns for Ware Church (c.1821) from Music-making in the Hertfordshire Parish, 1760-1870. Picture: Supplied by University of Hertfordshire Press

Front of barrel and finger organ in west gallery of St Mary's, Stanstead St Margaret. Photo: M. Glover.Front of barrel and finger organ in west gallery of St Mary's, Stanstead St Margaret. Photo: M. Glover.


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